Tag Archives: plagiarism

Straw-man argument against comments in epijournals

This is a comment which awaits moderation (for some time) at Gowers “Good guys” post, therefore I post it here. Here is it, with some links  added:

After reading the rather heated exchanges around the subject of comments in epijournals, I am surprised by the fact that the best argument against comments that people here were able to find is by conflating comments in epijournals with comments in blogs.

I cannot imagine who would like to have comments in epijournals (or any other OA model) of the same quality as those on the average blog.

Therefore my impression is that much of the discussion here is just an example of a straw-man fallacy.

It is enough to look around and see that there are models who could inspire us.

I have proposed in several comments and posts like this one or the other to consider comments in OA journals on the par with the talk pages of Wikipedia, and peer-reviews as wiki pages.

Others have proposed the mathoverflow or reddit as models. Any of those proposals are stellar compared to comments in blogs.

Besides, I doubt very much that there is a majority against comments and I believe that Mike Taylor is only more vocal than others and for this he deserves some congratulations (and some respect, as a fellow scientist).

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On peer-review and the big value it may have for epijournals, or even as a publishing business model, see also the posts:

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Peer-reviews don’t protect against plagiarism and articles retraction. Why?

After reading one more post from the excellent blog Retraction Watch, this question dawned on me: if the classical peer-review is such a good thing, then why is it rather inefficient when it comes to detecting flaws or plagiarism cases which later are exposed by the net?

Because I have seen implicit and explicit blaming of:

  • authors, seeking to publish as many papers as possible (because only the number of them counts, not their contents)
  • journals, seeking to fill their pages with any costs, also failing to protect the authors which gave them the copyrights.

There is a missing link in this chain: what about the peer-reviews? I bet that many articles submitted for publication are not accepted as a consequence of peer-review reports which detect flaws or plagiarism attempts. However, so many other papers are published after they pass the peer-review filter, only to be found later as being flawed or plagiarizing.

I think this is the strongest argument against old-ways, let’s talk in private  practice.  It shows that even  if the great majority of researchers is honest and dedicated to commit to best practices in the field, the very few who try to trick, to “boost” their CVs, escape undetected during the classical peer-review process  because of the tradition to talk in private about research, to follow the authority paths, and so on. This practice was not bad at all, before the net era, it was simply a part if the immunitary system of the research community. On the other side, there is no reason to believe that flawed or plagiarized articles are more frequent now than before. The difference which makes such articles easier to detect is the net, which allows public expressions of doubt and fast communication of evidence (“don’t believe me, here is the link to the evidence, make you own opinion”).

Don’t you think that peer-review could get better, not worse, by becoming a public activity which results from the contribution of (few or many) peers?

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On peer-review and the big value it may have for epijournals, or even as a publishing business model, see also the posts:

When credibility goes down the drain: the grotesque case of two politicians, Ecaterina Andronescu and Victor Ponta

It looks like an unprecedented situation, which could be funny when seen from outside, but it is actually a pathetic misuse of the credibility of an institution which manages the academic medium in a country.

Let me recall the story.

Victor Ponta,  the prime minister of Romania,  has been accused of plagiarism, see the article in Nature  “Romanian prime minister accused of plagiarism”  by Quirin Schiermeier.  Investigations started in Romania, with, say, mixed results, blurred by the fact that Ponta, as prime minister, modified the composition of the National Ethics Council, while the University of Bucharest council decided it is a case of massive copy-paste plagiarism, see the story told again in a Nature article  “Conflicting verdicts on Romanian prime minister’s plagiarism” by Quirin Schiermeier.

But you see, according to Romanian laws, is not the university who gives the PhD. title, it is the Ministry of Education.

The minister of education of the Ponta government, Ecaterina Andronescu, practically does nothing after lots of pressure from the civil society and from the academic medium.

And now comes the surprise: Andronescu herself is accused of multiple plagiarism, after reviews done by international experts, see the excellent reviews at integru.org here and here.

Does it look crazy enough?

Wait a moment! Andronescu counter-attacks: the Ministry of Education issues two press releases concerning this situation. Yes, you read well: the Romanian institution which is responsible for giving academic titles issues two unsigned press releases claiming that there is no case for plagiarism!

One hand washes the other and both are wiped by major Romanian institutions.

Here is a link to the second press release (a “doc” file in romanian) and here is my translation of the title of the press release and some of the conclusions:

“Details of some inaccurate information published on a website and taken by  B1 TV channel during  the show “The question mark” of December 2

[…]

The published articles contain data from scientific research of the authors achieved in our laboratories. The data therefore belong to the  research team members,  were not taken or copied from other authors, and so the charge of plagiarism has no support […] experimental data were originally presented at scientific conferences in the field,  for validation by the scientific community,  and then published in prestigious ISI journals, like Journal of European Ceramic Society, Thin Solid Films respectively,in order  to ensure the international visibility. For publication in these journals,  the articles undergo a very strict process of scientific review conducted by specialists with international prestige.”

Here is the reply by integru.org:

Comments on Ministry’s second press release + Update from Utrecht University on Ministry’s first press release

UPDATE: The National Institute of Material Physics took the decision to retire from publication those articles, mentioned in the plagiarism   accusations of Andronescu, which have members of the institute among the co-authors. Here is the press communicate issued by the institute (pdf, in Romanian).

My conclusion: as I repeatedly commented, the worst part is the loss of credibility of the institution who issues the academic titles. A solution for this loss of credibility was proposed here:

A 3-parts system for scientific credibility

It may be relevant as a international system of attributing credibility (and it might be not original, please inform me about any similar proposals).

Integru.org review: “Ecaterina Andronescu (minister of research), 2003 – plagiarism and falsification of data”

Concerning one article of the Romanian Minister of Education Ecaterina Andronescu, according to the review of integru.org, “6 international experts in the field confirm that the work constitutes plagiarism and falsification of data”.

UPDATE: A new review concerning a series of 4 papers just appeared.

The Ministry of Education and other, equivalent, organisms are to be held responsible for the damage incurred to the image of many innocent Romanian researchers.

SEE ALSO: When credibility goes down the drain: the grotesque case of two politicians, Ecaterina Andronescu and Victor Ponta

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Otherwise, this new case confirms my previous analysis (and advice):

A 3-parts system for scientific credibility.

in the sense that this new case is again about an OLD DISCRETE and power hungry person (see the analysis for definitions of “OLD” and “DISCRETE”).

Congratulations to integru.org.

UPDATE: Andronescu has the following argument against any plagiarizing accusations (source here and here, in Romanian).  Here is an English translation:

“I have built all my professional career  on hard work and honesty. In this career there are several steps that you go through when you start:  from the bottom, from the first position of junior assistant, to lecturer, then  associate professor and PhD supervisor. For each stage they go through a dossier and set up a committee vote passing through the Professional Council of the  academic Senate and then to  CNATDCU  [i.e. the National Council of Attestation of Universitary Titles, Diplomas and Certificates] which  gives the  verdict.”

She has a point, indeed.  Maybe here applies the Sherlock Holmes dictum:

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”

A 3-parts system for scientific credibility

In Nature appeared the article “Plagiarism exposed in Romanian grant applications”  by Alison Abbott. This comes after previous articles “Romanian prime minister accused of plagiarism” by Quirin Schiermeier and “Romanian scientists fight plagiarism” by Alison Abbott.

UPDATE: See   the review of integru.org   concerning  the Romanian Minister of Education Ecaterina Andronescu. (and my short comment here).

As a researcher I am concerned about this subject, see the post “On plagiarism scandals in Romania, an easy test“.

Let me explain my views about this subject and, after that, propose a solution for the real problem which lurks beneath, which is the one of scientific credibility.

Here are several aspects about the problem of credibility of Romanian research.

1. In an ideal world, there should be no such thing as Romanian research, there are only individuals, freely communicating across the world via the internet. However, in the real world things are far more complex.

2. Romanian researchers come in several blends. You have mathematicians and hard sciences alike, which communicate their research in a “universal language” (and mostly in some dialect of broken English), let’s call them the “LOUD researchers”.

You also have researchers in the humanities, which may feel cornered by the specific of the language and regional subjects. However, branches of engineers, for example, or medical sciences, which are far more “discrete” about spreading their research results freely on the net, fall in the second category of “DISCRETE researchers”.

3. When it comes to plagiarism and other bad practices, the bad news for the bad guys is that it is now rather easy to detect bad behaviours, simply by using search engines and by communicating with other fellow researchers. Because the net is a new thing (historically speaking), we have to take into consideration the age of the researchers (or a kind of a “virtual age”), splitting the previous 2 classes in pairs: “YOUNG” for those who use the net to cite, to search, to communicate their research, “OLD” for those who think that paper publication is everything and a lawyer is a good replacement for moral, even if they don’t mind to search a bit on the net for fishing new ideas.

So we have:

A – YOUNG LOUD  researcher

B- YOUNG DISCRETE  researcher

C- OLD LOUD  researcher

D- OLD DISCRETE researcher

4. The age is important because in Romania, being a more traditionalistic society, the managers, the bosses, tend to be old. So power is biased towards the old guys.

5. Also by tradition, the humanities and the “practical” (i.e. medical, engineering, …) have a much more stronger cultural influence, which means that in the Romanian culture, power is biased towards the DISCRETE.

In conclusion, “discrete”, i.e. B and D categories are more prone, very vaguely speaking (and not pointing to individuals), to contain abusers, but they are also more likely to have more power in the Romanian research system.

This is supported by the fact that the plagiarism scandals, up to now, at least, were so obvious and so easy to expose. This shows, in my opinion that it always was about OLD DISCRETE guys (according to the definition of “old” I consider here), which have power.

There is, now, the beginning of a power struggle between, the DISCRETE and the LOUD faction. Indeed, the YOUNG  DISCRETE guys are scared of being exposed as not as worthy as their more international YOUNG LOUD fellows, therefore there is not a fight between YOUNG and OLD categories.

Moreover, the situation is aggravated by the fact that, in the last 15 years, say, a lot of people got positions and diplomas which do not reflect their level. The fault, in my opinion, is entirely on the power side, be it the Ministry of Education, various commissions and organisms, the managers of universities, etc.  This produced a significant inflation of the DISCRETE class, be them  old scientific mediocrities (with political talents instead) or their young opportunistic clones.

That is my clinical diagnostic.

If you are not too bored until now, then maybe you shall find some interest in the solution (or “a solution”) which I propose. The purpose is to expose the DISCRETE class to the level of the LOUD class.

The solution it is not to force researchers to do anything, neither to form a scientific police. The solution is to NOT rely on authority arguments, but instead, to look for CREDIBILITY and COLLABORATION.

I propose a 3-parts system:

– the researcher, willing to get credibility, has a web page with his results, in a international language, offering freely his papers or links to open access repositories of its papers and other achievements,

– institutions, be them universities, associations of scientists, ministries of education, academies, smart IT guys offering a platform for communication, which are willing to give credibility AOC  STAMPS,  list the criteria they use on their respective web sites, in an international language,

– the public, that is anybody willing to learn if the researcher is good of anything, can make their opinion by comparing the page of the researcher with the list of criteria of the institution, independently of both previous parts.

The advantages are the following:

– if an institution has stupid, or corrupt, of otherwise not good criteria, then they loose credibility, by exposure to public, as well as the researchers which pride themselves with AOC stamps from the said institution,

– the results (articles, etc) of researchers can be more easily subjected to scrutiny for plagiarism or other bad practices. (There are many other bad practices, among them the selective citations. In “Boring mathematics, artistes pompiers and impressionists” I propose a Google Scholar Maffia tool which could group researchers in the same subject  into small “churches”, citing one another but not the ones outside the “church”.)

– the system is international, which is always a good thing in research,

– there is no reliance on authority. Indeed, suppose that a Romanian power institution issues its AOC stamps based on unreasonable criteria, then the stamps may become a bad mark, hurting both the institution and the researchers which satisfy them

– there is no one-for-all measure. Maybe some researchers desire to be less internationally exposed, but to have more time for teaching. They will take AOC stamps from institutions which price teaching more than research, and so on.

– being dispersed, the system is less prone to manipulation by a small group of individuals. (It is more sensible to “popularity contests” behaviours though.)

There are already efforts towards a net based collaboration against plagiarism, like the site integru.org. There is much more to be done, but my advice for the international “public” is, for the moment, to consider the credibility criterion of having its research papers freely available in open access repositories.

On plagiarism scandals in Romania, an easy test

What the naked emperors from Romanian politics and universities don’t understand is that, today, it is a very easy way to check the credibility of statements: show me a link to your arguments and let me decide. That is all.

It goes totally against (hollow) authority arguments, therefore it takes away power (to do harm), and that pisses a lot of people, worried about the fact that everybody might see their incompetence and stupidity.

Here are some links:

Nature: Romanian prime minister accused of plagiarism
Nature: Romanian panel calls prime minister a plagiarist. But committee is dissolved during the course of its meeting.

Link to pdf with plagiarized content (after searching  1 min on the net)

According to politicians and, amazingly, according to  some “scientists”, there is a political motivation behind the articles from Nature.

Disgusting.

Finally, there is a simple test, which I suggest you to apply to any scientist:  don’t believe the titles, prizes and so on. Instead, look after the articles. Does the guy have his/her articles freely available (on the homepage, on arxiv, etc)? If not, then DANGER!