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.