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Gaming Book withdrawn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?