Thursday, May 13, 2010

Civil servant loses Dr Title, but keeps job

German (and Austrian) civil servants love having and using academic titles. Spiegel online reported in April (but I am just now getting around to sorting all this out) on the case of a top-level German civil servant who was stripped of his doctorate by the University of Göttingen when the thesis was discovered to be a plagiarism, but who remains in his job because a doctorate was not a necessary precondition for the job.

He was also taken to court by the public prosecuter, found guilty, and fined 9000 Euros (or 90 days in jail). The thesis adviser defended his not discovering the plagiarism because he can't possibly know all of the literature used...

Since his job is an elective one with a term of office until 2016, the political parties are still trying to at least get him "retired". This would still leave him with 70% of his current monthly pay. He could be retired if found to have "dishonorable conduct" - but this will probably have to be tested in court.

Purchasing a title

The Swedish daily newspaper Sydsvenskan had a free-lance reporter purchase a title at the "International Biographical Centre" in Cambridge. This is the place where a professor from Lund had purchased a title. The company insists, when interviewed on the record, that they fact-check all the details submitted by the "nominator". Nomination is free - but copies of the diploma and books and what not cost a pretty penny.

Christian Fredriksson purchased the award "2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st century" with the following CV:
  • PhD in reproductive linguistics
  • Secretary General of the Snapphanes, a 17th century pro-Danish guerrilla organization that fought against the Swedes in the Scanian wars, in Skyffladyngamåla, a mythical Swedish small town
  • CEO, The Future Factory
  • Regional Chancellor Exchequer
  • Lecturer at the University of Eslöv (which does not exist, pretty much the only thing in Eslöv is the regional tax office)
  • Swedish Honorary Veterinarian
  • Supreme Pellejoens of Lundagaard
For just 2000-5000 SEK ($260 - $650), depending on the number of things he wanted to have with this title on it, the title was his. So much for fact checking.

Professors and purchased titles

There seems to be quite a flurry of articles about professors who at some time purchased a title. Here are two that I still have around:
  • The Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dave Newbart writes: "A professor granted tenure by Northeastern Illinois University got his  doctorate from a school the federal government later labeled a 'diploma mill', but the state university says it granted him the lifetime job security under a rule that allows 'exceptional' teachers to be hired without a doctorate."

    He appears to be a good teacher, so why not just get rid of the doctorate pre-requisite for university teachers? Or just get rid of titles, period?

  • The southern Sweden daily newspaper Sydsvenskan is reporting that professors applying for research grants have peppered their CVs with fascinating prizes they supposedly won: 
    • "International Scientist of The Year"
    • "International Professional of The Year"
    • "2000 Most outstanding Intellectuals of the Year"
    • "International Book of Honour"
    • "World Wide Honours List Award"  for "outstanding contribution to linguistic and cognitive sciences 2004"

    All of these titles are apparently available for purchase. One of the professors involved is the vice rector of the University of Lund. "Oh dear," he remarked, "did I forget to remove that from my CV?"  The question remains, however, as to how it found its way into the CV to start with. Apparently, he didn't realize as a young researcher that you don't have to pay for real awards that you get.

The latter type of "award" is one of the so-called "vanity scams" that appeal to people wanting to be recognized as someone important. Who's Who scams seem to have been one of the earliest of these scams, but they are proliferating. Pay your fee for your copy of the handbook, which was probably printed on demand with just enough copies for the people who payed up.

Note: In Sweden, every official paper must be open to public scrutiny (except for a few things of national security importance). Swedish citizens can ask to see the mail of the minister president, and the press use this power frequently to dig out nasty bits. So if there people put stuff like this on a CV in a situation where it is possible for the press to get a copy of it, how many more of these fake titles are on CVs in places where we can't see them? Our school just removed someone from a shortlist when it was discovered that their doctorate was from a diploma mill. No questions asked, just removed. But the question is: how many don't we find?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Plagiarism or "Naturally Given"?

H. Peter Gumm contacted me about the appendix he published in 2003 in German on Coalgebras: Th. Ihringer: Allgemeine Algebra - Mit einem Anhang über
Universelle Coalgebra von H. P. Gumm, Heldermann Verlag.  If you are not a mathematician, this is not easy reading.

It seems that K. Denecke and S. Wismath: Universal Algebra and Coalgebra, World Scientific, 2009 is pretty much a word-for-word plagiarism, but translated into English. World Scientific is a write-only publication in my eyes: Searching the ACM digital library  for
"World Scientific" -"real world" -"real-world scientific"
I get only 47 hits. At least one is indeed a review, others still include the term "real-world scientific" in them. The publisher, located in Singapore, prints a wide range of books that do not seem to be widely quoted, although they do, indeed, publish the Nobel Lectures in English. But that is not the major focus of this blog entry.

Gumm has put together a documentation that is easy to follow, with some good comments pointing out errors that point to plagiarism. For example, a simple programming error from Gumm can be found identically in Denecke/Wismath. There is also a translation of the German word "Konto" to "Bank Account" (with a blank, which is illegal in programming for an identifier). And at points where own work was included, Gumm demonstrates that a proposition is not a theorem, but false. Strangely, Gumm's own translation of "bounded functor" into "beschränkter Funktor" has become, upon re-translation, "restricted functor". Amazing, this is exactly what Google Translator spits out.

He has contacted the publishers of 2 reviews of the book, requesting that they be withdrawn. One will be investigating the matter, but Math Reviews refuses to do anything more than inform the publisher.

A letter to Denecke requesting an explanation was quickly answered with a letter stating that this is just the most natural way of explaining the subject matter as simply as possible. He does not see that this can in any way be called a plagiarism.

So I ask my readers - what do you think? Is this plagiarism or "naturally given"? And how should an author who finds himself plagiarized react to this? How is the "self-cleansing propensity of the scientific community" supposed to work, if anyone can publish anything they choose, no one looks closely at what it is, and no one is willing to retract anything?

Update: The German weekly paper Die Zeit has reported on the case.