Sunday, January 8, 2017

An Exercise in Plagiarism Prevention

As Diane Pecorari [1] never seems to tire of saying, the best way to deal with plagiarism is to prevent it happening by educating students about why we reference other works and how to do it.  I quite agree! Not only has Pecorari put together many good classroom activities in order to achieve this goal, but others such as Margaret Price [2] have also offered good ideas. Price speaks of a classroom lecture of Mike Mattison at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that she observed in 1999 and describes an exercise that he did with his students:
Another area for possible focus in the classroom is the differences among, and possible intersections of, what we mean by paraphrasing, quoting, and our own words. In an inventive approach to this subject, Mike Mattison distributes colored pencils to his students and asks each of them to create a legend at the top of a peer's paper: one color for what they determine to be paraphrases, one for quotes, and one for the author's own words. Students go through each other's papers, underlining sections, lines, and words in appropriately alternating colors. They then retrieve their own papers and examine the alternation of colors for balance and flow. Although in the class I observed Mike did not ask his students to discuss the problem of distinguishing between "outside" words and the author's own words, his exercise would be an ideal lead-in to this conversation. Students could also try this with their own papers.
That sounds like a brilliant idea, so I adapted it for my Master's seminar in a computing program the other day. The students are currently writing their final theses, due in about 8 weeks. It is, of course, late for such instruction, but better late than never.

I instructed the students to bring two copies of 4-5 pages from their thesis in which they reference the work of others, and one copy of their literature list. They were also to bring highlighters and a red pen. I gave them the instruction two weeks in advance and repeated it 48 hours before class. As more than one student admitted, the 48-hour-reminder induced enough panic to get them to finally quit programming and get some writing done.

We have a block of 4x45-minute-long hours every other week for the course, the first hour of the session we had other topices to attend to.

For the exercise I brought five pages from my book [3] and a sack full of highlighters and colored pens, as I know that my students often forget to bring writing implements.

In the second hour I sat down at our overhead camera projector with three markers and my text. I defined a legend for the colors and then did the highlighting on my own text: What is from me, what is quoted, what is an indirect quotation or a paraphrase. They peppered me with questions! I thought I was only going to need 15 minutes for this, we had to break off after 4 pages and 45 minutes!

Then it was their turn. I paired off the 12 participants so that no one was together with someone with whom they are working closely, and had them get to work marking up one copy of their own writing and one copy of the partners. The readers were given the literature lists and were asked to spot-check a few of the references to see if they were correctly recorded. A red pen was to be used to mark up any spelling or grammar errors encountered. They were made to sit apart so that they didn't get nervous sneaking peeks at their partner. Then they were to discuss the results with their partner.

It took about 25-30 minutes of very intensive work before they had worked through the exercise, then they began very spirited discussions of the differences between their own markup and the perception of their readers. I was called on by all the groups to "judge" differences of opinion. Two groups discussed the issues for the next 60 minutes!

I asked each group for some feedback on the exercise. They all appreciated the exercise, because it taught them how to see what they write from a reader's perspective. They know what they have written themselves and what is from other people, but were not making this clear. It was also hard having peers mark up spelling errors in red - two students sat correcting their spelling errors on the spot. The feedback that was most surprising for me was one student who noted that he felt quite relieved now. There has been an intensive discussion of plagiarism in Germany since 2011 and many students are scared that they are somehow not quoting properly and will get accused of plagiarism. Now he felt secure that he was doing it mostly right, and that he had learned about the points where he needed to make things a bit more clear in the exercise.

I highly recommend trying out this exercise, although I don't know how I would survive a larger group, as I had waiting lists for going around and explaining details to each group.


[1] Pecorari, D. (2013). Teaching To Avoid Plagiarism: How To Promote Good Source Use. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.
[2] Price, M. (2002). “Beyond “Gotcha!”: Situating Plagiarism in Policy and Pedagogy”, In College Composition and Communication, Vol. 54 No. 1, S. 109.
[3] Weber-Wulff, D. (2014). False Feathers: A Perspective on Academic Plagiarism. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The new predatory publisher list is out

Jeffrey Beall has published the 2017 version of his predatory publisher list. When he started the list in 2011, he had 18 publishers on the list. Now there are 1155! The number of standalone journals has gone from 126 to 1294 in the same time period. Since 2015 he has also been tracking misleading metrics and hijacked journals.

The list is getting to be so much more vital as the predatory publishing industry grows. Just the other day a colleague asked me my opinion of a publisher she had never heard of, but which had made her an offer to publish a paper. I showed her the site, and we found the publisher quickly on the list. The email to her was summarily filed in the trash. One less researcher to be fooled, but I fear that there are many more. Spread the word to your colleagues that you can check the list before you submit! It's not a guarantee, but it's a tool to help you assess the journal in question.

Update 20170117:  The lists disappeared on January 15, it is assumed that some publisher on the list is trying a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) and has forced a take-down. There is a detailed discussion to be found at the blog Debunking Denialism.
The lists are still on the Internet archives for now. The links are giving at the above-mentioned blog. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Things leftover in tabs from 2016

Happy New Year!

I seem to have collected quite a number of interesting stories that are hanging around in my browser tabs. Let me just document some of them here.
  • Serays Maouche reports in December 2016 in Mediapart in France about a plagiarism case that involves a person who is professor at the École Centrale Paris and a director at the Atomic Energy Commission. It involves plagiarism in a number of texts, among them a biography of Einstein. The institutions involved have nothing to say on the matters. Ms. Maouche closes with the question "Comment sanctionner des étudiants pour plagiat, si on accepte cette fraude académique pour des directeurs et des académiciens ?" (How can we sanction students for plagiarim when this academic misconduct is accepted by the administrations and academics?)
  • It was reported be the Guardian in November that the results of one portion of the ACT exam, one used by US-American universities to determine admission for foreign students, has been invalidated for Asia-Pacific students. No details were available. 
  • In Spain, el diario reported on November 21 and  November 23 about a plagiarism case involving the rector of a Spanish university. The Google translate version is not very clear, so I don't want to try and summarize it here, just give the links. 
  • In October the Chinese Global Times wrote about a report in the "Southern Weekly" about Chinese scientists and medical practioners paying journals to publish ghostwritten articles so that they can obtain promotions. Springer has since retracted 64 publications and BioMed Central 43 for faking peer reviews. 
  • Radio Free Asia reported on September 21, 2016 that students in Laos had to retake college entrance exams after more than 100 students obtained a perfect score on the social sciences part of the exam. Students are angry, as they will again have to incur traveling expenses in order to retake the exam.
  • Donald McCabe, a prolific researcher from Rutgers Business School who focused on determining how prevalent academic misconduct is amongst pupils and students worldwide and on the use of academic honor codes to prevent misconduct, passed away at age 72 on Sept. 17, 2016. I was lucky to get to meet Don in 2012 when he gave a talk at our university and we drove together down to Bielefeld for a conference. He will be sorely missed.
  • The Moscow Times reported on September 8, 2016 that Russian education officials  "have reportedly developed draft legislation that would make it possible to revoke a person's academic doctorate only after a copyright ruling by a court has come into effect. " Although copyright and plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct have little to do with each other, this is apparently in response to the documentation work of Dissernet, who have documented plagiarism in hundreds of dissertations, among them many submitted by politicians to Russian universities. 
  • There was a flurry of publications about paper mills and the problem of contract cheating, that is, students paying someone else to do their work for them. In the UK the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education published a report on contract cheating in August. The chief operations officer at an essay mill then wrote a defense of his industry for the Times Higher Education which sparked quite a debate. Tricia Bertram Gallant, also writing in the THE, called on universities to fight contract cheating by openly discussing the topic with students. October 19 was declared the "International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating" and a number of institutions worldwide participated. 
  • The Age reported in October about an inside job at the University of Melbourne in Australia where grades on a manually graded exam was changed after grading with a red pen by someone who had access to the exam papers. The university was unable to determine who was responsible for the change.
  • Joanna Williams reported in June in the Times Higer Education about a survey on research misconduct in the UK.
  • In July 2016 the USA issued a patent (US9389852) to Indian researchers on a method for determining "plagiarism" in program code from Design Patterns. That Design Patterns were explicitly meant to be copied appears to have escaped the Patent Office. 
  • The blog iPensatori analyzed how Google Scholar gets filled up with junk.
  • The Office of Research Integrity has put up some infographics on their site about research integrity. They also have a guide on avoiding self-plagiarism.
  • And while I am on the subject, the 5th World Conference on Research Integrity will be held from May 28-31, 2017, in Amsterdam (I am on the program committee). The conference proceedings from the previous conference is available here. There will also be the 3rd International Conference Plagiarism In Europe and Beyond from May 24-25 in Brno, Czech Republic.  And no, there are no direct flights Brno-Amsterdam.
  • On March 18, 2016 the German DFG announced sanctions against an unnamed researcher who will be barred from applying for financing for three years.