Saturday, December 22, 2012

Share and share alike

Laborjournal and the local newspaper Wochenblatt report that the University of Regensburg has rescinded the doctorate of a dentist who had submitted a dissertation that was essentially that of her husband's.

The story begins with a organ transplantation scandal that broke in Germany in mid-2012.  Apparently, in 2010 and 2011 patient data was manipulated in order to enable certain patients to jump the queue for receiving an organ, as the weekly Zeit reports, for example many persons from Italy. The liver transplantation specialist from the University of Göttingen, Aiman Obed, was in the middle of this scandal, stepping down from the university at the end of 2011.

Obed had submitted his thesis on liver cancer to the University of Regensburg in 2004. His wife, Manal, is a dentist and had submitted her thesis to the same advisors on the same topic in 2006, although liver cancer is quite an unusual topic for a dentist. According to the news weekly Focus, the dissertations are not word-for-word copies, but have a similar structure, strikingly similar data, identical graphs, and even some of the same spelling and grammar errors. Focus obtained the theses and offer them as pdfs for others to check. Laborjournal published an editorial in October 2012 comparing a number of passages from the two dissertations.

Focus reported that a letter from Manal O. had been sent to the medical faculty of the university stating that she had plagiarized her dissertation and announcing that she would "return" her doctorate. Her lawyer insisted that she did not write the letter, but the university began investigations, as reported by the local Wochenblatt.

Laborjournal points out that there is no news on whether the university will be taking action against the advisors for the two theses. Since both are still active, Hans-Jürgen S. as a director of an institute for medicine at the University of Regensburg and Bernhard K. at the Mannheim Clinic at the University of Heidelberg, the question does arise as to how they are to be permitted to continue advising doctoral students. Although, when one looks at other medical theses from the University of Heidelberg, for example the case documented on VroniPlag Wiki of a doctoral thesis copying extensively from the habilitation of her doctoral advisor, it seems that quite a number of doctorates in medicine in Germany do not have anything to do with good scientific practice.
FORSCHUNG UND TECHNIK, MEDIZIN: Herr und Frau Doktor - weiter lesen auf FOCUS Online:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Research Center Borstel

The German research financing foundation DFG has also published the press release about the sanctions for two researchers from the Research Center in Borstel in English.

  1. Sylvia Bulfone-Paus
    "The DFG Committee concluded that Bulfone-Paus had committed 'gross negligence of her supervisory duty' in her function as the leader of the working group and was therefore guilty of scientific misconduct as stipulated in the DFG procedures."
    Retractionwatch notes that Bulfone-Paus has had to retract 13 papers. However, since only 4 of these were DFG funded, the punishment has turned out to be quite light. She is barred from applying for funding for 3 years, and the time that she voluntarily refrained from using DFG money is applied to this time period. The University of Lübeck seems to be continuing its investigations. (There is also a Spiegel report on the case).
  2. Elena Bulanova
    Bulanova was a researcher with Bulfone-Paus and co-author on a number of the retracted papers. She has been identified as being the person primarily responsible for the data manipulation and is barred from applying for funding for 5 years.
The comments at Retractionwatch show the shock elsewhere in the world that Germany has only applied such mild sanctions. It is beginning to look like one just gets slapped on the wrist for scientific misconduct in Germany. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

This and that

Again, I'm posting some links with a short description, as the links are piling up with no time to spend digging deeper.

  • Ireland: The Irish Times reports that the chairman of the Institute of Technology Tralee is said to be stepping down while an investigation into plagiarism found in his Master's thesis is investigated.
  • Canada: The Windsor Star reports that the dean for the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, has taken administrative leave without pay. This is linked to an unspecified "academic integrity breach". 
  • Utah, USA: The Salt-Lake Tribune reports on a case of English as a Second Language teachers at the Southern Utah University permitting their students to plagiarize. 
  • PNAS published a report by Fang, Steen and Casadevall: "Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications"
    Abstract: "A detailed review of all 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed as retracted on May 3, 2012 revealed that only 21.3% of retractions were attributable to error. In contrast, 67.4% of retractions were attributable to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate publication (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%). Incomplete, uninformative or misleading retraction announcements have led to a previous underestimation of the role of fraud in the ongoing retraction epidemic. The percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud has increased ∼10-fold since 1975. Retractions exhibit distinctive temporal and geographic patterns that may reveal underlying causes. "
  • Germany:  An informative article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on professors who plagiarize from their students.
  • Germany: Transparency International will be looking into corruption in German universites, Spiegel Online reports. 
  • Germany: The DFG has announced results in three accusations of academic misconduct:
    • Silvia Bulfone-Paus, FZ Borstel, may not apply for funding for three years and must give up all her official research duties with the DFG
    • Dr. Elena Bulanova, FZ Borstel, may not apply for funding for five years for manipulating data
    • PD Dr. Volker Korz, Universität Magdeburg, has been found not to have used good scientific practice, but to have not crossed the line that would entail sanctions.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Quick Update

I have all sorts of links around that need documenting here, but not enough time to do thorough research on the topics. So I'll just drop them here:
  • The vice prime minister president of Hungary, Zsolt Semjén, is now also facing plagiarism accusations in his dissertation. The former prime minister president, Pál Schmitt, was already forced to resign because of plagiarism in his dissertation. 
  • A historic plagiarism from the 1580s: Giordano Bruno.  (additional article: Auf Gänsefüßchen schleichen, by Elisabeth von Samsonow)
  • An article in New Scientist: Fraud fighter: 'Faked research is endemic in China
  • A discussion is going on in Germany amongst librarians as to how best to deal with all of the rescinded doctorates. Do they pull the books? Stamp them as plagiarisms? Only mark the catalogues? Just remove the "dissertation" label in the catalogues?
  • VroniPlag Wiki has released cases #34 (medicine from the University of Ulm), #35 (a habilitation in business science from the Distance Education University in Hagen), and #36 (medicine from the University of Düsseldorf).  
  • An interesting dissertation from Halle by Jens Blecher: "Vom Promotionsprivileg zum Promotionsrecht: Das Leipziger Promotionsrecht zwischen 1409 und 1945 als konstitutives und prägendes Element der akademischen Selbstverwaltung". The English abstract:
    At the beginning of the 13th century, the oldest universities of Paris and Bologna acquired ius promovendi, a procedure that differed from the internal examinations and publicly awarded degrees in used in other educational institutions. German universities appropriated this hard fought right and continue to employ it as one of their fundamental academic privileges up to the present. In the nineteenth century, most of the medieval privileges of the university were absorbed into state administration. Only the independent right to graduate students remained. This right not only served as a means to Self-government the faculty, but is also remains an important element with which the University achieves its social recognition. Using examples of discussions surrounding reforms, particularly focused on the Philosophical (Liberal Arts) Faculty, this work will present the evolution of graduation regulations up to the end of the National Socialist era. Important caesura along the way include the effects of the Reformation (including both the loss of papal protection and the right of supervision by rulers), the elimination of confessional requirements at the end of the eighteenth century, the development of specialized departments and the reduction in status of the Master’s Degree, the efforts of democratic professors and educational reformers to liberalize the nature of doctoral studies, the role of doctoral studies in the political sphere after the turn of the century, particularly during the Weimar Republic and finally the nation wide standardization and appropriation of doctoral graduation procedures as a political instrument during the Third Reich.  
  • The court in Freiburg upheld the rescinding of Veronica Saß' dissertation by the University of Konstanz. The court ruling, although "anonymized" gives lots of details about her grades.
  • The court in Cologne upheld the rescinding of Margarita Mathiopoulos' dissertation by the University of Bonn. Mathiopoulous feels that the court did not understand her and is considering continuing legal action.