Friday, November 16, 2018

Slovakian politician in plagiarism scandal

A Slovakian politician, the Speaker of the Parliament, has been accused of having copied his JuDR doctoral thesis in law from five other sources, according to Slovak media. The Spectator and Tasr are both reporting in English on the case. A JuDR, a degree offered in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is not equivalent to a PhD, it is sometimes called the "little doctoral degree".

It seems that when the accusations first arose, the politician put his thesis in the university library under embargo. When complaints arose, he then made it possible to see the thesis, but not to take pictures or copy it.

Strangely, some alleged sources appear to have gone missing. The Spectator reports:
Meanwhile, Comenius University announced that a doctoral dissertation with the same title and same number of pages is missing in its university archive. As Dennik N reported, it was defended only one year before D[...] defended his work at UMB. The last time someone borrowed it to study was 2011. The university started an investigation to find out where the dissertation could be.
Matej Bel University (UMB) in Banská Bystrica has set up a committee to investigate the allegations, but there are calls to have outside examiners be involved in this investigation, according the the Spectator.  According to Tasr, the opposition has called for D[...] to step down:
Leader of non-parliamentary Progressive Slovakia Ivan Stefunko noted that Hungary, Spain, Germany and the Czech Republic are countries where ministers and a president have stepped down when mere suspicions of plagiarism occurred.
A cartoon ("How should I know what's in my work", according to Google Translate) can be found at Denník N, the newspaper which broke the story. They also have one image of a side-by-side comparison (in Slovakian). Even without knowing the language, it looks like this page is what is known as a "pawn sacrifice" [1]: There is a quotation in the middle with a reference number 8. Assuming this is referring to the source, one can see that the copy of the text continues after the quotation marks, and highly similar text is also found before the quotation.

[1] Lahusen, B. (2006). Goldene Zeiten – Anmerkungen zu Hans-Peter Schwintowski, Juristische Methodenlehre, UTB basics Recht und Wirtschaft, 2005. Kritische Justiz, 39, 398ff. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Czech ministers resigned after plagiarism charges

From the monthly bulletin of the European Network of Academic Integrity:

Czech Ministers Resigned Because of Plagiarism

At the beginning of July, two ministers of freshly appointed Czech government resigned because of plagiarism in their final theses.

The first of them, Taťána Malá appointed as Minister of justice, was accused of plagiarism in her two master theses, which contained parts identical with older theses of other authors that weren't acknowledged at all. Malá defended her first master thesis (on rabbit breading) at the Faculty of AgriSciences, Mendel University in Brno in 2005 copying more than 12 pages in theoretical part from an older thesis. She claimed that the extent was too little to be considered as plagiarism. In her opinion, plagiarism starts at 40-50%. She resigned after strong pressure from media and academic community only 13 days after she was appointed. The details are available here.
The second case was bachelor thesis of Minister of labour and social affairs Petr Krčál. Almost three quarters of his thesis were copied from other sources without proper acknowledgement. Also Krčál resigned after media pressure, but claiming not to feel guilty. You can read more details here.

Also master thesis of Minister of defence Lubomír Metnar was suspicious – it contained parts identical with a book, there were no in-text citations, but the book was correctly referenced in the bibliography. Hence it wasn't a typical case of plagiarism, which was also later confirmed by the University of Ostrava. The minister publicly apologized for his mistake, did not resigned. Details are available here.

Text which is identical to a source but not marked in-text and only referenced in the bibliography is still plagiarism, in my opinion. Text-reuse needs to clearly mark the beginning and the end of the text reproduced or summarized, with a correct in-text reference given. The excuse given (follow the link) also rests on lack of intent, which is something quite difficult to actually prove or dis-prove.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Mock Science

Welcome to all new readers of my blog who followed a link from the Süddeutsche Zeitung! An investigative team from the Süddeutsche, WDR and NDR spent almost a year looking into m mock science: predatory publishers and mock conferences. They will have a TV documentary "Fake Science" on Monday, July 23, 2018 @ ARD. The NDR has published a short summary in English, the Süddeutsche has a summary available in German. An Indian journalist from the Indian Express who participated in the team has also published an article online.

I prefer to use the term "mock science" instead of "fake science", because this is different from so-called "fake news". Some of the science that is published by the predatory publishers or presented at the mock conferences is good science, but the authors were lured into thinking that they were writing for well-known journals or presenting at conferences at which they would be able to network with others in their own fields. These publishers and conference organizers are making a mockery out of what should be good science communication.

I also want to make it clear that Open Access is not the villian - there are some very good Open Access publishers out there. I have found too much bad science at so-called traditional publishers that take forever to retract (if it gets retracted at all). Many traditional publishers seem to be much more focussed on generating income than on communicating good science.  

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Let's just turn off the Internet!

One of the more bizarre posts in my Twitter feed the past few days was this one from India:

To avoid fake candidates and cheating, district administration will ban internet services in Udaipur on 14th and 15th July

This is apparently not the first time this has happened, the Times of India reported on December 14, 2017 that mobile internet services had been suspended because of "a possibility of disturbance of communal harmony." This seems to be a rather regular occurence, as Medianama reported the same thing in 2015. Seems to be rather extreme measures. Perhaps they need the exams to be taken in smaller groups with more proctors instead of turning off the Internet for the general population.

The Economist dug deeper and found that in Mauritania and Algeria the Internet was turned off in the entire country during high school leaving exams this year. Iraq, Uzbekistan and Ethiopia have apparently been doing this for years.  

In other news:
  • Teachers, students and a headmaster have been sentenced to up to five years in jail for enabling cheating on high school exams in Dakar, Senegal, according to Agence France-Presse, as published in the Daily Mail
  • In South Africa, students who are caught cheating or given failing grades are resorting to violence against their teachers, according to The Witness. Teachers are complaining that their administration is not backing them up.
  • A long article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German) from June 2018 discusses the sorry state of medical dissertations in Germany. 
  • A study in Czechia looks into the contract cheating market and finds that 8 % of survey respondents admit to having enganged in contract cheating.  
  • The Independent reports that an artificial "intelligence" classifier was used in the UK in order to "detect" cheating at an English exam in 2014. Many international students were determined to have cheated and were often deported without a chance to defend themselves. Later testing determined that the algorithm had a 20 % false positive rate - that is, one in five persons found "guilty" were actually innocent.
Tip of the hat to Thomas Lancaster for his great Twitter feed on contract cheating!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Gambian judge sends plagiarists to prison

The Point, a daily newspaper published in Bakau, the Gambia, has reported on an interesting copyright/plagiarism case. Two men were found guilty of having heavily plagiarized a book on national history for a study guide that they were selling. The author of the book took them to court, and in 2015 they were found guilty of copyright infringement. Since they did not pay the damages awarded of 5 million and fifty thousand Dalasis (around 100 000 €!) to the authors, she took them to court again.

The judge has sentenced both men in May 2018 to six weeks of jail each. This is apparently the first time that sanctions have been meted out on the basis of the Gambia Copyright Act of 2004.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Plagiarism allegations in Finland

According to the Helsinki Times, there is a plagiarism scandal surrounding Laura Huhtasaari, a politician (the deputy chairperson of the Finns Party) who ran an unsuccessful campaign to become president of Finland in January 2018. The public broadcasting network YLE published a report on May 9, 2018 about plagiarism in her Master's thesis that includes some documentation (in Finnish). Two external examiners looked at the thesis on behalf of YLE and both commented on the plagiarism, according to the Helsinki Times. They quote Huhtasaari as stating that she was only following instructions given on how to write a thesis, and that she feels that this is a witch-hunt against her personally that is going on.

According to what I gather from the Google translation of the YLE article, the rector has stated after a previous investigation in January that they will not be withdrawing the degree, as only about 10 % of the literature part of her thesis was plagiarized.  YLE has investigated further and found 30 % of the thesis to be affected. This demonstrates once again, that one can never state a "percentage" of a thesis that is affected: there can always be more, because a source has not yet been found. And any software-based investigation can also contain false positives, inflating a value. 

YLE notes that the plagiarism accusations first appeared in the blog of a liberal Finnish politician, Tuomas Tiainen, in January 2018.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Commenting disabled

Dear readers,

Google is being aloof about the GDPR which takes effect May 25, 2018. It is providing its bloggers no information about how we can comply with the GDPR. We don't know what Google does with the data, beyond what they state in their privacy policy. In particular, when posting comments, an email address is required. I do not know what they do with that piece of personally identifying information, so I have turned off commenting completely for now, only I can add comments.

It's a shame, I've been blogging for over a decade, but it looks like that is coming to an end, if there are such wide-spread legal threats looming.

I will also be turning off the statistical information via StatCounter that I had been keeping in order to keep me safe from threats made to me personally in comments. Since I announced using this, I have had no more threats. Not necessarily proof that it helped, but it was also interesting to see where my readers come from and which pages they like.

So everything turned off for now.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Various Links

I must have about a dozen tabs open with things I want to post, but no time to comment. So here goes, a May Day collection:
  • Nature reported back in February 2018 about researchers in South Korea helping their children or underage relatives to get into university by adding them as co-authors to their papers. 
  • Prishtina Insight published a detailed article in February 2018 in English about a VroniPlag Wiki case (Ama) involving a professor from Kosovo who had studied in Bremen.  
  • The Guardian reports in April 2018 a massive increase in cheating at university. I do assume that this is due to better reporting, not necessarily an increase in cheating per se. 
  • The court case that was filed by Lm (a VroniPlag Wiki case) against the University of Hanover has finally finished with a judgement that the university was within its rights to rescind the doctorate (in German). Another judgement (in German) in another case of a German university rescinding a doctorate for plagiarism (Aeh) also found the university to be within their rights. One would think that with the dozen or so judgements in favor of the universities, people would think twice about filing suit.
  • Retraction Watch published an interview with Ana Marušić about "Corrected and Republished Articles".
  • In February 2018, a judge in Croatia sued the national ethics panel after it found him to have plagiarizen in his doctoral thesis from 2013, according to Science.
  • The Belgian de Standaard published an article in March 2018 (in Dutch) about the Louven university being forced to retract publications that had seen a bit too much of Photoshop 
  • The World Conference on Research Integrity 2019 will be held in Hong Kong.  
  • A blog article in French at Rédaction Médicale et Scientifique writes about a couple of French cases of academic misconduct and another article there is about salami slicing.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe arrested for conferring doctorate on former first lady

The vice-chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe has apparently been arrested on charges of conferring a doctoral degree without approval by the university council, according to Times Live. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has accused him of conferring a doctorate on Grace Mugabe, the wife of the former president of Zimbabwe, although no one in the sociology department had seen a research proposal‚ read any progress reports, or learned of the outcome of any research, the Times Live writes. The Zimbabwean Standard had expressed surprise in 2014 that she was awarded a PhD in sociology just three years after obtaining a bachelor's degree in Chinese Language by distance from the People’s University of China. Her husband was at that time also the chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe. The state-owned Herald lauded her work while the UK Guardian was quite critical.

The degree was conferred in 2014, the thesis, “The Changing Social Structures and Functions of the Family: The Case of Children’s Homes in Zimbabwe”, was apparently not available online until January 2018. According to NewsdzeZimbabwe, the thesis was published under her maiden name (Grace Ntombizodwa Marufu) on the UZ web site. Indeed, there is an entry on the library page of the UZ for Ntombizodwa G. Marufu, but no link to a PDF. Google finds a link, but the server does not respond. However, the table of contents can be found in a number of places, and the thesis itself appears to have been deposited at scribd in January 2018.

Update: The Zimbabwe Independent calls the thesis a fraud.
"Social Commentator Maxwell Saungweme described Grace’s PhD as the biggest academic fraud of the century.
“It’s not a PhD thesis but a mere compilation of plagiarised text and quotations from grey literature, newspaper articles, television and radio programmes. It does not contribute original ideas to knowledge. It also cites prominently very old sources such as 1978 and 1985 works. A lot of scientific reviews have been done to this literature, and academic work must cite recent scientific journals and books,” Saungweme said. [...] Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya, commenting on social media, criticised Grace’s PhD thesis and questioned why there are citations from the years 2016 and 2017 yet, scandalously, Grace graduated in 2014."
I can't find any citations from 2016 or 2017 in the version I found online, however. Interesting is Chapter 5 (p. 153): "Grace Mugabe Children’s Home was singled out as a model." This is a home the author runs herself. She does mention this a few pages later (p. 155): "I carried out this study when I was owner and founder of Grace Mugabe Children’s Home."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pakistani diploma mill

The British BBC reports that thousands of fake diplomas from a Pakistani diploma mill have been purchased by UK nationals. The company Axact is said to have set up hundreds of "universities" that only exist in their online presence, using stock photos for campus and student life imagery and including "news" stories that never happened. The telephone numbers for universities with names such as "Brooklyn Park University" and "Nixon University" are said to be connected to a call center in Karachi.

Apparently, a new side business in extortion and blackmail has opened up, with a telephone caller who is faking the caller id pretending to be the police. The caller threatens arrest unless additional documents are produced to back up the degree. Such documents appear to also be for sale at the "institutions."

The New York Times reported in 2015 on Axact, leading to a senior manager of Axact being sentenced to 21 months prison in the US in August 2017, according to the BBC. A Pakistani investigation seems to be stalled at the moment.