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NRC.NL [apparently the online edition of a Dutch daily evening paper], the Erasmus University of Rotterdam has recently rescinded a doctorate.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!

1 comment:

  1. Good! As usual, absence of evidence (of plagiarism) is not evidence of absence, and I've run into more than one case where the plagiarized material was in some book that was never online.