Saturday, July 25, 2015

End of Semester Roundup

Here are some links about plagiarism and academic misconduct from around the world that have been languishing in my inbox:
  • A professor for African-American History at the Arizona State University in the US has been demoted from full professor to associate professor, according to the Phoenix New Times, after a second plagiarism scandal about his writing erupted. A  blog contains many more details about the plagiarism allegations. Retractionwatch also has an article about this case. The professor is said to have used, among others, sources many students find useful: Wikipedia.
  • Writing in a blog at the Daily Pakistan Asif A. Malik points out a wonderful piece by physics professor Pervez Hoodbhoy from the Express Tribune from January 4, 2013. Hoodbhoy starts off with a thought experiment: "Imagine the following experiment aimed at improving Karachi’s police force: suppose that policemen are offered cash prizes for every criminal they kill in a police muqabala, given public recognition and told that promotions to higher posts hinge on their kill count." He spins the story out that, of course, the police would start shooting at anyone, just to increase their pay. That is, in essence, what is happening in academia, except that instead of a "kill count" there are the magic indicators "number of publications" and "citation index". Since 2002-2003 both the pay and promotion for professors in Pakistan depend on the number of papers published and the number of PhD and MSc students graduated. Surprise! These all increased!
    In 2012 Hoodbhoy wrote about the problem of telling the good from the bad, in the Express Tribune column in 2013 he noted that the apparent increase in quality proudly proclaimed by the Higher Education Council (HEC) "was only possible because many university teachers engaged in wholesale plagiarism, faked data and produced research that no one seems to have any use for. As academic ethics went into free fall, university administrators and the HEC turned a blind eye. The new policy — which required learning how to play the numbers game — had the effect of turning many professors into crooks and thieves."
  • The Times of India writes that a professor from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education & Research in Chandigarh has been found to have plagiarized from two US American sources. Rakesh Sehgal retracted a paper from the journal Tropical Parasitology, published by Wolters Kluwer Medknow. The retraction notice states only that the paper has been retracted, not why. In a previous article, the Times of India noted that according to Indian law, a jail sentence between 6 months and 3 years can be levied, and public servants can lose their jobs if found to have plagiarized. 
  • Richard de Boer published an atricle in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant on July 4, 2015 called "Welkom in de wereld van nepwetenschap" (welcome to the world of junk science), but the article is unfortunately behind a paywall and in Dutch. I was able to obtain it and use Google translate. The article deals with mock conferences like WASET and junk journals like those published with the OMICS group, which was removed from the PubMed list in 2013. There are a number of interviews with people attending the conferences, positive and negative, and also with a former colleague of the WASET organizer. The article discusses both Jeffery Beall's publisher black list and the Directory of Open Access Journals white list, noting problems with each. What a shame such an in-depth article is unavailable to a wider audience.
  • Hatoon Kadi writes in her blog at Arab News the Memoirs of a Saudi Ph.D. student: The menace of plagiarism. She mis-believes, as many do, that "[t]here are certain programs that take a few seconds in determining the originality of any research material." No, software can only detect potential text overlap, it cannot determine plagiarism or originality, because all systems suffer from false positives (quotation not seen) and false negatives (source not stored in the database). She discusses the question of hiring a ghostwriter with friends and found to her dismay that many had no qualms about using work from others. She calls for strict laws to punish plagiarists. I don't think punishment works -- we need to educate people as to why referencing and quotation is important.
Now, back to grading exams.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mexican Scientists Found Guilty of Plagiarism

An opinion piece in La Journade (in Spanish) called the "Attack of the Plagiarists" notes that there have been two scientists found guilty of plagiarism in Mexico, and one of them has had his doctorate rescinded. The author, Soledad Loaeza, discusses the excuses given for plagiarism and the problem that people do see the scientific misconduct, but that they prefer to whisper to and murmur with each other, as they don't want to have trouble with a colleague. And thus the problem grows until it no longer can be contained and something big happens, such as a US institution informing a Mexican one that plagiarism has been found.

El Universal also has a story on this and includes some pictures of the plagiarism and the source for one of the cases.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Dutch University Rescinds Doctorate

According to NRC.NL [apparently the online edition of a Dutch daily evening paper], the Erasmus University of Rotterdam has recently rescinded a doctorate. The case involves a doctorate granted by the university to a women in 2013 in psychology.

There was a discussion about the case in 2014 in a Erasmus University of Rotterdam publication. That publication states that after the plagiarism was discovered, she was reprimanded and given until October 1, 2014 to "repair" the plagiarism in her thesis. The academic integrity council of the university had recommended immediate retraction of the thesis, but the Executive Board of the university decided that the supervisor was partially at fault and it was "only" a question of sloppy citations. The doctoral student, according the the article in the EUR publication, felt that she had not intentionally plagiarized, and she had had her thesis checked by Turnitin and it had not uncovered any plagiarism. Additionally, the thesis committee passed her, so she felt that she should not be penalized if they didn't have any problems with the thesis.

The NRC.NL article notes that the external committee investigating the case determined that she did not rewrite the plagiarized passages, but only deleted them in the re-submitted version. The quality of the rest was debatable, appearing to be based only on secondary sources. Thus, she has been asked to return her doctoral certificate. NRC.NL says that this is a first for the Netherlands, I am not sure that this is true. She refuses, however, to hand back her certificate and is now initiating legal action against the university, NRC.NL reports.

The argument that she brings of having used software to check the thesis and it not finding anything points to a very big problem in the use of so-called plagiarism detection software. Just because the software does not find any sources, that does not mean that the thesis is original. It just means that no sources were found. There could be a source that is not available on the open Internet, or one from a book, or one that is for some reason not in the database used by the system. It is also possible that the text was rewritten to disguise the text taken, which will foil many such software systems. Software can only be used as a tool, not as a litmus test for determining plagiarism.  

Thanks to Google Translate for filling in the bits of Dutch I couldn't decode!