Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Swiss Journalist Reported Plagiarism, Had Home Searched

This is a long and complicated case that has been brewing in the French-language part of Switzerland about a case of plagiarism at the University in Neuchâtel that was reported on in Le Matin by the journalist Ludovic Rocchi. The university eventually suspended the professor in question, and he in turn accused Rocchi of libel and slander because he published about the plagiarism before the internal investigations were finished.

The police searched Rocchi's house in 2012, looking for proof (Le Matin, Persönlich.com, NZZ), and confiscating papers and computers belonging to his wife, as well as hunting him down on a business trip and taking his laptop. This is apparently the first time such a thing has happened in Switzerland, according to Le Matin. Rocchi sued the government for illegal search and seizure (Le Matin, NZZ). The government felt that he had published illegally, as one is innocent until proven guilty, which is strange as in a plagiarism case one can easily document plagiarism and source, and plagiarism is not a crime in a legal sense, but academic misconduct.

In April 2013 Rocchi published a detailed description of the copying in Le Matin, including interesting changes to texts that were about Canada or the Netherlands in the original and suddenly were about Switzerland. In May Rocchi detailed some problems in the professor's CV. It seems he listed positions at a university in Quebec that he didn't actually have. The Quebec university had previously asked him to remove these, and he promised to do so, but never actually did, according to Rocchi's report. 

It was eventually determined that the plagiarism was "partially given" (NZZ, Le Matin, 20 minutes) and that the mobbing within the department ran deep. This seems to be a rather common problem, as seen in the Zürich case this blog reported on recently.

Rocci won his court case (NZZ, telepolis) but the government is appealing to the Swiss Supreme Court.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Junk Journal "Metalurgia International"

Spiegel Online, Laborwelt, and Retraction Watch have reported on a fake article that Serbian academics Dragan Z. Đuirić, Boris Delilbašić, and Stevica Radisic published in the Romanian junk journal Metalurgia International. The journal is indexed on Thomson Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge, lending an air of professionality to the publication that it does not deserve.

The paper, entitled "Evaluation of Transformative Hermeneutic Heuristics for Processing Random Data", and published in Vol. 18, Nr. 6 (2013) on pp. 98–102 is a scream to read. It is available online at scribd, including lovely photos of the researchers wearing false wigs and mustaches. Start at the back with the reference section: long dead researchers with current publications, the Disney character Goofy (known as Silja in Serbian) publishing in a children's comic book, B. Sagdiyev (better known as the fictitious Kazakh journalist Borat) publishing with A. S. Hole,  and of course a paper by A. Sokal.

The article is quite forthcoming in explaining its goal, which is to show how many of their fellow Serbian researchers publish nonsense in such journals in order to puff up their CVs:
Following the usual and by now well-spread practice in many academic circles of producing insignificant research papers of great importance to pseudo science, our research aims at identifying “ground truth” for undecidability, and, however, this research is principled. Rather that rely on the overly-reasoned, wide-spread use of scientific apparatus, without consideration of randomness, we invent the following architecture.
There are so many hints such as "Error! Reference source not found", bizarre diagrams, chaotically formatted references that would have been noticed by a referee, if indeed anyone had read it. But there was no peer-review. According to Spiegel Online, paying 140 € for the main author and 75 € for each additional author results in speedy publication, and a certificate of publication for submitting at one's own university. This issue has 70 publications with between 2 and 4 authors, so the journal publisher would have income of 20.000 €. Even paying someone to put together the PDF and the server charges, this is pretty good income for a journal published every month. 

There is a long list of supposed editors
The journal editor, Gheorghe V. Lepădatu, gives his affiliation as Vice-Rector of Dimitrie Cantemir Christian University Bucharest, although he uses a Yahoo address. This private university has been involved in some accreditation scuffles recently. The journal web site is currently "under construction", but the trusty Internet Archive has many snapshots of the web site. The ISI inclusion is most prominent on the page, the HTML is pure 90s, awash with colors, fonts, and blinking things.

The system of evaluating the quality of a journal or a researcher with quantitative methods is broken and has been broken for some time. There are many people out to make money out of the need that people have for international publications, and the price is right. What will it take to make organizations realize this? Our trust in scientific publications is rapidly deteriorating, as they become more and more a business enterprise and less and less true research.

Plagiarism Detection Software and Copyright

I stumbled over an interesting legal note published in the Florida Law Review about copyright considerations with respect to forcing students to submit their papers to a plagiarism detection system that stores the papers or a derivative work such as a fingerprint. 

Samuel J. Horovitz, Two Wrongs Don't Negate a Copyright: Don't Make Students Turnitin if You Won't Give it Back, 60 Fla. L. Rev. 229 (2008). Available at: http://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/flr/vol60/iss1/5

Horovitz gives an in-depth analysis of the legal aspects of Turnitin's assertions that their use of students' intellectual property is fair-use and serves to defend their own intellectual property. His note is extensively referenced and points out some deep flaws in Turnitin's reasoning. For example, if Turnitin indeed defended students' IP, then they would be informed when someone else used their paper. This is not the case – only the teacher submitting the second paper is informed. And bizarrely, giving a paper to Turnitin is unfair to other companies that offer plagiarism detection systems or are paper mills (even though they are illegal in some states!). Horovitz concludes:
Plagiarism is a growing problem that evades a simple solution. Academic institutions must, in the interests of fairness, academic integrity, and scholastic progress, do all they can to prevent, detect and deter plagiarism. Counteracting plagiarism, which concerns the writing process, promotes ethical behavior and fosters a culture of academic trust. It is thus important for anti-plagiarism mechanisms likewise to be ethical and to foster academic trust. Turnitin, a solution to the plagiarism problem popular among academic institutions, infringes students' copyrights. Turnitin's key selling point, its massive database, is largely the product of archiving and copying of student-authored works. Both copyright law and copyright policy—the latter differing substantially from plagiarism-prevention policy—dictate that this archiving is not a fair use and infringes copyrighted works. Thus, to the extent that lack of concern for—and indeed mandated infringement of—student copyrights is unethical and fosters distrust in the academic community, use of the Turnitin system is counterproductive to the objectives of plagiarism prevention and is both an inappropriate and an ineffective remedy. Schools that use Turnitin also expose themselves to potential liability. Therefore, schools must seek alternative solutions to the plagiarism problem.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Plagiarism Information in French

In researching the previous article I stumbled upon the web site of Michelle Bergadaà, professor at the University of Geneva: Responsable (Plagiat et Fraude Schientifique: La Perspective Académique). She has published widely in French over the past ten years about plagiarism, and issues an occasional newsletter in French.

I find her discussion of a typology of plagiarists (the manipulator, the cobbler, the cheater, and the fraudster) quite interesting:
She has conducted a number of investigations, asking students and professors about the plagiarism problem and has gathered a lot of material in French on the site. She is also publishing about what I call mock conferences.

So if your French is up to speed (or you can decrypt what Google Translate thinks the text says), give the site a good look!

A tangled mess in Zürich

The so-called Mörgeli affair at the University of Zürich is a tangled mess of politics and science. Since the publications are all in German, I will try and summarize what they are reporting in English for my international readers, and give some links for those who read German.

Christoph Mörgeli, a politician with the conservative Swiss political party SVP and honorary professor (Titularprofessor) for the history of medicine at the University of Zürich, was curator of the History of Medicine Museum. 

The chair for the History of Medicine at the University of Zürich, Beat Rüttimann, retired and Flurin Condrau from Manchester was named to follow him, joining the university in 2011. Condrau published a report in 2012 on the sorry state of affairs at the museum, according to the German daily newspaper FAZ, in an article by Jürgen Kaube published on Nov. 1, 2013 titled "Alma Natter". According to the FAZ, Condrau characterized the museum as out-dated, erroneous, not state-of-the-art, and not even properly cleaned. The institute and the museum each worked in isolation, Condrau postulated political reasons for this. But the worst problem was the teaching – students did not attend the sessions offered by the museum, only interested senior citizens were in attendance, according to the Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeiger.

An academic fight broke out, with accusations flying back and forth, many published in the Tagesanzeiger. Soon lawyers and courts were involved. The assistant curator of the museum, Titularprofessorin Iris Ritzmann, was accused of leaking a secret report to the newspaper before it was published (they insist they obtained it in a different fashion). She was jailed together with her husband while their apartment was searched and then she was fired, according to the FAZ, for having given a journalist a password to the university student platform for learning materials. Why this would be important for the case is unclear. An international uproar ensued, with petitions circulating, politicians criticizing the university, and other media chiming in (Neue Zürcher Zeitung).

An avalanche of actions broke loose:
  • Ritzmann took the university to court, filing for damages. 
  • Mörgeli was fired in September 2012, and has taken the university to court, stating that he is a victim of mobbing. This is going back and forth and has not yet been resolved.
  • The Swiss TV program Rundschau from the SRF turned out to have been investigating accusations of Mörgli having granted degrees for substandard dissertations. They broadcast on March 27, 2013, including an interview with Michele Bargadaà, a professor at the University of Geneva who researches about scientific standards in doctoral theses and has published extensively about plagiarism (her site on plagiarism and fraud is available in French at http://responsable.unige.ch/). She did not speak about plagiarism at all, according to the transcripts, but with the current discussions of plagiarism in dissertations in Europe somehow the connection seemed clear. Rundschau also stated that 12 out of 60 dissertations had consisted only in the transcription of texts, nothing more. Mörgli filed complaints with the Swiss media ombud about a total of three shows. In the final report, the ombud upheld the rights of the TV station to broadcast as they did, with just a few minor reservations.  Mörgeli filed a complaint then with the UBI, a higher ombud. They rejected all of the complaints unanimously in December 2013, according to the NZZ
  • According to the Tagesanzeiger, Condrau had been refusing to accept the dissertations that Mörgeli was mentoring since he joined the university. Until the end of Januar 2012, Beat Rüttimann, helped out by championing some of the dissertations that were currently being prepared. In July 2013 the association of professors of medical history criticized the University of Zürich because there were no second or external examiners at all for the granting of doctorates in the field of medicine. Instead, the theses are laid out in an office for 2 weeks, and if there was no protest, they were accepted. One of the evaluators went public with the accusations about the quality of the dissertations in SRF the end of November 2013, in parallel with all of the other issues mentioned above. 
  • The rector of the University of Zurich then stepped down in November 2013 when it was discovered that he had been passing on emails and notes about telephone calls, the Tagesanzeiger reports, as well as having had all the university emails checked to see who was corresponding with the press, according to the FAZ.
There are additional side stories on missing bones and what-not, but this explosive mixture is nasty enough as it is. Instead of bickering and accusing each other and insisting on secrecy about things normally publicized, the participants should perhaps all be striving for utter transparency and honesty – and then get back to doing research. They are scientists, after all.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Another German Politician's Doctorate Rescinded

The Universität der Bundeswehr (German Army University) in Munich has rescinded the doctorate of Jakob Kreidl, a local politician in Bavaria, as the Süddeutsche reports on December 12, 2013 in an article entitled Wegen Plagiaten: CSU-Landrat verliert Doktortitel.

VroniPlag Wiki case #44 was published in March of 2013, the thesis has plagiarism on over 90% of the 286 pages. Of these, 137 are more than three-quarters plagiarized. The amount of plagiarism documented is second only to the thesis of former German defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, also a politician from the Bavarian conservative CSU party.

Kreidl's excuse was that he had so much to do as a politician during the five years that he worked on the thesis, that he lost control of what he was doing. He has announced, however, that he is not withdrawing from politics.

A list of articles about the case can be found on VroniPlag Wiki.

Plagiarius Litterarius

For readers with some spare time over the holidays who can read German, here a link to the entry Plagiarius Litterarius in Zedlers Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon Aller Wissenschafften und Künste – from 1741!
PLAGIARIUS LITTERARIUS, der gelehrte Dieb, wird unter den Gelehrten derjenige geheissen, der eines andern Sachen abschreibet, und vor seine eigene Arbeit ausgiebet, anbey aber den rechten Autorem, woraus er seine Nachrichten und Künste gezogen, nicht nennet. Und diese Gewohnheit heißt Plagium Litterarium, der gelehrte Diebstahl. Vom Plagio und Plagiariis hat Jacob Thomasius am ausführlichsten geschrieben. Doch ist kein Zweiffel, daß sein Catalogus Plagiariorum sehr vermehret werden könnte, nachdem der gelehrten Diebe immer mehr und mehr werden.
The answer to a question journalists often ask: Did plagiarism arise with the Internet? No!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Balkan Bribery

The journalist Dino Jahic reported in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on December 23, 2013 (no direkt link, as the Süddeutsche wants license fees for the "content" in their links) in an article entitled Bestechung auf dem Balkan: Skandalort Hochschule (Balkan Bribery: Scandalous Universities) on the ease with which one can obtain a university degree in Bosnia and Serbia.

For a price, anywhere between just 700 € and 5000 € depending on the school and the field of study, a degree can be obtained with a back-dated matriculation form at some schools, attaching money to a written examination can insure that it will be marked "passed." Unfortunately, none of the informants would go on the record with their experiences but would only consent to be interviewed anonymously.

A university degree is necessary for many jobs in the public sector, so there is much interest in obtaining a degree with as little effort as possible. Bizarrely, instead of the Balkan governments investigating the quality of their own degrees, persons with foreign degrees from suspicious universities such as the University of Oxford in England often have to wait for months for their degrees to be accepted as equivalents.

No "real" name, no answer

The pseudonymous researcher Robert Schmidt continues to work on a documentation of irregularities in the dissertation of Norbert Lammert, the parliamentary president of Germany. He has now encountered additional interesting indications of copying. On page 32 of the dissertation a reference is given to Eldersveld, p. 408f. One source, Mühleisen, attributes a different statement to Eldersveld from the same page. However, there is no mention of the contents Lammert's statement refers to on the page given, but there are other pages that are close to Mühleisen (p. 16, p. 19).

Such things happen: two numbers get switched, a 1 is mistaken for a 4 or a 7 because one's notes were taken in terrible handwriting, off-by-one. However, when another writer makes the exact same mistake, it is curious. When there are more identical errors in bibliographic data, such as wrong names or titles as found, for example, on page 52, some serious questions arise. However, the president of the University of Bochum decided that there is no case here, end of the discussion.

Robert Schmidt forwarded a copy of a letter to me that he sent to the Minster of Innovation, Science, and Research in North Rhein-Westphalia. In that letter he analyzed the legal basis for dealing with plagiarism cases in doctorates that have already been granted and came to the conclusion that in Bochum, as at most other universities, it is the job of the individual schools or departments (Fakultäten) to decide what to do. The ombud for good scientific practice is primarily installed as a place for whistleblowers from the inside to point out cases of academic misconduct. The ombud can forward other cases to the dean in question, but the granting and rescinding of degrees is solely the job of the affected Fakultät. In Bochum, however, the rectorate of the university decided not to open a case after an initial investigation by the ombud. The Fakultät was not consulted. He requested that the ministry, as the supervisory body for the university, look into the question.

It is, perhaps, "only" a procedural question. But if the university gives itself rules, why does it not follow them?

The answer came, surprisingly fast:
Ich bitte um Verständnis, dass ich zu Anschreiben von Personen, die sich
offensichtlich unter Verschleierung Ihrer Identität an das Ministerium wenden, in der Sache keine Stellung nehme.

(I ask for your understanding that I cannot comment on letters addressed to the ministry from persons who have obviously cloaked your [typical misspelling, "their" is probably intended -- dww] identity.)
Obviously? I did not realize that it was necessary to send a copy of one's identity card along with a letter questioning whether proper procedures were followed. I think the ministry needs to read Robert K. Merton. It does not matter what the position is of someone who states a truth or asks a question. Professor or student, laboratory assistant or janitor, Nobel prize winner or academic without a job: What counts is the CONTENT of the statement or question.

I also fail to see that "Robert Schmidt" is an obvious cloak. Honeybee123 is perhaps clearer as a name that is probably not on an ID card, but there are numerous Robert Schmidts who were born with that name or who changed to that name upon marriage. I suppose it is a welcome dodge for avoiding answering uncomfortable questions, but what if that was, indeed, his name?

(Updated with a few minor corrections and a few links)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Guest post: Citation-based Plagiarism Detection

I hope to be able to post some of my backlog over the holiday season. This post is by Bela Gipp. I was an external examiner for the doctoral dissertation on Citation-based Plagiarism Detection that he defended in September at the University of Magdeburg. A student project at my university helped Bela develop an interface for his system.
– Debora Weber-Wulff

Can citation patterns help detect heavily disguised plagiarism in academic documents?


by Bela Gipp

A while back, Retraction Watch, a blog on scientific integrity, reported on five plagiarism cases discovered in Neuroscience Letters. Three cases translated Chinese originals into English, while another translated a French text into English. None of the cases acknowledged they were translations.
Translated plagiarism remains one of the most difficult forms of academic misconduct to detect. Since few researchers actively follow the literature in multiple languages, peer review is unlikely to recognize translated plagiarism. Software is largely useless in helping to identify translated plagiarism, because today’s plagiarism detection systems rely on a minimum amount of text similarity to spark suspicion, yet translations typically contain very low or no textual overlap. When documents use different alphabets, e.g. Chinese, Korean, or Russian characters compared to Latin characters, available detection systems stand no chance.
A new approach for plagiarism detection, termed Citation-based Plagiarism Detection (CbPD) goes beyond literal text similarity to detect potential plagiarism. The citation-based approach examines the in‑text placement of academic citations to form a language and text independent “fingerprint” of semantic similarity. The practicability of this citation-based approach was initially demonstrated in an analysis of the translated plagiarism in the prominent plagiarism case of K.-T. zu Guttenberg. Recently, a group of researchers in cooperation with students from the HTW-Berlin developed the first citation-based plagiarism detection prototype, “CitePlag”.
In the image below, CitePlag visualizes one of the five articles that were retracted from Neuroscience Letters. No textual similarity remains between the two publications, since the plagiarism (left) is a translation into English of the Chinese original (right). The citation-based approach, however, identifies and connects matching citations in a central scrollable column for human inspection. Examine this example for yourself in CitePlag. For more information on the prototype and the algorithms it implements, refer to this publication.
A medical article in Indian Journal of Urology was recently retracted after the CbPD approach identified a notably high citation pattern overlap with a journal article published in another journal two years prior. The citation-based similarities, as well as the text, which the retracted article shared with its source can be examined using the prototype here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Musings on mock conferences and predatory journals

Jeffrey Beall published the "evaluation form" from a scientist who was lured to one of the many OMICS mock conferences. He describes pretty much all of the behavior that is found at such conferences: no involvement of the people on the committees, shortening the conference, massive no-shows, lots of pictures and awards and a fancy web site. It took a lot of effort on his part to get his name removed from their web site, the entire page has now been pulled. Perhaps scientists should quit attending large conferences at hotels, instead sticking to smaller, focused conferences held at universities?

OMICS also publish a wide range of "open access" journals that are on the predatory publishing list. I wonder how many of the "editors-in-chief" actually know that they are editors here?

One of the commenters noted that there is now a CWTS Journal indicator that calculates an impact factor that is normalized according to the field for journals in the SCOPUS database. I looked up a few journals, they seem to have only English-language journals listed. Even just looking at my field, I see so very many journals, how on earth are people able to read all of them? It might be good to check out the journals you are planning on submitting to before you dash off that manuscript.
source normalized impact per paper

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Peer Review, Impact Factors, and the Decline of Science

[I've had interesting tabs open for weeks waiting for time to report on them. Sorry for the delay. -dww]

The Economist reported on October 19, 2013 (pp. 21-24) that there is "Trouble at the lab". Indeed. And trouble has been brewing for quite some time without a single identifiable culprit or an easy way to solve the problem. This problem is concerned with predatory publishing, irreproducibility of scientific results, and the use of quantitative data as an attempt to judge quality.

University administrations, search and tenure committees, governments, funding associations, and other bodies need some way of judging people they don't know in order to decide whether to offer them jobs or promotions or funding. This has often boiled down to counting the number of publications, or the impact factors of the journals in which their articles are published. Coupled with the crisis in publishing, with the subscription price of subscription journals exploding, an unhealthy mix is brewing.

Predatory publishers promise quick publication in good-sounding "international" journals, using the Open Access "golden road" to extract fees from authors. They promise peer review, but if at all they only seem to look at the formatting. Established publishers trying to keep up their profits have incorporated more and more journals into their portfolios without keeping a watchful eye on quality control.

Enter John Bohannon. In October 2013 Bohannon published an article in Science, Who's Afraid of Peer Review? He details a sting operation that he conducted between January and August 2013, submitting 304 papers with extremely obvious deficiencies to journals that he chose both from Lund University's "Directory of Open Access Journals" as well as from Jeffrey Beall's list of predatory publishers.

Bohannon has put his data online, showing that 82% of the journals chosen from Beale's list accepted the fabricated paper, as well as 45% of the journals on the DOAJ list. Predictably, DOAJ is not amused and accusing Bohannon of, among other things, racism because he chose African-sounding names for the authors (1 - 2).

In August 2013, Nature journalist Richard van Noorden detailed a scheme by publishers called "citation stacking" in which a group of publishers collude to quote extensively from each other's journals in order to avoid being sanctioned for coercive citation. This activity was described in Science in 2012 by Allen W. Wilhite and Eric A. Fong as a process by which authors are instructed to quote from a publisher's own journals in order to increase the so-called impact factor. van Noorden's article focused on a group of Brazilian journals, so he, too, was accused of racism. This is unfortunate, as it detracts from a very serious problem.

We find ourselves today in a rapidly expanding world with scientific research being conducted in many different places and much money being invested in producing results. People need publications, and have little time for doing peer review, a job that is generally not paid for and performed as a service to the community. Universities in countries without a tradition of rigorous scientific practice have researchers who need publications, and there are people out to make money any way they can. Researchers competing for scarce jobs in countries that are trying to spend less on science and education than they have in the past are also sometimes tempted to follow the path of less resistance and publish with such journals. And some are not aware that they have just selected a publication that sounds like one that is well respected, as Beall has noted.

I don't have a solution to offer, other than boycotting the use of quantitative data about publications and getting people to be aware of the scams going on. We need to get serious about peer review, embracing such concepts as open access pre- and post-publication peer review in order to get more rigor into the publication process. I realize that people have been complaining about the decline of science since at least Charles Babbage (Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, And on Some of Its Causes, 1830). But we are in grave danger of letting bad science get the upper hand.

And what happens to those who try and point out some of the dicier parts of science? Nature just published another article by van Noorden, together with Ed Yong and Heidi Ledford, Research ethics:  3 ways to blow the whistle.

Update 2013-12-01: fixed a typo

At least they are being honest about their dishonesty

Jonathan Bailey, a consultant for iParadigms (the company that markets Turnitin) and author of the "Plagiarism today" blog, noted in a recent article that the "free" plagiarism detection software Viper moves papers that it checks to its paper mill subsidiary about 9 months after the paper has been submitted for checking. They market primarily to students, so they will be harvesting papers that students have either written themselves, or may have plagiarized and then didn't read the fine print.

They do make this very clear on their site, but only at the very bottom of the download page and only on a page that is linked as "How does Viper use my essay?":
Aside from that, 9 months after your scan, we will automatically add it to our student database and it will be published on one of our study sites to allow other students to use it as an example of how to write a good essay.

We tested the system in 2010 a the HTW Berlin, where it not only came in last as far as effectiveness goes, but we also observed that there was an essay mill at the same street address and with a telephone number just one number on from the Viper number. We called and tried to obtain more information, but the number only gave us an email address to contact, and our emails there were returned as undeliverable. We also observed that the email address that was used for the system was now getting regular emails like this:
 or this:
I find it highly dishonest for a company to be so blatantly offering to write papers for students. The reason for attending university is to learn how to do research, structure information, think things through, and write about the experience. People who purchase and submit ghostwritten papers are cheating themselves.

I suppose we should be happy that they are at least publicly stating what it is that they do with the papers submitted. As Bailey points out, however, they also encourage universities to use the system, but since teachers do not hold the copyright to papers written by their students, they must violate the terms of service in order to use the system. What a tangled mess ...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

University of Gießen sees no misconduct in plagiarism case

The University of Gießen in Germany announced on Tuesday that they see no scientific misconduct or plagiarism on the part of Frank-Walter Steinmeier (previous posts here 1 - 2). In just under six weeks they have announced a result, although there are older cases at the same university that are still not resolved. Apparently, they did not conduct an independent investigation, but only examined the accusation that was published by a marketing professor on the basis of his automatic plagiarism detection software.

The press release focuses on two aspects of the case:
  1. The issue of self-plagiarism. There was a good bit of text parallel with previously published works both of the author and the author with a co-author. The committee did not see any misconduct, as the co-author was named a few times in the thesis and thanked in the forward.
  2. The use of text verbatim without quotation marks. There are many fragments of text taken verbatim from other sources in the dissertation. The source is named in a footnote, but it is not made clear that the text is practically a textual copy, as can be seen in the current VroniPlag Wiki documentation. This is often referred to as a pawn sacrifice in the plagiarism literature. The university states that in the modern day this would be considered to be a problem, but that it is only misconduct when the author assumes intellectual property (Urheberschaft für fremde Ideen) with the intent to deceive. The problem, as always, is that a reader cannot know what the intent of the author is while reading the text.
Press reports can be found on Spiegel online, Zeit online, and a number of other venues. A long discussion in German about the procedures followed in Gießen can be found on the Erbloggtes blog.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dr. Z fights corruption and plagiarism in Russia

[I'm posting some oldish news that need documenting -- dww]
The German daily newspaper Die Welt published an article by Julia Smirnova on August 23, 2013 about "Dr. Z.", a scientist who is fighting corruption and plagiarism in Russia. A Swedish blogger reported on one of his revelations in February 2013, giving Russia today from February 22 as his source, but unfortunately no links to such an article can be found.

Andrej Zajakin, according to Smirnova, is a physicist who has lived in Spain for the past six years, doing research at the University of Santiago de Compostela. Using the pseudonym "Dr. Z.", he has been publishing extensive documentation of corruption in Russia. In February the Russian blogger Aleksej Navalnyj revealed that the politician Vladimir Pechtin had lied to voters by stating that he did not own foreign property when he actually owned a house in Florida. Pechtin was forced to step down. Navalnyj gave Zajakin as his source.

Zajakin is one of the persons behind Dissernet, a site that documents corruption and plagiarism in dissertations. The site is in Russian, but is said by Smirnova to have documented plagiarism in over 100 dissertation, including Russian politicians such as Pavel Astachov (children's rights commissioner), Olga Batalina (member of parliament), Vladimir Burmatov (member of parliament), Vladimir Gruzdev (governor of Tula Oblast), and Oleg Kowalyov (governor of Ryazan Oblast). The plagiarism documentations are linked from the page http://www.dissernet.org/expertise/ and use a similar type of documentation as is found at the German VroniPlag Wiki:
Plagiarism documentation at http://www.dissernet.org/expertise/kozlovaa2005.htm
The German online portal Spiegel online also published an interview (in German) with Andrej Rostovzev, one of the Dissernet scientists, in April 2013, in which he explains that this site is not organized as a wiki, but only permits vetted individuals to contribute to the effort. I don't speak Russian, but I would be happy to offer guest blogging privileges to anyone who would like to report on the progress being made by this group.

Guest commentary: Plagiarism Probabilities

[I have offered guest commentary privileges to anyone interested in posting longer pieces than the comments section will accept. This is the first such comment. -- dww ]
Plagiarism Probabilities
by Gerhard Hindemith
In response to the Copy, Shake, & Paste article  "Automatic plagiarism accusation?" on the documentation of plagiarism in the dissertation of Frank-Walter Steinmeier I would like to make the following comments:
There is an intermediate version of the computer-generated report available online: http://web.archive.org/web/20131012050153/http://www.profnet.de/dokumente/2013/8048r.pdf. The latest update, including most Vroniplag Wiki finds, can be found here: http://www.profnet.de/dokumente/2013/8048r.pdf
Surely the author of the report would claim that most commentators criticizing it did not understand it correctly. The report claims for each fragment a plagiarism probability (Einzelplagiatswahrscheinlichkeit), and if that is low, say 1%, the claim of the report is not that the documented fragment constitutes in fact plagiarism, but rather that it will be plagiarism only in one of 100 comparable cases. Having that in mind, one should disregard those "low probability fragments" for most purposes (and it is not quite clear, why they are included in a report aimed for the public in the first place). The system then goes on and calculates an overall plagiarism probability (Gesamtplagiatswahrscheinlichkeit), which supposedly (none of this is explained in the report unfortunately) then is the probability that the entire thesis should be considered plagiarism. With this understanding, the report makes sort of sense conceptually -- but that doesn't really help much. I think the report should never have been published, even if these clarifications are understood. Here are my reasons:
  1. If the outcome of this report really is only a plagiarism probability below 100% (it was around 60% in the beginning), publishing it seems quite unethical, because at that point there was a 2/5 chance that the dissertation was perfectly OK (if we believe the system ... see further down, whether that is a good idea).
  2. The professor made confusing claims with respect to how these probabilities should be interpreted. Here for instance: http://www.n24.de/n24/Nachrichten/Politik/d/3599146/-wir-finden-noch-mehr-bei-frank-walter-steinmeier-.html he claims that in Steinmeier's thesis 400 passages are not OK, that in fact Steinmeier has forgotten the quotation marks in 400 instances. ("Und bei Herrn Steinmeier kam eben heraus, dass 400 Textstellen nicht in Ordnung waren. Konkret heißt das: Er hat bei 400 Stellen die Anführungszeichen vergessen."). Now, this is much more than the claim that the system has found certain (low) probabilities for plagiarism. It seems that the professor is swinging back and forth between quite bold claims (400 instances of forgotten quotation marks) that attract attention and cautious remarks about the correct interpretation of the findings (the system only finds "plagiarism indicators", often with low probability attached, not certain plagiarism), when challenged with concrete examples.
  3. As I said, conceptually I can imagine that the probability set-up could make sense, but in practice the details matter a lot. Not only for the technically minded insider, but also for the reader trying to make sense of such a report and the so prominently placed probabilities. The following questions would need to be explained in order to ensure one can interpret the findings of the report:

    3a) What is the definition of "plagiarism" for a single fragment? Is every small citation mistake considered plagiarism, or only more severe cases of verbatim copied text of a certain length? Is self-plagiarism included? One needs to know this to understand what a plagiarism probability of say 20% actually means.

    3b) Equally, one would need to know what the definition of "plagiarism" for the entire dissertation would be. This could be as severe as "at least one citation error in the entire thesis" or as forgiving as "the plagiarism is so severe that even a medical dissertation in Germany would be rescinded". Without this definition, the overall probability figure is meaningless.

    3c) Important for the interpretation of the probabilities would also be an explanation, how these probabilities are conditional on the choice of potentially plagiarized sources, whether they are independent of text length and with what suitable confidence intervals comes their estimation.
  4. I have very strong doubts that the probability calculator has been developed on a methodologically sound basis. But maybe I am wrong. In order to check this, the following questions would have to be answered:

    4a) How has the probability calculator on fragment basis been built? Given that surely an automatic system cannot be taught to detect plagiarism directly, it would pick up certain factors that point towards plagiarism (like identical text and the length of it, lack of quotation marks, lack of reference, etc.) and estimate the plagiarism probability on the basis of those factors. The question is then: on the basis of what pool of text fragments with known plagiarism status has the tool been calibrated? Surely this pool would have to be fairly diverse, covering different plagiarism types, citation styles, and subject areas, and hence would have to be quite large, to achieve a certain statistical validity of the calibration results? How has been assured that this pool includes a representative proportion of fragments that are not considered plagiarism? What is the discriminatory power of the resulting probability calculator?

    4b) According to which logic have the fragment level plagiarism probabilities been combined to form the overall plagiarism probability? How has the overall probability been calibrated, on the basis of what pool of dissertations with known plagiarism status? How has the fragment-to-fragment correlation been accounted for that surely is induced by a consistent writing style throughout the thesis? (e.g. if in the whole thesis italics mark quotations (or a different text size/color for that matter), this might not be picked up by the system and the plagiarism probability on fragment level would be consistently over-estimated.) What is the discriminatory power of the overall probability calculator?

    4c) In the case of the Schavan thesis, a similar report has been generated, apparently following the same methodology: see here: http://www.profnet.de/dokumente/2013/11357profnet.pdf. This report gives an overall plagiarism probability of 100%. How can an automatic system reach absolute certainty, particularly for a dissertation where the passages of verbatim copied text are very limited? This 100% value makes me suspect that the system has in fact never been calibrated, and the probabilities given have no empirical basis, but are rather heuristic constructs that somewhat point in the right direction? If this was the case, one would have to ask, why such probabilities have been calculated in the first place, with apparent high precision up to a single percentage point?
I leave it at that. If there are reasonable answers to all these questions, I would be amazed, and the probability calculator would constitute a very interesting diagnosis tool and certainly an advance scientifically (the author of the report should then definitely publish his research). But given the complexities of plagiarism detection (as opposed to text parallel detection), I suspect the discriminatory power of an empirically built tool would be disappointingly low and its calibration extremely involved and costly. I don't believe the report about Steinmeier's thesis is generated by such a tool because the provided documentation (close to none) gives me no reason to believe it was but rather several indications that it most likely was not.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Automatic plagiarism accusation?

In October 2013 Germany saw another dissertation plagiarism case involving a politician.  Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former Foreign Minister and the leader of the opposition in the previous parliament, submitted a thesis in 1991 to the law faculty of the University of Gießen. Entitled Bürger ohne Obdach, Citizens without Shelter, the 395-page thesis deals with the legal aspects of homelessness. The weekly magazine Focus reported in an article (not linked here because Focus participates in the consortium claiming intellectual property on links and snippets) on Sept. 29, 2013 that a marketing professor who has been trying to sell his software system for detecting plagiarism for many years had found extensive plagiarism in the dissertation, and that Steinmeier had called the accusation absurd.

The daily newspaper taz soon dug out the news that Focus had paid the marketing professor to investigate the theses of politicians, supposedly without targeting a specific individual. Focus had also asked a law professor to evaluate the accusation. He had stated that most of the passages were unproblematic, for example a seven-word name of a book listed in a footnote, but that there were three portions that were more extensive. The report was published online, 279 rather incomprehensible pages worth of text in tiny print, colored text, and some so-called "total plagiarism probability scores". The press immediately whipped itself into a frenzy, presumably because they believed that a computer program would be much more accurate at finding plagiarism than people. After all, the software reported numbers on every page! But since no one quite understood what the numbers actually meant, extensive discussion ensued.

A number of blog commentators and online media picked the report apart (among them Spiegel Online, Causaschavan, Archivalia, Erbloggtes, HajoFunke). The marketing professor was interviewed many times, giving conflicting statements: In Deutschlandfunk he stated that he had examined the report before publishing it; in an interview with Main-Netz he is reported as having said
 [...] bei der Überprüfung durch unsere Software gab das System bei Steinmeiers Arbeit einfach »Rot« an und verschickte einen automatisch generierten Prüfbericht an die Universität.
(our system checked Steinmeier's thesis and it registered "red" and sent an automatically generated report to the university)
If the statement that the report was automatically sent is true, it demonstrates quite vividly the grave danger that the use of plagiarism detection software without understanding the report can cause. While false negatives are bothersome – a plagiarized text is not flagged – a false positive can potentially be devastating for the author of the text, as an accusation of plagiarism will still hang in the air, even if it later turns out that the accusation cannot be substantiated.

Perhaps this case demonstrates the problem with automatic accusations made solely on the basis some number generated by a software system. The algorithms by which the number was derived is usually not published and thus unverifiable. The numbers in general do not mean anything until they have been checked – every single one – by an experienced teacher or researcher to determine if the result is at all meaningful. As I have said repeatedly: A software system cannot determine plagiarism, only a human can. 

A software system can, however, find indications that there might be plagiarism, although it would be helpful if not so many irrelevant "hits" were to be reported. VroniPlag Wiki began documenting the three more extensive text parallels in Steinmeier's thesis that were reported by the system and soon found more plagiarism from these sources, as well as additional sources that were not listed in the automatic report. When the extent of the text copying was determined to be severe enough, the case was published online as VroniPlag Wiki case #57. Many of the fragments documented are so-called "pawn sacrifices", the source is given, but no indication is made that a copy or near copy of the source text was used.

Does this vindicate the computer-generated report? (The automatic report produced by the marketing professor appears to be constantly updated as new sources are found by VroniPlag Wiki, the original version is unfortunately no longer available online.)  Hardly. If there is plagiarism in a thesis, a software that reports plagiarism on every page will, of course, be right in a way, even if most of the flagged pages are false positives.

Thus, if plagiarism detection software is used by an institution, no accusation should be made until the report has been checked in detail by a person who understands what the results actually mean. Schools that define "plagiarism" to mean any report by a plagiarism detection software that is above a specified threshold should re-think their policy. Any sort of automatic plagiarism accusation should not be tolerated.

Update: For guest commentary on the mathematics of the plagiarism probabilities, see the next article.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Freiburg rescinds habilitation in sports medicine

The University of Freiburg in Germany recently rescinded the habilitation of Hans-Hermann Dickhuth, a professor of sports medicine who had been embroiled in a doping scandal (and eventually cleared) before he retired in 2012. The Badische Zeitung reported on October 14, 2013 (after some speculation on March 3) that the 30-year-old second dissertation had been found to be over 90% identical in text, figures and data to dissertations that were also prepared at that university. The seven dissertations, some of them quite slim volumes, also share large portions of text and data.

In comments to an editorial from October 19, 2013 in the Badische Zeitung, Dickhuth's son protests against his father being put in the stocks, as it were. Apparently, Dickhuth grew weary of the investigation and threatened to investigate the habilitations of the members of the committee, which may or may not have influenced their decision. Dickhuth has threatened more legal action, apparently the university has already spent about a half a million Euros on legal fees on this case alone.

The was the first time that the habilitation committee decided on rescinding a habilitation; at least two of the doctorates have been referred to the doctorate committee for investigation. Freiburg also has two current plagiarism cases, Gjb and Tmu, that are being investigated.

Update: Spiegel Online reports on Sept. 15, 2014 that the university has finally decided to rescind the habilitation, but not to strip Dickhuth of his professorship (and thus his pension), as he faithfully fulfilled his duties as a professor for many years. He is now retired.
I wrote to the university to see what's up with the other cases, they report that they are still "investigating". This, after having a more-or-less complete plagiarism documentation delivered to their door, so to speak. The universities are dragging their feet, hoping everything will go away, instead of vehemently defending academic standards. What a sorry state of affairs.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Plagiarism Detection Software Test 2013

Today I released the results of the Plagiarism Detection Software Test 2013. The report is available online, as are the individual results. Spiegel online reported on the test, including a picture of the home pages of the systems and the company response to the results, if the company cared to answer. We also offer the companies the opportunity to send us their comments on the test, we are glad to publish them.

The results can be summed up rather simply:

So-called plagiarism detection software does not detect plagiarism. In general, it can only demonstrate text parallels. The decision as to whether a text is plagiarism or not must solely rest with the educator using the software: It is only a tool, not an absolute test.

If a university decides to use plagiarism detection software, they need to have a clear policy on why they are using the software and how they will react to the results. It would be good to set up a competence team that offers educators help in testing suspicious texts, and to perhaps have two systems on offer, as the systems find different sources for different parts of the same source. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

German University Revokes venia legendi

The WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar is reported to have decided to revoke the venia legendi, the right to teach that is conferred with a habilitation, of Ulrich Lichtenthaler, according to the Rhein-Zeitung. He was a young shooting-star who received both a doctorate and the venia legendi from the WHU after studying in Bamberg and Grenada, according to his Wikipedia entry. At 30, the Rhein-Zeitung reports, Lichtenthaler was made professor and since 2011 he has been a professor at the University of Mannheim.

In 2012 Strategic Organization retracted a paper by Lichtenthaler and Ernst at the author's request. In a comment on the StrategicProfs.net blog an editor notes that Lichtenthaler contacted the journal proactively and claims responsibility for the statistical errors. Retraction Watch picked up the story, noting that two more papers in Research Policy by Lichtenthaler had also been retracted. Research Policy gives a very detailed reason for the retraction: not only were there statistical problems, but the journal was also misled in that "the author failed to disclose (through specific citations, or through a mention in the 'acknowledgements' section, or in a covering letter to the Editor)  the existence of other closely related papers by the same author." The journal Research Policy has published a paper on the role of retractions in the scientific community and more recently one by editor Ben Martin on the problems of plagiarism, self-plagiarism and coercive citation in research assessment. Both WHU and the University of Mannheim began investigations into Lichtenthaler's research, Retraction Watch notes.

Retraction Watch continued keeping score:
  • One month later, Strategic Management Journal retracted another paper. 
  • Retraction five was documented a week later, from Journal of World Business.
  • Three days later, retraction six from the Journal of Management Studies is found, it was first reported by the OpenInnovation blog.  
  • Holger Ernst, the doctoral and habilitation advisor and frequent co-author of the now-retracted papers, was removed as second author from a paper on Journal of Product Innovation Management.
  • In November 2012, Organization Science reported on retraction seven.
  • A few days later, Retraction Watch found retraction eight on the Journal of Business Venturing. That journal notes a familiar pattern: statistical irregularities and multiple publication.
  • Number nine was from the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change. OpenInnovation  noted that they had previously thought this paper to be ripe for retraction.
  • The Journal of Product Innovation Management now retracted #10 and #11.
  • The twelfth retraction was noted in May 2013, from the journal Industrial and Corporate Change.
A press release by the WHU on Sept. 13, 2013 states that the investigation has now been completed and the habilitation rescinded. The press release notes that the decision to revoke the venia legendi was taken unanimously.

The University of Mannheim is on record from July 31, 2013, stating that they can't really say anything on account of data privacy, but that their own investigation is continuing.

This is an interesting dilemma currently confronting German universities. Although publications are openly seen to be plagiarized, published multiple times, withdrawn - the university treats the case as if it was an internal, disciplinary matter. Of course, they are afraid of lawsuits in the increasingly litigious German society. But still: academic matters are published matters, and the discussions about them should be public and not under the threat of lawsuits. It will be interesting to see what the university decides, as a venia legendi is still generally a requirement for obtaining a university professorship in Germany.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Tale of Two Universities

Germany has been having to deal with plagiarism problems in doctoral dissertations on a large scale the past two years. In particular, with all the discussion about plagiarism, the universities are being informed about many more cases than usual. And if my own email and snail mail is any judge, they tend to be of the sort: X is a nasty idiot, I bet s/he plagiarized.

There are two ways to react to this:
  • University of Düsseldorf, Faculty of Arts and Letters:
    This is the school that just recently had to deal with plagiarism in the dissertation of former German Education Minister. One can assume that they have understood the problem, as they published a report on 15 August 2013 on the current situation with two cases of a dissertation revoked. One has taken the university to court, one accepted the result. They don't expect the amount of cases to go down, mostly because of the media attention. But, as the author, Prof. Rohrbacher, states: Wissenschaft in der Verantwortung, it is the responsibility of science to deal with these cases. Objective, unemotional, to the point. As it should be.
  • Technical University of Dresden
    As reported in the blog plagiatsgutachten, an anonymous blog has documented problems in a dissertation from this university. There are many fragments documented, but as far as I can see, it mostly documents missing citations and problematic references. One or two might have been negligible, but with 120 documented fragments, one would expect the university to at least take a look when informed of the situation.


    plagiatsgutachten quotes the answer that the blogger received from the Ombud for good scientific practice at the  TU Dresden:

    “Solange Sie Ihr Visier nicht heben und es vorziehen, als anonymer Heckenschütze zu fungieren, sind Sie niemand, der in der wissenschaftlichen Welt akzeptiert wird und der sich moralisch über die Beschuldigte stellen kann. Ich brauche Ihren Namen, Ihre Adresse, Ihren Beruf, Ihre Dienststelle und eine Erklärung der Beweggründe, die Sie dazu führten, die Dissertation von Frau D[...] zu untersuchen.
    Vorher werde ich nichts unternehmen.

    Prof. Dr. Achim Mehlhorn
    Ombudsmann der TU Dresden”

    Let's see if I can preserve the tone of this letter while translating it:
    "As long as you keep your visor down and prefer to act as an anonymous sniper, you are no one who is acceptable in the world of science and who is morally able to stand above the person accused. I need your name, your address, your workplace and an explanation of the reasons that led you to investigate the dissertation of Ms. D[...]. Until I have that information, I will not undertake anything."

    It does look like Prof. Mehlhorn got a bit carried away with all the data the NSA is collecting about us. I don't see that it makes a difference if a sanitation engineer documented the problems in a dissertation, or a retired professor of Latin. But one does get the impression that they are a bit touchy in Dresden. They have been working (one hopes) on the VroniPlag Wiki case of Rh, an example of plagiarism in mathematics known for over a year now. I do have the word from the rector of the university, however, that a decision is expected for September. Rh appears to be currently working as a professor in South America, that makes it all the more important that this case be resolved.
A substantiated accusation - one that contains some documentation - should be investigated, in my opinion, regardless of whether the person doing the documentation is known or not. The volume of the other sort of accusation should serve as an alarm signal that something is very, very wrong in the way people use doctorates in Germany.

[thanks to plagiatsgutachten for alerting me to this]

Monday, August 19, 2013

Now with ISSN number!

Just a short note this evening: As can be seen in the little box on the right, the blog "Copy, Shake, and Paste" has been assigned an ISSN number, 2197-4608! I applied for one a long way back and was refused, as they don't give out ISSN numbers to digital-only publications. However, the German National Library has now decided that science blogs do actually qualify for a number, and asked me if I still wanted one.


So now it's up there, and I will start offering guest blogging privileges.  Your article needs to report on a case of plagiarism or scientific misconduct somewhere, should be referenced with links to other new reports on the case, and needs to be serious, i.e. no personal attacks like the garbage that pours into my mailbox on a daily basis. Oh, and the article needs to be in English, that's the point of this blog, bringing cases of scientific misconduct out to a wider community.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Berkley vs. Berkeley - Tales of a Diploma Mill

Everyone knows that Berkley is an excellent university in the United States. Or was that Berkeley? Whatever, if someone is sporting a degree that looks impressive, it must be from that place.

Except when it is not.

It has come to light, as the Swiss daily paper Tages-Anzeiger noted on 9 August 2013, that the IT-boss at the University Hospital in Zürich has stepped down because of a missing 'e'. The University of California, Berkeley, is indeed one of the top universities in the US. But it did not grant a doctoral degree to Jürgen Müller. Müller had been working on his doctorate at the University of Passau in Germany when his financing ran out.

Müller then heard about the University of Berkley, and for only $ 3000 in fees he was soon the proud owner of a sheepskin declaring him to be a "Doctor of Science", according to the Tages-Anzeiger.

I am not linking to the site of this degree mill, but it is simple to find with Google. The web page is an eyesore that should light up a million warning lights that this is not a serious institution. Some sins?
  • I can't decide if the amateur picture of the smiling, international graduates or the red, blinking button "Honorary degrees" is worst. 
  • Soon after the page loads it is clear that the self-starting video of the avatar "Kacy" who wants to sell me a degree is by far the most evil element of the page. Good luck finding the stop button quickly.
  • A picture of Albert Einstein on a bicycle next to a quotation is balanced on the other side of the page by a "quotation" stating that one can earn 2 million more dollars in a lifetime with a college degree. 
  • The price list is on the first page. Only $ 3505, what a deal!
  • There is a button for information about ordering a class ring (!) that leads to a page with generic class rings pictured and a non-working link to a company that will gladly sell you any ring you want.
  • The motto appears to be "Earn a World Class, formal University Degree from one of the most recognized and approved institutions in existence... all in possibly as few as 6-8 weeks based upon what you already know!"
  • There is no street address or even state given, just a telephone number and a web-based contact form. 
  • The domain is registered to one Dr. Dennis J. Globosky in Chicago, Illinois. The Los Angeles Times noted in 2005 that he is a former New Mexico state trouper who only has a high-school degree. The address listed is across the street from the DePaul University Loop Campus, there is no university listed at this address - and from the outside, nothing is visible.  
  • Down on the bottom of every page is a yellow band stating "The owners/operators of this site may not conduct business with residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, USA". The owner is a resident of Erie, PA, and he had settled out of court in a case brought by the state Attorney General's office, but did not keep up on paying his fines, so the Attorney General has assessed him penalties for contempt of court. But it looks like he is still in business. 
Why would anyone in their right mind think that this is a serious institution of higher learning? 

The Tages-Anzeiger article ends with an interesting note. It seems that in March of 2013 a whistleblower tried to contact Müller's boss about his purchased degree. Müller, as IT boss, apparently had this person on a blacklist, so that emails from him did not bounce, but were just silently destroyed.

I suppose the University Hospital in Zürich is glad that he has resigned. The question is, where will he pop up again where people don't know the difference one letter can make?