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 We wanted to look at the retraction notice, as most journals do give some sort of an explanation of why the article was retracted.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.



  1. " 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."

    I don't agree. It is quite possible that different authors contribute different parts of a paper and one author is is not aware that the other has copied his part from somewhere else. Of course, if the entire paper is a copy, or the key findings are copied then the situation is different.

    1. The DFG makes it clear in their guidelines for the responsible conduct of research: "Authors of scientific publications are always jointly responsible for their content." Only publish with people you trust! And perhaps spot check this or that sentence, and certainly do the math to make sure the results are true.

    2. Even if "DFG makes it clear", it does not make true what you claim. You are badly wrong, in my opinion of course.

    3. I can understand that a co-author might see it that way, but I am looking at this from the perspective of the reader. If there are 2 or 3 or 8 names on the paper, I don't usually see which author is responsible for which part of the publication. So I would expect all of the authors to be responsible for the entire paper, and I can thus contact any of the authors if I have a question. And if there is a plagiarism issue, then all the authors are affected in the same manner, unless they made it clear: A wrote section 2, B section 3, C section 4, and all three the introduction and the summary.

  2. Retraction Watch reports on this case as well: with some interesting twist. Apparently Springer did not retract the paper, but only added an "erratum":

    Springer now also removed the "retracted" remark on the Springerlink page of the paper: . Clicking on the the "Look inside" button still gives the "retracted" watermark however.


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