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.