Sunday, May 5, 2019

News from around the world

Again, just a few links to interesting topics from around the world.
  • There has been a case of a Belgian sociologist at the KU Leuven festering since 2017, according to Google Translate's version of a Dutch Wikipedia article. He has apparently re-published papers of other researchers and published work of co-workers that was not yet published. According to an article in De Standaard from 23 April 2019, he resigned his position as head of the "Center for Political Science" in 2018, but remains a full professor at the university.
  • The Finnish National Board on Research Integrity (TENK) has finally investigated cases of academic misconduct, mostly plagiarism, in 27 master't theses from universities of applied sciences, according to YLE, the Finnish broadcasting body. Most of them contained clear plagiarism. Dr. Erja Moore (author of the blog "Plagiointitutkija" in Finnish) chose the theses more or less at random from the open access thesis repository, investigated them, prepared documentation, and informed the universities in question of the problems. TENK Secretary General Sanna Kaisa Spoof has stated that the situation is serious and worrying. Dr. Moore will be presenting her results at the ENAI (European Network for Academic Integrity) "Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond" Conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, June 19-21, 2019.
  • VroniPlag Wiki just published a documentation (in German) of text parallels found in the doctoral dissertation of the current German Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Franziska Giffey. The press has been reporting on this since they "discovered" the work-in-progress in February 2019.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Links galore!

It seems like time is passing so quickly and I never get around to posting the links that have been collecting as tabs in my browser. So I'm cleaning out my tabs, here's the first round of links:
  • Top Chinese politicians have been found to have plagiarized in their PhDs, report the Hong Kong Free Press and Digital Journal
  • The German weekly magazine Der Spiegel had to admit that one of their prize-winning journalists, Claas Relotius, was actually fabricating or embellishing his stories. They published a list of the fabricated stories, as then
    The story broke when two residents of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, USA began fact-checking the story Relotius published about the town: "And yet, he reported on very little actual truth about Fergus Falls life. In 7,300 words he really only got our town’s population and average annual temperature correct, and a few other basic things, like the names of businesses and public figures, things that a child could figure out in a Google search."
  • A Houston-based company that sold completed assignments primarily to Chinese-speaking students in Australia and New Zealand has settled out of court in New Zealand: Case described in Stuff, settlement at Radio New Zealand. The company is still in existence, because what they do is not (yet) illegal in many countries. The Times Higher Education published an article in March 2019 on the problem, identifying international students as the problem, although in the interview with Tracey Bretag she makes it clear that it is not a problem with international students per se, but with students who do not have the language skills necessary to do university work.   
  • There's a app for that - Quarz reports that in South Korea ghostwriters can be hired by app.
There will be more to come!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Flaky Academic Journals

Just a quick link to "Flaky Academic Journals", a blog that is collecting spam emails from, well, flaky academic journals.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Slovakian politician in plagiarism scandal

A Slovakian politician, the Speaker of the Parliament, has been accused of having copied his JuDR doctoral thesis in law from five other sources, according to Slovak media. The Spectator and Tasr are both reporting in English on the case. A JuDR, a degree offered in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is not equivalent to a PhD, it is sometimes called the "little doctoral degree".

It seems that when the accusations first arose, the politician put his thesis in the university library under embargo. When complaints arose, he then made it possible to see the thesis, but not to take pictures or copy it.

Strangely, some alleged sources appear to have gone missing. The Spectator reports:
Meanwhile, Comenius University announced that a doctoral dissertation with the same title and same number of pages is missing in its university archive. As Dennik N reported, it was defended only one year before D[...] defended his work at UMB. The last time someone borrowed it to study was 2011. The university started an investigation to find out where the dissertation could be.
Matej Bel University (UMB) in Banská Bystrica has set up a committee to investigate the allegations, but there are calls to have outside examiners be involved in this investigation, according the the Spectator.  According to Tasr, the opposition has called for D[...] to step down:
Leader of non-parliamentary Progressive Slovakia Ivan Stefunko noted that Hungary, Spain, Germany and the Czech Republic are countries where ministers and a president have stepped down when mere suspicions of plagiarism occurred.
A cartoon ("How should I know what's in my work", according to Google Translate) can be found at Denník N, the newspaper which broke the story. They also have one image of a side-by-side comparison (in Slovakian). Even without knowing the language, it looks like this page is what is known as a "pawn sacrifice" [1]: There is a quotation in the middle with a reference number 8. Assuming this is referring to the source, one can see that the copy of the text continues after the quotation marks, and highly similar text is also found before the quotation.

[1] Lahusen, B. (2006). Goldene Zeiten – Anmerkungen zu Hans-Peter Schwintowski, Juristische Methodenlehre, UTB basics Recht und Wirtschaft, 2005. Kritische Justiz, 39, 398ff. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Czech ministers resigned after plagiarism charges

From the monthly bulletin of the European Network of Academic Integrity:

Czech Ministers Resigned Because of Plagiarism

At the beginning of July, two ministers of freshly appointed Czech government resigned because of plagiarism in their final theses.

The first of them, Taťána Malá appointed as Minister of justice, was accused of plagiarism in her two master theses, which contained parts identical with older theses of other authors that weren't acknowledged at all. Malá defended her first master thesis (on rabbit breading) at the Faculty of AgriSciences, Mendel University in Brno in 2005 copying more than 12 pages in theoretical part from an older thesis. She claimed that the extent was too little to be considered as plagiarism. In her opinion, plagiarism starts at 40-50%. She resigned after strong pressure from media and academic community only 13 days after she was appointed. The details are available here.
The second case was bachelor thesis of Minister of labour and social affairs Petr Krčál. Almost three quarters of his thesis were copied from other sources without proper acknowledgement. Also Krčál resigned after media pressure, but claiming not to feel guilty. You can read more details here.

Also master thesis of Minister of defence Lubomír Metnar was suspicious – it contained parts identical with a book, there were no in-text citations, but the book was correctly referenced in the bibliography. Hence it wasn't a typical case of plagiarism, which was also later confirmed by the University of Ostrava. The minister publicly apologized for his mistake, did not resigned. Details are available here.

Text which is identical to a source but not marked in-text and only referenced in the bibliography is still plagiarism, in my opinion. Text-reuse needs to clearly mark the beginning and the end of the text reproduced or summarized, with a correct in-text reference given. The excuse given (follow the link) also rests on lack of intent, which is something quite difficult to actually prove or dis-prove.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Mock Science

Welcome to all new readers of my blog who followed a link from the Süddeutsche Zeitung! An investigative team from the Süddeutsche, WDR and NDR spent almost a year looking into m mock science: predatory publishers and mock conferences. They will have a TV documentary "Fake Science" on Monday, July 23, 2018 @ ARD. The NDR has published a short summary in English, the Süddeutsche has a summary available in German. An Indian journalist from the Indian Express who participated in the team has also published an article online.

I prefer to use the term "mock science" instead of "fake science", because this is different from so-called "fake news". Some of the science that is published by the predatory publishers or presented at the mock conferences is good science, but the authors were lured into thinking that they were writing for well-known journals or presenting at conferences at which they would be able to network with others in their own fields. These publishers and conference organizers are making a mockery out of what should be good science communication.

I also want to make it clear that Open Access is not the villian - there are some very good Open Access publishers out there. I have found too much bad science at so-called traditional publishers that take forever to retract (if it gets retracted at all). Many traditional publishers seem to be much more focussed on generating income than on communicating good science.  

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Let's just turn off the Internet!

One of the more bizarre posts in my Twitter feed the past few days was this one from India:

To avoid fake candidates and cheating, district administration will ban internet services in Udaipur on 14th and 15th July

This is apparently not the first time this has happened, the Times of India reported on December 14, 2017 that mobile internet services had been suspended because of "a possibility of disturbance of communal harmony." This seems to be a rather regular occurence, as Medianama reported the same thing in 2015. Seems to be rather extreme measures. Perhaps they need the exams to be taken in smaller groups with more proctors instead of turning off the Internet for the general population.

The Economist dug deeper and found that in Mauritania and Algeria the Internet was turned off in the entire country during high school leaving exams this year. Iraq, Uzbekistan and Ethiopia have apparently been doing this for years.  

In other news:
  • Teachers, students and a headmaster have been sentenced to up to five years in jail for enabling cheating on high school exams in Dakar, Senegal, according to Agence France-Presse, as published in the Daily Mail
  • In South Africa, students who are caught cheating or given failing grades are resorting to violence against their teachers, according to The Witness. Teachers are complaining that their administration is not backing them up.
  • A long article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German) from June 2018 discusses the sorry state of medical dissertations in Germany. 
  • A study in Czechia looks into the contract cheating market and finds that 8 % of survey respondents admit to having enganged in contract cheating.  
  • The Independent reports that an artificial "intelligence" classifier was used in the UK in order to "detect" cheating at an English exam in 2014. Many international students were determined to have cheated and were often deported without a chance to defend themselves. Later testing determined that the algorithm had a 20 % false positive rate - that is, one in five persons found "guilty" were actually innocent.
Tip of the hat to Thomas Lancaster for his great Twitter feed on contract cheating!