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.