Monday, December 31, 2007

Write-only publications

Note 2022-12-20: A lawyer for the company has insisted that I delete this 15-year-old entry. Since it is an important discussion, I am removing the name of the company. In my opinion, however, if lawyers enter the picture we are no longer in the academic realm. I prefer discussion to deletion. I have, however, removed the comments, which quite actively discussed readers' experiences with the publisher.

A former student who is currently doing his dissertation at another school asked me yesterday if I had ever heard of the publisher XXX. They were spamming a database research mailing list asking people to write a chapter for a book. He just started his dissertation, but was pretty sure that you don't get asked anonymously by a publisher to write a book, but personally by some respected editor.

I clicked on the site and was surprised to see that they call themselves "XXX". I had never heard of this publisher before.

Okay, so maybe I don't read the right books. The topics looked interesting - E-Learning was right at the top, then I saw the prices in a very small print: $1,750.00 (6 volumes), $94.95, $565.00 (2 volumes), $165.00

Who in their right mind would pay prices like this? I surfed a little further, as I had never heard of any of the editors and authors of these books. The Wikipedia entry read just like the advertising blurb - and quoted only articles that reprint press releases by the company.

I looked for peer reviewed articles in the ACM Digital Library that quote some book published by this publisher - no results. That's odd. I can google people who have their publication lists online and include books published here, but I can't find any serious quotation of any of the books. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not there, it just means I can't find anything right off.

Is this a case of write-only publication? With the pressure to publish so high, I am wondering how we can tell if publishing houses are legitimate, or only there for people to pad their publication lists, much as these fake conferences that keep popping up in interesting vacation spots. Step up, pay your price, get your publication.

Since I sit on a number of search committees, how can we tell if the publication lists of the applicants are "real" publications and conference papers or not? I am beginning to see the point in citation lists, although they, too, are not very reliable.

Digging deeper into the XXX site I find that they offer free online access to the books to libraries who purchase one of the overpriced books. Ah, this seems to be the thing. The authors do seem to exist; however, they teach at minor schools. The business model seems to be: young academic writes book, publishes here, library purchases overpriced book, academic now has a book published, gets a new job at another university, has library there purchase book, etc. etc.

Any thoughts on this? Am I being too pessimistic? Is this the only way for non-major-players to get published these days?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

New Customers for Old Software

One of my searchbots turned up this nugget of wisdom today from December 14, 2007:
"Auch die Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien nutzt den Plagiarism-Finder: Abgeschriebene Arbeiten aus dem Internet aufspüren!" (The Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration is also using Plagiarism-Finder: Find papers copied from the internet!)

It is published by a "news service", PresseEcho, but it reads more like the advertising for the product, copied liberally from the product home page:

The amusing thing is that it gives the product version 1.3, which is actually the old version we tested in 2004. There was a version 2.0 announced for September, but it has not yet seen the light of day, as far as I know. We offered to test a version, old or new, during our tests in September, but the company declined. This was a shame, as they were the top candidate in 2004.

The tip-off to a journalist worth his salt would be that the most recent "news" on the software site is from 2004, and a screen shot from a 2006 TV interview. This is not really bleeding edge technology.

That the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, supposedly the largest business school in Europe, does not have the business sense to check if they are purchasing recent software and then advertises the fact that they have purchased 55 copies of it says perhaps more about the school that all their fancy web sites and brochures.

The "news" site itself seems to just be an advertising honey pot. There are context ads and a lot of advertising links in the footer of the kind that got the German weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" cut down a page rank or three. So let's give the University the benefit of the doubt and assume the "news" agency dug out an ancient press notice to recycle.

But no: I went off to search the business school site using their Google site search tool. Interesting: the first link is for a review of a paper that is an apparent plagiarism. I wonder if the author of the review knows that his paper is indexed in Google? They do have a nice page on plagiarism detection, that has a link to my portal and mentions that they use Plagiarism-Finder.

A bit further down the list we find the school a paragon of full disclosure, with a list of their software purchases (including the price paid) for 2004. From the looks of this, they only purchased one full license then. The prices paid for other software will surely be of interest to other schools. Continuing on down the list served by Google we find the purchases for 2007: indeed, they paid 5.775,00 € for 55 licenses in October. And a big chunk of cash to Microsoft, but that is another story.

My suggestion to the business school: Try and get a refund for getting sold old software, and turn Google Search off on your web site - or at least keep it out of sensitive information directories. You have some, uh, interesting stuff hung out, and the whole world can see.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I was at the Online Educa this past week and at my school's stand for 2 hours to talk with people about plagiarism detection. The only one to come was a guy from the Polish company StrikePlagiarism, who wanted to assure me that they had immediately sat down after my test and the programmers had set some parameters to be a bit stronger and now they could handle all of my plagiarisms.

I don't really believe that, but this is what all companies are saying. They are new, improved.

My point still is that these are not plagiarism detection systems, but similarity detection systems. The determination of whether or not a text is a plagiarism must be the sole responsibility of the teacher and/or the school administration (for determining the consequences). You cannot delegate responsibility for something this delicate to a machine.

He asked to be included in "next year's test". Ah, how I wish the funding fairy would stop by with a little pot of gold so I could actually do this - make 10 more plagiarisms and redo the tests. I don't need enough money to make a major grant, but more than I get in my yearly allotment. One must to expensive research, it seems, but that is another question.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I tend to have my movie critiques on my private blog, but this German TV thriller shown last week on public television is about plagiarism, so I will discuss it here.

Menschenraub, the theft of a person, is what the word "plagiarism" means. When Martial, a Latin poet in the 1st century, discovered that a fellow poet had taken some of his poems and published them under his own name, he called him a "Plagiarius", someone who steals children. He felt that his poems were the children of his thought.

This "thriller" is not thrilling, possibly because the topic of plagiarism is quite boring when shown on TV. In an institute for forensic medicine and thanatology at the University of Hamburg there are all sorts of plagiarisms being found - and of course, deaths, otherwise it would not be a thriller. A teacher found a plagiarism in a student's work and exposed it in front of the entire class, announcing that she will be ex-matriculated. She kills herself.

This teacher is soon found dead, and it turns out that he has found out that the doctoral thesis of a colleague is a translation plagiarism of a scholar's work in the former Yugoslavia. Another colleague learns of this plagiarism and he too is soon dead. The plagiarist ends up committing suicide during a police interrogation to protect his girlfriend (also a colleague), who was the real murderer.

As an aside, one of the police detectives is "writing" a piece for a criminal justice journal, and he is typing in some other paper to be published in his own name.

Next to this very contrived situation - an entire institute dead within days because of allegations of plagiarism - there are so many details which are just wrong. I know of only one German university that actually ex-matriculates students because of plagiarism, and that does not happen just because a professor writes a letter. They go on at length about how much a professor gets paid, but they use the new pay scale and are using the lowest one (which pays 3700 Euros a month) but saying that this is 7000 Euros. This is the idea many people get of salaries of professors, but it is not true. Most are happy to get 4000. But honestly - who cares?

Plagiarism is an important topic for scientific discussion: what is it, how do we avoid it, how do we handle plagiarism when we find it. But as the topic of a thriller it just does not pack much of a punch.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Plagiarism of Swiss Medical Paper

The "Tages-Anzeiger", a Swiss German-language daily newspaper, published an account on Nov. 7, 2007 (page 36) of the problems encountered by Berne medical researcher Werner Pichler.

A paper that he wrote about immunology for the magazine "Allergy" was published at a later date by the Czech researcher Marcela Z. in "Folia Biologica". The papers are almost identical.

The problem is, that Pichler had submitted the article to "Lancet", and it was rejected there. One of the peer reviews done on his manuscript was done by a researcher leading a laboratory in which Marcela Z. was working.

Luckily, he managed to have his paper published before Marcela Z. published hers - with co-authors who now say that the paper was published in their name without their knowledge.

The discovery of the plagiarism was by chance. Another researcher who was aware of Pichler's work happened on Marcela Z.'s article while researching in online databases.

Marcela Z. is said to have been terminated from her position at the University of Prague, and proceedings on her doctorate are said to have been stopped. She was unavailable to the newspaper for comment.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Kitchen Radio on Plagiarism

I was the weekly guest on the Berlin "Kitchen Radio" on the topic of plagiarism. This is a podcast that has been produced by four German radio journalists for a couple of years.

They have some simple recording equipment and an interesting table microphone. They invite a guest to their kitchen, start the recorder, introduce everyone, and then just talk like as if we were having coffee together for an hour.

They said that in their "day jobs" they are only out for the sound bites, have just a few seconds to explain their topics. They wanted to experiment with simple in-depth interviews, but also to see how this informal format could work.

I found it relatively chaotic with four journalists asking the usual journalist questions all at once, so I often had the feeling of not having answered a question thoroughly. We got off on quite a number of tangents, but one of the journalists kept focusing the group, bringing us back to the topic of plagiarism.

They are proponents of Creative Commons, of the creative re-mix, and didn't really understand what all the fuss about plagiarism was about. I do feel that I was able to explain why authorship is so important in science.

Listening to the podcast I find it remarkably easy to listen to, much of what I felt was chaotic comes across well in the podcast. If you understand German and have an hour - listen in, the link is in the first paragraph!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dissertation revoked at the University of Dortmund, Germany

The German newspaper FAZ reports on October 20/21 2007 in an article by Sebastian Balzter "Aus der Praxis der Plagiatoren" on a case I have been following for a full two years now.

Julia Kleinhaus (a pseudonym) wrote her Diploma-Thesis in 1999 at the business department of the University of Dortmund. She handed in the 300 page treatise on a diskette, as requested by her advisor, who was working on his dissertation. Many years later she happened upon the guy's dissertation, and was shocked to find that the first 200 pages or so were exactly her pages - at times with the typographical errors intact. Only minor changes had been made (renumbering diagrams, occasional paragraphs thrown in). She wrote to me to ask what she should do.

I advised her to follow the rules laid down about 10 years ago by the German research foundation, DFG. She filed a formal complaint with the university ombudsman. She soon began to get anonymous, threatening emails. She informed the police, but they are so busy in Germany looking for terrorists and what not that nothing happened. She changed her e-mail address and was eventually invited to a hearing, almost a year after her complaint.

Another year passed before she finally learned (and this only because the reporter put the thumbscrews on the university, apparently) that the dissertation had been revoked. But the plagiarist - who is currently enjoying his title somewhere out there in the German industrial landscape where such a title brings a lot of status - is taking the university to court.

The bizarre thing is that the court will not have to decide upon whether or not a plagiarism occurred. That should be clear to anyone who even just glances at the two works. No, he is suing the university in the hopes that they made some sort of error during the process of revoking the dissertation, so that he can then keep the title, as it would then have been wrongly revoked. Universities often lose court cases like this in Germany, because someone along the line always makes an error, and highly-paid lawyers can often find out what it was.

I find it distasteful that it takes over two years to investigate this. I find it disgusting that a so blatant plagiarist can take the university to court and be judged not on the content, but only on the process. Why can't someone explain to this man why he is not worthy of the title he uses? And why can't the university grant this woman a doctorate? Not an honorary doctorate, but a real one. She did the work, she should get the honors.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Swedish professor accused of plagiarism

The Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan reports on October 23, 2007: (translation/summary errors all my own:)

Professor in Lund accused of plagiarism

A professor in Lund has been accused of plagiarism. A French researcher discovered that the Lund professor had plagiarized his results at a conference in Poland in September.

People who knew the French researcher's work were astonished to hear the Swedish professor's talk - they found it to be the exact same result. The Frence researcher wrote to the Technical University of Lund's rector and filed a complaint. "I was to be presenting my paper afterwards and was forced to change the entire presentation", the French researcher said.

According to the researcher, he had discussed his research with the Swedish professor the last time in December 2006. The Swedish professor had criticized the paper as missing a mathematical basis. The French researcher asked for more details on the tests. "I talked to him normally as I do with all people," the French researcher said.

The Lund professor rebuts the accusation: these are two different papers. Anyone who reads them can see that. The professor thinks that there are commercial interests behind the accusation, as there is an EU contest in this area and both researchers are in competition with each other. The French researchers company was eliminated from the competition - other researchers are said to have found weaknesses in his system.

The French research said to Sydsvenskan that it has been 2 years since he worked for the company. The competition demonstrates research plagiarism, he says. My results show that the Lund researcher's entry to the competition was worthless. By taking my research results he avoided losing face.

The university had started an investigation of the accusation. They expect to have results in two weeks.

The Swedish professor notes that it will be simple to show that there is no plagiarism involved, as the French researcher has not published anything that can be found in the Swedish group's work.

The French researcher says that his method is unique and was invented in 1992. "It is true that I have not published anything before I attempted to write something in December 2006 and now in September. But everyone knows that this is my method."

Commentary: This is a very interesting case. Many people define plagiarism as only taking word-for-word of other people's written work. But where do we draw the line? Often accusations of stealing research proposals or results in papers submitted to peer review are spoken in hushed voices, no one wants to be the whistle-blower.

This is interesting because it is being conducted in the open - and in the press. If the LTH (Technical University of Lund) manages to do the investigation in two weeks, my hat will be off to them. One German University I know has spent over 2 years deliberating on a copy & paste job. It is best for all parties for this to be settled as quickly as possible.

It also shows how important it is to publish your work, to stake your claim, if you will.

I will keep you posted.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Austrian plagiarist gets another chance

The Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung reports on the case of a scientist at the University of Innsbrück who received a doctorate in building materials science for a thesis which included plagiarized portions.

A German scientist was shocked to find an article in BetonWerk International reporting on the results of his own doctoral thesis, which he defended in 2001. He was not the author of this article, however, it was from the Austrian researcher.

He complained to the university, and the university did start an investigation. The surprising results: Yes, indeed, this is plagiarism. But the researcher - who appears to be working in the laboratory of the dean at the University of Innsbrück - gets to keep his doctorate if he submits a thesis within the next four months in which he corrects the "incorrect citations". Just a bit of carelessness with footnotes, it seems. The plagiarism was not "enough" for the doctorate to be revoked.

One wonders, given the current state of citation (un)culture in Austria, just how much needs to be plagiarized in order to warrant revocation. An other case in Germany, which has not yet hit the presses, involves a doctorate that is largely a word-for-word plagiarism of diploma-theses written under the tutelage of the "doctor". After 2 years of investigation, it seems the university is finally "considering" a revocation - and of course, the person so threatened is taking his university to court.

What has to happen in order for this system to change? We need proper mentoring of theses - the adviser must know the work well enough to know if it is a plagiarism or not. It must be clear at all levels that it is not acceptable to publish work done by dependent persons - or by third parties - under one's own name. And there must be effective punishments for people caught doing so, not just lashes with a wet noodle.

Any ideas?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

First post-test: Attributor

[Hmm. Just found this in my drafts. Sorry.]

I have been made aware of the company Attributor, that is to help web publishers find plagiarisms of their web content. Of course I signed up for a free report! These post-tests will be done as I find the time.

The company is run by Jim Brock, a lawyer who was with Yahoo!, and Jim Pitkow, a computer science Ph.D. who developed and sold two start-up companies, Moreover and Outride.

Their goal is to help web publishers find the "re-mixers", for example the bloggers who comment and link to articles enabling interested parties to bypass the home page of the news organization and go straight for the article. This does not sound like a bad thing, until you realize that many blogs now make money with ads, revenue that is then missing in the presenting organization, who may have their most lucrative ads on the first page.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Another Plagiarism Detection Test

The JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) in the UK has just released their study of plagiarism detection systems: (September 2007).

It was interesting to see that they tested some of the same systems we did, often having similar experiences with the systems although they only tested a few cases using computing-related texts. They did, however, have a very fine-grained points system looking at things such as legal issues and the technical basis for the server systems and the presence of licenses for using search machines such as Google or Yahoo.

Not surprisingly, Turnitin comes out on top. Why do I say "not surprisingly"? Well, JISC seems tightly entwined with the NorthumbriaLearning and the latter are the European re-sellers for Turnitin as well as a resource center for teachers. I am not quite clear on how close these two organizations are.

JISC did give this survey to an outside person to conduct, and had an academic advisory board look at the evaluation questions and suggest products to test. But the appendix entry on turnitin is a glowing sales document that avoids all of the issues with Turnitin (such as being overeager to store copies of papers in their database), whereas the others are more apt to have problems noted - problems that we, too, had in many cases.

The survey is still a very valuable collection of data - all the more so because they used questionnaires to elicit more data (or more refusals to give information) from the various companies. I am just curious as to how independent the study really is.

Update October 5, 2007: William Murray from NorthumbriaLearning has sent me this clarification of the relationship JISC/NL. Thanks, William, glad to post it!

"The relationship between JISC (the government funded Joint Information Systems Committee in the UK) and NL needs explaining. The confusion occurs because all JISC services are branded with JISC in front of them. We run JISC-PAS not JISC!

Turnitin won a national tender in 2002 put out by JISC to run a national detection service in the UK and Northumbria University (our original parent company) won a second national tender for the advisory service JISC-PAS (Plagiarism Advisory Service) that supports it.

We (Northumbria Learning) have been managing JISC-PAS and reselling Turnitin ever since with JISC’s endorsement. JISC wanted an independent survey to reaffirm (or otherwise) their support for their original choice of detection solution in 2002. NCC Group Ltd were chosen because they are independent of NL and JISC-PAS.

Within JISC-PAS our primary aim is to encourage holistic change within institutions through better information literacy, better course design, better research practice and better teaching of core skills. We happen to think that solutions like Turnitin provide the ‘ah-ha’ moment (Jude Caroll’s term not mine) that focuses the minds of all concerned. In my view detection is a change agent for better practice (I taught informatics at Northumbria University for ten years so I think this is a good thing. I would have loved to be able to use Turnitin, our class sizes were huge 300+ in some cases which made consistency in marking a nightmare). But specifically to address your points:

* JISC are not entwined with Northumbria Learning, we run the JISC-PAS and Turnitin service on behalf of JISC.

* NCC group ran an independent survey

* NCC group allowed *ALL* providers to vet *ALL* the information in their report and agree it as factually correct before publication.

* All providers were given the opportunity to improve their scores prior to publication

* The extent to which they contributed ‘sales’ information was entirely up to the companies concerned.

* Its aim was to identify which system could be deployed enterprise wide, with high volumes of through put and used on a national scale *in the UK* hence the questions about company stability and support in the UK.

* Having a central database was on of the reasons Turnitin was selected by JISC. This is why (in this context) it was not a flaw."

I think having classes of 300+ people do not constitute higher education, and that certainly contributes to the plagiarism problem!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Test of Plagiarism Detection Software

It's finished, it's published. We worked feverishly right up to the wire. On Sept. 26 we sent copies of the preliminary reports (they were still in line for some language polishing) to the companies tested, so that they could prepare a statement, if they so chose.

We held a press conference this afternoon, cutting over to the new version of the plagiarism portal and the E-Learning unit on plagiarism detection ("Fremde Federn Finden", in German) at the start of the conference. We had 5 reporters in attendance and many who requested virtual press materials. The online magazine "Spiegel Online" had requested that we write a summary article for them, so we just cut out sleep for a few days in order to get it done.

We have had a lot of interest from reports and of course the companies tested. If we learn of other systems, we will be glad to test them as we have time (which will be spare time, as the financing for this project runs out tomorrow), although the results might not be comparable, as the Internet is constantly changing.

Here is a copy of the ranking page:


Excellent Systems

No system was ranked as excellent - but there have been many people who attended plagiarism detection seminars who scored 100% on the same tests!

Good Systems

Nr. 1 : Ephorus

Acceptable Systems

Nr. 2 : Docoloc
Nr. 3 : Urkund, Copyscape (premium), PlagAware
Nr. 6 : Copyscape (free)
Nr. 7 : TextGuard
Nr. 8 : turnitin, ArticleChecker
Nr. 10 : picapica

Unacceptable Systems

Nr. 11 : DocCop
Nr. 12 : iPlagiarismCheck, StrikePlagiarism
Nr. 14 : CatchItFirst

We hope that our work can help these companies to produce better results. But our summary for 2007 is the same as for 2004: It is better to use a search machine yourself, the software just costs money and is not necessarily very good at finding all plagiarisms.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Blog post on plagiarism detection

I am busy round the clock tidying up and getting my report about plagiarism detection finished for Thursday, and one major online publication has requested that we also write an article for them, so sleep is down to a minimum at the moment.

But I must post this link from "Hardcore Ambiguity" entitled "A few more stabs at plagiarism". The author is spittin' mad about services such as www-dot- academicintegrity -dot-com. We had found a different one during our tests, but this is just outrageous. I won't link to them either (but you can easily find the page). They write about academic integrity on the same page that they offer you their paper-writing services. Just disgusting.

Now back to work

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Coming soon: plagiarism detection software test

I have been super busy lately, as we are testing as many plagiarism detection software systems as we can get our fingers on. The final results will be announced on September 27, 2007 at 12.00 UTC+1, so if you are considering obtaining such a system, you might want to wait a few weeks.

We looked at 15 plagiarism detection systems, one collusion detection system and two code sharing detection systems. We used 20 short papers of known plagiarism degree, two files for collusion detection and two 400-line program code files specifically prepared with 14 different types of "masking" behavior.

Stay tuned for the results - in German first, I'm afraid, but we will get around to putting it in English soon, I hope!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Stealing from a Plagiarism Site

We are currently testing plagiarism detection software and were evaluating the results from one system when we discovered a strange link. Some blog at Windows Live had plagiarized one of our plagiarism test cases about the history of Döner, a Turkish fast food popular in Germany.

The site did give a source - is listed at the bottom as being a source. Of course, this is our portal, not the E-Learning unit and most certainly not the exact source. A large chunk and a smaller one are taken verbatim from our page without using those pesky "..." signs that just mean extra typing for the author, I suppose.

I wanted to send the "author" a take-down notice, as my texts may only be quoted or used as per copyleft, that is, that the derivative work also be under the same license and that a link to the license and the authors remain intact. But I have to sign up for Microsoft's "Windows Live" in order to contact the author!

I was just about to sign up in order to contact the author when I found a little link at the bottom of the page labeled "Legal". Following this I find a large page with a paragraph entitled Notices and Procedure for Making Claims of Copyright Infringement. This is interesting, there is even an E-Mail address given and a procedure for issuing take-down notices.

Okay, so this is a test for Microsoft. I wrote an email, detailing the amount of the plagiarism and the problem: I have permission from the original authors of this plagiarism to use this content - my plagiarizer doesn't. I will report on whether Microsoft bothers to answer, and if they do indeed get the page taken down.

I find it very troublesome that someone just uses the text they found without bothering to understand the context in which it was written. It seems we must not only educate our students on avoiding plagiarism, but also the general public. I am happy when people write - that's what blogs are for. But I do not understand that people find it okay to just copy other people's texts - and publish it on their blogs!

This makes it clear that the schools must act and teach about the proper use of content and good research practices, something I thought was self-evident, but apparently is not.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Plagiarism Decrease on use of Detection Software?

The German online SZ-online (Süddeutsche) reports that a dean of a business school has said that the amount of plagiarism has sharply decreased since they started using plagiarism detection software.

Now, I know of no method for actually measuring the amount of plagiarism, as we can only measure the plagiarisms that we actually find. And the intermediate results of my plagiarism detection software test are not encouraging.

It may be that this works as a psychological deterrent - but as soon as students wise up to the fact that the software doesn't catch everything, things will probably return to normal.

Or is anyone aware of any research that a) measures the actual amount of plagiarism or b) that detection software works as a deterrent?

In lieu of scientific findings, this is just wishful thinking.

Friday, August 10, 2007

German "Researcher" discovered to be a plagiarist

A German "researcher" has been discovered to be a plagiarist. Hans-Werner G. (Articles in Spiegel, Süddeutsche, Die Welt) has been discovered not only as having plagiarized some of his publications, he also made up an institute at the University of Maastricht in Holland that he was supposedly working for.

The journal "Research Policy" has just published a retraction of a 14-year-old article by G. In an editorial the journal states that "the article from 1993 is a clear and serious case of plagiarism", according to Spiegel.
During the course of the investigation other plagiarisms were discovered, included a plagiarism from a researcher in Zimbabwe of a plagiarism that G. published.

What shocks me more than this - I have many such cases and accusations that I hear about - is the reaction of the readers in the online forums attached to the articles. Many state things like:
  • You can't keep writing things different
    Sure you can - each writer has his or her own voice and style when writing. There are so many different words to choose from, it is nearly impossible to select the exact same wording and structure, and that over many sentences, as someone else.
  • Who can remember all the things they ever read?
    Well, if you are not writing down what you read and taking notes, then you are doing shoddy research. You don't just read a bunch of stuff and then write. You have to carefully note down who said the stuff you are building on - or refuting.
  • There is so much published, no one can read it all.
    Of course - but no one insists that you have all of the possible sources in what you write, just that you give credit to those who inspired you.
  • 90% of all dissertations are plagiarisms
    This may be the case - but then they are not dissertations. We need to be taking more care to teach students and young scientists what scientific work is all about, how you give credit, how you write down your own ideas. And we have to set a good example, and not plagiarize ourselves!
  • Poor bloke, it's publish or perish out there!
    Well, we have to get away from this basing all decisions on who gets jobs and research money on impact factors and citations indexes and number of publications. There are so many publications and so many illegitimate ones out there. You can found your own "International Institute for Whatever" by just setting up a web page and printing cards - like G. did, his newest affiliation is the "International Institute for Technology Management and Economics", at the same address as his home telephone number listing.
We have to find new ways of judging what good science is - and who the people are who are doing good science. The methods we currently used are broken, beyond repair in my opinion.

A funny aside is that the guy is an economist (Ökonom in German), according to Spiegel, but the not-so-exact Welt has tried to translate this for the "man on the street" and thought that the "Öko" meant "ecological" (which it does in some cases, but not this one) and thus has him as an "ecology scientist". Why on earth an ecology scientist would be writing about SDI (the Strategic Defense Initiative that blew millions (billions?) of dollars attempting to defend against the "Russians" over 20 years ago) is beyond me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Plagiarism Discussion in German Schools

I am very happy to announce that the German publisher Cornelsen is coming out with a new German school book for 9th graders (to be used in the states Hesse and NRW) that is republishing one of my articles about plagiarism: "Der große Online-Schwindel", which was published in Spiegel-Online a few years ago.

They've chosen just 2 pages out of this long essay that was published in 4 parts. It is good for pupils at the 9th grade level to be discussing plagiarism outright as a topic, and not because the teacher caught a cheater and now has to discuss the topic with the class. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Literature about Plagiarism

Frank Schätzlein has a collection (in German) of on-line literature and resources about plagiarism:

Plagiate an der Schule/Universität
Literaturliste und Links

He includes a long list of paper mills both for German and English papers.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Comic: Citation needed

This is a rather techie in-joke, but actually very funny: it is from xkcd, which calls itself "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language."

In the Wikipedia, more and more, exact citations are being demanded, so that the texts have more of a scientific basis. Sometimes the fight goes too far, with editors insisting on citations for things like water boiling at 100 degrees Celsius, it seems. But overall this is the way we need to go: move from a copy&paste culture to a citation culture.

Thanks to a blog reader from Germany for sending me this link!

Copyright Explained

An excellent blog entry: Copyright Explained - I May Copy it, Right? This is a great run-down of (US) copyright, chock-full of links!

More good links from this page:

Friday, June 29, 2007

Test of Plagiarism Detection Software

I am currently redoing my E-Learning-Unit on plagiarism, "Fremde Federn Finden" (in German). As part of the work I am repeating the test that I conducted on plagiarism detection software in 2004. Then I used 10 papers that I wrote myself with a known amount of plagiarism / originality to see how well the software measured up. It was not a pretty sight - often flipping a coin was just as effective.

For the repeat of the experiment I have 10 more papers and will be conducting tests over the summer of the following products from various countries:
If any of my readers know of any other software, please let me know! If you are a software producer of plagiarism detection software, please contact me so that I can include you in the test.

The results will be published online in September 2007.

Stolen from the Wikipedia

Many pupils and students think that the Wikipedia is there to let them hand in term papers very easily. The German Wikipedian Avatar has started a collection of stories about sad happenings to people getting caught in a plagiarism.

They include a student trying to cover his tracks by changing the Wikipedia article and some links to discovered plagiarisms by journalists and publishers of articles in the Wikipedia. There are some from both the English and the German WP, more are welcome.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Whistleblowing hurting your career

Janet Stemwedel's blog article "The price of calling out misconduct" about an article in Science describing the situation of some graduate students who blew the whistle on their advisor is very depressing.

Here we have courageous grad students working to better science by letting the community know that their advisor is making up data, and they end up paying the bill. Janet quotes a fascinating paper from Science and Engineering Ethics by C. K. Gunsalus's excellent paper "How to Blow the Whistle and Still Have a Career Afterwards." I think I will print out a copy for my administration, as the next article is on how to avoid whistleblowing problems in your institution.

Very important is finding both sides to an issue, as many people often misunderstand what is actually happening and start threatening lawsuits without being sure. On the other hand, if it really is misconduct, then you have to do something.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Plagiarism increased four-fold in Sweden

Svenska Dagbladet reports that the number of reported plagiarisms at the University of Södertorn, near Stockholm, has increased four-fold during the last five years - and that with the total number of students decreasing.

They cite a report put out by the Hogskoleverket, the government university agency, which will be published next month. The report finds more plagiarism in term paper writing than in cheating on exams. Under the Swedish system, students who are caught cheating or plagiarizing are brought before a board, the disciplinnämnden, which decides if punishment should be meted out. Punishment is suspension from school for a period of up to 6 months - usually pronounced just before exam time, so that the deliquient cannot take some exams.

Taking exams in Sweden is vital - if you pass 75% of the credits of your first year at college, you can get funding for the next year, and so on. So there is quite an incentive to get those 75% credits.

The university uses a so-called plagiarism detection software for checking term papers, the article does not mention which one. Out of 15 400 submitted papers last year there were 36 suspensions meted out. 2003 there were only 10 suspensions pronounced. That is a quota of 0.23 % - and far, far below what teachers report when they hand-check term papers. There are reports accumulating pointing to figures more in the 10-30% range.

The report continues that 3 of the suspended students took the university to court - and won their suspension rescinded. That looks to me like an 8% false positive rate in the software. Perhaps they need to look hard at their software, or find other methods - like using search machines - for assessing this problem.

You can't solve social problems with software - and most certainly not with software that is this bad.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Google UK to stop ads for plagiarism services

I applaud the decision of Google UK to quit running ads for plagiarism and ghostwriting services! It is a disgrace - and the reason I don't use Google Ads on this blog, although we could surely use a bit of income to keep the service running.

As soon as the word plagiarism or dissertation or thesis shows up on a page, Google Ads offer links to ghostwriting services. I disagree that essay-writing services is a legitimate business. Even if they tell their customers not to hand it in as their own work, wink wink nod nod, that is the point of the service and I find it ethically distasteful.

Scholarship is about reading, writing, discovering truth, collaborating - but you do your own work or give credit to whomever did the work you are using. Full stop.

We need to impress on our student's (and, unfortunately, sometimes our colleague's) minds what is acceptable and what is not. That is what will be successful in the long run, as well as looking for alternative methods of assessment.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rutgers Academic Integrity Videos

The Paul Robeson Library at Rutgers University has a marvelous series of videos entitled "What is plagiarism?". They are done as video cartoons and do an excellent job of explaining plagiarism in a very entertaining manner. A link to the academic integrity policy of the school is also included. This is excellent work, a link should be on every school's page about academic integrity.

What? Your school does not have one? Time to get started!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Secret of Success: Plagiarize!

I recently discussed the Darmstadt plagiarism case involving a professor who was found to have his name on a book which included a lot of plagiarized passages. In this context I mentioned the Hans-Peter Schwintowski case at the Humboldt University, and noted that there, at least, a sub-committee was looking into the matter.

They have looked.

The president of the HU Berlin, Christoph Markschies has now issued a statement on the matter. I will give my own translation of the statement in its entirety (any errors in translation are my fault):
"The highest methodological and content standards hold especially for introductory textbooks, which have as their purpose the introduction of the scientific field to the students. I have determined after an internal university investigation that the book „Juristische Methodenlehre“ by Hans-Peter Schwintowski (published in Juristische Methodenlehre (UTB Basics, Frankfurt/Main 2005), violates these standards in such a manner that the university is compelled to provide a public statement.

The rules of quoting are part of the basic requirements of good scientific praxis as set forth in our regulations (§ 6 (2)) and they stipulate that the use of word-for-word quotes without reference is scientific misconduct. Such a misuse of the methods of a discipline and the intellectual property of others is absolutely not acceptable."

I translate in its entirety because there seems to be a third paragraph missing. The paragraph explaining the consequences of Schwintowski's actions. We threaten students who plagiarize with all sorts of consequences such as failing a course or getting thrown out of school.

Here we have a clear determination of plagiarism on the part of a professor. Surely something must happen? I can imagine all sorts of things: research funding moratorium; taking away his research assistant the next time it is free; making him take a course in ethics; making the whole department - which appears to have a culture in which such behavior is acceptable - take an ethics course; assigning hours of public service such as doing something about the cataloging backlog in the library or whatever; requesting that he donate the proceeds from the book to financing a course on avoiding plagiarism for students. Surely there must be something which is the equivalent of failing a student for a course in which they submit a plagiarism.

There seems to be nothing. Spiegel Online has picked up the hunt, now the president has said that they will be looking into legal consequences. Sigh. Only the copyright owner can sue for breach of copyright. This is not about copyright. It is about ethics. It is about what scientific writing, scientific research is all about. If there are no consequences, then Tom Lehrer was right with his song Lobachevsky - "I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky. In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics: Plagiarize!" (An MP3 of the song sung by Lehrer himself is available - this is a must-hear!).

This, then, is the secret to success in science: plagiarize, as there are no consequences if you get caught. Is this what the HU Berlin - which is vying for a title of "Elite University" in Germany - is trying to tell us? I sincerely hope not. I have written an email to the president about this. We'll see if there is any reaction. For the sake of science in Germany, I hope that there is some reaction.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Teaching Students abour Plagiarism

An article about a course for students on avoiding plagiarism: Teaching Students about Plagiarism: An Internet Solution to an Internet Problem by Eleanour Snow. Unfortunately, you need a password to get in to read the article; fortunately, it is free.

The tutorial is available online - turn your speakers off before heading out, or you will wake your neighbors. There is some interesting material here, and I suppose all the multi-media-music-multi-click-and-quiz stuff does appeal to students of today. I am just a bit concerned that if the students need this kind of teaching, that college might be the wrong option for them. Or is this being an arrogant European?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Ghostwriters

I recieved a letter today telling me about the German company ACAD Write. This is a ghostwriting company that charges you about 30 Euros/page (minimum paper 5 pages) for writing your term paper or doing other work for you, up to and including dissertations and German habilitations.

They write in their FAQ: "Yes, ghost writing is allowed. There are no laws or norms that ban ghost writing. Therefore ACAD WRITE is allowed to create or edit academic texts by order of clients. ACAD WRITE hereby states, however, that you are not allowed to declare as your own a paper that you order with us."

Okay, I don't want them doing an English translation for me. But I believe they are sadly mistaken about ghost writing [sic] being allowed. We specifically state in our examination regulations that the student themselves must do the work. Only on the final thesis do we require a sworn oath that they did the work themselves.

But how do we stop outfits like this? Even if there is no law banning ghostwriting, it is highly unethical and not acceptable scientific practice. Does anyone have some good ideas about what we can do about this?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Industrial Product Plagiarism Museum Opens

Today, April 1, 2007, a new museum is opening in Solingen in Germany, home of many makers of fine German knives and tablewares, Museum Plagiarius (Bahnhofstr. 11, 42651 Solingen, - in German, open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm).

The yearly plagiarism award for the "best" industrial produce plagiarism is given by the Plagiarius group here. They decided to put their rather large collection on general display.

No, this is not an April Fool's joke - it is a serious problem, combatting product plagiarism. This seems to be the first museum of its kind - hopefully this will be an additional venue for the group to call attention to the problem. Good luck!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Students sue iParadigms LLC over alleged copyright violation with turnitin

The Washington Post reports on a case of two high-school students, two in Fairfax County, Virginia, and two in Arizona, who are taking iParadigms LLC to court over copyright violations. (Also blogged on RealTechNews in English and Golem in German.)

iParadigms LLC sells the plagiarism detection service "turnitin", which retains a copy of all papers submitted for use in future plagiarism detection. I obtained a legal expertise in 2004 from the Intellectual Property Helpdesk of the EU which noted that such a service is illegal according to EU copyright law (which ist, technically, not copyright but Urheberrecht oder droit d'auteur, author's rights in the French tradition) as it forces the creator of a work to do something with the work against his or her will.

In the US, copyright is the right to make copies and can actually be sold to a person, natural or legal. The students first registered their papers with a copyright authority before submitting them with explicit instructions not to store the papers, which was ignored by iParadigms.

The company, of course, insists that it is not violating the student's rights, so this is a perfect situation for a legal test: straight-A students objected to being considered plagiators, to having to prove their innocence instead of being assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Students at other schools such as McGill and Mount St. Vincent University in Canada have succesfully protested the use of turnitin without getting a court opinion. This case may eventually make it's way to the Supreme Court so that this bit of copyright law can be determined. The students are to be lauded for their courage in exercising their rights in this question.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Identification of Music Plagiarism

markenbusiness reports on a case of itunes being able to identify a purported music plagiarism. Since iTunes uses a signature of the music to identify the performer, a download of one piece suggested it was done by someone else. And since from both the music is digitally identical in the wave forms, something fishy is up.

Of course, it could just be a database error, with the same musical signature stored for both performers. But since one pianist is involved in numerous such pieces, an investigation is being conducted.

Stealing Ideas?

Janet Stemwedel reports in her blog "Adventures of Ethics and Science" :
In this week's issue of Chemical & Engineering News, there's an article about a chemist at Stockholm University who's in hot water for stealing other scientists' ideas that they presented at lectures and symposia -- rushing back to his own lab to set up and run the same experiments, then failing to cite the sources of these stolen ideas. Full disclosure: I'm a quoted source in the article.
The link, unfortunately, is to a page that is for subscribers only. Luckily (I suppose) there is someone in China with no regard for copyright, so the contents of the page is pasted under the title of "Giving Proper Credit" (!! giving no credit to the actual source).

A number of researchers have complained of A. Córdova having listened to them lecture returning to his lab, repeating their results and publishing them in other journals without referencing their work. There has been an investigation, and consequenses have been levied.

From this article we learn about the consequences :
Stockholm University counters that the consequences for Córdova are appropriately tough, pointing out that his violations do not include scientific fraud. Córdova must attend an ethics course, and he must present papers to his dean for review before he submits them to journals for publication-a detrimental delay for a young investigator in a fast-moving field of science.
I can turn up no other google-able reports on this case. Instead, one reads of prize after prize that he has won in Sweden, and there are some papers available online (not that non-chemists can read them).

This is a fine line - what exactly is original research? Is it ethical to get inspiration this way? Should there not perhaps be mandatory ethics courses for all young researchers? I would appreciate more information on this case, if anyone has particulars.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Plagiarism is "usual"?

A troubling letter from the district attorney in Darmstadt about the case of Axel Wirth. There is a bit of controversy here in Germany about this law school professor in Darmstadt. A newish law book was taken from the shelves when it was discovered that the 100 page chapter published under the name of this professor was extremely similar to another book - similar to the point of word-for-word copy without attribution.

The chapter was deemed a plagiarism - but the flak hit one of the professor's assistants, who apparently "wrote" the chapter for his boss. Seems the boss did not check it out too thoroughly before adding his name - this process is called "honorary authorship" and is found ethically troubling in many circles. But both the ombud for good scientific practice at the university as well as the aforementioned district attorney say that this is standard operating procedure at universities.

It does seem to be that way, as the same sort of hubbub is on over at the Humboldt-University in Berlin. Hans-Peter Schwintowski published a book with a lot of non-footnoted material and "quotes". The book has also been removed from the shelves. At least this colleague will be looking into the matter and fixing things, but he does mention that the publisher was unhappy with "all those footnotes".

The point of footnotes is so that the reader who so desires can follow the arguments back to the source. And one writes in one's own words, not the words of others.

At least at the HU there is still the committee looking into the situation. But what troubles me is the nonchalance with which colleagues who do not need to be assembling plagiarisms seem to be using them. We need a discussion about a culture of quoting in Germany, and we need it right now.

Sunday, March 4, 2007


A German professor, Martin Gutbrod, wrote a little software system called "Docoloc" in order to fight the plagiarisms he was finding. The media are singing the praises of this software, although in the test I did of the software in 2004 did not give the software any prizes - it was only able to correctly determine whether an essay was a plagiarism or not in 6 of 10 tests (after some problems getting it to run). I will be repeating this test this summer, more on that to come.

I find it troubling, though, that software that purports to fight plagiarism itself uses a layout that is a blatent plagiarism of Google's layout.....

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Plagiarius Award 2007

It's that time of year again, not only for the Berlinale Bears to be awarded, but for the Plagiarius, the black dwarf with a golden nose, for the "best" product plagiarism of the past year.

The "winner" this year, the jug "Sophie", is a gem, made in China.

This award began in 1977, according to their web site, and it "serves to inform the public about the problem of fakes and plagiarisms and the negative impacts they have on not only the economy as a whole, but also on small companies and designers."

In the spring they will be opening a museum for design plagiarisms in Solingen, home of many steel-working small industries.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Plagiarism in Austria

Stefan Weber, an Austrian media scholar, has been trying to fight plagiarism in Austria since he discovered his own doctoral thesis published in part by someone else in Germany. That case, at the University of Tübingen, ended up in the plagiarist losing his doctoral title (good, that - it was the department the current pope used to teach at, would have been a feeding frenzy for the press if they had not done the right thing).

Since then Weber has spent 1 1/2 years investigating theses in Austria (which are published online these days) finding, he says, many cases of plagiarism. He has tried to get publicity for this problem, as the universities play it down ("bad quoting", not plagiarism), and has used the tabloid press for this, they are always interested in a good row. This does not amuse the very conservative university administrations. They seem to prefer to ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

Weber writes that he is now giving up. He has been publically ridiculed for pointing a finger at the mess, people even suggesting that maybe *his* doctorate needs revoking for stirring up the waters, and called all sorts of names. Only the University of Vienna seems to have any sort of useful policy in place, he says, actually removing theses in dispute from the Internet until it is cleared up. The other schools try and ignore Weber, he accuses.

Mighty strange place, Austria.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Links to Web References

Silvia Herb from the University Library in Bielefeld sends me these links that she uses in a workshop for teachers that she offers:
  • Plagiarism - A Good Practice Guide: Jude Carroll and Jon Appleton, May 2001

    This is a very comprehensive (43 pages) guide with chapter such as "Teaching- and Learning-Based Suggestions for Dealing with Plagiarism" and examples for policies and procedures. The authors write: "In this report, a case is made for combining academic and policy decisions in a systematic, fair and coherent way in the belief that this is the most effective way of dealing with plagiarism."

  • What kinds of solutions can we find for plagiarism?: Jude Carroll

    This is a short paper useful for getting colleagues alerted to the problem of plagiarism, which many people, unfortunately, deny is a problem in order to avoid having to do something about it.

Friday, January 5, 2007

German Investigation of Plagiarism

A Master's student in Leipzig, Sebastian Sattler, wrote his thesis in sociology about the incidence of plagiarism in term papers at his school. He interviewed 226 persons in a non-representative survey. 9 out of 10 reported being willing to plagiarze if necessary (not, as sometimes reported, that they already had cheated).

He has sent around to his correspondents some links to German-language reports about his project, "Plagiate in Hausarbeiten" (PIH):

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Do they think we are stupid?

A nice article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Jonathan Malesic, a new professor who just encountered his first plagiarism: How Dumb Do They Think We Are?

Do they think we're stupid? If they're going to plagiarize, why can't they at least do it in a way that acknowledges that their audience is intelligent? Don't they know what the big framed diplomas on our walls mean?

I think that student plagiarists are often poor plagiarists because they don't realize that it's even possible to be a savvy reader, that it's possible to read a text that has been cobbled together from multiple sources and determine where one source's contribution ends and another's begins. Those students don't pay attention to diction, syntax, or tone when they read, so they can't possibly imagine that someone else might.

The author learns to calm down and not see the plagiarisms as a personal insult, but as an attempt by a narrow-minded student to do something they think is science. His observation:

The paradox of plagiarism is that in order to be really good at it, you need precisely the reading and writing skills that ought to render plagiarism unnecessary.

is exactly right. Once you can write well enough to hide a plagiarism, you can write well enough to be on your own, so you don't need to plagiarize. However, he insists that a plagiarist cannot be a student. I have come to see most plagiarism as cries for help - they have no earthly idea how to write, so they pretend to write by using other people's words. We have to teach them to write, and to write across the curriculum! I make my computing students submit programming exercises with a process description in complete sentences to get them used to formulating what they are thinking in words.

Maybe every program should have a course in writing, even the engineering ones.