Sunday, November 27, 2011

Guttenberg: I was a bit scatterbrained

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg reappeared on the German scene this past week. He gave the editor in chief of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Giovanni di Lorenzo, a three-day interview that is to be published next week as a book, Vorest gescheitert (Failed - for the time being). A portion of the interview was published online, a longer version with nice pictures was published in this week's Zeit.

I must admit to having be extremely angry when I read the interview. di Lorenzo so often quits asking questions on sensitive topics and switches to other topics, such as if he is going to start a new party and when he will be coming back. zu Guttenberg does not admit to having plagiarized, but keeps coming up with excuses. He had over 80 diskettes, and 4 computers, and 2 kids, and this and that and another excuse and this and that and I was really scatterbrained and and and and.

He just does not understand why plagiarism is a problem for science - the only thing we have is our credibility. If we lie or steal, we are no longer reliable. If we pretend to be authors of something that is from someone else, we are liars.

Luckily, the rest of the press pretty much heaped scorn on zu Guttenberg. The best one was a faked interview in the Süddeutsche Zeitung about zu Guttenberg looking like the soccer player Lothar Matthäus, with answers that Guttenberg gave di Giovanni. If you understand German, you will enjoy this interview.

One hopes that he returns to the US and finds something useful to do for society. I don't think, however, that writing another dissertation in the US will be a good idea for him to try. Maybe he can learn a useful trade.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dutch researcher fabricated data

The case of Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel from the University of Tilburg has made headlines in many countries. I just want to make a short note so that the articles are linked here. He fabricated data on a large scale for several dozen publications, including Science, so that the data better fit what he wanted to prove.

  • Spiegel article (in German)
  • Chronicle article on the extent of the fraud
  • Chronicle article on how he managed to fool people
The Science article, published in April of this year, has not yet been retracted. But the editors have added links to articles about the fraud.

Stapel seems to have often offered colleagues "data" that fit their hypotheses, thus being listed as co-author. They now have to deal with the retractions.

Six young researchers were the whistleblowers in the case, apparently some tenured professors had felt something was wrong, but did not have the courage to act on their instincts.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

VroniPlag: The next three cases

So sorry not to be keeping up, but the beginning of a semester is always a time sink and this one was no different - plus all the VroniPlag work.

I owe my English-language readers the next three cases published on the home page of VroniPlag:
  • Case 14: The first medical plagiarism in the collection and the first habilitation, the second doctorate that is written in Germany, submitted by Ulf Teichgräber to the Charité, Berlin. This is a very strange work, as it incorporates large portions of three doctoral theses that were done by people in his department - and one which was submitted after the habilitation. There are some mighty strange plagiarisms here, 29% of the pages are from this doctorate submitted later and page 101 of the habilitation includes "blah blah blah see figure 3-6 blah blah blah" which is an exact copy of the doctorate. Except the figure - which is also taken from the doctorate - was renumbered in the habilitation to be figure 4-20. The herausragende Fundstellen, the outstanding discoveries, is a long and fascinating documentation and includes passages taken from common publications of the four. The Charité has apparently already investigated this and found it to be okay. I sent a written protest to the dean in the hopes that the investigation will be reopened.
  • Case 15: Patrick Ernst Sensburg, member of parliament for the CDU and professor at a college that educates public servants, submitted his thesis to the distance education University of Hagen. He has the distinction of having the first thesis to have a typo in the title. He took up the gauntlet, choosing the weakest fragments documented by VroniPlag and discussing them on his home page, completely ignoring the strongest fragments. Unfortunately, one cannot comment there. He complained to the press that one cannot comment on VroniPlag - strange, as it uses a MediaWiki under the hood that permits a discussion page for each and every page, and there is a forum available - and that one cannot contact the VroniPlag people to discuss things. One magazine offered to set up a discussion between me and Mr. Sensburg, I immediately agreed, but he decided not to pursue this avenue of discussion until his university has reached a decision. So be it.
  • Case 16: Detlev Dähnert, honorary professor of the engineering college in Lausitz and manager at the Vattenfall Europe Carbon Storage. Earlier this year anonymous persons set up a VattenPlag Wiki that got itself removed. They had published a link in the VroniPlag forum and the press picked it up, stating that "VroniPlag" had discovered plagiarism. Okay, that starts with "V", too. Anyway, out of curiosity one of the VroniPlag researchers started looking, and soon found plagiarisms. But since only a digital copy of the thesis was available, it took some time to locate and obtain a printed copy. Only when a printed copy can be verified to be identical to the digital copy that is available, will the VroniPlag group go out with a name for the plagiarized work. In the meantime, the number of pages with plagiarism has topped 35%.
Is anything happening about all these plagiarisms? Yes. I attended a symposium put on by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (I seem not to have blogged about that) and the German parliamentary committee on education and research will be holding a hearing Nov. 9, 2011 on the topic. I have been asked to participate as an expert witness. And the DFG is holding a (closed) discussion day on the topic the end of November.

I have taken to liken changes in the German educational system to glacial movements. Even though many are disappointed that things are not happening faster, the glacier is receding, very slowly, but things are indeed happening. This is very encouraging.