Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Just an Erratum?

At the beginning of the month I reported on the retraction of a paper by N. Memon by the Springer Verlag. Retraction Watch then learned that Springer had retracted the retraction, making it into an Erratum instead:

Hmm, can a scientist publish a paper and a publisher sell it when a table has been copied without permission? Most particularly, why was the retraction retracted when Springer had already been informed over a year ago that this paper was a plagiarism? It reproduced material that the authors had also published with IEEE and which has been deemed a serious level 1 plagiarism there with the paper being retracted in January 2013 for being a greater than 50% plagiarism of prior work.

VroniPlag Wiki researchers applied the fragmentation technique to the paper in order to visualize the plagiarism (PDF) in a perhaps more understandable manner.

The colours show the type of plagiarism diagnosed:
  • grau=Komplettplagiat: the source of the text parallel is not given, the copy is verbatim.
  • rot=Verschleierung: the source of the text parallel is not given, the copied text will be somewhat modified.
  • gelb=Bauernopfer: the source of the text parallel is mentioned, but the extent and/or closeness of the copying is not made clear by the reference. 
The modified bits in red are a fascinating read:

"Joe talks to Jack" in the source becomes "Atta talks with Khalid" to give the text a better terrorist feel:
Original Katz et al. (2004) Copy

A paper about criminals gets reworded to address terrorists in the introduction:
Xu & Chen (2003) Copy

Why would a scientific publisher (and not a junk journal or other shady operation) not swiftly remove such a paper from their online offerings once they learn of it? They seem to be condoning it by playing down the seriousness of the offense, just speaking of an erratum and only focusing on the table. Do scientific standards and aspects of quality not count for anything these days?

Update: Link added, type 1 -> level 1, attempt to fix the formatting. Thanks to G. Hindemith!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Random Mathematics Paper Accepted by Junk Journal

First there was SciGen for generating gobbledygook papers that sounded like computer science. Now there is Mathgen, a service for producing LaTeX-formatted papers on mathematics that are complete nonsense.

The blog That's Mathematics written by Nate Eldredge reports that one such paper has been accepted by the "journal" Advances in Pure Mathematics, published as Open Access along with over 200 others in a wide range of fields by SCIRP. At least someone tried to read the manuscript – there are a few editor's notes, requesting, for example, a proof of one of the more ludicrous theorems. But after the author wrote back the paper was accepted, contingent of 500 € being deposited in the bank account of the journal.

These junk journals are giving Open Access a bad name. They spam our inboxes with invitations to submit articles on an extremely wide range of topics. They offer, for a price, an international publication with an ISBN or ISSN, just the thing for administrative bean-counters who define quality as being the quantity of publications There does not appear to be an easy way to stop them.

If you read German, there is an article worth reading in the Zeit Online collecting many of the cases that have been discussed here and elsewhere, as well as some wonderful new ones such as Mathgen. Eldredge has also published a randomly generated book, Galois Knot Theory.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Guest Post: Plagiarism has been left unpunished

This guest post is from Kayhan Kantarlı, a retired professor of physics from the University of Ege in Turkey. He published a first version of the article on his blog on December 10. I edited the article somewhat and am publishing this version here with his permission, as I do not read Turkish and am unable to verify the sources. -- dww

 By Prof. Dr. Kayhan KANTARLI
Retired Professor of Physics, University of Ege
e-mail: kayhankantarli@gmail.com
Obedience, on the part of scientists, to universal scientific ethics is a must; plagiarism/scientific fraud is a shameful act. In a country where scientific fraud is not punished and/or covered up, one cannot talk about modernity and the scientific world of this country has no respectful place in the eyes of the global scientific community. In modern countries, the punitive sanction protecting the scientific world from plagiarists is nullifying the degree (e.g. M.Sc. or Ph.D, etc.) and removing him/her from the university. Although most of the plagiarisms that are uncovered are unfortunately covered up –, our country, Turkey, does also apply this sanction.
In accordance with the Disciplinary Regulations of the Members of Staff in conformity with the act of Higher Education Council (Turkish – YÖK), “to declare that the scientific paper or whole or partial work of somebody else without giving reference to it” is plagiarism, in other words is a fraud and the sanction is “removing him/her from the university”. This definition also has an international acceptance.
After Turkish Higher Education Council has adopted a principle with which the evaluation of scientific papers is being done not by the quality of the papers, but rather the number of papers published by a member of staff, it cannot be denied that the number of papers as well as the amount of fraudulent research has increased in Turkey. 
The present situation is such that plagiarism is so widespread and profuse that this situation has been the major problem of our universities. In response to this problem, in the year 1998 an article is added to the 11th item of Disciplinary Regulations of the Members of Staff defining that plagiarism is a shameful act deserving a sanction of removing from the university. But, this burdensome sanction, instead of creating a deterrent effect, has been ineffective due to the YOK’s policy not to implement it with a scientific understanding and impartiality. Particularly plagiarism and other fraudulent research of proponents of YÖK have been protected from sanction, therefore the 11th item is ineffective and the wound is still bleeding.  
While the situation rests in this critical position, the decision reached in September 2012 by the Plenary Session of Administrative Law (Divisions of Council of States) relieves plagiarism completely from sanction and this is the first time that public opinion has become acquainted with this decision.  In that decision it is stated that the sanction put forward in the Disciplinary Regulations of the Members of Staff as “to remove the member of staff from the university because of committing plagiarism is not covered in either the YÖK act No. 2547 nor in the public employee act No. 657”, therefore is unlawful (*).  
By the decision of Divisions of Council of States, the sanction “removing from the university” proposed for shameful act of plagiarism for scientists has been annulled. This annulment means that unless an act clearly states that plagiarism is a crime, it can be lawfully committed. 
Because the Disciplinary Regulations of the Members of Staff had been put into effect by the YÖK act No: 2547, the lawfulness of the decision for sanction reached by Divisions of Council of States is disputable.
In this case, what YÖK was expected to do was to take initiative in order to get rid of the unlawfulness and ask the Ministry of Education and the Parliament to enact a law. Nevertheless, YÖK has not taken an initiative to get rid of the legal loophole ever since September 2012. Circular order on the decision reached by Divisions of Council of States sent to the universities by YÖK also sent to faculties by the rectorship (*) appearing in the website of Istanbul University confirms this unlawful situation.    
The sanction “removing a member of staff from university” proposed in the Disciplinary Regulations of the Members of Staff has been annulled by a judicial act. In this respect, YÖK Presidency committed a crime by not filling the legal loophole; it is a breach of duty. In the circular order (*) sent to the universities by YÖK on September 2012, it is required that “in the inquiries claiming the presence of plagiarism, proceeding should be carried out in accordance with the relevant law”. But negligence in this respect ended in not punishing those found to have committed plagiarism since September 2012. YÖK’s circular order means that any member of staff in any university going through an inquiry about well-established plagiarism can keep working at the university as if nothing had happened.            
On the other hand, in accordance with the decision reached by the Divisions of Council of States, all the sanctions of “removing a member of staff from the university” due to plagiarism given in the past are “annulled by law”.
This situation gives an opportunity to those who had been removed from the university due to plagiarism, to return to their job in the universities and claim compensation of reparations, salaries and all sorts. Such an implementing causes a monetary damage of government and worse than that, means rewarding a shameful act of plagiarism. This is a scandal could never be seen in a modern country. 
I invite relevant authorities to take measures against the president of YÖK who committed the breach of duty by letting the collapse of scientific ethic in universities.  
We should not let this legal loophole created by the Divisions of Council of States causing plagiarism be unpunished forever. Legislative bodies should immediately take the necessary legal arrangements and bring an end to this situation, which only encourages those with a tendency to commit scientific fraud.  

(*)  The sources are the Divisions of Council of States and circular orders by YÖK and the rectorship of the Istanbul University. One can reach the source from the address given below


Edited to fix numbers issue

Friday, January 3, 2014

Springer Finally Retracts Conference Paper

As reported here, VroniPlag Wiki determined in the course of investigating the doctoral thesis of Nasrullah Memon, awarded by the Aalborg University in Denmark in 2007, that very many papers in which he was co-author were also plagiarized. Denmark is still deciding what to do with the thesis, the last time I wrote to the authorities (August 2013) they were still deliberating, although I have heard that one of the co-authors of many of the papers has been cleared of charges of scientific misconduct. This I do not understand. If you are a co-author and the paper is plagiarized, you are a plagiarist as well in my opinion, or else you just put your name on a paper you didn't write, which is just as bad.

IEEE finally retracted some of the papers in January 2013, while Springer continued to sell the plagiarized papers for a hefty fee. Both the researcher at VroniPlag Wiki and I have written to Springer asking what is happening here. It seems they were unsure what to do in this case, although IEEE does have a policy that might be able to be adapted.

While surfing over Christmas the VroniPlag Wiki researcher stumbled over this:
Retracted: How Investigative Data Mining Can Help Intelligence Agencies to Discover Dependence of Nodes in Terrorist Networks
Nasrullah Memon,
David L. Hicks,
Henrik Legind Larsen
Okay, progress is being made! We wanted to look at the retraction notice, as most journals do give some sort of an explanation of why the article was retracted. RetractionWatch even collects wordy euphemisms for "plagiarism". But Springer wanted $30 from us to see the retracted paper. Hmm. Not even my university database would let me see the retracted paper for free, and we used to subscribe to exactly this series online.

If you click on "Look inside" you get to see the first page:
Well, I guess a watermark is a start. But it is still listed in the ACM Digital Library, ResearchGate, Google Books (only the first page, p. 430, was removed there), dplp, etc.
It has also been quoted 17 times, according to Google Scholar, 6 of which are papers for which Memon is not co-author, although some have published in the past together with him.

Memons's official publication list at the University of Southern Denmark only has the "newest" publications (including one for 2014 already), so many of the retracted ones have disappeared. But one of the IEEE retracted ones is still listed there:

It's bad enough that the publishers who earn good money for these publications are dragging their feet in deciding what to do. But how do we get retracted papers out of the body of science? That's the big problem and one of the reasons why plagiarism is so bad.

Suggestion to Springer: Please get going on the other papers, five of which are quite substantial, and print the reason for the retraction(s), free of charge.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Spain: Prizes for Plagiarists

We'll start 2014 off with an old case from Spain that bubbled up recently.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung published an article by Thomas Urban on 26 August 2013 entitled Wissenschaft in Spanien: Abschreiben mit Auszeichnung about some curious cases of plagiarism in Spain.

Alejandro Blanco, former judoko and currently president of the Spanish Olympic committee and head of the bid to bring the Olympic games 2020 to Spain, submitted a doctoral dissertation on the sociological and athletic aspects of the Spanish Olympic team 2008 to the University of Vigo. Unfortunately, it was soon found that a thesis on the same subject had been submitted to the same professor a few years earlier, and there was a lot of text in common. Surprisingly, this professor had just received a position at the Olympic Academy of Spain. Since the degree had not yet been granted, the thesis was declared to be just a "scientific study" and quickly buried. (Reports in Spanish: el Diario - Faro de Vigo)

According to Süddeutsche,  this was not the first brush with plagiarism in Vigo. Three years earlier the former dean and professor for physical chemistry, Juan Carlos Mejuto, was found to have plagiarized Chinese experts in two articles he wrote together with five other authors for the Journal of Chemical & Engineering Data. Mejuto's excuse was that since his English was so bad, he was using the Chinese paper as a "language pattern" and by mistake sent in the version with the copied portions. The Journal of Chemical & Engineering Data was not amused, plagiarism is taken very seriously in the United States. The paper was withdrawn in 2011 on grounds of "duplicate publication" and the authors banned from publishing for two years. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported on the retraction on 20 June 2011 in an article entitled Plagiatoren in Spanien: War die Guttenberg-Affäre denn zu gar nichts gut?

Two of the co-authors were subsequently awarded prizes for their work on the same topic, one was even awarded a research scholarship for any foreign university they desired. Süddeutsche notes that this happened at the same time that university teachers were being laid off right and left in order to save money. Mejuto was allowed to continue to lead a doctoral research group and was also awarded a government prize from an old friend who was now minister. The rector of the university, according to Süddeutsche, supported the plagiarists, although he now has a bit of a problem himself involving money laundering to the tune of 1,6 million euros.

The next case was a group of business researchers writing about agriculture in the Rio Miño area. They made a mistake while copying entire passages from study about the Ebro area, and also copied some passages about the geography of the Ebro that did not really fit. No matter, they were awarded a prize of 42,722 euros from an EU fund for their "research".

Süddeutsche lists other cases of cronyism and corruption at Vigo and other schools. The problem, the author states, seems to lie in the incestuous nature of Spanish academics. With little money to travel and work with their colleagues outside of Spain, there are no outside influences, and most of the jobs and prized appear to be awarded to good friends.

Update 2014-11-10: The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had a very long article in June 2013 by Paul Ingendaay on some of these cases and more: Korruption in Vigo: Die Willkür der Kaziken.