Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hitting hard against diploma mills

Wired has an excellent in-depth article by David Wolman: "Fraud U: Toppling a Bogus-Diploma Empire" about the efforts of George Gollin to bring down at least one of the many diploma mills currently operating, St. Regis. The people running the operation are now currently in jail (on charges of mail trafficking and bribing and whatnot), and Gollin is pushing legislation to make it harder to set up operations like this.

Gollin keeps a looooong page on Information resources concerning unaccredited degree-granting institutions with an enormous collection of links and some tools for investigating fake degrees.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Researchers admit to self-plagiarism, withdraw paper

[finally clearing out a large backlog, sorry about that - dww]

Spiegel online reports that stem cell researchers Karim Nayernia from Newcastle University and Wolfgang Engel from the University of Göttingen (yes, the German university of fabricated publications fame) have withdrawn a paper they published in July 2009 in "Stem Cells and Development" about producing male sperm from stem cells.

The research has caused quite a stir, so the withdrawal has also been disturbing. It appears that a large part of the introduction is a self-plagiarism without source from a previous paper published by the research group. Additionally, one of the authors listed on the paper states that he did not read the paper before it was published.

Nayernia and Engel insist that the data is valid, and regret the unintended self-plagiarism. Further reports say that the researcher responsible for the plagiarism has been fired.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

German court finds ghostwriting okay

A terrible backlog of articles about plagiarism has accumulated. I hope to clear it out over the holidays. Since this one just surfaced in the German mainstream media, I'll link it here:

The Frankfurter Rundschau (and the Berliner Zeitung) ran an article by Hermann Horstkotte about the judgment taken in September by the High Court in Frankfurt/Main about a plagiarism case.

An honorary professor (who also happens to be responsible for corporate social responsibility at a large German company) hired a ghostwriter in 2002 to write an article for him. The article appeared in a journal under the name of the honorary professor, with just a footnote thanking the true author, who was an employee at that time.

Four years later the employee discovers this article in the literature list of the honorary professor. And since this person is now in business for himself, he doesn't like the idea of his own work being used by the other guy, and he requests from him removal of the work from his literature list (which he complies with) and a signature under a cease-and-desist order (which he refuses).

It ends up in court, and the court decides, that since the honorary professor is not a "real" member of the university, this is just a normal text-writing contract and is fine. That this is against university policy, German research system policy, and is highly unethical, has nothing to do with German law.

A university spokesman said that the university will strengthen its efforts to make it clear that ghostwriting is unacceptable, both for students and for professors.

I feel that if the courts make such a distinction between honorary and "real" professors, then we need to get rid of honorary professors. They should be held to the same standards as the rest of us, or they can't print "Prof." on their calling cards.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Comparison of two Doctoral Theses

A German blogger compares two Doctoral Theses: (in German)

Plagiarism Conference 2010

From my mailbox:

The Fourth International Plagiarism Conference, will take place on 21-23 June 2010 at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. The deadline for extended abstracts of 1000 words and proposals is 29 January, 2010.

Papers, posters, video and workshop submissions are invited on the following themes:
  • Creating a culture of honesty
  • Ensuring authenticity in non text-based disciplines and multimedia
  • Addressing non-traditional learning styles (e.g. overseas students, mature students etc)
  • Ensuring the integrity of research and published work
  • Open theme. Suggested topics include: innovative assessment techniques beyond the essay, the changing nature of authorship in a Web 2.0 world, contract cheating, plagiarism detection
Further details may be found at

This fourth biennial conference, hosted by, and sponsored by Ofqual draws together delegates from the international educational community. In 2008 250 delegates from schools, colleges, universities, awarding and regulatory bodies along with commercial organizations from around the world met to share their experiences and expertise in this key area.

Keynote speakers
  • Isabel Nisbet, Acting Chief Executive, Ofqua
  • Jude Carroll, Deputy Director of the ASKe CETL at Oxford Brookes University, UK.
  • Dr Teddi Fishman, Director of the Center for Academic Integrity, US.
  • Adrian Slater, Head of Legal Services at the University of Leeds, UK.
Further information and registration details can be found at

Impact Factor

The blog Mathlog comments in German on a publication in SIAM News by Douglas N. Arnold Integrity Under Attack: The State of Scholarly Publishing.

The publication stems from a report on a particularly disturbing plagiarism series involving 5 plagiarisms by the same duo, M. Sreenivas and T. Srinivas. It seems that the first author was a student of the second one and used the professor's name on the paper without his knowledge. However, Srinivas had the papers listed on his publication list at the department.

The publication goes on to list a number of cases, many of which have been discussed here. A new one is the impact factor of the International Journal of Nonlinear Science and Numerical Simulation (IJNSNS). I quote a paragraph here from Arnold's paper:
Let me describe another element that contributes to IJNSNS's high impact factor. The Institute of Physics (IOP) publishes Journal of Physics: Conference Series (JPCS). Conference organizers pay to
have proceedings of their conferences published in JPCS, and, in the words of IOP, “JPCS asks Conference Organisers to handle the peer review of all papers.” Neither the brochure nor the website
for JPCS lists an editorial board, nor does either describe any process for judging the quality of the conferences. Nonetheless, Thomson Reuters counts citations from JPCS in calculating impact factors.
One of the 49 volumes of JPCS in 2008 was the proceedings of a conference organized by IJNSNS editor-in-chief He at his home campus, Shanghai Donghua University. This one volume contained 221 papers, with 366 references to papers in IJNSNS and 353 references to He. To give you an idea of the effect of this, had IJNSNS not received a single citation in 2008 beyond the ones in this conference proceedings, it would still have been assigned a larger impact factor than any SIAM journal except for SIAM Review.
Hmm - I have a number of Chinese conferences on my dodgy list. Perhaps Chinese conferences should be excluded from the calculation of impact factors? And journals need to institute some real peer review (and not just payment for publication). It also shows that the impact factor is broken, if it can be easily gamed like this. Arnold summarizes his criticism of reliance on bibliometrics: "Counting can never replace expert opinion."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Microsoft Admits Plagiarizing Code

Microsoft has admitted plagiarizing code for the Chinese interface for their MSN-Buddy.

Is this the current trend? Plagiarize, and then apologize if caught? I hope not.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Difficult to Rescind Doctorate

As previously reported here, a number of German universities are trying to rescind the doctorates that have been granted to persons who either bribed their way to the title, used ghostwriters, or just plain made up their data.

Spiegel Online reports that this is a nice idea, but hard to do. German universities are actually an arm of the government, the professors are civil servants. And there are lots and lots of Prussian-style laws (as well as a Nazi law fron 1939 that was used to take doctorates from Jewish scientists, "Gesetz über die Führung akademische Grade") regulating how you go about doing this - or rather, not.

The upshot is, that it is not easy to rescind doctorates, and there are lots of lawyers eager to help the poor plagiarists and fancy fraudsters keep their titles engraven in bronze on their front doors.

Friday, October 30, 2009

German University Rescinds Doctorate

Spiegel online reports that the University of Konstanz is standing by its decision to rescind the dissertation defended in 1997 by the physicist Jan Hendrik Schön. Schön had been working at Bell Labs in the USA on nanotechnology when it was revealed in 2002 that he was inventing the work he was publishing about. He was fired and a long discussion about scientific integrity and the peer review system began.

In 2005 the University of Konstanz used a passage in their dissertation rules to pull the doctorate out from under him: a doctoral title can be rescinded when the behavior of the person after obtaining the doctorate demonstrates that the person is unworthy of bearing such a title. Schön objected on the grounds that his dissertation was okay, the fakes only came after.

It has taken the university 5 years to decide to stand by their decision. While I applaud the decision, I do wonder if it really needed five years for this.

Schön's only recourse now would be through the court system, and that may take even longer. Spiegel reports that in a recent case involving the University of Bonn, it took the courts eight years to decide in favor of the university rescinding a doctoral title.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Choosing your Dissertation Writer

My plagiarism bot scours the Internet looking for new pages that show up using the word "plagiarism". A real gem showed up in my inbox this morning from a marketing organization. It is an advice page on how to obtain low-cost dissertation writers. The page begins:
Writing profession is gaining popularity now-a-days. You can find number of professional writers who can write your dissertation at low cost and less time. Writing a professional dissertation requires years of experience, professionalism and ability to do in-depth research.
How many grammar errors are in these three sentences only? I was suspecting a Far Eastern company, but the registrar of these (and two other domains, both paper mills) is in Manchester, but is a generic registrant. I still have the feeling that this is a non-native speaker of English, perhaps Indian, writing. Maybe it is one of the owners of sham colleges in England, branching out in related fields.

The advertising blunders on:
For attaining good grades in your dissertation it is essential that the dissertation you write must be non-plagiarised. Make sure the dissertation writer you hire provide completely Plagiarism-free dissertation.
Maybe it would be a good idea if your dissertation writer advertiser could also operate a spelling checker.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Scientists punished for inventing publications

According the the NDR, the German research funding organization DFG has decided on the punishments for the involvement of 13 researchers in listing invented publications on their report about past funding and request for new.

Two professors for agroecology, the speaker of the research team (Sonderforschungsbereich) and the leader of a graduate study program (Graduiertenkolleg), have been suspended from holding any sort of office within the DFG for three years. The DFG found that they should have been examples of good scientific conduct for the people they were training, and for failing this, have been suspended.

Three other scientists will be issued written reprimands. The reasoning is that their careers are not to be destroyed, but it is to be made clear that inventing publications for a report on funding is unacceptable.

In all, 54 publications by 13 scientists were found to be non-existent, additional publications were falsely noted to be already published when they were, in fact, only submitted for publication.

Additionally, the University of Göttingen will have to pay back an as yet undisclosed sum of money, and there are criminal charges of fraud being brought against the speaker.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Suspicious Chinese ICT Conferences

A colleague was bragging that he had a paper accepted at an international IEEE conference in China. Since IEEE has often been found to support so-called bogus or fake conferences (ones that accept any paper, even those generated by SciGen) and since I was on vacation with internet access and time on my hands, I decided to have a look.

IEEE has a site that can be used to search for conferences, so I looked for conferences in Beijing in 2009. Amazing, there are 23 IEEE conferences this year in Beijing! Okay, China is a large country. I idly flicked through a few of them, when I realized that the contact person for an number of them was given as Prof. Mengqi Zhou.

More research turned him up as Chairman of the IEEE Beijing Section, and 10 of the 23 conferences listed him as the contact. Now I was really curious, so I spent a good bit of time researching the conferences. Some appear to be legitimate - they have a venue listed on their web page, they have a small range of topics listed, there is someone more or less serious-sounding as the contact.

But others are mighty strange indeed. There are dysfunctional web sites, no venues listed. And from October 16-18, 18-20, 21-23 there are three large conferences listed at the Beijing University of Posts and Telekommunications, with a fourth from 6-8 Nov. The contact for all four conferences is the same person, Weining Wang. Three of the four have identical registration prices and registration forms - only the dates and names of the conferences have been changed and are in a different font. The fourth one has a dysfunctional web page. Here is the data that I collected during my research:

Conference, Venue according to IEEEDatesURLPartici-
Review timeReg. DeadlinePrice
2009 IEEE International Conference on Shape Modeling and Applications (SMI), Convention Center, Tsinghua University26-28 Jun 2009[1] 1508 weeks?$400Seems okay, smallish topics, PC online. Program online, Directions to university online
2009 2nd IEEE International Conference on Computer Science and Information Technology (ICCSIT 2009), Beijing Convention Center8-11 Aug 2009[2]350???No web site any more, just notice that proceedings have been sent to authors already. Contact address is given at a Chinese news/freemail account.
2009 9th International Conference on Electronic Measurement & Instruments (ICEMI 2009), Beihang University16 Aug - 19 Aug 2009[3]2702 weeksJune 30, 2009
Chinese news/freemail account. No information on venue on web site except for advertising for "Hot Spring Liesure [sic] City"
2009 IEEE Youth Conference on Information, Computing and Telecommunication (YC-ICT 2009), Gradute University of Chinese 20-21 Sep 2009[4]2004 weeksAug 30, 2009$300IEEE e-mail contact, Hotels listed on web site, Google map to hotel
2009 Fourth International Conference on Bio-Inspired Computing: Theories and Applications (BIC-TA 2009), Shaoyuan Guest House Peking University16-19 Oct 2009[5]1205 weeksJune 30$430Venue given, functional web site, gmail contact
2009 IEEE International Conference on Communication Technology and Applications (ICCTA), Hotelecom Hotel16-18 Oct 2009[6]1503 1/2 weeksJuly 20$400 / $50Only one page functions on home page. E-Mail Beijing University of Posts and Telekommunications, (Weining Wang).
Registration form identical to [7] and [10]
2009 2nd IEEE International Conference on Broadband Network & Multimedia Technology (IC-BNMT 2009), High-Tech Mansion BUPT18-20 Oct 2009[7]2003 1/2 weeksJuly 20$400 / $50E-Mail contact Beijing University of Posts and Telekommunications, (Weining Wang).
Registration form identical to [6] and [10]
2009 IEEE 16th International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management (IE&EM 2009), Beijing Union University21-23 Oct 2009[8]3001 weekJune 25404 errorNo venue information on site, Program still "under construction", Contact is a yahoo address, many topics, foreigners can submit later
2009 3rd IEEE International Symposium on Microwave, Antenna, Propagation and EMC Technologies for Wireless Communications (MAPE 2009), Jingyan Hotel27-29 Oct 2009[9]3504 1/2 weeksJune 10$495 / $60Contact at Beijing Jiaotong University, Venue online, Wide range of topics,
"Each article should be within 4 pages, otherwise USD60 will be charged per page of the extra pages of your article. The first author who has 2 papers should pay one registration fee and USD60 per page of the second paper."
2009 IEEE International Conference on Network Infrastructure and Digital Content (IC-NIDC 2009), Academic Communication Center, BUPT 6-8 Nov 2009[10]1803 1/2 weeksAug 15$400 / $50E-Mail contact Beijing University of Posts and Telekommunications, (Weining Wang). Registration form identical to [6] and [7], Registration venue given as Beijing Hotelecom Hotel.

Ms. Weining Wang is listed as the Director of Academic Office, BUPT. She also appears to be the contact for IEEE NLP-EK 2007, IEEE IC-NLP 2005, China-Ireland International Conference on ICT (CIICT2008), the 19th International Teletraffic Congress ITC19, The Asia-Pacific Network Operations and Management Symposium 2008, ICHS 08, and is Deputy Editor-In-Chief of the Elsevier-published "Journal of China Universities of Posts and Telecommunications". Maybe she is the one in the office that speaks English, but I find this mighty strange.

I believe that the conferences [6], [7] and [10] are bogus conferences. [2], [3], and [8] are questionable.

Am I being paranoid here? I wrote to the IEEE president when I published my blog entry on fake conferences, but received no reply. Comments?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Plagiarism of Music

The German online news magazine for IT, netzwelt, reports that
Daniel Müllensiefen, from the Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College in London and Marc Pendzich, a Hamburg-based musicologist who did his dissertation on cover versions, have developed a software for determining if specific music is a plagiarism. They have tested their algorithms on a number of court decisions about musical plagiarism:

Müllensiefen, D., and Pendzich, M. (2009). Court decisions on music plagiarism and the predictive value of similarity algorithms. Musicae Scientiae, Discussion Forum 4B, 257-295.

The duo runs a company that sells expertise in the area of musical plagiarism.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Captchas now activated

Sorry for the inconvenience, but there has been so much Japanese spam advertising for medicinal compounds lately, that I've turned on captcha and moderation for older posts.

Plagiarism in China

A German researcher about plagiarism in China, Lena Henningsen from the University of Heidelberg, passes on this great article about plagiarism and cheating in China: "No stopping China's cheaters", by Stephen Wong, Asia Times, Aug 22, 2009.

Some of the high points:
  • Organized cheating on college exams is rampant.
  • A novel experiment in detection of cheating on exams found that young pupils made much better proctors, catching two and a half times more cheaters than the adults did. The average age of the pupils was 12 years old.
  • Wong notes that "A commentary of the national Guangming Daily newspaper stated that adults don't lack the eyes to see problems. They lack the courage to expose them."
  • There is an examination law being proposed, but the question of enforcement lurks unsolved.
  • Southwest Jiaotong University vice president Huang Qing has had his dissertation revoked. He has protested that it was "only 7%" and doesn't understand what the fuss is all about.
  • Tsinghua University has developed software that supposedly detects plagiarism. But it doesn't detect much, there is counter software available that helps people "fix" their stolen papers.
I think the comment from Guangming Daily is spot on for the Western world as well. We see problematic behavior (read: scientific misconduct of all shades and strengths), but we lack the courage to call people out on their misconduct.

Thanks for the link, Lena!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Update: Doctorates sold in Germany

A reporter for the Frankfurter Rundschau has made it clear that the Cologne district attorney's office was a little imprecise in saying that 100 honorary professors were being investigated. What was meant was that over 100 "außerplanmäßige" Professors (apl. Prof.) are being looked into.

There is a difference. An honorary professorship is something like an honorary doctorate, only one step up the ladder. An apl. Prof. is one that is "outside of the plan". That means, they get to call themselves Professor, and they have to teach, but they don't necessarily get paid. Many of these people either have a German second doctorate (Habilitation) or they were so-called "Junior Professors" that got to be "real" professors straight from their doctorates for six years and then failed to find a job-for-life.

This introduces a strangeness to the cases. If tenured professors were to take a bribe, they are looking at fines, prison, and perhaps being stripped of their pension. But since these apl. Profs are not paid, there's not that much of a problem in them taking bribes.

So who is to blame? Well, what are these faculty boards and dissertation committee doing during their meetings about the dissertations? Did no one read and thoroughly research the work done? Did they just rubber stamp the proposals and hope that the meeting was over in time for dinner?

The hard part is: how do we get this sorted out? In Sweden it would be simple. All public service documents are in the public domain. Some reporter with time on hir hands would ask for the list and start making calls. In Germany we have "data privacy" laws that are very useful in situations like this. And since it is not the national government, but the individual states that run the universities, there are 16 "Kultusminister" or "Wissenschaftssenator" that have to check out their own house.

In a fantasy world, each state would request the list of their own institutions from Cologne and call in some university presidents for some hard discussions. They might even cut budgets from departments that granted degrees that show up on the list.

Oh, and there are apparently over 200 names on the list of grantees, just 100 apl. Profs. that participated. Stay tuned, but don't hold your breath.

Monday, August 24, 2009

From the Department of Oops

As reported previously, the German magazin Focus (among others) reported that German professors sold doctorates after they were given a bribe by an institute that "found mentors" for its customers. In a classic Google Ads "Oops" the article at Online Focus on August 22, 2009 is decorated with an ad for just such an institute (red box added by me):

Thanks to W. Cloud for finding this gem!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

German Professors sold Doctorates

The Cologne district attorney's office has completed its investigation after having confiscated papers found while searching the offices of the Insitute für Wissenschaftsberatung in Bergisch-Gladbach. They had been in business for over 20 years. The University of Hanover took back nine doctorates in March 2009, when they discovered that the professors "mentoring" the theses had taken bribes to do so.

Now Focus, Neue Westfälische Zeitung, Spiegel Online, and Tagesschau report that over 100 other doctorates have been found to have been granted on the basis of bribes. District Attorney Günther Feld has confirmed the press reports that professors from the Universities of Bayreuth, Berlin (Free University), Bielefeld, Cologne, Frankfurt/Main, Hagen, Hamburg, Hanover, Ingolstadt, Jena, Leipzig, Rostock, and Tübingen are involved. Many different fields are represented, among them law, medicine, sociology, business administration, engineering, and veterinary science.

The customers paid the institute between 4000 and 20 000 Euros for finding an "appropriate" mentor and topic. The professors received between 2000 and 5000 Euros for taking on the customer. In general, however, it was not the tenured professors who were caught, but honorary professors, who have been given the status of a professor, and the right to mentor doctorates. They are required to teach a course every year to keep their titles, but are not paid. The departmental boards of each school, however, are normally involved in the granting of the doctorates. It is not clear why none of them complained or stopped any of these degrees.

The conviction of a law professor from Hannover on bribery charges is now final, he was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 75 000 Euros. He had appealed to the Federal High Court of Justice, but they refused to hear the case.

Spiegel Online also has an interview with the Munich professor for business, Manuel René Theisen, who has been fighting against companies such as the Bergisch-Gladback institute for over 25 years.

See the update on this case!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Swedish Red Cross Officer Faked Academic Records

There were reports in June 2009 in alternative media (The Local,, Swedennews) that Johan af Donner, the communication officer for the Swedish Röda Korset, was not only remanded into custody charged with defrauding the Red Cross of more than 2.5 million SEK (about 250.000 €), but had also defrauded the Swedish Cancer Society of another 3 million or so when he served as their head of donations. He also misused the Red Cross business credit card for personal expenses.

During the investigations it came to light that af Donner had also apparently falsified his qualifications, using liquid paper on a copy of a degree from a friend. He left both copies behind when fired from a previous company and made to leave immediately, according to Realtid, an online business zine that has been closely following the case. The link is in Swedish, but there is a picture of the falsified document, presumably before being fotocopied. The University of Stockholm has determined that af Donner was enrolled in a business administration program but was never granted a degree.

af Donner was released from prison four weeks later, since the government had by then managed to freeze his assets, in particular the money he made by selling off his apartment in a fancy part of Stockholm (Ostermalm) just before the Red Cross story broke. A crony who helped in the fraud by sending made-up bills has also been identified and charged.

In other news, the Red Cross Hospital in Stockholm has to close because they have no money. They are, however, economically separate from the Swedish Red Cross, so the officers of the Red Cross deny that there is a connection here.

A Plagiarist Reformed

The Washington Post reports on the reporter who had to leave the New York Times because of plagiarism. It is rather strange that this is newsworthy, but maybe in order to show that there can indeed be life in a different field after such a scandal. I'm glad he's found a job and seems to be doing well at it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How do we deal with accusations?

In a previous blog entry I demonstrated an example of what I called "CV bloat" with reuse of previously published material. I wrote to the person involved and asked if he could give any clarification on the matter. He wrote a very nice letter back, explaining the situation.

In his letter he raised another, very valid point. Should I have blogged this publicly? This would seem to be also against the DFG rules:
Trotz ihrer zum Teil gegensätzlichen Rollen teilen der Beschuldigte, seine Institution und derjenige, der Zweifel an der Arbeit geäußert hat, das Ziel einer möglichst schnellen Aufklärung der vorgebrachten Verdächtigungen ohne öffentliches Aufsehen. (Despite their opposing roles, all three parties - the accused, the institution to which he or she belongs, and the accuser - should have the goal of a quick clearing up of the matter without public attention. [emphasis mine])
The DFG rules go on to describe a long process that must be conducted in utmost secrecy. Indeed, I can see that this is important in a case where we have A and B, each with a copy of the same text, and it must be determined who copied from whom. And it would be important for the accusers to be able to remain anonymous, although in many cases that I see (doctoral theses copying word-for-word from diploma or master's or bachelor's theses they mentored) it is trivial to guess who must have blown the whistle.

But how can we discuss questions of what is acceptable and what is not, if we do not do it publicly? No one will discuss the topic unless there is a concrete case at hand that starts people thinking and asking questions.

I have spoken about this reuse with a number of colleagues in the past few days and have found that many do not find this to be a problem, although I have pointed out that in many grant applications and applications for professorships only a quantitative analysis of the CV is done (I must emphasize that in in this particular case it was an online CV, not one used for any particular purpose!). If on the one hand it is okay to reuse text in multiple circumstances without referring to the previous usage, then we shouldn't be just counting publications as if they were beans.

If it is not okay to reuse text, i.e. publish the same text in multiple venues without referring to the prior publication(s), then we have a problem on our hands. How do we go about telling active researchers that their current practice is not okay? How do we tell beginning researchers what is considered to be out of line? I find us coming back to the question often asked me by students: How many words to I have to change so that it is not plagiarism?

I feel very strongly that we need to get discussions of all facets of scientific integrity out of the closet, so to speak. We need to discuss openly what options are available for reusing text - among many, many other topics such as "cleaning up" data and ghostwriting and making up publications that never happened and all the little things that come out now and then.

Or am I too far off base here and should this be done behind closed doors?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Blogspam - Buy Term Papers Online

Nice try, Suzi.

She puts an encouraging comment on a year-old entry from my blog and hopes that I don't see the spam link to buy term papers online. Luckily I check all links. What a shame that Suzi's profile is locked.

I surfed to the site which promises high-quality term papers. Might I note that their home page could use a spelling check? And maybe a brush-up on English grammar?

Oh, and this is a great one - on the order form you have to give them your library login (which is normally also your email login and other such):
If you have your University/College Library access, please provide it for the writer. Our research has shown that customers who provide the research resource get a very high quality paper. We basically need 3 things: a. URL or website address of the library login page b. Login ID c. Password Your information will not be shared by anyone.
Curious, I did a whois-lookup. The domain was first registered in June of this year. They are hiding behind a "protected domain service" that does not enter in any human being names, but just the registrant.

According the the web site, it has been up since 2003 and has 5 people with doctorates on the "board":
  • Dr Russell Conroy
  • Dr Travis Walter
  • Dr Vincent Holmes
  • Dr Alistair Boswell
  • Dr Maria Huggins
Should these people exist, and be running a term paper mill, I think that their doctorates should be rescinded. Russell says that his doctorate is in Chemistry from Alabama State University. I wanted to ask ASU what they think of this, but they don't appear to have email yet. A search of the (rather bad) home page turns up a few telephone numbers, but no email or home pages.

A quick Google for the other four names turns up another paper mill that just happens to have the same people on the board, but no other links. Just as well - if you buy a fake paper it should be from a fake company.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

CV Bloat with Recycled Papers

I happened across a paper today and saw that there was a similar paper by the same German authors, just in a different order of authorship:
I wondered what the difference was. So I downloaded them, and discovered that the major difference is in the formatting. Oh, there is a figure dropped and a sentence added and a paragraph or so removed, but even a misspelled word such as "Acknoledgement" is in both papers. Oh, wait - the list of students contributing to the work is missing in the Wernigeröde paper, and the word "proposed" has changed to "developed". It is, after all, three months later.

At Harald Loose's web site there is a third reference to be found:
Hmm. Prof. Loose has lost his co-author - but except for formatting, this paper is identical to the Wernigeröde one. Same text, same figures, same data. The only difference seems to be that he's used a spelling checker and fixed the spelling of "Acknowledgement".

But for all practical purposes, we have three papers that are identical material. Two have the same name, but different authors (one being dropped). They are identical, except for the formatting. Two have the same authors, but in different order with different paper titles, but they are for all practical purposes the same.

Prof. Loose has bloated his CV with three publications by recycling not just the content, but also the wording. Ms. Lemke does not seem to be at the FH Brandenburg any more, although her CV would have two papers for the work of one. Neither of the later papers refer to the previously published ones.

This kind of self-plagiarism is not acceptable according to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) rules for good scientific practice:
"... bereits früher veröffentlichte Ergebnisse nur in klar ausgewiesener Form und nur insoweit wiederholen, wie es für das Verständnis des Zusammenhangs notwendig ist. " (previously published work is only to be reused when clearly labeled an only when necessary in order to understand the context)
Perhaps the papers were never "really" published and are only available online. But I do feel that the newer ones should refer to the older ones, and the identical papers should have identical authors. I have asked the author if he cares to comment.

Update: I wrote to Prof. Loose and asked if he could give any clarification. He wrote a very nice letter back, I've decided to write a new blog entry on a point that he raised there.

He explained that the first two papers were not to be considered scientific papers. They were just the written form for talks given at small workshops. And the order of the authors was switched so that the first author was the one giving the talk. He himself is mystified by the third paper as to why the second author is no longer on the page and will check it up when he gets back home. I wish to thank him for a speedy answer!

Update 2012-07-15: Prof. Loose's home page is linked from his school, but completely unaccessable.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Elsevier Published Ghostwritten Papers

The New York Times reports that the publisher Elsevier (I have previously blogged about them publishing fake journals for pharmaceutical compnaies) published some of 26 scientific papers that the pharmaceutical company Wyeth paid ghostwriters to write about some of their products. The ghostwriters come from so-called "medical writing companies".

This has come to light from legal research involved in more than 8000 lawsuits directed at Wyeth.

The article in the NYT demonstrates the exact ghostwriting process for one of the papers, and names the unethical professor supposedly having written the paper. She insists that she contributed to the paper by phone and not just by the email messages that have been secured, and that the paper reflects her views on the topic.

Where do we draw the line, and how do we prevent this from happening? The paper is surely on her CV.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Die doppelte Pippilotta" banned

The Hamburg State Court ruled Az.: 308 O 200/09 on June 24, 2009, that the book "Die doppelte Pippielotta", published by the "Märchenbuchverlag Manfred Hueber", (the title is a combination of two popular children's books, Das doppelte Lottchen and Pippi) may not be sold on the grounds of it being a plagiarism of the works of Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author of the Pippi stories. The heirs of Astrid Lindgren took the author to court.

In particular, the following similarities (among others) were noted, according to the "Titelschutz Anzeiger":
Das dopplete Pippielotta Pippi Langstrumpf
Pippielotta Pippilotta
a red-headed girl from Sweden a red-headed girl from Sweden
with wild braids and Herkulean strength with wild braids and Herkulean strength
Krumunkulus pills to keep from becoming an adult Krummeluß pills to keep from becoming an adult
lives in the Villa „Kunterbund“ lives in the Villa „Kunterbunt“
has an ape called „Frau Karla vom Dach“ and a horse called "Pferd" (horse) has an ape alled "Herr Nielsson" and a horse called "Kleiner Onkel" (little uncle)
The author insisted that this was a legal use of the book, because this Pippielotta has a twin sister (as in the book Das doppelte Lottchen) and combines the two stories with a critical reflection upon growing up.

The court begged to differ. Despite the occasional reflection, they deemed the book a plagiarism that needed the permission of the author resp. heirs in order to be published. They did not and will not give permission.

Update: Nadja aus Lübeck writes: Pippi's horse was really called "Pferd" (horse) in Astrid Lindgren's books. It was only for the film that Inger Nilsson came up with the name "Kleiner Onkel" so that the horse would have a proper name.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Another German Politician with Fake Doctorate

Germans (and Austrians even more so) love academic titles. They are part of your official name, get engraved on your doorbell and mailbox, and everyone calls you "Herr Dr. X" or "Frau Dr. X". Outfits selling fake doctorates seem to flourish in our part of the world.

The by no means complete list of German politicians who have recently been caught using false titles:
  • Kai Schürholt, CDU, Rheinland-Pfalz, supposedly Doctor of Divinity, was running for Lord Mayor of Landau when in August 2007 he pulled out of the running, supposedly because he had cancer. That, it turned out, was a lie, with which he hoped to withdraw from the race before the false doctorate came to light.
  • The head of the organization "Kinder brauchen uns" (Children need us), Markus Dewender, denounced himself in December 2007. Spiegel had discovered that the "university" awarding him the doctorate in 2005 (Yorkshire University, located in the Virgin Islands) was actually a diploma mill. He then offered a doctorate in business from the University of Warsaw in Juni 2006. This was discovered to be a fake. He then complained that his "advisors" were bad, he really needed one in order to scare up donations for his charity.
  • The most recent addition to the list is Niels Neu, CDU, Nordhausen in Thuringia. He is a businessman and local politician. He, too, was using a doctorate from Warsaw that was discovered to be fake. The city requested that he hand in his identity card, which had the title on it. He refused and took the city to court. The court found that he did not have a proper doctorate and ordered him to hand his ID card over to the authorities on July 13, 2009.
The list will most certainly be continued.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Spiegel Online reports on the recent judgement brought against the anthropologist Professor Dr. Dr. Reiner Rudolf Robert Protsch von Zieten (FamousPlagiarists profile SCMD-2005-RPVZ). He has been convicted of stealing 278 chimpanzee skulls from the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, faking numerous certificates and documents, and selling the skulls for his own gain. He was sentenced to a remanded 18 month's prison term.

The 70-year-old anthropologist, who has been a professor since 1973, does not even seem to have completed high school, according to the FAZ, much less completed a doctorate, although he regularly used two in his title. He was awarded his professorship on the basis of a Ph.D. certificate, supposedly from an American university, UCLA. His second doctorate, from 1996, was awarded from the University of Vienna. He was fined for using this title before the examination had occured.

On his birth certificate there is only "Protsch" listed, the name of his father. He cannot prove why he calls himself "von Ziethen", the name change appears to have been around 1991, according to the Wikipedia entry on him.

He had often been the target of discussions in the past. People questioned his abilities at dating bones. He pretended to have developed methodologies that were actually due to other researcher. He presented bones as being from different places than where they were actually found. He plagiarized other's work, liberally. There were many accusations of plagiarism, but none stuck. The FAZ had complained in 2005 that nothing was happening, but even the complaint didn't help much, although he was finally forced to retire.

He had even "donated" items to a museum, pocketing a donation receipt. The items, however, belonged to the university, and were doctored by him to make them more interesting for the museum.

It was when he was finally caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar that he was brought before a judge. He stole a famous skull collection from the university and sold it for 70,000 $ for his own pocket, according to Spiegel. He also had student researchers scratch property notices off university bones so he could call them his own, and he had university stamps removed from books in which he then affixed his own.

(And even, Spiegel reports with relish, his car was parked during the court case on a handicapped lot, with a false handicapped certificate on the windshield. As the judgment was read, his car was towed. There was nothing true about this man, they write.)

The German Wikipedia has a long and detailed list of the different accusations. The Skeptic's Dictionary has a very detailed entry on him (in English). His former university web pages are available in the Internet Archives, however the University of Frankfurt/Main has no statement on its web presence about him.

So we have justice at last - he will not be enjoying a government pension. But the case does, indeed, demonstrate how easy it is to get away with academic dishonesty in Germany.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Plagiarism Detection Competition

The SEPLN´09 Workshop PAN, "Uncovering Plagiarism, Authorship and Social Software Misuse" ran an international "Plagiarism" Detection Competition this year and have recently published their results. I've put the word plagiarism in quotes, as my definition of plagiarism encompasses much more than just character sequence matching. Copies and near copies can perhaps be detected by a programming system, but the determination of plagiarism is something that only a teacher can determine, as there may be legitimate reasons for copies (they are part of properly quoted material) and a structural plagiarism can exist where no exact copy can be found.

They have developed a massive corpus of English-language artefacts including various sizes of documents, various amounts and types of copying and have also included automatic translation from Spanish and German into English. They give the following statistics about their corpus:
  • Corpus size: 20 611 suspicious documents, 20 612 source documents.
  • Document lengths: small (up to paper size), medium, large (up to book size).
  • Plagiarism contamination per document: 0%-100% (higher fractions with lower probabilities).
  • Plagiarized passage length: short (few sentences), medium, long (many pages).
  • Plagiarism types: monolingual (obfuscation degrees none, low, and high), and multilingual (automatic translation).
They have a development corpus that annotates the copied portions, so that researchers can train their systems. The competition corpus is, of course, without such annotations.

They calculate precision, recall, and granularity for each of the contestants on a character sequence level. Precision is the name given for how many of the detections were correct. Recall is the amount of plagiarism that was there was actually identified. Granularity demonstrates how often a particular copy is flagged - this should be close to one, that is, that any given copy is found only once.

They split the competition into external copy identification (but for a given, finite corpus, not against the open Internet) in which a matching with a given set of papers is to be found, and an intrinsic plagiarism identification, in which a stylistic analysis without use of any external documents is to identify the plagiarisms.

The results are, as I expected, wildly different between external and intrinsic. I find the recall values important - how many of the possible copies were found, although the precision is also important, so that not too many false positives are registered.

The recall for the 10 systems doing the external identification ranges wildly between 1 % and 69 % of possible copies found. This corresponds with my results from 2008 with a small corpus of hand-made plagiarisms and hand-detection, in which we found a recall of between 20% and 75% (the ones finding nothing were disqualified in our test). The median recall of the competition is 49%, the average 45%, which validates my informal assertion that flipping a coin to decide if a paper is plagiarized is about as effective as running software over a digital version of the paper (of course, flipping a coin gives no indication as to what part is indeed plagiarized). The precision ran between a median of 63% and an average of 60%.

The intrinsic identification was quite different. Although the recall was good (median 51% and average 56% with one of the four systems reaching 94%), the precision gave a median of 15 % with an average of 16%. The best system only had 23 % correct answers - that means that over 3 in 4 identified plagiarisms using stilistic analysis was, in fact, incorrectly flagged as plagiarism. This has interesting ramifications for stylistic analysis.

The overall score (I am not sure exactly what this is) has a median of 32 % and an average of 29% over all of the systems for recall, and a precision of only 39 % (average 28%) on precision.

I can identify only two of the authors as having written software that I have tested. The group from Zhytomyr State University, Ukraine, are the authors of Plagiarism Detector, this system was removed from our ranking for installing a trojan on systems using it, although their results gave them second place in my test (overall fourth place in this test). I also tested WCopyFind, but this is a system that is for detecting collusion. It's recall was overall about 32 %, but with less than 1 % precision it generates a *lot* of false positives!

I applaud the competition organizers
for this very valuable competition, and I especially applaud them for making their results and the corpus available online. I'll download the corpus when I get my new laptop, I currently only seem to have 7 GB free :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kaplan University

A short film was shown this morning as an introduction to use of new media in the classroom from Kaplan University. It is a well-made film with a black professor apologizing to the class for not being media-hip - and that then being transported to all sorts of devices.

Apart from this depicting learning as a one-way street, i.e. the consumption of video anytime, anywhere for credit, I have long suspected that this was just another diploma mill, but have never had the time to research the topic. Let's see:
  • The Wikipedia notes that this is the "doing business name of the Iowa College Acquisition Corporation, a company that owns and operates independent, private, for-profit, colleges".
  • Rip-off Report no textbook to read, just exercises to hand in that always come back with a grade "A"
  • Another Diploma Mill
  • They have an online (!) nursing program "accredited" by the "Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs". I can't find much on them, except advertising sites for online education that say that this is legit. But I don't see them on official lists (except the Wikipedia, and I don't trust it for something like this). Please drop a comment with a reference if this is in line. How can you do nursing by distance?
  • Complaintsboard: A number of stories here.
Slick films, but I think I need more convincing that this is a legitimate university.

Fabrication of Data

An open access research article on data fabrication:

Citation: Fanelli D (2009) How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5738. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005738

Editor: Tom Tregenza, University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Friday, June 19, 2009

Michael Leddy posted this note about a bit of a stir that is on at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, USA. The president of the university, William Meehan, was granted his doctorate from the University of Alabama. There has been determined that there is an enormous amount of, shall we say, correspondence, between that dissertation and the dissertation of Carl Boening, who was granted a doctorate a few years earlier from the same institution. Meehan's thesis does admit that it is duplicating a research method with a different population. But just duplicating the method does not warrent word-for-word copying from the text.

Interestingly, there are three professors who were on both dissertation commitees. Apparently, Meehan's committee approved the duplication of the method. It does seem strange that they did not pick up on over a third of the thesis being a copy.

The case was published in USA Today in April 2009. They report that the investigation was started because Meehan had seized a large plant sample collection from another professor and his lawyer is accusing Meehan of having a history of stealing academic work.

This same president was also caught with some plagiarized material in his regular column in the local newspaper in 2007. But he wasn't to blame, that was his ghostwriter doing the plagiarizing:
The Committee has found no discernable evidence that President Meehan knew or had reason to know that articles written and released over his name and office contained plagiarized material.
At least that cost him a job at a fancy Georgia Football College, Valdosta. The University of Alabama reviewed the similar dissertations, USA Today reports, and is not taking action because one professor from the committee is at another institution and one has passed away. Case closed. Ignore. Water over the mill.

The Tuscaloosa News reports, however, that the dissertation adviser was not involved in any sort of University of Alabama "review".

It does somehow smell of something getting swept under the carpet.

Simultaneous Translation

Sorry I haven't been blogging much lately, I've been giving many talks on plagiarism. Today's talk on plagiarism was for a real crowd. About 200 had been my largest crowd to date, but today I had about 260 listeners! There was no protesting that I don't need a microphone - without it, I would not have been to be heard. Luckily, I had a suit jacket on with pockets, so I had a place to park the microphone unit.

And I had, for the first time, simultaneous translation of my talk - into sign language! I was speaking to all of the new teachers in Hamburg, who have to attend mandatory training (which probably explains their faces,
they were arranged in a I-don't-really-want-to-be-here scowl). Hamburg has a school for the deaf, and they have a new teacher who is deaf herself. Since the University of Hamburg has a program in sign language, there were
two eager signers who spelled each other every 15 minutes, so that the deaf teacher could follow what I was saying.

I am used to owning the stage - I park my laptop, whip out my remote control, and pace about as necessary, gesturing a lot as I go. But there was always a woman next to me, and I couldn't see the eighth of the crowd
that was blocked out by the signer.

I eventually retreated to the lecturn, but it wasn't really that good. One of the signers then realized the situation, and took a step backwards when she took her position center stage. Now I could see everyone.

I do think that it would have been better for the deaf teacher and the signers to position themselves off to one side of the room, instead of taking center stage. But it seemed to work, and I spoke with the signers afterwards how
they signed the word plagiarism.

They held up their right hand, fingers streched and thumb at the side: this is writing. With the left hand they "pulled" a copy off the page, do it is writing-copying. Okay, I asked was it not perhaps writing-stealing? They signed the question to the deaf teacher, she replied very insistently, that writing-stealing was a much better sign, it was similar to the copying motion, but was very clearly a "taking" motion.

So now I know the word plagiarism in one more language!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Parents organize alternative graduation for cheaters

Bizarre. An Ohio high school discovered that a student had hacked into the school computer system and stolen the final exams. Half of the student body either cheated or knew of the cheating and said nothing. So the adminstration cancelled the graduation ceremonies. For such a widespread scandal, I would say that was a good reaction. They sent the diplomas home to the parents.

The parents, however, set up an alternative graduation ceremony. With all the trappings. Teaching their kids that getting caught cheating is just a little annoyance, a bump in the road. Nothing to get worked up about.

The comments make me sick. There seems to be a lot of supporters for the cheaters. I suppose this class of '09 will be using the paper mills to get their bachelor's degree and get their Master's from one of those sham colleges.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sham Colleges in the UK

The Times reports extensively on May 21, 2009 about sham colleges in the UK selling letters of admission, attendance certificates, and fake degrees to students - many from Pakistan - who want to enter the UK. There appears to be a loophole in the entry process to the UK that does not check if the colleges in question are actually reputable organizations.

Many are just a few rooms and have maybe three teachers, but have a student body of over 1000 students. Fayaz Ali Khan, who owned Manchester College of Professional Studies among other schools, also gave himself fake degrees and has quite a glowing CV filled with wonderful positions such as full-time director of education at Swat College of Education (in Islamabad) at the same time he was taking a degree in computer technology at the age of 20.

The sham colleges have come under sharp scrutiny when it was discovered that eight of ten terror suspects picked up in April had degrees from sham institutions. And four of these had used these fake degrees to obtain admission to legitimate schools.

This does seem to make a case for accreditation.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Modern Applied Science - another Fake Journal?

I got this in my email the other day, with a request to pass it on to my associates and colleagues. As a friend pointed out, the verb "focus" when applied to such a variety of topics is amusing.
Dear Sir/Madam,
I am Susan Sun, the editor of Modern Applied Science which focuses on the fields of chemistry, management and economics, physics, mathematics and statistics, geology, engineering, environmental sciences and biology. And I know you are an expert in this field, so we would like to get paper submissions from you.

Please find more details at

If you have any questions, please contact with me at:

It is appreciated if you could share this information with your colleagues and associates.

Thank you.

Note: We are recruiting reviewers for the journal, please find more details at:

Best Regards,

Susan Sun
Modern Applied Science
Canadian Center of Science and Education
Add: 4915 Bathurst St. Unit #209-309, Toronto, ON. M2R 1X9, Canada
Tel: 1-416-208-4027
Fax: 1-416-208-4028
The CCSE has a web site and publishes lots of journals. Its advertising page is on lots of blogs - but it is, if anything, a NGO with no official ties to the government of Canada.

The editor, Susan Sun, can be found with this gem published:

Recycling Economy and Sustainable Development
Susan Sun

Economic development is the main theme of social progress. By recalling the economic development, the necessity and inevitability of sustainable development is fully demonstrated. With the acceleration of economic globalization, the influence for sustainable development is increasing. There is a complex opposite and united relationship between economic globalization and sustainable development. People are seeking a way to eliminate confrontation and get united. In social practice, we found that the recycling economy is the best way to achieve sustainable development, and it is an important embodiment of the economic, social and ecological sustainability.
Sounds like gobbelty-gook to me.

So how does one tell if a journal is legit? They have a web site! It's new, so no one has quoted it yet. But the very broad scope of the journal quite disturbs me and leads me to think that this is yet another fake journal. Does anyone have more information on this organization, beside their own online information that is all from March 2009 or later? Google maps points to a car lot for the address given. That would make it hard to get mail, I suppose...

Update: 2013-04-22: Link for the journals fixed

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Tongue in Cheek Plagiarism

One of the Swedish defendants in the Pirate Bay case in which the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, IFPI, took the owners of the Pirate Bay site to court and won millions of Swedish crowns) has set up a site which is a plagiarism of the Swedish TV license site In many European countries you have to pay a license to watch TV, the fees are used to pay for public broadcasting. Many people feel that this is very problematic, as they do not watch public broadcasting, preferring the private channels (which have advertising).

On the page they present a very complicated formula for figuring out the tax - which amounts to one Swedish crown, which is the smallest amount that can be transferred from one account to the next. The account which is listed for payment is the account of the lawyers for IFPI.

In Sweden, your bank will charge you up to 20 crowns (about $2.50) for money put into your account. In addition, the lawyers are legally required to do all sorts of bookkeeping tasks around any money they take in. The lawyers have threatened to find some way of forcing them to take down this site.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tour of an Essay Mill

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a video tour of an essay mill. It is great. The funniest thing for me is the notice for essay authors after logging in (mark 3:20):

Please, stop using Turnitin Software!

Since Turnitin stores the papers in its databases, if a plagiarism-free paper is checked with Turnitin and then submitted again by the student, it will be now be flagged as a plagiarism, causing much dismay for the dishonest student.

What I find dismaying is that the essay authors are only paid so little for there work. The mills are making an enormous amount of money on this operation. I find ads that charge 30$ / page for an original paper, but the authors seem to only be offered 3-5$ a page.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fake Journals

Now we not only have fake conferences and invented publications. If you have enough money (as pharmaceutical companies do), you can just purchase your own fancy-schmancy, scientific-sounding journal from a reputable publisher. Or shall we say, previously reputable. Now that six of their thousands of journals have been identified as fakes, maybe we should just assume that the rest are also problematic and proceed to take our papers to Open Access journals.

But let's start at the top. Many blogs (such as and The Scientist reported that pharmaceutical company Merck was behind the "Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine". It looked like a real journal. It had real-looking articles in it, although they were reprints or summaries of other journal's research, all strangely enough favorable about Merck products. Summer Johnson on the bioethics blog points out the problem with this:
What’s wrong with this is so obvious it doesn’t have to be argued for. What’s sad is that I’m sure many a primary care physician was given literature from Merck that said, “As published in Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, Fosamax outperforms all other medications….” Said doctor, or even the average researcher wouldn’t know that the journal is bogus. In fact, knowing that the journal is published by Elsevier gives it credibility!
Right. Elsevier used to be a respected name in scientific publishing. The Guardian quotes a spokesman as saying that the publisher does not consider this a journal, as it is a compilation of reprinted articles. Then why does it have the word "Journal" in its title?

Laika's MedLibLog goes on to explain how some of the articles that were reprinted got themselves published in the first place: the company sponsors the research, and then employees of the company offer manuscripts to the academic investigators, who put their name on the paper (and sometimes forget the footnote explaining who paid for the research). So we have a "journal" with reprints of ghostwritten articles.

The Scientist has now found 6 similar journals:
  • the Australasian Journal of General Practice
  • the Australasian Journal of Neurology
  • the Australasian Journal of Cardiology
  • the Australasian Journal of Clinical Pharmacy
  • the Australasian Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, and
  • the Australasian Journal of Bone & Joint Medicine.
Elsevier would not tell The Scientist the names of the companies sponsoring these titles.

Yes, the mother company regrets what its Australia division has been up to. And the people responsible apparently don't work there any more.

But how can we know for sure that the next Elsevier journal that we hold in our hands is legit? That it declares all of its interests and who paid for and wrote the research?

Can we now declare the peer-review system for journal articles officially broken? Can we also quit counting number of articles and impact factors and just have people submit the 3 of 5 most important papers they have written when they are evaluated?

Oh, the Elsevier statement is linked from their home page....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Invented Publications

The German news magazine Spiegel reports on a major scandal at the University of Göttingen. An interdisciplinary group of sixteen scientists researching the rain forest in Indonesia had previously been awarded a prestigious "Sonderforschungsbereich" (SFB) by the German research foundation, DFG. The researchers were applying for an 8.6 million Euro extension of the research project.

But the external reviewers were quite irritated - they couldn't find many of the supposed publications listed on the report for how the first grant had been used. After an internal university investigation, it was determined that the publications did not, in fact, exist. The university withdrew the grant application.

There will now be more exact scrutiny of the money spent up until now, and whether it was used for the research or for other purposes. And another research group at the same university on biodiversity is currently under investigation for similar problems, according to the university president, who is worried as to how these incidents will affect the reputation of the university.

The University of Göttingen has been awarded "elite" status by the German government. On the one hand, it is questionable if this status is compatible with such goings-on, especially if they are regularly happening. On the other hand, the university is acting correctly in investigating the cases and in withdrawing the application. One wonders how many universities just sweep things like this under the carpet after rapping the knuckles of the parties involved.

One does, however, hope that the principle investigators will be degraded to cleaning toilets or some such punishment and not continue researching at full pay. I can't find a statement about the situation on the home pages of the university, but I do see that there will be a seminar on reputation management this coming week. I suppose the university will be sending someone to audit the course.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Plagiarism Resource Site

I stumbled upon the archives of the Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin (CBB) Plagiarism Resource Site. This site was developed between 2003 and 2007. There is an interesting collection of materials available, licensed under a Creative Commons license that lets other schools use the materials if they are used non-commercially, with attribution, and the resulting materials are also put under the same license.

It is a shame that the site has not been able to continue its development, but there are many good things to be found here for people who believe as I do: Teach, don't police.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nobel Laureate accused of plagiarism

The Märkische Oder Zeitung (among others, it is a dpa story) reports that the Spanish Nobel Laureate for Literature Camilo Jose Cela (1916-2002) has been accused of plagiarism.

A judge in Barcelona has determined that there is enough evidence that the novel "La cruz de San Andrés" (The San Andrés Cross) for which he was awarded the Spanish literary prize "Planeta" in 1994, is similar to a novel by the relatively unknown author Maria del Carmen Formoso. The newspaper "El País" reports on April 21 that the judge's decision is based on an expertise prepared by a scholar of literature.

The court case is being brought against the publishing house Planeta, since Cela died in 2002. Formoso hat submitted her work to the prize committee two months in advance of Cela's submission. Formoso accused the publisher of giving her novel to Cela so that he could use it as a basis for his own work.

Formoso has been fighting for 10 years to get legal recognition of her case. She has twice lost cases in lower courts, but in 2006 the spanish constitutional court ordered a new trial. The court in Barcelona was requested to decide whether sufficient evidence is given to re-open the trial, which they now have done.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Lesson Plan for Teaching about Plagiarism

I purchased a copy of the book "Student Plagiarism in an Online World - Problems and Solutions", XXX, 2008 by Tim S. Roberts (Ed.) for my research group despite the outrageous price (180$). 

I have previously blogged my opinion that XXX is a write-only publisher, and when I hold the book in my hands, it becomes even clearer. The book is hard-cover, in an impossibly large format, and very badly bound. At that price, I want a book that is well-bound and lies flat for use. There is no trace of the promised "free" online access to the text, which is a shame, as I could have used it today. 

Many of the chapters are long-winded or repetitive, that is, they could have used some tighter editing. But there are quite a number of good ideas to be found here and the references sections are quite extensive. 

The chapter by Frankie Wilson and Kate Ippolito, supposedly of Brunel University in the UK, although I find no home page or email for them there, contains an excellent lesson plan for a seminar about plagiarism. 

I decided at short notice to ditch my normal slideshow about plagiarism that I give to our first semester students and gave it a try, although the materials promised to be at a particular school page are not available (they return a 404). 

Our session is 90 minutes, and since we had not had an introductiory session yet, I spent 30 minutes with introductions of me and the students among themselves. This helped break the ice - everyone had already had to stand up and say something. 

We began by collecting definitions on index cards from the students on what their definition of plagiarism is. I made this into an individual exercise, in the plan given this is to be group work. I read them aloud and collected the high points on the board. About a quarter of the 32 people participating could not come up with a definition, and many focussed their definition on product plagiarism only. 

We then began to discuss "where to draw the line". We did this in plenum instead of in small groups, and this ended up being a lively discussion with excellent questions being voiced from the students. A major concern was: but how do I know what the source is, I just "know" something, I don't remember where I read it. We had a good conversation about note-taking and finding confirming evidence for that which one thinks one knows. 

The last section dealt with plagiarism avoidance - how a paper gets developed (and I got some words in on that ancient thing called a l-i-b-r-a-r-y) and the different kinds of references: direct quotation, indirect quotation, secondary source. 

 I then distributed 10 magazines and books to groups and have them find how references are used in these. I chose a selection of magazines and books that have different reference structures. They were very quick to identify these, and spent a few minutes glancing through the material that they had. 

We needed just 60 minutes, although the discussions were going so well that I am sure that we could have made it much longer. I would have liked to have had the worksheet promised in the chapter, but the lesson plan is well enough done that it can easily be adapted. 

I will post an update if I manage to find the material, I have written to the school asking for current emails of the authors and/or a current URL for the material.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Contract Cheating

Some interesting articles have shown up recently about the topic of "contract cheating" - students using Web 2.0 bidding sites to find a lowest bidder willing to do their homework for them for a price. Often, the coders or writers are to be found in developing countries.
In German, Spiegel Online author Sebastian Wieschowski has also reported on this phenomenon: Bestnoten mit Billigcode aus Bangladesch (good grades with cheap code from Bangladesch).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

German University Takes Back Nine Doctorates

According to the German online magazine Spiegel Online, the University of Hanover has taken back nine doctorates in law which were granted between 1998 and 2005.

A law professor, Thomas A., from the university had taken in much money from lawyers and judges who wanted to have the coveted "Dr." to put in front of their names. Unlike the States, where the President, Vice President, and First Lady all have JD degrees but don't get called "Dr.", in Germany you can have the title put on your passport, bolted on your door, and make everyone call you "Dr. X".

At least eight lawyers (a number of them public servants and district attorneys) and one judge so desperately coveted that title - but didn't have the time to do the work - that they engaged a "doctoral consultant". They paid the company, in this case the "Institut für Wissenschaftsberatung" in Bergisch Gladbach, a fee, the company bribed the law professor, and they were soon awarded their degrees.

Fifty-nine more cases are pending.

Prof. A. took in over 150,000 Euros from candidates, receiving 2000 Euros for accepting a candidate and getting a bonus of 2000 Euros when it was completed. The potential doctors paid up to 25,000 Euros for their titles, for which there is normally no fee assessed.

A. was taken to court and found guilty of being bribed. He was sentenced to three years in prison, which is enough so that he loses his pension as well. The scam came to light as students requested in 2004 that A. not be on their examining committee because they did not want to appear to have purchased their grades. The university informed the legal authorities, who began an investigation. In September 2007 Prof. A. admitted to his deeds. During the court case in Hildesheim it was discovered that he not only took money, but also sexual favors for better grades.

The company is now bankrupt and the consultant, Martin D., has been in prison since the middle of last year on charges of bribery. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.

The university decided to take back the nine doctorates, although most certainly most of the people involved will be taking the university to court on it - one has already filed, in the desperate hopes of overturning the university
decision on a technicality. Having to explain why the doctorate has suddenly disappeared might put a damper in one's career, although the person who had his doctorate taken back from the University of Tübingen on charges of blatant plagiarism has just gone to another university and taken a doctorate there. That university sees no problems with this.