Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stapel retracts another two papers

The Dutch researcher Diederik Stapel, accused of making up data on a grand scale, has been forced to retract two more papers, according to Retraction Watch. The universities of Tilburg, Groningen, and Amsterdam have set up a joint web site for documenting their findings. They are in the process of analyzing all papers published by him and questioning all co-authors. This is a good way of letting the public know what is currently happening. The list of fraud currently determined is, however, depressingly long.

VroniPlag Case 23 had to withdraw IEEE Paper

An interesting find in the extensive IEEE database of retracted papers (Search Google for "Notice of Violation of IEEE Publication Principles", there are more than 24.000 entries) on VroniPlag case 23: A paper on the topic of the dissertation, published by the author after the dissertation, that had to be retracted on account of plagiarism:
Notice of Violation of IEEE Publication Principles (link)
"Novel Algorithms for Subgroup Detection in Terrorist Networks" by Nasrullah Memon, Abdul Rasool Qureshi, Uffe Kock Wiil, and David L. Hicks in the Proceedings of the 2009 International Conference on Availability, Reliability and Security, March 2009, pp. 572-577 
After careful and considered review of the content and authorship of this paper by a duly constituted expert committee, this paper has been found to be in violation of IEEE's Publication Principles. This paper contains significant portions of original text from the papers cited below. 
The original text was copied with insufficient attribution (including appropriate references to the original author(s) and/or paper titles) and without permission. (more).
I think the entire publication history of these authors needs to be looked at a little bit more closely. Especially since Memon, Hicks and Wiil all still list the withdrawn publication on their publication lists, and they seem to publish a lot together. Only Qureshi doesn't have the paper listed.

I informed the rector of the Aalborg university about the VroniPlag case on April 20. I still have not had any indication that my email was received, so I suppose I shall have to write again.

Berlin Politician Returns Doctorate

There's a bizarre case brewing in Berlin, Germany. A local politician, Florian Graf, chief of the CDU party group in the city-state governing council, announced Friday afternoon that he was returning his doctorate to the University of Potsdam.

His announcement (here his text) was a very strange tale. It seems that he had submitted his thesis and delivered the copies to the library, but requested that they not be on loan because he was publishing an article and the journal wanted to be the first publisher. And then he got the piece of paper saying he had a doctorate and has been using it ever since, even though he does not have the thesis published.

And now he's come to realize, as he said to the Bild-Zeitung, that he is sure that he did not follow quoting conventions and asks for everyone's forgiveness. And his fellow party members are rushing to hug him and say: ohhhh, that's bad, we're so sorry, you are such a nice guy. He's requested a vote of confidence for Thursday (Tuesday is a holiday in Germany, and most of the country will take Monday off as well).

One hopes that the press is mad at this silly game with the unpublished dissertation - they have been asking around VroniPlag, hoping that we had something documented, a nice bar code or something. But it looks like this was the Bild-Zeitung that forced his hand. Or he got the first draft back from the journal he was publishing in, Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen.  Maybe they ran his paper through a plagiarism detection machine and turned up too many matches. And it seems that the University of Potsdam was already in the process of investigating the matter.

If the story spins out, I'll keep you posted here!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Heidelberg happy with 75% plagiarism

The Frankfurter Rundschau reports in a short notice that the University of Heidelberg Medical School has decided that a medical dissertation that has plagiarism on over 75% of the pages (and most of the plagiarism is from the habilitation of the doctoral advisor) is perfectly all right. Oh, it is not good scientific practice, but the doctorate will not be rescinded and the grade will not be lowered.

This bizarre decision led to further investigations at this university that has been deemed an "Excellent" school in Germany. One of the VroniPlag researchers dug up the document explaining how the theses are evaluated in Heidelberg in the medical school. Failure is not an option. If you just hand in something, it is considered passing. I find this shocking

Another VroniPlag researcher has suggested that the medical schools just have their students hand in an Excel sheet and a lab book instead of suggesting that they actually wrote complete sentences, since in fact they appear to just take a textual stencil and plug in their values.

The German Wissenschaftsrat already noted in 2004 that medical dissertations are not really dissertations as they are in other faculties. I find it scandalous that this obvious plagiarism does not have consequences - and there are a number of strange things around the thesis itself, for example that it was handed in in 2002, but not defended until 2006. The university replies, when questioned, that this is all in the realm of personal privacy and they won't answer questions.

How do I explain to my students that they are not allowed to copy text without attribution, but that it is just fine for a medical student to do so?

It is time for a serious renovation at German medical schools - time to move to an M.D. for general doctors and reserve a Dr. med. for those who can do real research.

I just had a look at the statistics for 2010. 3,6 % of the student population in Germany studies medicine. 28 % of the dissertations are in medicine. A whopping 49% (867 out of 1755) of the habilitations done in Germany in 2010 were in medicine. This raises a lot of questions - the number of habilitations compared to the number of dissertations would be about commensurate with the rate of students in medicine. If we take out all the medical dissertations and add in the medical habilitations, we would have 4,5% medical theses. So it seems that indeed, a dissertation in medicine is just a Master's degree and the habilitation should be considered the doctorate. A very strange state of affairs. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Plagiarism Wednesday

Wednesdays are the traditional days at German universities for meetings. Today there are two meetings scheduled at two universities that each have to decide on rescinding doctorates that VroniPlag has documented.
  • Margarita Mathiopoulos: The University of Bonn rescinded the doctorate on April 18, 2012. She is said to be taking the university to court, but with over 45% of the pages containing plagiarism, and plagiarism of all kinds, there does not seem to be much of a question. Mathiopoulos' dissertation was already accused of plagiarism over 20 years ago, the university determined then that there was enough "original material" left over. VroniPlag has documented that much of this was also plagiarized. There is an exceptional collection of material about Mathiopoulous and other writings of hers that recycle text at MMDoku (in German). The Universities of Braunschweig and Potsdam, where she holds honorary professorships, have announced that they will be reevaluating their decisions in light of the rescinded doctorate. Mathiopoulos has announced that she will sue the university and the members of the faculty board personally, a rather unscientific manner of discourse. 
  • Siegfried Haller: The University of Halle-Wittenberg rescinded the doctorate also on April 18, 2012. In a recent interview he denied doing anything wrong. Since he is responsible for education in Leipzig, it remains to be seen if he will stay on in his position. 
  • Case 23 was also put on the home page. This is Prof. Dr. Nasrullah Memon with the dissertation "Investigative Data Mining: Mathematical Models for Analyzing, Visualizing and Destabilizing Terrorist Networks" submitted and accepted by the University of Aalborg, Denmark. This thesis is remarkable in the sweeping amount of word-for-word plagiarism that can be found. Of 39 currently identified plagiarism pages (16% of the thesis), 26 cover more than 75% of the page, often 100%. There are still almost 40 pages that need verification, and new sources, most of them on the Internet, are constantly surfacing. Memon is now a professor at the University of Southern Denmark. 
(Updated 18.4.2012 23:26, second update 20.4.2012 10:50)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Previous investigation of Mistelis' Dissertation

VroniPlag has published an English-language summary of a previous investigation into plagiarism in the dissertation of Loukas Mistelis that took place in 2001-2002. The documentation on VroniPlag currently has 37% of the pages, in about 20% of the pages the plagiarism extends over more than 50% of the page.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chatzimarkakis loses court case about loss of doctorate

Georgios Chatzimarkakis dissertation was analysed by VroniPlag and found to have more than 70% of the pages containing plagiarism. The University of Bonn rescinded his doctorate, and he took the University to court. On March 22, 2012 the court in Cologne ruled against him. The judgement was published today, and it is quite a judgement:

The court follows the documentation of VroniPlag and mentions it a number of times in the judgement. The court makes clear that both word-for-word and paraphrased copies need to be clearly marked and determines that this was not the case in all but two of the fragments VroniPlag documented.

It is great to have a legal judgement on this issue, especially one that is so clear. The court also explicitly discusses how VroniPlag weighs a case, and found this to be logical. If you read German - I strongly suggest reading the entire judgement.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Medical dissertations in Germany

A reader pointed out to me that in 2004 the Wissenschaftsrat, an advisory board on science in Germany, already reported on the desolate state of medical dissertations:  (pp. 74-78, in German)
Medical dissertations and habilitations, with the exception of the occasional exceptional work, often do not reach the scientific standards of other disciplines [...] as a result the study [meant is M. Weihrauch, J. Strate und R. Papst: Die Medizinische Dissertation - kein Auslaufmodell. Ergeb-nisse einer Befragung von Promovierenden stehen im Widerspruch zu oft geäußerten Meinungen, in: Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 128, 2003, 2583-2587] demonstrates that medical dissertations are more similar to diploma theses in the natural sciences than the dissertations done in these fields, when one looks at the data for amount of effort invested and publication success. [translation dww]
It is nothing new that the theses that are original are often very thin. The shortest dissertation I have seen to date in medicine is four pages. VroniPlag has been demonstrating that excessive text recycling takes place in some research groups. What are the consequences? If there has been no reaction to the report of the Wissenschaftsrat in 2004, it is doubtful that any reaction is forthcoming in the near future. Germany just stumbles on, business as usual.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

VroniPlag Case 22: Medicine

There was a lot of discussion in the group about working on medical dissertations. They tend, in Germany, to often be lightweights compared to dissertations in other fields. But people who submit and defend a medical dissertation also get the "Dr." to put in their passports and on their shingles, so the group went ahead with this case, especially as it is so special: 48% of the pages are from just one source, and many of these pages are over 75% plagiarized. Have a look for yourself:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Austrian association for academic integrity publishes report

The Austrian Association for Academic Integrity (OEAWI) has published a report on its activities in 2011. The number of cases reported has tripled, the report has a few details on some of the kinds of cases that went to resolution. They have links to the report and other documents at