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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Text recycling by Dutch researchers

On September 24, 2017 the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported on an investigation into self-plagiarism (zelfplagiaat) that was conducted by a Nijmengen research group. The sociologist of science Willem Halffman and his PhD student Serge Horbach analysed 922 publications by Dutch researchers from recent years. In economics, 14 % of the papers contained text from previous publications of the author(s), in psychology the figure was 5 %.

Without naming the scientists involved, Halffman recounts that they even found a duplicate article republished with just one small change, and two highly similar articles by the same author in the same issue of a journal. They also found that authors who publish more papers are more likely to reuse text.

The use of the term selfplagiaat in Holland appears to have originated in 2013, the report states, in connection with a scandal at the Free University (VU) in Amsterdam. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW) now includes the reuse of own text without reference to the source as a questionable research practice, except for minor bits such as definitions.

Lex Bouter, a professor for scientific methodology and research integrity at the VU notes in the report that if you are re-publishing your data, you run the risk of deforming reality in a meta-analysis by having one study counted as two.

The paper is in press at Research Policy, a corrected proof is available at Science Direct. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

News from the world of academic integrity

The school year is getting underway in the Northern Hemisphere, so there have been a number of links twittered or linked to in the past week that need linking:
  • Radio Free Europe published an article by Alan Crosby: Montenegro Education Council Members Resign, Learn Lesson About Plagiarism. It seems their curriculum was plagiarized from the Croation one without reference. 
  • In Australia the Daily Telegraph authors Chris Harris & Bruce McDougall report on a primary school teacher caught offering contract cheating: Cheating students on marketplace website offering to buy or sell work. It may seem that the practice of contract cheating is rather widespread in Australia, but I believe that is because there are researchers actively looking there. I did a quick search on eBay and found lots of offers and people looking for help in Berlin...
  • Linked from another article I was reading was an article from The Sport Digest from 2016 about South Korea: Moon Dae-sung Suspended as IOC Member Over Plagiarism. It seems that Moon, who had won an Olympic gold medal in Athens (2004) in taekwondo, had been awarded a doctorate in 2007 with a thesis on taekwondo. In 2014 Kookmin University rescinded his doctorate. Moon defended himself in the appeal, stating that he had the permission (!) of the author of the text he used to use it. 
  • The Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan reported in June 2017 that there has been a record number of university students sanctioned for academic misconduct in 2016. There were a total of 33 universities questioned by the news agency TT, they reported 733 sanctions (an average of 2.5 per 1000 full-time equivalent students). In 2013 there were only 533 sanctions meted out. The increase in serious cases registered and sanctioned may be due to teachers doing more checking or getting better at discovering students who cheat on exams or plagiarize.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fraudulent PhDs in Romania

The Times Higher Education web site has an article published July 27, 2017 about Emilia Sercan's work documenting plagiarism in Romanian doctorates. I had the privilege of meeting her at the Brno conference on plagiarism. She used to be able to obtain the doctorates via the national library, now there are restrictions on access. She has recently published a book (apparently in Romanian) on the Romanian "doctorate factories."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Clippings from Sweden

A good friend in Sweden was kind enough to send me some clippings from Swedish newspapers about the academic integrity issues that he has been collecting over the past year or so. Here goes my summaries of the articles:

  • Uppsala Nya Tidning, 12 May 2016. Two professors of economics from the University of Uppsala and an assistant professor and a postdoc from the University of Stockholm, including one member of the Nobel Prize committee, have been accused of research misconduct. The accuser (named in the article) discovered his own work plagiarized in an article the accused published in 2011 that also somehow was used to prove an opposite result. The journal found the criticism correct, but decided not to take any action. The accused said that the plagiarized text was only in a preliminary version and was removed when they were made aware of it.
  • Uppsala Nya Tidning, 18 May 2016. A doctorate in the immunology of crayfish that had been awarded by the University of Uppsala has been rescinded after it was discovered that there was extensive manipulation of figures. This is the first time that this university has rescinded a doctorate. No sanctions were imposed on the advisor, as there are no rules for doing so. The thesis was a collection of five published papers, four of which had to be retracted. All attempts to contact the former doctoral student were fruitless. He was last seen working on a postdoc at a university in Texas, but was apparently fired there after just a few months for academic misconduct. 
  • Dagens Nyheter, 13 August 2016.  Three professors wrote an opinion piece on academic ethics demanding a reform of the current process of dealing with misconduct. Their four major points include a better definition of academic misconduct that differentiates between misconduct and badly-done research, making clear that the institutions understand that they have a responsibility to deal with academic misconduct, that there needs to be a national instance with sufficient resources to conduct investigations as necessary, and better protection the privacy of the whistleblowers and the accused. [Currently, the names of all concerned are open knowledge, according to the Swedish Freedom of Information laws.]
  • Uppsala Nya Tidning, 9 December 2016. A record number of cases of academic misconduct (17) have been reported to the Swedish Central Ethical Review Board (CEPN) in 2016. There were only 10 in 2016, and only 1-3 cases a year since the board was set up in 2010. The head of the board is not sure what has caused the surge, but states that it could be a result of the press coverage of the Macchiarini* affair that is encouraging other whistleblowers to come forward. The head of the Vetenskapsradet (the Science Council of Sweden) believes that universities are now referring more cases to the review board, as the Macchiarini affair showed the problems that arise when an institution makes the wrong decision. 
  • Dagens Nyheter, 23 February 2017. Commentary by the newspaper's medicine reporter Amina Manzoor about the suggestions proposed by Margareta Falhgren, the person appointed by the government to propose changes to how academic misconduct is to be handled in the aftermath of the Maccharini scandal. Her suggestions include a national body for investigating cases of suspected misconduct; forcing universities to register all cases with the body and permitting individuals to lodge complaints; the body taking a decision on whether misconduct happened or not, but leaving the sanctioning to the university; setting up a legal definition for misconduct to include FFP (falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism); other forms of cheating are to be dealt with by the universities themselves. It is expected that the changes will take effect by 2019. 
  • Uppsala Nya Tidning, 7 May 2017 (other reports on 31 March 2017, 29 April 2017 and 12 May 2017) A long article describes a paper on research conducted at a research station on the island of Gotland about the effects of microplastic particles on fish larvae that was retracted from Science. There is also commentary thanking the whistleblowers in this case, some of whom are from the University of Uppsala.  They had attempted to obtain the raw data on the study, but the laptop with the supposedly only copy of the data was registered as stolen 10 days after the first request for the data was sent. There were various other excuses for why the data was not available. The whistleblowers had been at the research station at the time the experiments were said to have been conducted, but they did not see anything of the magnitude of the study taking place. The University of Uppsala had at first found no misconduct, but the CEPN found multiple issues, including missing ethical permission for animal experiments. The university now has to decide if and how they will sanction the researchers. 
  • Dagens Nyheter, 7 June 2017. The number of students who are sanctioned for cheating is skyrocketing. 2016 there were 733 sanctions recorded, or 2.5 per 1000 full-time equivalent students. 2015 there were only 630 sanctions, 2013 only 533. The jurist in charge at the Universitetskanslersämbetet stated that the increase is due to the universities being more conscious of the problems and getting better and uncovering cheating.
I find it very encouraging that public discussions about academic integrity are taking place in Sweden. Other countries would be well-advised to follow suit.

* The surgeon Paolo Macchiarini implanted artificial trachea in three patients in Sweden, two of the patients died and one was badly hurt and recently also died. Karolinska Institutet, the institution at which the research was done, eventually fired a number of people in 2016 after a TV documentary forced them to take action. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Keeping tabs on cheating

I tend to keep tabs open in my browser for weeks with interesting articles I want to explore in more depth. Then Firefox decides to update and crashes so miserably, that the tabs are gone. So I'll try to at least post them here. No promises that I can do this with any kind of regularity, like Retraction Watch does with its Weekend Reads.
  • The Japan Times has an interesting article debunking an excuse typically used by students from the Far East: "Confcius made me do it." It seems that the difference between allusion and "literary theft" was well know many centuries ago.

    "If East Asian students and researchers plagiarize, it’s not because of some archaic cultural programming; it’s because modern institutional cultures tacitly condone plagiarism, or lack clear policies for explaining and combating it."
  • In the New Scientist there was an interview with Shi-min Fang that published in 2012, who was awarded the Maddox prize for his work on exposing scientific misconduct in China.  It seems that there is a lot of controversy around his work.
  • At the University College Cork in Ireland there was a spat about wide-spread contract cheating, as the Irish Times reports. Ireland is currently considering legislation to make advertising for or providing contract cheating services illegal.
  • Down under, the weekly student newspaper of the University of Sydney, Australia,  Honi Soit reports that the university had considered using some anti-cheating software that was created by former University of Melbourne students, but have decided not to after a trial. The idea was to analyse typing patterns and use multiple login questions in order to make it harder for students to submit essays purchased from contract cheating sites. Some of the issues included the necessity to be connected to the Internet to write an essay, forcing students to write with this system and not the editor of their choice, and a massive invasion of privacy that includes tracking the locations of the users and comparing it with the location of their mobile phones. The software was felt to be impractical and invasive.
  • Back in June the Daily Times reported that the doctorate of the prorector of the Comsats Institute of Information Technology has been revoked by Preston University.
  • The former head of the Toronto school board lost his teaching certificate for plagiarism. According to The Globe and Mail, he has appealed the ruling and is willing to testify under oath about who helped him produce the plagiarisms.