Tagged: plagiarism

What Deserves a Retraction?

The current crisis in scientific publication is much based on improper peer review of an increasing number of often mediocre manuscripts submitted to an ever-increasing number of new scientific journals. Facing university libraries’ limited budgets, the global players among publishers have been advocating “open access” publishing for more than a decade. Once a more than welcome initiative for making research results immediately accessible for everybody, it’s now a business model of Wiley, Elsevier and, in particular, Springer for making more money. All have also announced “manuscript transfer” of rejected, in their hardcore journals, manuscripts (“if not too bad”) to newly established open access journals. They even suggest to reuse previous reviews. I have reported about that before.

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Update on: On Arrogating Intellectual Property

Further Update 30 October 2014 below.

Some time ago, I have come across a case of plagiarism by former colleague, Alexandrina Dumitrescu, in her last of a series of five books which she had written during an extremely short period of just three years while having been employed by IKO at Tromsø University. Before the book was even published, a version on GoogleBooks was available and I proved, in a case study, that virtually all in a certain chapter on statistical modeling had been copied and pasted from original papers, many of them authored by me. That strangely included even extended paragraphs of results sections. The case study can be found here.

I had informed the publisher Springer about my findings in this case and had argued that it may just be the tip of the tip of an iceberg since the former colleague had produced with the same publisher all in all five books on various topics in Periodontology. I had asked the copy editor whether this particular book had been peer reviewed but never received a respective answer. (In fact, I had incidentally talked to a colleague who had actually reviewed one of the books and had strongly recommended a co-author.) What I did receive, a few weeks after I had informed and, apparently, alerted the publisher, was an email stating that Springer had decided that, due to copyright violations, the book would be retracted.

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The Grave Consequences of Plagiarism

Germany’s Minister for Science (sic!) and Education, Annette Schavan, is the second minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet (after former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg) who had to resign yesterday after having lost her doctor’s degree because of plagiarism. Düsseldorf University concluded paraphrasing secondary literature without naming the source in roughly 60 passages of the 351 pages of her dissertation [1]. Schavan’s case seems to be different from zu Guttenberg’s, a typical impostor. Schavan has written several scholarly books after her dissertation and carries meanwhile five honorary doctorates.

Apparently, plagiarism seems to be endemic among German politicians. Besides zu Guttenberg (CSU) and Schavan (CDU), European Parliament members Georgios Chatzimarkakis and Silviana Koch-Mehrin, and Member of Parliament (Bundestag) Bijan Djir-Sarai (all FDP), Member of Baden Württemberg’s Parliament Matthias Profrock (CDU), Margarita Mathiopoulos (FDP), Uwe Brinkmann (SPD), and daughter of former Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber (CSU), Veronica Sass, all had lost their doctorates already in 2011 after plagiarism had been discovered on between 25-71%  pages of their respective dissertations. An important message is that plagiarism does not become time-barred. Annette Schavan’s thesis had been accepted by University of Düsseldorf in 1980 when she was just 25 years old.

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On Arrogating Intellectual Property

Colleagues, PhD and master’s students alike may pay some attention to the following. I had just come across of publisher Springer’s announcement of former colleague Alexandrina L. Dumitrescu’s latest book “Understanding Periodontal Research”, see here. The book has yet not been published but it is assumed that it will be available in the end of November. A link by Springer leads to a chapter on “Multilevel Modelling in Periodontal Research.” As the “Abstract” tells,

“Periodontal data are usually plentiful observations made in one oral cavity. In order to describe the periodontal situation, sites (gingival units) around teeth within patients or subjects are considered by using several variables. Observations may be even repeated in a longitudinal way. This is a typical hierarchical situation with lower and upper levels.”

As some readers may know, I had dedicated considerable time and effort in the past ten years to multilevel modeling of site-specific data in periodontal research which has resulted in so far 13 scientific papers and quite a number of conference abstracts on the topic. On my Institute’s webpage, I have had announced years ago,

“I am pretty much convinced that site-specific clinical observations are most valuable and of utmost importance in the understanding of periodontal diseases. Unfortunately, in recent years, these observations have frequently been summarized at the subject level. While doing so, much of the collected information is lost. Since site-specific analysis of periodontal data may yield an amazing deal of new information regarding the pathogenesis of periodontal disease, I would invite anybody who owns site-specific data, which has been conventionally analyzed before with the subject as statistical unit, to share his/her data in order to do a correct, i.e., multilevel analysis.”

Well, Springer’s “Abstract” of Dr. Dumitrescu’s chapter (without quotation) sounded quite familiar to me. It took not too long that I found the article of which these sentences had been borrowed. In 2008, I had written a brief tutorial on “Dealing with hierarchical data in periodontal research” which had been published in Springer’s dental journal Clinical Oral Investigations [1]. I next googled these four sentences and immediately found most pages of the respective chapter on Multilevel Modelling in Periodontal Research at GoogleBooks. My four sentences in question were not an abstract. They were rather necessary part of an introduction which leads to the formulation of the aim of the paper, namely how to deal with hierarchical data in periodontal research (I will turn to that below). Well, Dr. Dumitrescu’s used them out of context, verbatim, as her Introduction (with no further ado) to the chapter (p. 297), though with a correct reference to my original article, Müller (2009). What is missing here are the quotation marks [2].

Copy and Paste

Now I became really interested. GoogleBooks not only provides most of the multilevel modeling chapter but many more pages of the whole, yet not published, book. My very first impression (well, hypothesis) was that Dr. Dumitrescu had copied and pasted all sentences, even paragraphs, conclusions, pictures and tables from other sources, without bothering of timely interpretation or any further intellectual input, just quoting her sources but not using quotation marks. It is tempting to test this hypothesis but, since GoogleBooks does not allow printing out the pages which are displayed by permission of the copyright owner Springer, this is going to be cumbersome (I had  meanwhile contacted Springer for the original manuscript).

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