Saturday, October 25, 2014

intihal - Plagiarism in Turkey

Eurasian Institute Lecture Hall
I was recently invited to speak at a symposium organized by the Inter-Universities Ethics Platform and held at the Eurasian Institute of the University of Istanbul on October 17, 2014. They kindly organized two interpreters who took turns interpreting the talks given in Turkish for me, and my talk into Turkish for those who had need of it. Apparently, even in academic circles English is not a common language. I will describe the talks as far as I was able to understand them here. The conference was focused on intihal, the Turkish word for plagiarism.

The deputy rector of the Istanbul University welcomed the 60-70 people present (more would come and go during the course of the day), noting that he himself is the editor of an international journal that tests articles submitted for plagiarism. They reject half of the articles submitted for this reason.

The first speaker was Hasan Yazıcı, a retired professor of rheumatology who sued the Turkish government in the European Court of Human Rights and won. He first described his case, which was recently decided (April 2014) and is available online. Since he was speaking to a room of people who had followed the case more or less closely, he did not go into details, but they are given in the judgement:
In 1997 Yazıcı had informed the Turkish Academy of Sciences that a book by a Turkish professor (I.D.) and the founder and former president of the Higher Education Council of Turkey (YÖK) entitled Mother's Book was basically a plagiarism of the popular US book on rearing children by Dr. Spock, Baby and Childcare. In 2000 Yazıcı  published an article about the plagiarism in the Turkish Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a shortened version in a Turkish daily newspaper.

In the article Yazıcı praised YÖK for establishing a committee to examine the scientific ethics of candidates for associate professorships, and proposed that YÖK start the conversation about plagiarism by asking their founder to apologize for the plagiarism in his book. In response, I.D. filed charges against Yazıcı, stating that this publication violated his personality rights. In the following six years the case wound its way back and forth through the court system, with expert witnesses who were close colleagues of I.D. stating that they found no plagiarism in the book, but that the passages in question were "anonymous" information regarding child health and care and that this was a handbook without bibliography or sources, not a scientific work. Yazıcı was found guilty of defamation because his allegations were thus untrue and fined. Yazıcı challenged the selection of experts, and the Court of Cassation kept referring the case back to the lower courts. Again and again close friends were appointed experts, found no plagiarism, and thus Yazıcı was found to be guilty.
Yazıcı finally gave up on the Turkish courts, paid the fine, but took took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, stating that his right to freedom of expression—here stating that he found the book to be a plagiarism—had been interfered with and that the Turkish courts had not properly dealt with the case. He noted that due to the plagiarism, there was outdated information on baby sleeping positions in the book that had been updated by Dr. Spock in his 1998 edition, but was not changed by I.D. The European court found in its judgement that it is indeed necessary in a democratic society for persons to be able to state value judgements, which are impossible to prove either true or false. However, there must exist a sufficient factual basis, so the court (p. 13), to support the value judgement. In this case, the court found sufficient factual basis for the allegations, and ordered the fine paid by Yazıcı to be refunded and his costs for the court cases to be reimbursed.
Yazıcı made the point in his speech that the extent of plagiarism in a country correlates strongly with a lack of freedom of speech. He sees Turkey in the same league as China on this aspect. He noted that everyone knows about plagiarism, but no one speaks about it.
In order to decrease plagiarism we have to speak about plagiarism. He stated in later discussions that it is imperative that Turkish judges understand what plagiarism is, most particularly because there is a law in Turkey now declaring that plagiarism is a crime punishable by prison, but it is still not clear what exactly constitute plagiarism.

The second talk on "Plagiarism and Philosophy of Law" was given by Sevtap Metin. She described the Turkish legal situation, in particular the law of intellectual property. She noted that there are many sanctions for plagiarism, for example academics can be cut off from their university jobs or from funding. She also described the process for application for a professorship and noted that the committees are currently not doing their job in vetting the publications provided by the applicants. The reason for this is that if they note a suspicion of plagiarism that they cannot prove, they can be sued for defamation of character by the applicant. This discourages people from looking closely at publication lists. However, with Yazıcı recently winning his case in the EU, it must now be possible to speak freely about plagiarism. Citing Kant's categorical imperative, she feels that we must not plagiarize unless we want everyone to plagiarize. And if we tell our children not to lie, but lie ourselves, they will follow our actions and not our words.

The third talk was by Mustafa Kıcalıoğlu, a former judge now retired from the Court of Cassation, on "Plagiarism in Turkish Law." He spoke about the problems that occur in plagiarism cases in which personality rights have to be weighed against intellectual property rights. He noted that Ernst Eduard Hirsch, a German legal expert who taught at the University of Ankara, was instrumental in drafting the Turkish Copyright Act. Kıcalıoğlu went into some detail on copyright and intellectual property, I noted in the discussion that plagiarism and violation of copyright are not the same things: there is plagiarism that does not violate copyright law and violations of copyright law that are not plagiarisms. Kıcalıoğlu also discussed another long, drawn out plagiarism case of a business management professor who plagiarized on 65 out of 500 pages in a book. He was demoted from the faculty after YÖK found that he had plagiarized, and he sued YÖK, but lost. This person is now a high government official. The discussion on this talk was quite long and emotional, as many people in the audience wanted to relate a story or call for all academic institutions to take action against plagiarism.

After a lunch and tea break I photographed this fine stature of a dervish before we got into the technical part of the symposium. Altan Gürsel of TechKnowledge, the Turkey and Middle East representatives of iParadigms (the company that markets Turnitin and iThenticate), spoke about that software. He first gave the definition of intihal from the Turkish Wikipedia, showed a few cases of cheating that made the news, and then launched into the standard Turnitin talk. He did note, however, that the reports have to be interpreted by and expert and cannot determine plagiarism, so it appears that my constant repeating of this has at least been understood by the software companies themselves, if not all of the users of such systems. He reported on some new features of Turnitin, for example that now also Excel sheets can be checked, and Google Drive and Dropbox can be used for submitting work. In answering a question, he noted that YÖK now scans all dissertations handed in to Turkish universities with iThenticate, but not those from the past. They are planning on including open access dissertations in the future in their database.

I gave my standard talk on the "Chances and Limits of Plagiarism Software", noting that software cannot determine plagiarism, it can only indicate possible plagiarism, and that there are many false positives and false negatives. During questions a number of people were perplexed that there were so many plagiarisms documented in doctoral dissertations in Germany, since dissertations need to be original research and Germany has a reputation as having a solid academic tradition. They had only heard about the politicians being forced to resign, and wanted to know what was different in Germany that a politician would actually resign on the basis of plagiarism found in his dissertation. They wanted to know if judges in Germany understand plagiarism. I noted that indeed, they understand plagiarism much better than many universities and persons suing their universities because their doctoral degree have been rescinded. The judgements of the VG Cologne and the VG Düsseldorf are very clear and very exact in their application of law to plagiarism cases, as are the judgements in many other cases.

After a tea break Tayfun Akgül, a professor of Electrical Engineering at the Technical University of Istanbul and the Ethics and Member Conduct Committee of the IEEE spoke on "Plagiarism in Science." Akgül is also a professional cartoonist, with a lively presentation peppered with cartoons that kept the audience laughing and caused the interpreters to apologize for not being able to translate them. He outlined the IEEE organizations and policies for dealing with scientific misconduct on the part of its members. He spoke at length about the case of Turkish physicists having to retract almost 70 papers from the preprint server arXiv. Nature reported on the case in 2007, the authors complained thereafter that they were just borrowing better English.

Özgür Kasapçopur, the speaker of the ethics committee of the Istanbul University gave the facts and figures of the committee itself and the cases that it has looked at since it was set up in 2010. They have had 29 cases submitted to the committee, but only determined plagiarism in 3 cases.

Nuran Yıldırım spoke about YÖK and plagiarism. She is a former prefect who was on the ethical boards of both the University of Istanbul and YÖK. The Higher Education Council was established in 1981. From 1998 plagiarism was added to the cases that are investigated there, as plagiarism is considered a crime that can incur a sanction. However, there was only a 2 year statute of limitations in place. This has been since removed, and all applications for assistant professor need to be investigated by YÖK. If they find plagiarism, they have a process to follow and if plagiarism is the final decision, the person applying for a professorship is removed from the university. However, this harsh sentence has now been changed to "more reasonable punishments", whatever that is. She noted that at small universities it is hard to have only a local hearing, as often the members of the committee to investigate a case are relatives of the accused. She had some fascinating stories, especially from the military universities, including one about a General Prof. Dr. found to have plagiarized. She also noted that people do accuse their rivals of plagiarism just to try and get them out of the way. Her final story was about someone who published a dissertation, and eventually found that all of his tables and data were being used in a paper by someone else. He informed YÖK, and the second researcher defended himself by saying that he had used the same laboratory, the lab must have confused the results and given him the results from the other person instead. YÖK then requested the lab notebooks from both parties, only the author of the dissertation could produce them. Since the journal paper author couldn't find his, he was found guilty of plagiarism.

In the final round, İlhan İlkılıç, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Istanbul, on leave from the University of Mainz and a member of the German national ethics committee, presented a to-do list that included setting out better definitions of plagiarism and academic misconduct and finding ways of objectively looking at plagiarism without personal hostilities or ideologies getting in the way. Discussion about plagiarism is essential, even if it won't prevent plagiarism or scientific misconduct from happening.

Sadat Murat, chairman of the Turkish national ethics committee, spoke about their work which is to investigate complaints about state servants. However, exempt from this are low-level state servants, as well as the top-ranking politicians. They only report on violations, however, they cannot sanction. They also try to disseminate ethical culture in Turkey by providing ethics training.

I especially want to thank the interpreters for their work—any errors here are mine for not paying exact attention, they did a great job permitting me to understand a small portion of what is happening in the area of intihal in Turkey.

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