Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fake Conferences

It's that time of year again. Suddenly, your inbox is filled with letters requesting that you submit a paper to the "The 13th World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics: WMSCI 2009" or "The 6th International Conference on Computing, Communications and Control Technologies: CCCT 2008" or "The International Multi-Conference on Engineering and Technological Innovation: IMETI 2008", all interestingly co-located in Orlando, Florida, and all organized by one Professor Nagib Callaos of the "International Institute of Informatics and Systemics".

Never heard of any of this because you are a philosopher getting the emails, too? Don't worry, serious computer scientists don't usually go to the conferences, although people do easily get impressed by all the names and submit a paper.

Strangely enough, all papers are accepted, as long as you have paid your registration fee. You don't actually have to come and give the paper, although the family will surely love following you to Orlando. The "Acceptance Policy" is spelled out in pseudo-scientific detail on the conference site. I paraphrase: We accept everything, because there might happen to be a good paper in there, and because a reviewer might plagiarize a paper they reject.

This conference accepted a paper back in 2005 that had been generated by a computer programmed by some MIT students, SCIgen. A nice blog discussion of that and the conference is found here. There was quite a row about this back in 2005, as one must question how scientific a conference is that accepts random (albeit well-worded) garbage and is willing to publish it. It is said that more than 1500 papers are accepted (at $ a pop that isn't chicken feed), and the "majority" are actually presented. That is not what a real conference is about, where you meet and discuss with peers working in similar areas.

How many of these thousands of papers ever get cited? That is perhaps an indication of how good the papers really are. I just searched the ACM Digital Library. There are 19 (nineteen) citations of the WMSCI conference. There have been 12 such conferences taken place.

That's not too many, so I went through the references for all 19 papers. Eleven of these papers were written by at least one of the authors of a WMSCI-published paper, so over half are self-citations. One paper is Peter G. Neumann's note of the acceptance of the fake paper in his "Risks to the Public" column in Software Engineering Notes.

As an aside, there's a fascinating paper on bibliometrics for discovering low-quality conferences published in 2007: Measuring conference quality by mining program committee characteristics.

Glancing down the lineup of invited speakers can cause quite some hilarity: Karl H. Müller, is given at CCCT2008 as being with the "University of Ljubljana (Austria)". I don't think that Austria has acutally annexed Slovenia, and a search of their web site turns up Mr. Müller as having given a talk there a few years back, but he is not listed as a teacher. He lists himself in his CV on the pages of his institute as teaching at any number of Austrian schools, but strangely, they don't list him.

Dr. Subhas C Misra is listed for this conference as being a visiting Scientist at Harvard, for another conference as being a visiting scientist at State University of New York. At another conference he is listed as the "NSERCPDF Scientist, Harvard University", but I find no mention of this program outside of his CV. Harvard includes CVs of its visiting scientists on its home page, there is no mention of Misra.

Who are these guys?

It seems that anyone can make up a fancy institute name and make themselves director, declare themselves teachers at University X (and may actually have taught there a semester or so before being put out on their ear), make up papers and fancy conferences and rush around finding themselves soooo important - but this has nothing to do with science! They can even pretend to be from some institution. Most are so large, no one can be sure that they are not actually from that place.

What can be done to stop this pseudo-science? Or do we just ignore them, but watch young people and unsuspecting colleagues pour departmental travel money into attending these conferences to present their papers? We do get a publication point out of it.....

Note (2016-11-10):  This blog entry was the begin of a long discussion. In 2012 I started speaking of "mock conferences" instead of "fake" ones. I keep getting lawyer's letters demanding that I remove this or that article because it is somehow defamatory. Please understand that science is a process, a long discussion, in which arguments are exchanged. Everyone is welcome to post comments, except those that attack a named person, and if you wish to argue your point of view I will be glad to publish guest commentary so that we can discuss it. In my opinion, having a lawyer enter a scientific conversation is akin to "Goodwin's Law": You automatically lose the argument.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

When Professors Plagiarize

Henriette Haas, Ph.D., has put up an English-language page with advice for researchers who suspect that their professors may be systematically plagiarizing from them.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Warning: Top-Ranked Plagiarism Detection System found to contain Trojan Backdoor!

A reader from Norway, Lothar Fritsch from the Norwegian Computing Center, reports that the installer for Plagiarism-Detector, a system that came in second in our 2008 test of plagiarism detection software, is infected with a Trojan backdoor. The reader has updated his virus-detection software and downloaded the installer from again - the Trojan is still there. Das ist nicht die Test-Version, er hat eine Lizenz gekauft.

Until further notice we cannot recommend the use of this system! The company was notified on December 5, 2008 of this grave problem. The company promises "answers with minutes". Today is December 9, the Norwegians are still waiting for even an answer that someone has read about their problem.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Iranian Minister of the Interior caught without titles

Spiegel Online is reporting that the Minister of the Interior of Iran, Ali Kordan, doesn't have either am Iranian Bachelor's or a Master's degree, as he had claimed, and that the honorary doctorate that he supposedly was granted from Oxford University is a fake. The mistakes in spelling on the document are apparently a dead give-away, and Oxford has no record of having given him a degree. A spokesman for Oxford noted that honorary doctorates are awarded to scientists and scholars, not politicians.

The Iranian parliament was not amused, and has fired Kordan. The prime minister, Mahmud Ahmadinedschad, said he didn't care about any pieces of paper, he was only interested in results. Of course, he now has a problem. Since he himself fired nine ministers over the course of the past three years because of differences of opinion, and Kordan is now the tenth minister to leave his position, the constitution of Iran insists that Ahmadinedschad now ask parliament for a vote of confidence.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A new test of plagiarism detection systems

The research group at the FHTW has again tested plagiarism detection systems. We have extended our collection of test cases and now also have a selection of collusions - slightly changed papers that strongly resemble other papers - so that we can check how well software can find collusions. We also included a paper stored in a closed database (Springerlink) and one which we copied by typing up a page we found on Google books. An additional nasty test case replaced the letter "e" in a paragraph with the letter "ε". It still looks okay at first glance, but many systems were not able to find the plagiarism.

The results are, as always, not exciting. Software just cannot find translation plagiarisms or plagiarisms that are taken from books. Teacher, however, are often very good at spotting "fishy" texts like this and can even find sources using search machines. Even removing all the test cases with this kind of plagiarism from our evaluation, we still had no software that was given the grade of "very good". The systems have gotten slightly better, however.

We also evaluated the usability of the systems - many have lots of problems in this area. A particular problem is the numbers reported - it is often not clear, what the numbers or percent values given mean. And the reports are sometimes not very useful or the system is difficult to use in a university setting. Having to submit papers one at a time and having to wait a longish period between each test is not acceptable.

One system - one of the worst - has forbidden us from giving their name. We just refer to them as XXXX. The ranking is:

Good Systems (Grade "B")

Satisfactory Systems (Grade "C")

Acceptable Systems (Grade "D")

Not acceptable Systems (Grade "F")

Collusion Detection Systems

Good Systems

Satisfactory Systems

The complete test is available (in German) at as well as an E-Learning unit on plagiarism.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cambridge students admit to cheating

Joanna Sogden reports in the Times Online on a poll done at the University of Cambridge:
The results of an anonymous online poll of more than 1,000 students conducted by the student newspaper Varsity found that 49 per cent of undergraduates pass other people’s work off as their own at some point during their university career.
Only 5% report getting caught.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Paper by former vice-president of Iran retracted

Nature reports that a "review paper by Massoumeh Ebtekar, the former vice-president of Iran and an immunologist at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran, is to be retracted from an Iranian journal following allegations that it was almost entirely stitched together from other scientists' papers."

NatureNews: Butler, Declan. Iranian paper sparks sense of deja vu - Allegations of plagiarism prompt journal to retract report. Published online 22 October 2008 | Nature 455, 1019 (2008) | doi:10.1038/4551019a (
The plagiarism is one of more than 70,000 entries in the Deja Vu database. Powered by a tool called eTBLAST, it collects similar articles from the various scientific journals indexed by Medline. It takes an abstract, searches for similar ones, and then compares them, determining which one was published first. This blog noted a previous case in January 2008.

There are a shocking number of papers that are exact duplicates (but published in different journals), or have the same abstract but are published in different languages, or are identical but have different authors. Deja Vu is run by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and is funded by the Hudson Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

This is a great service to the community!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quotation copying

The German online newspaper Travemünde Aktuell reports on a blatant case of plagiarism from one of their articles. They had reported on a (actually rather boring) podium discussion with a bunch of politicians evading questions posed by a moderator.

The Travemünde Aktuell had made a transcript of what was actually said, but it was rather incoherent, so they reformulated it into sentences that actually made sense and reported it online without using quotation marks, since they weren't actually quotations.

The story got picked up by the advertising weekly Lübecker Stadtzeitung. And suddenly it looks like they have direct politician quotes! They have sentences in quotation marks and these are attributed to the various politicians. Except that they did not actually say that in direct speech. The sentences are 1:1 copies of the text Travemünde Aktuell.

The link above is an interesting article commenting on this copy/paste/add quotation marks job. They have documents of the transcript, of their version, and of the Lübecker Stadtzeitung version. And they are pretty clear that they consider this to be a particularly horrible kind of plagiarism. They are suggesting that they did the work, went to the discussion, talked with the politicians, got the quotes verified. But all they really did do was Google, copy and paste and then decorate with quotation marks. Didn't even have to get off their seats to read through other papers in order to steal the words.

This appears to be something very commen - I often find direct quotes from me in some newspapers by some journalists I have never spoken with. Some are quoting my online learning unit (I suppose that is okay), others just steal quotes and take them out of context for their own articles.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Another book on scientific misconduct in German

I published a short review of a Swiss dissertation from Zürich on scientific misconduct the other day. One of my regular readers, Hadmut Danisch, wanted to obtain a copy of the book and tried to purchase it through Amazon, only to be shown a very similar title by a different author:
Heike Ottemann
Wissenschaftsbetrug und Strafrecht
Zu Möglichkeiten der Sanktionierung von Fehlverhalten in der Wissenschaft
Dissertation Universität Jena 2006
Verlag Dr. Kovač
ISBN 3-8300-2605-6
Curious, we both ordered the book. He has published a long review of this book in German on his blog.

The first concern had been whether the younger book was in some way influenced by the older one. I am happy to say that the books are, indeed, completely different, although I would have expected a dissertation to include all relevant literature, so the dissertation in Jena should have referenced the Zürich dissertation.

Even though the structure is similar, the books are indeed quite different. The Zürich dissertation by Völger is very clean cut, precise, and discusses many legal aspects of just a few cases. The Ottemann dissertation starts out with a sweeping chapter on scientific misconduct starting with Ptolemy, Galilei, and Kepler. The cases are introduced with just a few sentences and a reference or two is given - often to newspapers such as the Berliner Zeitung or popular magazines such as Focus. The question of such sources being scientific enough for a dissertation must be left to the university in question to judge.

The Swiss dissertation gives a good overview of science funding and the Swiss university system and a thorough discussion of the legal aspects of scientific misconduct. The German dissertation, of course, discusses the German system, but is a good bit more superficial.

Danisch notes in his long review that Ottemann, in her attempt to discuss the reasons for scientific misconduct, often states as fact things that are not quite true.
"Würden die Stufen einer wissenschaftlichen Karriereleiter allesamt höchst integer beschritten, so gäben die karrieristischen Tendenzen im Rahmen wissenschaftlicher Tätigkeit nicht zwingend Anlaß zur Sorge. Allerdings wurde wissenschaftlicher Erfolg bis vor wenigen Jahren auch in Deutschland zu einem großen Teil an der Zahl der Publikationen eines Wissenschaftlers gemessen."
[It would not be a cause for concern for scientific endavour to be seen with carrierist tendencies, if all the steps of the career ladder were climbed with integrity. However, until recently, scientific success in Germany was measured in the number of publications a scientist can produce.]
Danisch notes correctly that there can be no reference demonstrating the "until recently", as many universities continue to this day to count the number of publications as the measure of success. Since we can't measure what we want to, we measure what we can.

In any case, with these two books there is a good overview given of the legal aspects of scientific misconduct in Switzerland and Germany. I am not aware of any such treatise for Austria - perhaps it will be soon forthcoming, as Austria has a rather large problem with cases of scientific misconduct at the moment.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Three words suffice!

I am currently testing about 20 plagiarism detection systems (PDS). During one of the tests we saw a very nice turn of phrase that we had plagiarized from one newspaper site (with permission!): "paranoide vorolympische Kraftmeierei" (paranoid pre-olympic muscle-flexing).

The system did not find our source, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, but the Swiss Tagesanzeiger. Putting just these three words into Google proved something I have been saying all along: three to five words suffice.

As it happens, the author, Henrik Bork, is the author of these identical articles. He sold one in March, one in April. The ethics of this is another discussion. But the use of PDS is so time-consuming, one really just needs to pick out phrases like this upon reading, and use a search engine. Full stop.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wissenschaftsbetrug - Scientific Misconduct

I was at the German National Library the other day picking up some material on a plagiarism case and I casually riffled through the catalogs as I am wont to do. I found a very interesting dissertation from the University of Zürich in Switzerland:

Völger, Marion: Wissenschaftsbetrug - Strafrechtliche Aspekte - unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Missbrauchs staatlicher Forschungsförderung. Schulthess, 2004. ISBN: 3725548129

The dissertation is quite interesting, even for non-lawyers. The author first gives a good overview of definitions for scientific misconduct and an analysis of how scientific enquiry works in the first place. She uses a number of cases that have come to light in recent years to illustrate her points.

Then she goes into the legal aspects: University law, criminal law, all sorts of other legal bits and pieces. She focuses, of course, on Swiss law and explains the complicated system of research financing in Switzerland.

She basically comes to the conclusion that there is not much that one can do, although certain aspects of scientific misconduct could be covered by certain laws. There is a nice summary (in German) at

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The 2009 Plagiarius-Award is taking applications

If you find a plagiarism in the area of industrial design, you can nominate the plagiarist for the Plagiarius Award 2009! The deadline is December 10, 2008. The prize winners for 2008 and previous years can be seen online. The prize is a black garden gnome with a gold-painted nose (German for "get rich" is sich eine goldene Nase verdienen, to earn a gold nose).

Strangely, no winners have ever shown up to collect their prizes.

Friday, September 5, 2008

It's all right to break the law.....

This is perhaps a bit off-topic, but in the area of ethics, so I will put it in.

Since Berlin is close to Poland there are many (usually Vietnamese) sellers of untaxed cigarettes on choice street corners. And since smokes are expensive, they have many customers, who don't mind breaking the law.

I see them every morning on the way to work, and this morning I saw a guy
purchase five packs, the exchange of cigarettes and money being quite open. Since he was going my way and didn't look to be a knife-carrying druggie, I spoke to him.

"You just committed a crime," I stated. "What are you going to do about it, tell the cops?", he retorted. "The state makes me pay tax twice on cigarettes, once for the cigarette tax and once for the VAT added on to that price, so it's okay for me to get my cigarettes here. They are cheating us, so I cheat back." And he turned into the next street.

Is this one of the reasons that so many people think that it is "all right" to cheat, lie, and plagiarize? Everyone does it, and "they", the state or the university system or are cheating you anyway, so the only way to get even is to cheat back?

A popular book by Ulrich Wickert some years ago in Germany was titled: Der Ehrliche ist der Dumme: Über der Verlust der Werte. The honest person is the stupid one.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Plagiarism Detection Software Test 2008

We are currently conducting our Plagiarism Detection Software Test 2008. The current field of candidates is:
  • turnitin
  • Ephorus
  • Plagiarism-Finder
  • Docoloc
  • Urkund
  • StrikePlagiarism
  • TextGuard
  • CopyScape
  • WCopyFind
  • CatchItFirst
  • SafeAssign
  • ArticleChecker
  • JPlag
  • PaperSeek
  • AntiPlag
  • PlagAware
  • PlagiatCheck
  • PlagiarismDetector
This year we are not only testing the quality of the plagiarisms found, but also assessing the usability of the systems, awarding points in the categories of information, cost transparency, layout, readability of the reports, navigation, and integration in the teaching workflow.

If you have plagiarism detection sofware you would like to have tested, please leave a link here or contact me. We will publish our results on September 30, 2008.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Plagiarist for the White House?

I was dismayed this morning to see that Obama had chickened out and chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. My first associations were: old, Senator, something-nasty-but-what? A quick check with Google defined the nastiness: plagiarism.

In the 1988 presidential race, the senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, wanted to be president. In 1987 he gave a speech in Iowa as he was jockeying for the Democratic nomination with Michael Dukakis, amongst others. What he didn't realize was, that it was being filmed.

Dukakis' campaign recognized that this was a speech from the far-left British politician Neil Kinnock. They put together an ad with a few sound bites from Biden, then the same thing from Kinnock, and leaked it to the press. Biden had to withdraw his bid, as more and more reporters found the sources for other bits of his rhetoric, as reported on FamousPlagiarists. It was also found that he had been guilty of plagiarism in law school.

Barack Obama has also be nabbed for mimicking Deval Patrick, as shown on YouTube (1, 2, 3). Apparantly, the politicians (or their speechwriters) think that a good turn of phrase can be used by anyone.

I hope someone finds a copy of the Biden talk and has it digitized for YouTube soon. Video and searching rather changes the environment for plagiarists - maybe they need to learn how to attribute things better in the future.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Spiegel "borrows" from Atlantic Monthly

I was looking forward to the current issue of the German newsweekly Der Spiegel to see the article for which they had contacted me for a comment about plagiarism in schools. The plagiarism topic usually comes up in August when there is nothing else to report on, something I always find amusing.

Looking at the title page, however, I was not amused. I had so enjoyed Nicholas Carr's article in the July Atlantic Monthly called "Is Google making us stupid?", and Atlantic had had a great cover for this. Here Google was using the same cover for its August 11, 2008 issue - just translated into German!

Der Spiegel,
August 11, 2008

Atlantic Monthly,
July/August 2008

Ouch. Deep down in the article, Spiegel does refer to Carr's article in the Atlantic. But I can't find an explanation for why they lifted the design of the cover. I wrote a letter to the editor - we'll see if there is an answer next week.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Mayor's Thesis

The mayor of Ruhmannsfelden, a small town of about 2000 souls in Bavaria, has a problem. The local newspaper went digging around for some dirt on this CSU politician, and found something fishy.

His Diploma-Thesis (approximately a Master's Thesis) in construction engineering, which was submitted to the Czech Technical University of Ostrava in 1999 seems to have a few problems. It is about renovating the city center of Ruhmannsfelden. They Bayerwald Wochenblatt reports that during the 90s the mayor payed an architects company (with tax money) to prepare some ideas on renovating the city center of - surprise - Ruhmannsfelden.

The thesis submitted carries his name, but it seems he was a little careless and didn't notice that every page carried a little logo on the top - the logo of the architect's company. Weeeeeel, the mayor said, but he was very involved in the project. Neeeeee, says the architects, he was not more involved than your average mayor.

The district attorney's office is now active in the case and trying to get the Czech university to initiate action, as is the engineering board. The university, however, does not really answer the letters requesting to know the admittance regulations, the course of study that the Lord Mayor followed, and the circumstances of the awarding of his degree. They don't really want to get into it.

Perhaps this is a case of someone submitting a plagiarism to a diploma mill? Germany has very little experience with diploma mills and is just now coming to terms with rampant plagiarism. The TU Ostrava seems to be above the board, except for their "Lifelong learning" program, which is unfortunately in Czech.

In Germany, foreign titles have to be officially accepted in order to be used, so the DA is accusing him of wrongfully using a title. It will be interesting to see where this goes. As one of the persons quoted said, they have never seen a case like this before.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Plagiarism in the Pulpit?

The Christian German-language online news portal has a story about plagiarism in the pulpit. Seems many preachers do a lot of "borrowing" from the Internet. I know my pastor does, I sometimes note down a few good words from his sermon and google where he got this one from.

It seems, though, that there are portals that are expressly made for copying sermons from: Göttinger Predigten, for example. They even now have a weekly Lutheran sermon in English available free of charge. goves the theological basis for sermon reuse:
  • Jesus notes in Matthew 10:8: "Freely you have received, freely give." [Note: this is, of course, the basis for the Open Access movement]
  • Irenäus von Lyon (135-202) noted that a preacher is not the owner of his sermon, since God is the Creator.
  • The Heidelberg theologian Rudolf Bohren records in his book on sermons, Predigtlehre: "Since there is no intellectual property in the Church of Jesus Christ, I am free to take from others what I need." He also advises that "an ungifted preacher will work much more and better if he uses a good sermon from someone else than if he fails with a self-written one."
  • The Lutheran pastor for City-Church and Publicity in Esslingen, Peter Schaal-Ahlers deduces from this: Plagiarism from the pulpit contributes to quality assurance within the German Lutheran Church.
I don't think it is a problem to get inspiration from other's sermons, but to copy & preach does seem a bit distasteful. In any case, an interesting defense.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Outsourcing Programming Assignments

My previous post this morning sparked an interesting discussion on outsourcing homework. I started googling around and discovered that I seem to have completely missed these two discussion waves:
So maybe personal interviews or program-while-we-watch is the only way to go?


The ghostwriters seem to be getting more and more brazen - and seem to be earning lots of money.

The plagiarism conference I attended last month in England noted that there was a rising tide of ghostwriting that we needed to be fighting. The only question is: how? It is legal to pay someone to write something. It is just not legal to submit it to a university as your own work. Not only do you not learn what you were supposed to - and that might end up being very costly when you enter your profession - but you cheat.

I just discovered that a magazine that is put out for free at all German universities and colleges, Unicum, takes open advertising for ghostwriters and prints ads for ghostwriting services. I have written to the magazine to ask why they accept such advertising. If I do not get a satisfactory answer, I will request my school to forbid this magazine from distributing to our students.

Of course, that doesn't hurt the ghostwriters. But maybe it gets the ball rolling. What strategies can we come up with to combat the ghostwriters? Perhaps apply to be a ghostwriter ourselves and then hide a "bomb" somewhere in the text, as was done in the case described in 2005 in Inside Higher Education. Any good (legal) ideas?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Plagiarizing Star

As a preparation for my trip to England I purchased a "Times" at the Schipol airport. The format and the style sure have changed, but at least there is a lot of opinion still in the paper. And lo and behold, one of my favorite English commentators, Libby Purves, had a comment about the English university system and a current plagiarist who is a TV star, Raj Persaud. The piece is called "The shame of our lap-dancing universities."

The plagiarist in question was also a hot topic at breakfast, except that no one could remember his name, it was just "that TV doctor guy". His license to practice medicine as a psychiatrist has been suspended for three months on account of blatant plagiarism. Persaud has admitted to publishing the works of others, for example a paper that had to be withdrawn from Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry after the real author of the piece on the Milgram experiment, Thomas Blass, noted that over 50% of the paper was lifted from his work. Persaud didn't understand the fuss, it was just a "typographical error" here.

For another paper, Persaud had asked a colleague for permission to use his works - and then copied it word for word without quotation marks or source.

He was only suspended for three months - and continue practicing after that - because he didn't actually harm a patient, didn't gain financially from the plagiarism, and didn't defraud any funding organizations. They are also sure that it won't happen again, which is rather surprising, seeing that he seems to be a repeat offender. He stepped down from his radio show in 2006 when accusations of plagiarism arose, but returned in 2007, the BBC reports. I wonder if anyone had checked up on his thesis work? Do we really want plagiarists practicing medicine and building bridges and airplanes?

Third International Conference on Plagiarism

I attended the Third International Conference on Plagiarism in Newcastle, England this past week and presented a paper there on my 2007 test of plagiarism detection software. Since the conference was sponsored by one of the large PDS systems used in England, I was expecting more of user's group meeting than a real conference.

And there were, of course, quite some papers that appeared to have been accepted only on the basis of them reporting something positive on the use of this system. But there were some very interesting points made and some interesting talks given, I want to put down some pointers here.
  • One of the major discussion points was the shift perceived in student cheating from copy & paste to purchase of term papers from paper mills and ghostwriters. Since there is not a chance of detecting this kind of cheating with software, there is a call for more education about plagiarism. The University of Derby has a system it calls PLATO - Plagiarism Teaching Online that is designed to fill this gap. I will be evaluating this system in the near future.
  • Another point was the topic of self-plagiarism. Tracey Bretag from the University of South Australia has been doing a lot of research on the topic.
  • Fintan Culwin from London South Bank University did an empirical study on letting his students use a plagiarism detection service as a learning tool for their own writing. He measured the amount of "dirt" = plagiarism in the first drafts submitted and in the final versions of their papers - and was amazed to see them introducing "new dirt" while getting rid of some of the "old dirt".
  • John Lesko runs a combined print and online journal on plagiarism calles Plagiary.
  • There was a rumor that there exists a system that automatically grades essay questions, and a bit of a discussion on the ethics and legalities of using such a system.
  • Jonathan Bailey of PlagiarismToday spoke about how copyright applies to web sites and how to go about getting takedown notices served.
  • Garry Allen of RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia had some interesting graphs from Google Trends. You can query "plagiarism" and see how often people search using this term. More interesting is a search for "free essays" - you can literally see the end of the terms on the graphs! But the peaks are going down, there is no proof that this is because more plagiarism detection systems are being used. This could be because there now exist many link lists for students with relevant links, so they don't have to search Google. Interesting enough, the most such requests seem to come from India....
England itself has become a scary place, I was last there 20 years ago. The place is infested with video cameras. They were in the elevators, at breakfast, in the classrooms, outside the classrooms, all over the streets. I couldn't find one in the bathrooms, but I'm sure they were there. Gave me the creeps.

Update: Will Murray, one of the conference organizers notes: "the main sponsor was Ofqual (an independent UK national regulating body), iParadigms only sponsored the dinner on Tuesday and an independent academic committe decided on which papers should be included."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Ghostwriter's Tale

The Berliner Tagespiegel reports on a case of ghostwriting.

Eight years ago, an out-of-work biologist was hired by a surgeon to write a book together with him. The surgeon delivered the data and explained the procedure, the biologist wrote the book. It was to be published together.

But there were disagreements after the manuscript was finished that were so massive, that the two met again in a courtroom. An agreement was made, the biologist was paid, and the surgeon had the "author's rights" to the book. But in the EU, the author's rights are only the rights to publish and sell the material and to reap the rewards - not the right to say that one is the author.

But the material turned up again - this time with only the name of the surgeon on it - as a habilitation thesis. In Germany, one doctorate is not enough, you have to submit a second thesis as a post-doc in order to be considered for a professorship at a university. Officially, this has been done away with, but in reality, you are nothing without a habilitation in many German universities.

The Charité, the medical school to which the habilitation was submitted, has started an investigation into the matter. The dean of the medical school quickly took action after he finally learned of the accusations, that apparently had taken some time to find their way to him. Not only the procedure must be from the person submitting the habilitation, the text must also be written by that person. It will be interesting to see how this well-documented case progresses.

Another verion of the article can be found offline in the weekly newspaper Rheinische Merkur number 22/08 from May 29, 2008.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Strange Tale of Plagiarism

A professor of English at a Midwestern university, Kevin Kopelson, writes in the London Review of Books about plagiarizing his way to the top. A strange tale, in that he got away with all of his plagiarizing because nobody actually read what he wrote, apparently.

He does write rather well, the piece is nicely worded, if it indeed from him. Bad enough that he has gotten away with so much blatant plagiarism, why on earth is he confessing all? How can he insist that his students do not plagiarize when he plagiarizes himself?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gaming Book withdrawn

The book "Computerspiel(er)versteher" (Understanding Game(r)s) that was prepared for the German Office for Political Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung) by professors from the Fachhochschule Köln (Cologne) has been withdrawn. The book was printed in 12.000 copies and intended for teachers and concerned parents.

The book includes a chapter by Winfred Kaminski, a professor at the FH Köln, that is a plagiarism of a number of Internet sources used without attribution, as reported by Heise, who quotes the current print edition of the weekly newsmagazine Spiegel. The BpB does not have a comment on its home page, the previously published links just do not work any more.

The plagiarism was discovered when the book was examined by experts during the course of different sort of academic dispute. The FH
Köln has received a good bit of funding from the gaming industry, specifically from Nintendo und Electronic Arts (EA). Both have donated 200.000 Euro
towards research and another 50.000 Euros for a conference that the university hosted. The department is under public fire because they
are saying that computer games are not really dangerous. The Kriminologischen Forschungsinstituts Niedersachsens (the Crime Research Institute of Lower Saxony) had determined that the book downplays the risks involved for gamers - and with the plagiarism found during this investigation was able to have the book withdrawn.

Kaminski has acknowledged that he used these sources and was perhaps not careful enough to make his sources clear.

There seems to be a (current?) tendency for people writing popular science books to do blatant copy & paste jobs without footnotes, which are felt to be detrimental to the reading experience.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

University of Regensburg wins plagiarism case

The Bavarian newspaper Mittelbayrische Zeitung reports that the University of Regensburg has won a plagiarism case.

It was discovered that the doctoral thesis of a law student was in fact a plagiarism, and the university decided to rescind the doctoral title award. The law student took the university to court to contest the decision. The court decided in favor of the university.

A lawyer for the law student has said that he is considering continuing to an upper court on the grounds that he feels that a title once awarded cannot be rescinded, but the university feels that it is correct and has had this affirmed by the lower court.

The questions remain as to how exactly the doctoral thesis will be marked as a plagiarism and who will make sure that the law student does not continue using the title "Dr.", which is very popular in Germany. People put it on their business cards, doorbells, stationary, and use it in situations outside the university. There is no clear procedure for this, as has been demonstrated in previous cases in which a doctoral title was rescinded.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

If you go looking, you will find.

I shared a concern that I had with a student this week that his exercise was a plagiarism. It consisted of two parts, one part was barely in coherent English with many misspelled words, the second (set in a different typeface) was nicely written with only the occasional misspelling.

I couldn't find anything with a search machine, but I suspect it was borrowed from a previous year's course. I tried to confer with the teacher of that course, but she is on vacation this week, so I attempted to communicate with the student.

He erupted into anger - was I calling him a criminal? No, I was curious as to the explanation for the surprising differences. He berated me, insisted there was no difference. This made me analyze the parts: part 1 was half a page and had 18 spelling errors and badly structured sentences. Part 2 was a page and a half, had correctly structured sentences and only 12 errors in total, or 4 per half a page. That's a power of 10 difference.

I asked the student for patience and told him that if the other teacher does not recognize the paper, he will get the normal amount of points for the exercise.

He threw back an email (the question of how reasonable it is to fight with a teacher in a tone like this is beside the point) saying that if I look hard enough I will find plagiarism everywhere I want to. He said it rather nastily, but he does have a point: If you find a lot of plagiarism, do you start (wrongly) thinking that most students are plagiarists and seeing plagiarism everywhere?

Or is plagiarism just so rampart that we absolutely must suspect it everywhere?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Icelandic professor fined for plagiarism

There is quite a drama playing out in Iceland at the Háskóli Íslands. A controversial professor for political science there, Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson (link is to the English Wikipedia, the case is briefly mentionen there), published a book in 2003 about the Icelandic Literature Nobel prize winner Halldór Laxness that contained many paragraphs that are plagiarisms of the works of Laxness.

Laxness' widow Auður Sveinsdóttir and daughter, the Icelandic filmmaker Guðný Halldórsdóttir, sued him on the basis of a 200-page document prepared by Helga Kress demonstrating the plagiarism from Laxness and from Thor Vilhjálmsson, Stefan Zweig, Peter Hallber and herself. Hannes won in a lower court, but the supreme court decided in March 2008 that he was guilty of plagiarism and the widow is to be paid damages to the tune of 5 million Icelandic crowns (about $ 68000) and to pay all court costs.

Hannes (Icelanders only have first and second names, what looks like a last name is the patronymic) contends that he did nothing wrong, as he is a political scientist and not a literature professor.

The university is debating how to handle this, and quite a number of fellow professors have come out in his defense (!), publicly giving support to him via a blog and a half-page ad published in a local newspaper last weekend which also requested donations to help him pay the fines. Other teachers are very vocal (also recorded in the blog) in saying that it was a good thing that he was fined, as honest scientists of any field do not steal other people's words. A very hot debate is currently running as to whether he needs to be additionally punished by the university.

The sources are mostly in Icelandic. The word for "plagiarism" in Icelandic (which tries to be pure and not use words borrowed from other languages) is ritstöld, theft of writing.
  • A blog Hannes og Háskólinn I - II - III - IV . The blog is asking teachers at the university to answer five questions. This is a translation of the questions asked (if you want to try and decode the answers, use this online Icelandic dictionary):
    1. What do you think about the recent sentencing of Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson, professor for political science at HÍ?
    2. Should the rector of the university get involved in this situation?
    3. If so, in what way?
    4. What do you think about the advertisement that Hannes' supporters published in the paper this weekend?
    5. Have you considered supporting this collective assistance for him?

  • Hannes own blog and university home page
  • A local newspaper, Morgunblaðið, has a page collecting their articles about this
  • The decree

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ruling in Student Suit against Turnitin

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has pronounced judgement in the case of four students who sued iParadigms, the company selling the Turnitin plagiarism detection service, for violation of copyright. The opinion can be read online at Two blog articles brought this to my attention, Plagarism Today and ©ollectanea.

The minors filed suit against iParadigms alleging copyright infringement, because they are required to give iParadigms the use of their own papers as part of their school's fight against plagiarism.

iParadigms filed countersuit accusing the students of all sorts of hacking violations, as one of the four had used an account to submit his paper that was not his school account, but one he found on the Internet, and other details. They had, for example, agreed to the terms of service with no modifications allowed, then put a modification at the top of their papers forbidding Turnitin from keeping a copy of their papers.

The way Turnitin works, is that a school contracts with Turnitin for plagiarism detection services, although there is no guarantee that Turnitin can indeed find all plagiarisms - and my test of the service in 2007 was rather sobering, as they were only able to discern correctly plagiarism or not in half of the 20 test cases.

The teachers set up a submission account with Turnitin, and the students are required to set up their own account and submit their papers to Turnitin, which send an "originality report" to the teacher with the paper and keep a copy for their own database. The students are required to agree to a "Clickwrap Agreement" giving Turnitin permission to so use their papers. There is no opt-out option, that is, the student cannot decide if they want Turnitin to keep a copy of their papers or not. This is a decision the school and/or the teacher makes for the student.

There is also a "Usage Policy" that is linked to, but which is does not have to be agreed to explicitly, meaning that you have to pay their legal fees if anything you do in using the site violates third party rights or breaches the contract they just forced you to "sign".

The judge decided, rightly so in my opinion, that the students have no case against Turnitin, but rather against the school, which is forcing them to use this service in this manner or get a zero mark for the assignment. But the cynical remark quoted from another case ("[i]f parents do not like the rules imposed by those schools, they can seek redress in school boards or legislatures; they can send their children to private schools or home school them; or they can simply move") completely disregards that many poorer families have no other choice than to use the public schools where they reside.

The judge also ruled that Turnitin's use of their original papers was "fair use". I quite disagree with this. The judge noted that the papers was just stored in "digital code", so it was not published as a paper. I see fair use as being using a portion of a text, not the text in it's entirety. And the expression used in the original paper is exactly the same if it is written on a typewriter, or stored in ASCII code. If they were only storing a hash code, this might be different, although that could be construed as a derivative work.

I object to a student being forced to give Turnitin their own original expressions for Turnitin's use for making money. The judge noted that they can still do what they want to with their works - but that is not the point for me. Digital media changes intellectual property, and it is time that the courts begin to understand this. Turnitin is making money off of the honest students' work because there are so many cheaters and teachers don't want to do the plagiarism detection themselves, but leave it to a company that promises more than it can be expected to deliver.

The judge states: "iParadigms' use in no way diminishes the incentive for creativity on the part of students. On the contrary, iParadigms' use protects the creativity and originality of student works be detecting any efforts at plagiarism by other students". Why on earth a judge would take advertising copy to be the truth is beyond me. It is impossible to detect "any efforts at plagiarism", one can only get lucky and detect some attempts.

Continuing, the judge found no basis for iParadigms countersuits. The "Usage Policy" is not binding, as they could not prove that the students saw it. The accusations of hacking were found to be unfounded. They agreed to the "Clickwrap Agreement" - this is why the charge against iParadigms is unfounded.

I do not understand why iParadigms cannot respect the intellectual property rights of students and give them the choice of deciding if they want Turnitin to keep a copy or not. I hope the students file suit against their respective schools. The schools need to learn that their job is to teach students about plagiarism and to themselves check for plagiarisms, not turn the responsibility for this over to a third-party. Perhaps they need to start thinking about new ways of assessing what students have learned, instead of asking for the same old papers over and over again.

An interesting point to the fair use analysis is the "transformative" use for the greater good. This is, for example, what Google and Co. do when they index your site. They make copies for the greater good. Of course, there is an opt-out: you can set a robots.txt file, and well-mannered search machines will keep out. But the result of this is that there is a much broader fair use possible as seen by the court than many copyright owners think they have under current laws. It will be interesting to see download sites for music and films using exactly this fair use defense - a transformative use for the greater good - the next time the music companies sue them.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Professor caught publishing student's paper

[Note: I am quoted in one of the articles below, so this may be construed as blatant self-promotion]

Spiegel-Online reporter Hermann Horstkotte reports on a professor of Slavic Studies at the University of Bonn who has been as harshly reprimanded as possible for publishing a paper from a student as his own back in 2001. For some strange reason he hired this student a few years after her graduation, and when she saw her own text on Danill Charms published in his name in a book published in honor of a colleague, she saw red and informed the university ombud for good scientific practice.

The university has taken away his privileges - he may no longer examine students, spend money (he'll have to run to the dean for every pencil he needs), or hire people. Since he only has a few years until retirement, this is practically early retirement with full pay, a rather bizarre punishment, but it makes sense within the German system of professorships, where a tenured professor cannot be fired short of being found guilty of committing a crime so bad the sentence is for 90 days or more of jail.

It takes just one Google search to find his name, and to find 260 publications listed. How many of them are plagiarisms, just this one? Why would someone in such a position do such a thing?

Horstkotte also has an article in the Rheinischer Merkur entitled "Sinners in Professoral Robes" (German professors used to wear robes up until the end of the 60s) in which he goes over a number of the juicier stories to hit the light of day in the past year or so. He quotes the organization of university professors in Germany, Deutschen Hochschulverband, insisting that cases involving ethics problems and dishonesty be publicly discussed. They promise to name names and to publicly denounce members who do not conduct themselves properly. It is to be hoped that this might actually happen, but don't hold your breath. In Germany there is a veil of secrecy wrapped around most of the cases of dishonesty that I have encountered in the past 6-7 years.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Story of ß - A Plagiarism

The German blogosphere is alive with the story of the German ligature sz (ß) - a book called ß - Ein Buchstabe wird vermisst (ß - a letter goes missing) by Frank Müller.

The first entry is from a printer, Martin Z. Schröder, from his blog SchreibenIstBlei (Writing is leaden). He had written an article for the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in May 2007 about this wonderful letter that causes computers and typesetters headaches but is actually quite beautiful.

The publishing house Eichborn Verlag (a large, successful publishing house that puts out many popular books every year) sent him a notice of the book and asked if he wanted to review it. Since the title was similar to his article title he asked for, and received, a copy to review with the request not to write anything about it before the release date, March 3, 2008.

As he began reading it was, as they say, déjà vu all over again. He recognized his article spread throughout the book, and published the bits on his blog before March 3 - seeing as how he had written the paragraphs last year, he didn't see the need to respect this date.

The blog readers pounced on available copies of the book (I tried to obtain a copy, but too late). They found most of the rest of the book in other places: The wonderful book by Judith Schalansky, Fraktur Mon Amour; advertising copy; newspaper articles that are available online; a printer's magazine, SIGNA; a book Falsch ist richtig (false is correct); and anytime the writing is suddenly very clear, the paragraphs are taken from the Wikipedia articles on Fraktur and the Antiqua-Fraktur dispute pages (links are to the WP-EN versions).

Things started happening. This Frank Müller (there are others, who were quick to point out that it was not them) wrote to Schröder by email, saying that the plagiarism was not intentional and had happened through a technical problem and time pressure. Just like the excuses my students bring, although no technical problem can explain this - it is just careless research and use of CTRL-C + CTRL-V too much. Schröder is a good guy, doesn't call his lawyer, but thinks perhaps the book should not be sold.

The publisher agrees, and on February 26 they announce that they are withdrawing the already printed books as had been planned and ask the authors of the plagiarized bits to excuse what has happened. The printers are sad - they hate printing books for the garbage can. But this cannot be healed by an errata list.

The blogosphere explodes. There are articles, comments, analyses, trackbacks all over the place - but not in print media, strangely enough. There are comical discoveries: Amazon misreads the ß (which is transcribed as ss in modern German, not sz) and files the book under " Bücher > Fachbücher > Geschichtswissenschaft > Neuzeit > Nationalsozialismus > SS" (The SS was as Nazi organization).

Three days later, Frank Müller publishes an article UNVERGEßEN (unforgotten) in the Süddeutsche Magazin about the ß. He does not mention his book, but this has a bitter taste to it - why was this not pulled when the book was discovered to be a plagiarism? Why is there no comment on the online version? Parts of this article are taken from his book, and they happen to be plagiarisms...

Bloggers are now writing nasty letters to the SZ, but still no official note of this. If you can read German, here is a selection of blog articles about it: Literaturcafe (they report that deleted Müller's entry on his own book, but that can still be found in Google's cache) - Thilo Baum - IGDA - kLog - Fontblog - ....

Update (March 5): Spiegel Online has finally reported on this, that is a well-read, mainstream online medium in German.

Update 2 (March 7): The Süddeutsche has permitted one of the plagiarized, Martin Z. Schröder, to publish an article about the plagiarism, appropriately titled "Der Schamesrote Buchstabe" (The Scarlet Letter).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Footnote requirements in Germany

An anonymous comment asked: "Would you please describe the extent to which your university - or other German universities - require students to footnote their writings?"

German universities are, I assume, just like other universities. We are trying to teach people how to think and how to write, and how to be scientific in doing so. And thus, we are not interested in something your cousin's uncle saw on TV - we want the facts, please.

The form for footnotes varies from field to field, but in general, if it's not from you, it needs a footnote.

This is not done to torture poor students who don't have much time to get those term papers written between jobs and parties. It is so that someone else who reads what you write can verify - or disprove - what you wrote. In a way, it saves your hide.

Let's say you wrote "The world is flat." You just got yourself an "F", for stupidity. But if you write "Sticklemonger writes in [Sti99] that the world is flat", then it's not your stupidity, but Sticklemonger's, and that lets you off the hook.

If you use the argumentative structure from someone without referencing it (either inline or in a footnote) and that argumentative structure is wrong, it is again your fault unless you can point to the real author.

If you like a particular phrase or some sentence sums up what you want to say perfectly - go ahead, that's what the quotes are for - quote exactly, and give us the source. Not, I'd like both for web sites and for print literature a citation that lets me find exactly what you are quoting. That is, either an exact URL (and date) or the exact edition and page number.

Someone asked me if there wasn't a way that a conscientious student could check that his paper didn't have a "mistaken plagiarism" in it. No magic here, either. Software can't see if your footnotes are set right, and it surely can't see if you are forgetting to quote some book right. The only way - and there is no royal road here - is to take notes religiously, noting down where you read what, carefully documenting quotes and dates and facts, so that you can refer to them properly.

Research is not something you google. Research takes time, patience, and discipline. It demands that you take notes, keep your work, be honest about your sources. And when you make an exciting discovery or can formulate a solid theory, it is really, really fun. Copying and cutting corners takes all the fun out of research. In Europe and elsewhere.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Plagiarius Awards 2008

The 2008 Awards for plagiarism of product designs have been awarded!

First place is for a salt and pepper shaker set, second place goes to a vegetable slicer (even the package is plagiarized!) and third place was awarded to something useful in heating elements (never seen one myself before, but that is beside the point).

Two special awards were given to a watch fabricator and to a "serial criminal" who has copied an entire series of technical toys.

Eight other products were given a dishonorable mention. They are on exhibition at the Plagiarism Museum in Solingen, Germany. The awards have been given yearly since 2004, and there is apparently no dearth of candidates.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A Legal Twist on Plagiarism Detection

A representative of a German university asked for my help this past week. They want to purchase plagiarism detection software, but their legal department insists that they can only purchase software that they run locally, they may not send the papers to a third-party company for testing, as the papers are examination artefacts and not to be used outside of the university.

This gives plagiarism detection an interesting twist: software that runs locally does not normally have its own database - so it basically is just doing the search machine searches for you, in which case you might as well be doing the testing yourself. It is conceivable that a university might start a papers database of the locally submitted papers, but that will only be of marginal use, as copying from the Internet would not be found.

I have heard that locally installed plagiarism detection software has trouble negotiating licenses with large search machine companies for fast, repeated searches. So maybe what we need is some sort of Plagiarism Workbench that helps teachers do their searches themselves, recording what they tested when and helping them do documentation.

But it seems there is no substitute for doing one's own searching. Since we are, one hopes, actually reading all the papers and not just assigning random grades, we might as well do a quick check after reading on a few paragraphs. As I have often shown: 3-5 nouns suffice.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Duplicate papers

Nature reports (Errami, M. & Garner, H. Nature 451, 397-399 (2008) ) on research done by two Texas researchers who investigated 62,000 papers available online in the Medline database. They were looking for plagiarism and autoplagiarism (publishing one paper in multiple journals) and found about 1% using their tool, eTBLAST, a "text similarity-based engine for searching literature collections".

As usual, any mention of the words "plagiarism" and "Internet" in the same paragraph causes journalists to suspect that plagiarism is "on the rise" and the call and try and get me to verify this, which I refuse to do. We can't measure the amount of plagiarism, only the amount of what we find. So if we can't measure it, we can't say if it is increasing or decreasing. At least this gave me a chance to spout off on some of my favorite topics, and they broadcast a large portion of my interview this afternoon on Deutschlandradio.

Duplicate papers are indeed a problem. Sometimes, one has a minor bit of new material, and wants to republish. I have even had a journal approach me and insist on paying for a translator to translate my paper on plagiarism into English to be published in their journal. I only permitted them to do this if they let me check the translation (it was not good, would have been easier to do it myself) and if they included a footnote explicitly stating that this was a translation of a previous paper).

But apparently, in the quest for AMPAP (as many publications as possible) people submit multiple copies of papers to different journals in the hopes that no one looks at them side by side and discovery them to be identical.

Is it "okay" to plagiarize oneself on the level of paragraphs or sentences? It also looks bad when a paper consists mostly of quotes of one's own work.

Another fine line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Book about Women Writers a Plagiarism

The Bavarian TV station Bayrischen Rundfunk reports (Skandal um "Verbrannte Dichterinnen") that the publisher Artemis & Winkler has withdrawn the book "Verbrannte Dichterinnen" (Women writers whose books were burned in the Third Reich) by Edda Ziegler after an accusation of plagiarism by the Munich scholar Hiltrud Häntzschel, who had published many books about these women.

Häntzschel found over 170 parts of the book that took her words, changing the syntax slightly or the verb tenses, but followed her publications very closely. The publisher agrees, and has withdrawn the unsold volumes. It has announced a reprint with footnotes.

Ziegler does not see what she did as plagiarism. She says she was just following the "rules of popular science writing". She used many quotes, but did not bother with footnotes, which are disdained by critics and the popular press.

"But does this give one a charter for copying?", BR asks. "How about doing one's own research, one's own concept, and one's own writing so as to avoid the footnotes?" Ziegler feels that she was just taking what she had read and putting it into a more readable form. BR does not consider this authorship.

BR has a 3:29 minute interview with both authors (in German) available online.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Blackboard offers SafeAssign in Dutch deal reports that Blackboard is offering SafeAssign for its Dutch customers in a nationwide learning management system agreement.

We noted the purchase of the software by Blackboard in August 2007 during our test of plagiarism detection systems, but were not able to test SafeAssign, neé MyDropBox. Our first few tests of MyDropBox encountered errors, after finding a press release speaking of the purchase we tried to contact Blackboard twice, but they did not return our calls.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Online Workshop

Just received this letter. Okay, it's advertising, but the topic is relevant to this blog, so here it is!

Dr. Weber-Wulff,
Our upcoming online workshop may be of interest to your readers. Please consider posting to your blog. Thank you.
In recent years, plagiarism and cheating have been highlighted in the news. Whether discussing high-profile cases like Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin or reviewing works on the subject by notables like Judge Richard Posner, the public appears keenly interested in plagiarism. Plagiarism detection devices, once all the rage are, with greater intensity, being challenged legally and ethically as inappropriate vehicles for detecting plagiarism. Most recently, is in the middle of litigation challenging its business practices as violations of copyright law.

Please join the Center for Intellectual Property as we attempt to address the plagiarism and cheating issues on college campuses and try to build communities that value academic integrity.
Building a Community that Values Academic Integrity
Dates: February 25 - March 7, 2008
Moderators: Gary Pavela, M.A., J.D., Director of Judicial Programs and Student Ethical Development, University of Maryland -- College Park & Kimberly Bonner, J.D., Executive Director, Center for Intellectual Property, University of Maryland University College

Studies show that establishing a community of shared academic values fosters academic integrity in the classroom. However, establishing that community may be more difficult when students adopt the values of a digital "remix" culture that challenges the traditional understanding of authorship. How do institutions foster academic integrity values in light of changing cultural norms? Are there special techniques and tools required? Are the best tools to use in preventing academic dishonesty "technical" like And are there additional legal and ethical issues involved when using technical measures to prevent academic dishonesty? Please see site for detailed course objectives-

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

UK Plagiarism Conference


"The 3rd International Plagiarism Conference, which is being managed by Northumbria Learning, examines the challenges facing institutions as they evolve solutions to the issue of ensuring authenticity in learners' work in a changing information environment. The conference will seek to consider best practice from secondary through to higher education. The need for a cross-sectoral approach is reflected in the joint sponsorship of the conference by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fake Universities

I was alerted by Dr. Free-Ride in her "Adventures in Ethics and Science" blog to the BBC uncovering a scam university in England, the "Irish International University". It seems that this outfit has been in operation for seven years, enabling young people from developing countries who pay the tuition to enter the UK.

They are awarded "credit" for all sorts of activities, and awarded their diplomas in impressive ceremonies in rooms rented at the University of Oxford and Cambridge. The IIU is of course accredited - but by an organization that appears to belong to the president as well, and is not actually recognized by any governmental bodies (besides the tax office and the post office, one assumes) in the UK.

This demonstrates the problem of who accredits the accreditation officials. And demonstrates that people desperate for (Western) degrees, but especially people from developing countries, are willing to pay for their certificates.

The IIU even offers an online form for verifying the graduates. This is a simple PHP script, and they explain clearly the structure of the student numbers: 4 digits. The second one I tried was a hit, and I obtained the name, photo, passport number, course program and "graduation year". I suppose this is so that employers can "verify" the degrees. And my, the pictures are grand, with robes and all.

What a find for identity thieves - during a rather long-winded session in which I had WLAN access I determined that the student numbers are assigned sequentially between 2000 and 2462, starting again at 4349 and running to 5145. Extremely primitive programming, I was not locked out upon trying sequential numbers.

Continuing on I chose Hans J. Kempe, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. I chose him because his picture looked so strange, sort of a handyman playing dressup. And indeed, a quick Google search turns him up: he's a tool and die maker, who has amassed titles and jobs that sound very grand. I stumbled over his degree as a "Doctor of Naturopathy". What on earth is that?

Googling again I find Canyon College, a college in Idaho that lets you register online and get degrees in all sorts of fields. The page states, of course, that "Enrollment not available to Idaho residents". Checking Google maps, we find the street address has 2 houses, across from the Vallivue school. How do they get all these programs into these two houses?

What is Naturopathy? This seems to be some sort of quackery, according to Quackwatch. Oh, and this is the Clayton College the esteemed Mr. Kempe has his named degree from. All of the others are degrees without names of the institutions.

These fake "universities" seem to be all over the place. How does a student find a reputable institution? How do employers or other universities find out if the degrees presented are reputable?

Update: More links about fake universities:

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


PlagiarismToday alerted me to a new software for plagiarism detection, BitScan. Since it just wanted URLs and 20 tests were free, I couldn't resist trying a few of my tests on the quick:
  • Viking - a trivial shake-and-paste plagiarism of one source: the source and only the source was found
  • Döner - a complicated three-source plagiarism with Wikipedia: two mirrors of Wikipedia found, no other sources
  • Jelinek - another three-source plagiarism with an automatic translation: one of the three sources found as the only source
  • Djembe - an impossible (for machines) machine translation: nothing found
  • Lettau - an easy plagiarism of the German Wikipedia (his publication list also appears 1:1 in the English-language Wikipedia: nothing found
  • Blogs - a plagiarism from a pdf: nothing found
  • Atwood - a trivial plagiarism from Amazon: found, along with some copies
Okay, that's about par for the course. Flipping a coin is at least as good. I will put it on my list for a future test, though. Maybe they will have done some fine-tuning by then.