Monday, September 12, 2011

Research Cloning

The German business daily newspaper Handelsblatt reports on the case of Bruno Frey, a well-known economics professor in Zürich. There had been a bit of fuss in July when colleagues discovered that he had published four papers about the sinking of the Titanic with co-authors Benno Torgler and David Savage without mentioning that pretty much the same papers had already been published elsewhere. The texts were not identical, but the research was, and each paper suggests that it is the only one presenting the results.

The "Journal of Economic Perspectives" (JEP) has formally censured him, the "Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization" (JEBO) has blacklisted the authors and will not accept any further papers from them. Frey and Torgler have said that Savage is not at fault and have tendered excuses at 3 of the 4 journals [German language detail: The article says that they "excused themselves", I always thought you had to ask the other party to excuse you --dww]. Apparently, Frey had not gotten around to writing to the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS) before the Handelsblatt  started its investigations.

The whole issue seems to have started with the blog Economic Logic and an entry entitled "On the ethics of research cloning". The author of the blog had a good look at the CVs of the senior authors and finds evidence both of slicing results very thin in order to get much publication mileage out of them, as well as republishing the same results multiple times. In the comments a number of other clones showed up, and a FreyPlagWiki (the currently popular German way to collect evidence on scientific misconduct and plagiarism) was set up.

Interesting things have popped up, such as Frey exempting his doctoral students from coursework now required by the University in Zürich, or his being dropped from an editorial board without explaination, according to a followup blog entry.

The Handelsblatt author Olaf Storbeck has set up a Google Table documenting the cloning in 5 papers - it would be great if this and FreyPlagWiki were unified. It is a wiki, after all.

Update: "Ich habe mich zu wenig selbst zitiert"


  1. A while ago I pointed you to the many coauthors involved in Frey's plagiarism and the RePEc plagiarism committee who lists Frey and his coauthors for the Titanic study but did not investigate into the numerous other cases documented at
    That committee writes in their blog they would take up the case if someone submitted it non-anonymously.
    I read you oppose the policy not to investigate cases put forward by someone anonymously. Could you please at least publish this comment so that your readers know about the case? Maybe someone will take a look at the proofs and forward it to RePEc under her or his name.

  2. By the way, the above link to the follow up blog is broken, you need to remove the part before


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