Monday, February 27, 2017

Catching up on VroniPlag Wiki

I haven't written about the work at VroniPlag Wiki for a while, so here is some of the more interesting things that happened in the past year or so:
  • There were three important verdicts handed down for VroniPlag Wiki cases, all of them affirming the university decisions to rescind the doctorates in question:
  • In another legal case (Ssk: Verwaltungsgericht Düsseldorf, 15 K 1920/15) as reported by the Legal Tribune Online, although the judge made it clear that the university would win its case, it still settled the case without judgement on rather strange terms: The thesis can be submitted to another university, but not Düsseldorf again.
  • In March 2016 the Medical University of Hanover determined that the current German Minister of Defense had plagiarized, but not enough to warrant rescinding the doctorate (discussed on this blog previously). A number of attempts have been undertaken in order to obtain information on which documented fragments were considered plagiarism and which ones were not, but I keep hitting a brick wall here, although it would be useful for the scientific community to know why specific fragments were considered to not be plagiarisms. The university was informed of another five dissertations (Acb, Bca, Lcg, Wfe in medicine, Cak in dentistry) and a habilitation (Mjm) that also include extensive text parallels that could be construed as plagiarism, but there has been no public progress made to date.
  • The University of Münster, with 23 cases in medicine alone,  announced in February 2017 that they have completed their investigation that took 3 years and 12 meetings of the committee. The Westfälische Nachrichten report that eight doctoral degrees have been withdrawn and 14 persons reprimanded, although the university won't say which degrees have been withdrawn. One author has died, and thus that investigation was discontinued. One doctoral advisor of two of the withdrawn degrees, according to the paper,  has been stripped of additional funding and personell and is prohibited from taking on doctoral students. The story was picked up by dpa and published in a number of online publications, for example Spiegel Online.
  • The often-heard argument that natural scientists don't plagiarize can be considered refuted with this doctoral thesis in chemistry that contains text overlap on over 90 % of the pages: Ry
  • A law dissertation from the University of Bremen, Mra, that was published in 2016, was documented with extensive plagiarism from, among other sources, the Wikipedia.
  • The documentations published for two habilitations, Chg (law, 2005) and Ank (dentistry, 1999), bring the total number of documented habilitations to eleven cases.
  • One dissertation, Gma, about TV game shows such as Who wants to be a Millionaire?, copied extensively from at least 13 Wikipedia lemmata.
  • One of the cases published in February 2017, Pak, includes not only text from five Wikipedia articles, but preserves the links from the articles as underlines in the text., Med. Diss. LMU München, p. 18-19

I will be speaking with a colleague in March at a conference about the Dr. Wikipedia phenomenon.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Understanding Citation

I've just graded a stack of papers handed in by computer science students. They were for the most part dreadful: written in chatty blog style, nothing referenced or the statement being referenced not actually to be found at the reference given, no evidence of any proofreading, even missing niceties such as page numbers or captions on figures. I'm not even going to start in on the missing structure of an academic paper.

People, proper citation is not rocket science! And it is not an instrument of torture that instructors force students to use. We cite to give our readers a chance to follow our reasoning, to check up on us, and to demonstrate the research that was done.

Kate Williams and Jude Carroll have a nice guide to referencing [1, p. 26–7]:
You need to reference when you:
  • use facts, figures or specific details you pick from somewhere to support a point you’re making – you report
  • use a framework or model another author has devised. Let’s say you ‘acknowledge
  • use the exact words of your source – you quote
  • restate in your own words a specific point, finding or argument an author has made – you paraphrase
  • sum up in a phrase or a few sentences a whole article or chapter, a key finding/conclusion, or a section – you summarize.
You don’t need to reference if you:
  • believe that what you are writing is widely known and accepted by all as ‘fact’. This is usually called ‘common knowledge’
  • can honestly say, ‘I didn’t have to research anything to know that!’.
If finding it out did take effort, show the reader the research you did by referencing it! 
That rather puts in a nutshell when to reference. But I find that my students don't even know how to reference. I had one paper with 14 URLs listed under the heading "Sources", but none referenced from the text. Do you expect me to look through all of your URLs to find where you got the notion that Alan Turing used a Turing Machine to break the Enigma code?

Many papers had one reference (usually given as a footnote number!) for each paragraph, so I am probably to assume that they took the entire paragraph from this source. One paper used "vgl." (German for "cf.") in a footnote for every single reference given. No, that means that there is more information about this topic to be found there, not that you took this snippet from that source.

As a computer scientist, the structure of referencing something appears so simple to me. I use this in the talks that I give, and a recent attendee asked me if I had published it anywhere. I actually haven't, because it seemed so obvious. But here it is, in case anyone wants to use it!

The secret of good referencing is to clearly mark where something from someone else begins and where it ends, and to tell your readers where you got it from. That's all!  As a computer scientist I use parentheses to mark the beginning and end, and an arrow as the notation for the exact reference:
Where does it start, where does it end, where did it come from?
If you are giving a direct quotation, the "parentheses" are your quotation marks, and the arrow is your reference. There many different ways of doing the latter: Author-year, number (in parentheses or brackets), or the strange computer science label using initials of author's last names and publication year ([Smi11] for Smith, 2011), but in general it looks like this:
Direct quotation
Instead of these quotation marks, fancier ones can be used, or the entire text can be indented. If you are giving an indirect quotation, you begin with the name of the author and use the reference as a combined closing and reference:

Indirect quotation
If you use something by Smith in the next sentence, you can use something like "Smith continues..." or "Additionally, she feels ..." or some such for making it clear that it is still Smith talking and not you.

Was that really so hard to understand?

It goes without saying that the reference given MUST be the source for the statement and not some random reference because you forgot to note down where you found it. The punishment for not taking proper notes is having to look it up again to verify that you have it right. It is sometimes very sobering to see that you have it exactly backwards....

One last word of advice: Don't quote the Wikipedia! It's a great place to start your research, and then you look up all those cool references at the bottom of the page and use them as your references. If the Wikipedia is wrong, please fix the article for the next people wanting to know about the topic. Only if you are doing research about the Wikipedia should you be quoting it. And if you must, please use the "Cite this page" link! It's on every page but the front page of every single Wikipedia. And it will give you a proper reference to copy in many popular styles.
It's almost always been there, but so few people have ever seen it

Now, what to do about my students who will be writing their theses next semester? I think we need Writing Boot Camp at German universities sooner than later. They are not learning this in school, and we are not teaching it at university yet. Since they don't read academic literature, they don't know what an academic paper is to look like. And online they easily find blogs and Wikipedia, so they copy that style. We've got work to do...

[1] Williams, K. & Carroll, J. (2009). Referencing & Understanding Plagiarism . Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian