Friday, February 28, 2014

Short news

I again have a pile of important links that need documenting...
  • Nature reports on a system developed by French computer scientist Cyril Labbé that can be used to detect published papers that were generated by SciGen. IEEE and Springer had to admit that they had published not one, not two but at least 120 papers that were utter nonsense! And some of them appear to have co-authors who are not aware of their co-authorship. Labbé had previously demonstrated that one could set up a fake scientist with fake papers with an h-index of 94, essentially proving that the index is not reliable. I think Springer and IEEE have a lot more papers that need close examination and then withdrawal on account of plagiarism.
  • Flurfunk Dresden has a nice summary with links (in German) to the case of Nina Haferkamp. Stefan Weber had published documentation of plagiarism in her doctoral dissertation. The University of Duisburg-Essen has now, after long deliberation, decided that even though there is scientific misconduct in the thesis, since a "scientific kernel" is there, she gets to keep her doctorate. This raises some troubling questions. Weber has apparently been threatened with legal action, although documenting plagiarism in a thesis or paper is a time-honored method of scientific discourse, often referred to as a book or paper review. And if one can plagiarize away in the "unimportant" parts of a paper or dissertation, does that mean everyone can now plagiarize to their hearts content, as long as there is some little kernel of truth inside? The University of Duisburg-Essen does not tell us as readers how we can differentiate this kernel from the plagiarism-chaff that surrounds it.
  • VroniPlag Wiki has published case #62, #63, #64, and #65, from the University of Münster (again), University of Kiel (again), the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, and the Free University of Berlin (again). The map is getting quite thick with pins.
  • The Russian Education Minister is apparently unhappy with the work of Dissernet, a group of scientists in Russia who have investigated plagiarism in over 350 dissertations of, among others, politicians. Minister Dmitry Livanov is quoted as saying “People not versed in this topic will get the idea that all academics are cheats and liars. It’s a severe reputational problem for Russian science.” If the shoe fits....

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Austrian Doctorates Disappeared?

There was a bit of a flurry in Austria the middle of February when it appeared that the doctoral titles the Austrians are so enamored of had been deleted from the official government registers. This was front page news:
The article in Heute reports that people who had had their doctoral titles entered into the official database before 2007 needed to show their certificate at the registration office again if they wanted to keep using the title. According to the Standard, however, the ministry states that there was no data deleted. Instead, the doctoral title had been recorded in a free-text field and now they had a specific field for titles. Apparently, some communities made mistakes when transferring the data.

Austrians with doctoral titles can now begin breathing again.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Little Doctors

[Even if the case has pretty much blown its course (as I have not been blogging recently), I want to report on the situation.]

The story broke in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in an article by Albert Schäffer on January 17, 2014, Die große Geschichte vom kleinen Doktor (The big story about the little doctor) with Spiegel online soon following. Andreas Scheuer (Wikipedia article in German), the general secretary of the CSU political party, was discovered to be using a doctorate quite liberally that he didn't really have. Or rather, that he was not allowed to use everywhere.

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia the universities can grant a postgraduate degree called "PhDr" that is known as the "little doctorate." It is not recognized in Germany as permitting the bearer to be called "Dr.", except inside the state of Bavaria and Berlin. Both have enacted special rules in order to permit people (politicians?) to use the PhDr as a doctorate, but the rules are only valid within the boarders. This would mean that on a train trip from Munich to Berlin Mr. Scheuer would be Dr. Scheuer until he passed out of Bavaria, then just Mr. Scheuer until he passes over the Berlin border, whereupon the Dr. would again be restored.

It was shown that Mr. Scheuer's little thesis had a few text parallels with a document published by the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, the Federal Agency for Civic Education. A press frenzy ensued, as plagiarizing politicians are interesting for journalists, the many, many cases of non-celebrity plagiarism elicit only yawns.

The Comenius University of Prague, where Scheuer obtained his degree, quickly announced that they would be looking into the issue. Where German universities have needed upwards of 2 years to investigate a case of plagiarism, the investigation in Prague was finished within a day. Press queries discovered that they had run the thesis through the Swedish software Urkund and compared it with the theses stored in the Czech database Theses. Scheuer wrote his thesis in German about communication within the CSU, so as would be expected, there were no matches in the Czech-language repository. After this was reported in the press, the University of Prague announced that they are of course continuing the investigation.

Scheuer managed to withdraw from the public scrutiny by quickly declaring that he will no longer be using the doctorate because it is so difficult to restrict its use to only Bavaria and Berlin.

The problem of the "little doctors" still remains. It is unclear, who proposed the legislation to permit the use of the PhDr as a doctorate in Berlin and Bavaria. There are an unknown number of people in Germany using such degrees as regular doctorates, and it is difficult to determine whether a particular person has a little doctorate or a regular one if they obtained it in another country.

This also demonstrates a problem in Europe with its plethora of academic degrees. In order to investigate the exact meaning of a degree one must wade through a very large database (Anabin). Perhaps those wanting to use a doctorate in Germany should have to deposit a copy of their dissertation with the German National Library. Or maybe it can at some point just be completely removed from the ID cards. That might keep non-scientists from looking for an easy road to obtaining those precious two letters, although getting people to quit addressing each other as Herr Dr. X or Frau Dr. Y will be very hard to do.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

From the department of #fail

Not that you might think that students in my classes would toe the line about avoiding plagiarism. I just picked this gem out of a submitted exercise. The directions stated: "You need to write up to a half a page in your own words (that means *no* Wikipedia copies) summarizing the lecture and answering any questions asked."

Any questions?