Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Welsh Medical Dean under Investigation

The Times Higher Education reports on investigations being launched in Wales into an image manipulation case. There have been allegations of six papers published by B. P. Morgan, who is dean of medicine at Cardiff University, containing manipulated images.

Morgen is a prolific author, having published 400 172 papers since 1998. As one of the commenters noted: "That's one every single fortnight, rain, hail or sunshine, Christmas, Easter and summer for fourteen years. And he has had time to be Dean for part of that, too?"

Science Fraud has more detail on the cases,  and Retraction Watch details one paper that was retracted from the Journal of Immunology.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Plagiarism in Turkey

Some Turkish academics have been very busy the past few months, it seems. Perhaps inspired by the VroniPlag Wiki documentation in Germany, the authors have put together a massive documentation of plagiarism in Turkish theses that A. Murat Eren, a computer science Ph.D. and post-doc researcher in the United States, has published on his blog. The cases are documented with a short description of each and the committee that accepted the thesis, and some pictures with original and plagiarism.

I've translated the results section with Google translate and tried to fix the sentences to make sense - if someone can provide a proper translation I'll be glad to replace it. :
With such ethically problematic theses and publications by the thesis advisers themselves who are now permitted to mentor students who themselves are submitting plagiarisms, there is a new generation of academics being produced that completes a cycle. 

One of the largest problems is being able to access the theses themselves.  University libraries arbitrarily restrict access to theses. In order to solve this problem the Council of Higher Education needs to set up a Thesis Archive.

On the other hand, even in thesis cases where a high level of plagiarism is found, the legislative is found to be a bottleneck as no deterrent penalties are being proposed.  Instead, there are severe reactions [against the whistleblowers] when scientists point out the theft, so the perpetrators continue to quietly steal.
I would hope that the authors work out a bit more hypertextual representation and that English translations would soon be forthcoming. There are a number of smaller blogs and articles that have popped up over the years: Plagiarism in Turkey - Plagiarism (in Turkish) - Plagiarism by Turkish Students - Retracted (a selection of retracted papers by Turkish authors) - a description of a mass plagiarism scandal in physics in 2007 in Turkey.

It will be interesting to see if there will be any sort of reaction on the part of Turkish officials to the new documentation of wide-spread plagiarism.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Russia to check doctorates centrally?

One of my bots has turned up a press release from Russia stating that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wants Russia to have software for checking for plagiarism in graduate theses and PhD dissertations, as well as setting up an Open Access repository of these theses. I don't believe that it is any easier to find plagiarism in Russian than in English or German or French, as plagiarism is more than just word-for-word copies. But it is a step in the right direction, and a step more than many countries, for example Germany, are willing to take. Teaching people about plagiarism and how to write scientifically would be more helpful, in my opinion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Swedish Editor-in-Chief Steps Down in Plagiarism Row

Katarina Ekspong, the editor-in-chief of the Swedish daily newspaper Nerikes Allehanda, published in Örebro, stepped down the end of August/beginning of September over a plagiarism row

At first it seemed that she had only plagiarized one piece by a free-lance journalist published in January of this year about Örebro.  Upon closer inspection of her work, additional word-for-word plagiarisms were discovered.

She first just stepped down as publisher, but has since resigned from all positions. She declines all requests for comment or interviews.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Large-scale collusion at Harvard

The academic world in the US is currently discussing a widespread case of collusion that Harvard announced a few days ago with the publication in the Boston Globe of a letter that the Dean of Undergraduate Education, Jay Harris, sent to all students:
"I am writing to alert you to deeply disturbing allegations of academic dishonesty involving a significant number of Harvard College students, and to remind you of every student’s duty to embrace our ideals regarding, as well as the specific rules governing, academic integrity. [...]
Harvard takes academic integrity very seriously because it goes to the heart of our educational mission [...]. Academic dishonesty cannot and will not be tolerated. I join [with others] in hoping we can all use today’s news to foster a culture of honesty and integrity in everything we do as members of the Harvard community."
This is the absolutely correct step to take -- discuss the issue of academic integrity involved here instead of trying to sweep everything under the carpet. And with a motto of veritas, truth, it is important that the university make the effort to find out what happened and perhaps use this as a teaching moment on academic integrity.

What had happened? In a course "Introduction to Congress" with 279 students (according to the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson), the professor set a take-home exam (documented here at the Boston Globe). This pedagogical concept is not clear to many, so I will elaborate a bit here. This is not a multiple choice, short answer exam like typical proctored exams, but an open book and open Internet exam. Questions are asked that must first be researched, then written up and cleanly documented. It is not testing the regurgitation of factoids, but an investigation into how good people are at research and synthesis of own material. Usually there will be a very short time frame involved, just 2 or 3 days, so that students must begin immediately and not wait until the very last minute and hope to Google something together.

In this case Prof. Matthew B. Platt stated clearly on the exam: "students may not discuss the exam with others". Now it is clear, that if it easy to cheat -- there is no proctor, only the students' own sense of integrity is at work here. They can use the library, their notes, or any other materials, but must not discuss with anyone other than themselves.

While correcting the results, according to the New York Times, the professor noted similarities in some of the answers and contacted the university authorities. They decided to investigate and looked at all of the exams. They contacted all 125 students suspected of working with others before they made the case public.

The Crimson notes that the university can impose sanctions up to suspending a student for an entire academic year, depending on the extent of the cheating. The student newspaper also documents lots of student complaints: We didn't understand the questions, they were too hard, the class was bad, the professor was bad, the last office hours before the exam were cancelled,...., the usual excuses. But even if the professor was horrible and the class time misspent and the assigned textbook on the wrong subject: the exam was given under stated conditions, and they must apply to all students equally. There is no excuse for cheating, full stop. One of the accused complains anonymously in Salon that s/he never went to section, because it was supposed to be an easy class, and now they feel that they are being made scapegoats. Well, not cheating would have been the smart thing to do here.

There is, of course, the question of why a school that is asking its students to pay more than $35,000 in tuition per year is offering classes that are this large. But that, too, does not directly bear on the question of cheating.

Another question that arises for teachers is how to determine that collusion has happened. My research group has been working on testing collusion detection programs for the past year, we hope to be able to present the results shortly. This is an entirely different question than scouring the Internet for plagiarism sources, this is a question of checking every paper submitted against every other one, looking for commonalities.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Linkspam #1

Due to other pressing projects I am not getting around to discussing all of the cases that should be discussed here. So I herewith steal borrow that most excellent idea of geekfeminism and will start posting linkspam at irregular intervals. No, the things I am linking to are not spam. I am just spamming my regular readers with some links that may or may not be interesting to them.
  • The Journal of Nietzsche Studies has a long article, Telling the Same Story of Nietzsche’s Life, by Mark Anderson, with a number of rejoinders linked on the left hand side. It is not about plagiarism, but about a matching story and concludes: "[...] although a biographer must of necessity adhere to an accurate chronology of events, nothing compels a specific selection of facts, quotations, or vocabulary."
  • Retraction Watch (which needs to be on your required reading list, anyway) documents the University of Frankfurt in Germany snapping at whistleblowers:
    German university calls whistleblower’s emails “dangerous”. This is quite a complicated case with personal insults and injuries being mixed in with scientific ones. Retraction Watch states:
    But we are also on the record insisting that institutions and journals take whistleblower allegations seriously, even if they are anonymous. So while we take the university at its word that it will “take any allegation of scientific dishonesty very seriously and its designated committee will thoroughly investigate any such accusation,” we really hope this letter isn’t an attempt to discourage future whistleblowing, or a precedent for why universities should ignore such allegations.
  • I found this letter to the editor of Upsala Nya Tidningen (in Swedish) in January 2012 from students complaining about the media reporting on plagiarism. They feel that the reports on cheating are vastly exaggerated and that students caught are put on the stocks and treated as criminals [well, they did cheat, actually - dww] and the fault is of course with the government for not giving the universities enough money or instructional time or face time with professors. 
  • Der Standard in Austria reports that the head of the Slovakian Christian Democrats Party (KDH), Jan Figel, is said to have committed plagiarism in his doctoral thesis, according to the Deutschen Presse-Agentur (dpa). Figel was Comissioner of Education for the EU from 2004-09 and Slovakian Minister of Transportation from 2010-12.  
  • Ulrich Lichtenthaler is now up to six retractions.
  • And then there is South Korean researcher Hyung-In Moon who appears to have used identity theft and identity fabrication in order to self-review his papers.
Many thanks to readers who send me links - I think this format is a good way to get some links out to people to find out more about these cases. Do keep sending them!