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 The paper was withdrawn in 2011 on grounds of "duplicate publication" and the authors banned from publishing for two years.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.


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