Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Confusing Pakistani Plagiarism Case

The Pakistani Express Tribune reported on March 28, 2016 that the former chair of the Pakistani HEC (Higher Education Council) in Pakistan has tendered his apology for having plagiarized a paper he co-authored with a colleague. According to the Express Tribune, an investigation committee found in 2014 that a third of the paper was taken from a European Union (EU) report.

The paper, given as ‘Study of Pakistan’s Election System – Intelligent E-Election’ in the Journal of Independent Studies and Research (Vol. 1, No 2, July 2003, pp 2 – 7), will be "withdrawn" from the author's CV, according to the Express Tribune.

There are two journals that are "JISR" journals, one on management and one on computer science. According to the online table of contents of the management issue, although seven papers were accepted, only four are linked to online. One is indeed by the former HEC chair, but on a different topic. The computing issue (Vol. 1, No 2, July 2003) includes a paper by his co-author on a different topic.  I checked the management journal on the Internet Archive and found the July 2003 issue archived in 2012 with no mention of the paper, but it can be found linked from the table of contents of the computing issue, also archived in 2012. So the paper was removed from the journal instead of being retracted.

If I google the title, however, I land at an arXiv paper by that same name and by those authors, submitted on 27 May 2004, with no mention that the paper has been published elsewhere or that it has been withdrawn. The acknowledgment of the paper is interesting:
By the grace of Allah, this independent study stands complete. However, calling it independent is not quite correct. I owe the success of this effort to my institute and my Independent study supervisor, Dr. J[...] R. L[...], without whose guidance this accomplishment would have been impossible.
So is this a colleague or a student who is the first author of the paper?

Digging a bit deeper turns up this 2013 report in Dawn stating that using Turnitin on the paper reported 78 % plagiarism. I have grave reservations about using numbers that a plagiarism detection system reports, as they are often skewed. The article notes:
According to the HEC rules, anyone found involved in plagiarism before 2007 cannot be punished but all the benefits availed because of the plagiarised thesis or research paper would be withdrawn, [an anonymous HEC official] added. The officer pointed out that the research paper was written in 2003 when there was no policy about plagiarism. “Dr [L.] just supervised that research paper so action can only be taken against [M.N.],” he said.
 L. is quoted in a 2014 article in the Express Tribune:  
[L.] added that he did not contribute to the piece and only provided the data the [N.] needed. [L.] also said that the case did not fall under the HEC plagiarism policy as it was published in a magazine, adding "I never benefited from it and the co-author included my name without my knowledge."
According to the Tribune, the article was on his CV in 2014, but there is no trace of the paper in his online CV today. In an article he published in 2014 ("I am not a plagiarist") L. writes
In 2003, I helped a faculty member, [M.N.], in collecting data for a report that he was writing on electronic voting. He subsequently published the report, in 2004, without my knowledge, in a non-recognised journal, of which he was the editor and used my name as co-author. Since it was typical that authors write names of advisers in their papers, and since I was his adviser in his other work, he put my name on the paper as an acknowledgment. No one, including me, could have verified the originality of anyone’s work then, since no anti-plagiarism softwares were available at that time. The paper eventually got listed in my CV — an innocent oversight as there was no vested interest involved because the journal was not of a notable stature even by Pakistani standards.
He goes on to state that what the Express Tribune has written is misleading and quotes another academic as calling this a conspiracy, because L. has been vociferous in denouncing Pakistani fake degrees and fake universities (which he, by the way, has). And says that it isn't a problem anyway, as there was no Pakistani policy on plagiarism before 2007.

I'm confused.

L. has apologized for plagiarism in a paper he didn't write that is no longer available at the journal named but where his co-author was editor and it still ended up listed on his CV by mistake? And now it has been removed from the journal page (and is not mentioned in the CV) but it is still on arXiv? Because it was put there before the Pakistani policy on plagiarism came into effect?

This has nothing to do with there being no software around to find plagiarism (not "verify the originality") -- you only put things in your CV that you wrote, and if you wrote an article, you know that you didn't copy it from somewhere else, so there is no need for any sort of software.

It doesn't matter if the journal is "non-recognized": Software filtering systems will find them and they will be available to others. If a PDF can be obtained online for a paper that has been retracted and there is no retraction watermark on the page, other scientists will be misled into thinking that the paper has not been withdrawn. People don't compare papers they are quoting with the CVs of the authors, as far as I know. And just deleting articles that have been found to be the results of academic misconduct may remove the offending article from the reach of software, but if anyone has quoted this article, there should be a proxy page that informs the reader what's up. 

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Thanks to @gwarynski_ for the Express Tribune link, although it ended up being far too much research necessary to try and understand what happened! 

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