Friday, August 29, 2014

Google censors link

Well, what does the morning's email bring? A letter from Google:

Notice of removal from Google Search

Due to a request under data protection law in Europe, we are no longer able to show one or more pages from your site in our search results in response to some search queries for names or other personal identifiers. Only results on European versions of Google are affected. No action is required from you.
These pages have not been blocked entirely from our search results, and will continue to appear for queries other than those specified by individuals in the European data protection law requests we have honored. Unfortunately, due to individual privacy concerns, we are not able to disclose which queries have been affected.
Please note that in many cases, the affected queries do not relate to the name of any person mentioned prominently on the page. For example, in some cases, the name may appear only in a comment section.
The following URLs have been affected by this action:
All right, that means that one of the following 36 persons who have either a dissertation, a habilitation or a textbook published under their own name have extensive text parallels with other works that are generally considered to be plagiarism, even if the university in question has not decided to withdraw the degrees:
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Veronika Saß, Matthias Pröfrock, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Georgios Chatzimarkakis, Bijan Djir-Sarai, Uwe Brinkmann, Margarita Mathiopoulos, Siegfried Haller, Jürgen Goldschmidt, Cornelia Eva Scott, Arne Heller, Martin Winkels, Daniel Volk, Ulf Teichgräber, Patrick Ernst Sensburg, Nalan Kayhan, Andreas Wolfgang Bonz, Michael Heun, Loukas A. Mistelis, Asso Omer Saiwani, Arne Herting, Nasrullah Memon, Bernhard Fischel, Bernd Holznagel, Pascal Schumacher, Thorsten Ricke, Jesu-Paul Manikonda, Rodrigo Herrera, Mareike Bonnekoh, Christian Huber, Ruth Angela Wernsmann, Qiang Fang, Dariusz Malan, Tristan Nguyen, or Alexandros Philippos Anastasiadis
It's called the Streisand effect, people.

You published something that contains unexplained text parallels. These text parallels have been documented publicly, in a review. Explain them in public. That's what we do in academia, we discuss and exchange arguments publicly.

Or as the yearly conference of German language and literature scholars put it in 1967, when they were protesting the decision of the University of Bonn to not rescind the doctorate of Pater Udo Nix which contained extensive plagiarism:
Die auf der Bochumer Tagung versammelten Hochschulgermanisten halten es für ihre Pflicht, sich von dieser an der Universität Bonn getroffenen Entscheidung nachdrücklich zu distanzieren. [. . . ] Wenn eine Rezension in einer unserer Fachzeitschriften gegen eine wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichung den Vorwurf des Plagiats erhebt, hat es als selbstverständlich zu gelten, daß diejenigen, die ein solcher Vorwurf trifft, in angemessener Weise dazu Stellung nehmen. Versuchen die Betroffenen, die Angelegenheit durch bloßes Stillschweigen zu erledigen, und bleibt dieses Verhalten auch noch ungerügt, so muß man fragen, was unser Rezensionswesen eigentlich noch wert sei und bis zu welchem Grade die Regeln wissenschaftlichen Anstands denn außer acht gesetzt werden dürfen. [. . . ] Angesichts einer solchen Häufung von Entlehnungen, wie sie im Falle Nix festzustellen ist, kann weder die Erklärung befriedigen, daß vorsätzliche Täuschung nicht eindeutig nachweisbar und daher bloße Fahrlässigkeit zu unterstellen sei, noch die Behauptung, daß die plagiierten Stellen für die Beurteilung der wissenschaftlichen Leistung irrelevant blieben. Auch wenn sie zuträfen, höben beide Feststellungen den Tatbestand nicht auf, daß die oben genannte wesentliche Voraussetzung für die Verleihung des Doktorgrades irrigerweise als gegeben angenommen wurde. Es wäre schlechthin verderblich, wenn in solchen Fällen die gesetzlichen Vorschriften in einer Weise ausgelegt würden, welche eben diejenigen Grundlagen wissenschaftlicher Forschung und Publikation bedroht, deren Sicherung die gesetzlichen Vorschriften zu dienen haben.
[Moser, H. (1968). Notiz. In: Zeitschrift f. dt. Philologie, Vol. 87, No. 1, pp. 312–316]

The scholars of German Letters gathered at the conference in Bochum feel that it is their duty to distance themselves from the decision reached by the University of Bonn. [. . . ] When a review of an academic paper is published in one of our academic periodicals and contains the accusation of plagiarism, it is taken for granted that the person such accused must respond in an appropriate manner. If the person in question tries to solve the matter by remaining silent, and if this behavior is not condemned, then one must ask oneself of what worth our system of reviews actually is and to what degree the rules of good academic conduct may be set aside. [. . . ] In the face of the sheer amount of borrowed material that can be determined in the case of Nix, it is not satisfactory to declare that it is impossible to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the deception was not done with malice aforethought and thus only an accusation of negligence remains. It is also not satisfactory to assert that the plagiarized passages are irrelevant for the determination of the academic content. Even if this were so – it would not change in the least the fact that the above mentioned preconditions for granting a doctoral degree were erroneously assumed to have existed. It would be ruinous if in such cases the legalities were to be interpreted in such a manner as to threaten the exact same basic tenets of academic research and publication that they purport to uphold.[Selection and translation from my book False Feathers, p. 50]

Wikipedia by any other name

Back in May I reported on the the uproar surrounding the assertion that a book published by C. H. Beck in Germany, Grosse Seeschlachten -- Wendepunkte der Weltgeschichte von Salamis bis Skagerrak, contained plagiarism from the Wikipedia. The publisher withdrew the book, although "only" 5% of the book was affected, they stated. Well, there is actually quite a bit, and although the Wikipedia texts have been patchwritten (words inserted or deleted, words swapped with synonyms, phrases reordered) so they are not completely identical, it is clear that the text closely follows the Wikipedia.  Some of the fragments have been documented by a VroniPlag Wiki researcher, however they have not yet been double-checked [volunteers are welcome!]:
A representative of the publisher has agreed to participate in a discussion about the use of the Wikipedia by researchers on October 3, 2014 at the WikiCon in Cologne.

The next German publication with heavy borrowing from the Wikipedia was published by Springer Vieweg, Geschichte der Rechenautomaten, the history of computing in three volumes by a retired German computer science professor. Anyone who has given a lecture on the history of computing recognizes that many of the pictures are taken from the Wikipedia and other Internet pages, and many are not in the public domain. But it turns out that a good bit of the text is also from the Wikipedia.

I don't normally link to the FAZ, but they published an excellent article on the problem by Eleonor Benítez. She quotes the author as stating that these volumes are not scientific writing, but reference books. He defines a reference book as 80% data, while scientific writing contains didactical editing and thus contains more intellectual property. Data, he continues, are facts and not copyrightable. And anyway, there are only so many ways to state something in German.

Again, a VroniPlag Wiki researcher has documented just a few pages that have not yet been double-checked, but there are some very long passages that are identical:

Springer has withdrawn the books from their home page, but the books are still easily obtainable through other booksellers. I asked the executive editor if they were going to put out a press release about the issue, he said no. It seems it is hoped that this will quietly die down.

And now a third German book using Wikipedia without attribution has been identified. The Wagenbach Verlag recently published Aldo Manuzio. Vom Drucken und Verbreiten schöner Bücher, a scathing review in artmagazine pointing out the copying was published in July 2014.

A few questions arise:
  • Why do academic authors use the Wikipedia in their work without respecting the CC-BY-SA license? Okay, they probably find it embarrassing to have Wikipedia references all over the place. But isn't it worse to be found out after the book is in print?
  • Why don't the publishers have editors read the books critically before they are published? The prices are high enough, and that is supposed to be the justification for the price, that the publishers are somehow adding value to the process by ensuring a high-quality product. If the publishers are trying to save money by cutting out the editors, then perhaps we don't need publishers any more. 
  • Do the universities where the book authors work get rewarded financially by their ministries of education for these "publications"? Some are still listed on the publication lists of the authors, even though they have been withdrawn.  This is also often the case for retracted papers, they remain on the lists of publications for which one assumes the university and perhaps the researcher obtained a reward, even after retraction. 
  • I've asked the German Wikimedia e.V. if they cannot sue in the name of the collective authors for the Wikipedia articles. However, only the authors themselves would be able to sue over copyright misuse. I still think, though, that since the license is not being respected by the publishers (especially if pictures are being used), that a suit or two should be in order.
  • Above all: if researchers are publishing Wikipedia material under their own names, how can I explain to my students that it is not acceptable for them to do the same?
I'm sure there will be more to come. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Swedish scholar to be disciplined for plagiarism

Retraction Watch noted in March 2014 that a 2012 paper by a Swedish scholar from Linnaeus University in Växjö had been retracted for plagiarism. A recent commentator on the article noted that the university actually investigated the case and determined that he was guilty of plagiarism. They put out a press release stating that plagiarism is a serious matter and that the scholar has been suspended from the university, pending a decision on the part of the personnel department about the extent of sanctions to be meted out.

The right-wing online press in Sweden, which is gaining much momentum in the current election year, posted the name of the researcher in question, making sure to comment that he was a "leftist" researcher investigating problems of racism, as if that somehow had something to do with the cases (I'm not linking to the publication in question).

It is quite disconcerting to have an academic discussion about good scientific conduct and plagiarism dragged into a political fight. This has also happened in Germany, where the media only seem to report on cases of plagiarism if they involve politicians. Many universities in Germany and Austria drag their feet when investigating allegations of plagiarism, and answer, as one did today, stating that on the grounds of official secrecy and data privacy no information about administrative processes will be published. It is important that we speak about academic plagiarism cases in the open, but we must be focused on the plagiarism itself and not on other details about the person in question.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

News links

I have some plagiarism news links floating around that need recording:
  • The Moscow Times have an interesting article about Dissernet, the Russian group of researchers documenting plagiarism in dissertations of politicians and academics in Russia.
  • According to Le Figaro and Liberation, the vice-president of the University of Grenoble in France, Dominique Rigaux,  has been accused of plagiarism and has left her post. The documentation of the plagiarism was done by Michelle Bergadaà, a French-speaking plagiarism researcher from the Swiss University of Geneva. 
  • VroniPlag Wiki has currently documented plagiarism in 23 doctoral dissertations in medicine from the University of Münster and 14 from the renowned Charité institution in Berlin. There are a number of theses accepted in forensic medicine that borrow heavily from earlier theses submitted to the same committee and under the direction of the same advisor:

    Both the University of Münster and the Charité have stated that they have begun investigations. But since there are still numerous cases (not only in medicine) from both institutions that are still open one or two years later, this may take some time to clear up.