Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Gambian judge sends plagiarists to prison

The Point, a daily newspaper published in Bakau, the Gambia, has reported on an interesting copyright/plagiarism case. Two men were found guilty of having heavily plagiarized a book on national history for a study guide that they were selling. The author of the book took them to court, and in 2015 they were found guilty of copyright infringement. Since they did not pay the damages awarded of 5 million and fifty thousand Dalasis (around 100 000 €!) to the authors, she took them to court again.

The judge has sentenced both men in May 2018 to six weeks of jail each. This is apparently the first time that sanctions have been meted out on the basis of the Gambia Copyright Act of 2004.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Plagiarism allegations in Finland

According to the Helsinki Times, there is a plagiarism scandal surrounding Laura Huhtasaari, a politician (the deputy chairperson of the Finns Party) who ran an unsuccessful campaign to become president of Finland in January 2018. The public broadcasting network YLE published a report on May 9, 2018 about plagiarism in her Master's thesis that includes some documentation (in Finnish). Two external examiners looked at the thesis on behalf of YLE and both commented on the plagiarism, according to the Helsinki Times. They quote Huhtasaari as stating that she was only following instructions given on how to write a thesis, and that she feels that this is a witch-hunt against her personally that is going on.

According to what I gather from the Google translation of the YLE article, the rector has stated after a previous investigation in January that they will not be withdrawing the degree, as only about 10 % of the literature part of her thesis was plagiarized.  YLE has investigated further and found 30 % of the thesis to be affected. This demonstrates once again, that one can never state a "percentage" of a thesis that is affected: there can always be more, because a source has not yet been found. And any software-based investigation can also contain false positives, inflating a value. 

YLE notes that the plagiarism accusations first appeared in the blog of a liberal Finnish politician, Tuomas Tiainen, in January 2018.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Commenting disabled

Dear readers,

Google is being aloof about the GDPR which takes effect May 25, 2018. It is providing its bloggers no information about how we can comply with the GDPR. We don't know what Google does with the data, beyond what they state in their privacy policy. In particular, when posting comments, an email address is required. I do not know what they do with that piece of personally identifying information, so I have turned off commenting completely for now, only I can add comments.

It's a shame, I've been blogging for over a decade, but it looks like that is coming to an end, if there are such wide-spread legal threats looming.

I will also be turning off the statistical information via StatCounter that I had been keeping in order to keep me safe from threats made to me personally in comments. Since I announced using this, I have had no more threats. Not necessarily proof that it helped, but it was also interesting to see where my readers come from and which pages they like.

So everything turned off for now.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Various Links

I must have about a dozen tabs open with things I want to post, but no time to comment. So here goes, a May Day collection:
  • Nature reported back in February 2018 about researchers in South Korea helping their children or underage relatives to get into university by adding them as co-authors to their papers. 
  • Prishtina Insight published a detailed article in February 2018 in English about a VroniPlag Wiki case (Ama) involving a professor from Kosovo who had studied in Bremen.  
  • The Guardian reports in April 2018 a massive increase in cheating at university. I do assume that this is due to better reporting, not necessarily an increase in cheating per se. 
  • The court case that was filed by Lm (a VroniPlag Wiki case) against the University of Hanover has finally finished with a judgement that the university was within its rights to rescind the doctorate (in German). Another judgement (in German) in another case of a German university rescinding a doctorate for plagiarism (Aeh) also found the university to be within their rights. One would think that with the dozen or so judgements in favor of the universities, people would think twice about filing suit.
  • Retraction Watch published an interview with Ana Marušić about "Corrected and Republished Articles".
  • In February 2018, a judge in Croatia sued the national ethics panel after it found him to have plagiarizen in his doctoral thesis from 2013, according to Science.
  • The Belgian de Standaard published an article in March 2018 (in Dutch) about the Louven university being forced to retract publications that had seen a bit too much of Photoshop 
  • The World Conference on Research Integrity 2019 will be held in Hong Kong.  
  • A blog article in French at Rédaction Médicale et Scientifique writes about a couple of French cases of academic misconduct and another article there is about salami slicing.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe arrested for conferring doctorate on former first lady

The vice-chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe has apparently been arrested on charges of conferring a doctoral degree without approval by the university council, according to Times Live. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has accused him of conferring a doctorate on Grace Mugabe, the wife of the former president of Zimbabwe, although no one in the sociology department had seen a research proposal‚ read any progress reports, or learned of the outcome of any research, the Times Live writes. The Zimbabwean Standard had expressed surprise in 2014 that she was awarded a PhD in sociology just three years after obtaining a bachelor's degree in Chinese Language by distance from the People’s University of China. Her husband was at that time also the chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe. The state-owned Herald lauded her work while the UK Guardian was quite critical.

The degree was conferred in 2014, the thesis, “The Changing Social Structures and Functions of the Family: The Case of Children’s Homes in Zimbabwe”, was apparently not available online until January 2018. According to NewsdzeZimbabwe, the thesis was published under her maiden name (Grace Ntombizodwa Marufu) on the UZ web site. Indeed, there is an entry on the library page of the UZ for Ntombizodwa G. Marufu, but no link to a PDF. Google finds a link, but the server does not respond. However, the table of contents can be found in a number of places, and the thesis itself appears to have been deposited at scribd in January 2018.

Update: The Zimbabwe Independent calls the thesis a fraud.
"Social Commentator Maxwell Saungweme described Grace’s PhD as the biggest academic fraud of the century.
“It’s not a PhD thesis but a mere compilation of plagiarised text and quotations from grey literature, newspaper articles, television and radio programmes. It does not contribute original ideas to knowledge. It also cites prominently very old sources such as 1978 and 1985 works. A lot of scientific reviews have been done to this literature, and academic work must cite recent scientific journals and books,” Saungweme said. [...] Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya, commenting on social media, criticised Grace’s PhD thesis and questioned why there are citations from the years 2016 and 2017 yet, scandalously, Grace graduated in 2014."
I can't find any citations from 2016 or 2017 in the version I found online, however. Interesting is Chapter 5 (p. 153): "Grace Mugabe Children’s Home was singled out as a model." This is a home the author runs herself. She does mention this a few pages later (p. 155): "I carried out this study when I was owner and founder of Grace Mugabe Children’s Home."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pakistani diploma mill

The British BBC reports that thousands of fake diplomas from a Pakistani diploma mill have been purchased by UK nationals. The company Axact is said to have set up hundreds of "universities" that only exist in their online presence, using stock photos for campus and student life imagery and including "news" stories that never happened. The telephone numbers for universities with names such as "Brooklyn Park University" and "Nixon University" are said to be connected to a call center in Karachi.

Apparently, a new side business in extortion and blackmail has opened up, with a telephone caller who is faking the caller id pretending to be the police. The caller threatens arrest unless additional documents are produced to back up the degree. Such documents appear to also be for sale at the "institutions."

The New York Times reported in 2015 on Axact, leading to a senior manager of Axact being sentenced to 21 months prison in the US in August 2017, according to the BBC. A Pakistani investigation seems to be stalled at the moment.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Text recycling by Dutch researchers

On September 24, 2017 the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported on an investigation into self-plagiarism (zelfplagiaat) that was conducted by a Nijmengen research group. The sociologist of science Willem Halffman and his PhD student Serge Horbach analysed 922 publications by Dutch researchers from recent years. In economics, 14 % of the papers contained text from previous publications of the author(s), in psychology the figure was 5 %.

Without naming the scientists involved, Halffman recounts that they even found a duplicate article republished with just one small change, and two highly similar articles by the same author in the same issue of a journal. They also found that authors who publish more papers are more likely to reuse text.

The use of the term selfplagiaat in Holland appears to have originated in 2013, the report states, in connection with a scandal at the Free University (VU) in Amsterdam. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW) now includes the reuse of own text without reference to the source as a questionable research practice, except for minor bits such as definitions.

Lex Bouter, a professor for scientific methodology and research integrity at the VU notes in the report that if you are re-publishing your data, you run the risk of deforming reality in a meta-analysis by having one study counted as two.

The paper is in press at Research Policy, a corrected proof is available at Science Direct.