## Friday, December 20, 2013

### I was plagiarized - what happened, and how I handled it.

Last week I received an email from a scientist asking me for a copy of one of my articles, and the correspondent pointed out:  "On a tangent it would appear that your work is highly prized by fellow researchers.  I include your work and that of an admirer.  Not sure if its worth chasing this up or not?" while attaching a copy of one of my group's papers, and a copy of a paper published here.  I was surprised to find that the other paper (published in August of 2013) was a copy-and-paste plagiarism job, approximately 70% from our paper and 30% from my former student's doctoral thesis.  This was not some minor issue of someone "borrowing" a paragraph - this was a full blown appropriation of all of the words and claims, including a discussion of what future work could be done at Rice (!) on these systems.  Nothing subtle here - no possible legitimate excuse.

What I did next probably cost me a huge bump in my readership.  If I wanted to goose my numbers,  I should have pointed this out to the folks who run Retraction Watch.  I did plan to do so.  However, I actually followed their own advice on how to handle the issue, at least broadly.  After notifying my former student with an email having the subject "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", I used the "contact us" link on the publisher's website to tell the editor what I'd found, explaining that this paper needed to be retracted.  You notice that I don't link to the paper in question.  That's because instead of retracting it, the publisher "disappeared" the paper.  The link I had doesn't work anymore; the paper no longer shows up in the online table of contents; it's as though the paper never existed at all.  Not what I expected to happen, but on the scale of possible outcomes, not the worst.

The authors (a student and professor) are from some tiny college in India.  I couldn't find email addresses (or really any history of publication) from either one, but I was able to get an email address for the department head there.  I emailed him (explaining what I'd found, and how in the US I would have contacted someone at his university with a title like "research integrity officer"), and was pleasantly surprised to get a response within a day, agreeing that this was "terrible", and saying that he would take it up with the faculty member and the "proper authorities".  This morning, I received an apologetic email from the professor, placing all of the blame on his student.

Some observations:
• Even if the student submitted the paper, the professor has some culpability - his name is on it, and someone paid the publication charges (a whopping $75US, which tells you something about the journal). • It is abundantly clear that the paper was never seen by any reviewer of any kind. It literally jumped, in mid sentence in a grammatically awful way, from one spot to another in the copy/paste from our paper, skipping over all the surface chemistry stuff. The discussion included from the thesis mentioned Rice explicitly. No one who read this would have thought that this work was done at the home institution of the supposed authors. • "Disappearing" a paper is wrong - a legit journal should retract the work, or publish an expression of concern, or something, not make it look like this never happened. • I suppose I should be happy with the outcome (paper gone, publisher chastened, professor at least disciplined somehow by his chair), and given the lack of academic footprint of the student and professor, I'm not sure there is any point in mentioning them by name - I'd rather resign them to obscurity. • This was so absurd (absolute copying without any attempt to hide it, in an obscure "journal"), my reaction really was one of almost amusement. My former student's reaction was definitely more one of anger, which is understandable given that it was his thesis that was being stolen. We'll see what comes next. I suppose I should be flattered - this is a sign that I've made it, right? Like some weird kind of peer review? My group's work is worth stealing. #### 5 comments: Doru Constantin said... The old version of the page was archived by the Wayback Machine: http://web.archive.org/web/20130911201554/http://iosrjournals.org/iosr-jeee/pages/v6i6.html The "authors" didn't even bother to change the title or the abstract ! Tobias said... Not that it's really worth anyone's time to follow up on this, but it seems that the professor who claims that it's all the students fault has two more publications in the same issue of this so-called "journal". Apart from the obvious failings listed in your post, you'd think anyone would become suspicious if someone submits work on image recognition, satellite communications and nanoscale device characterization at the same time. One of those papers shares the title with an article published in IEEE transactions on power delivery. Unfortunately, I don't have subscription access to said journal to check it out more closely. DanM said... I'll add my two cents. First, even if the student submitted the paper, the professor has some culpability - his name is on it, and someone paid the publication charges (a whopping$75US, which tells you something about the journal).

And second, it is abundantly clear that the paper was never seen by any reviewer of any kind. It literally jumped, in mid sentence in a grammatically awful way, from one spot to another in the copy/paste from our paper, skipping over all the surface chemistry stuff. The discussion included from the thesis mentioned Rice explicitly. No one who read this would have thought that this work was done at the home institution of the supposed authors.

Feel free to disagree with me.

focal2013 said...

I don't see evidence of culpability of the professor.

It is possible that the student did published it and also paid for it himself without the professor knowing.

It is also possible that the student used fraudulent means to make the University for it - again - without the professor knowing.

focal2013 said...

The journal is clearly liable for copyright infringement because it is the journal that published this.

Not knowing it was an infringement is not a defense.

In this case, the copyright holder may be the journal or institution to which the true original author presumable transferred the copyright for purpose of publication.

Why the institution holding the copyright is not suing the journal for copyright infringement?

I wouldn't encourage copyright infringement lawsuits except in a case where there was plagiarism, like in this case.

Plagiarism is very different than copyright infringement, and unlike copyright infringers, plagiarists deserve a harsh response.