Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plagiarism 2.0

The German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg holds the title of Dr. jur. from the University in Bayreuth. He finished his thesis in 2006, at age 34, with more than 450 pages on the topic "Verfassung und Verfassungsvertrag: Konstitutionelle Entwicklungsstufen in den USA und der EU" (On the development of constitution in the USA and the EU). Guttenberg obtained the best possible grade, summa cum laude.

Two weeks ago, it turned out that big parts of his thesis were copied from other people's academic papers or newspaper articles. Since last week, one finds online a Wiki called GuttenPlag dedicated to collecting the copied paragraphs. The status is summarized in the below graphic (taken from mentioned Wiki):

Marked in black are pages on which plagiarized paragraphs have been found. Red are pages on which copies from several sources have been found. White means nothing has been found and blue is the table of contents and reference list that is not included in the search.

This eerily reminds me of a dissertation thesis I read last year. While the presented research was original, big parts of the text introducing the topic and explaining the relevance of the study were exact copies from other people's published review articles or research papers, including footnotes and references. The original work was cited in the text, but nowhere was it clearly marked the text was essentially an unauthorized reprint. Confronted with the evidence for his generous copying, the student first pointed out that he had cited the original papers. Yet, for a proper citation half of the thesis would have had to appear in quotation marks. Commenting on zu Guttenberg's "work," Volker Rieble, an expert on plagiarism summarized the core problem (as quoted in this Zeit article):
"Der Leser wird darüber getäuscht, dass ein bestimmter Absatz, ein bestimmtes Textstück, ein bestimmter Gedanke nicht vom Doktoranden zu Guttenberg, sondern von einem anderen stammt. Und das ist mit wissenschaftlichen Standards schlechterdings nicht vereinbar."

"The reader is deceived in knowing that a particular paragraph, a particular part of the text, a particular thought, did not come from doctoral candidate zu Guttenberg but from somebody else. This is not in accordance with scientific standards."


So you're not done with putting a citation somewhere, you have to make clear to the reader what is the extend of your borrowing. On further inquiry, the candidate whose thesis I had read - not a native English speaker - said with heartwarming honesty he had started writing the text but then found the other authors had said it so much better and clearer that the reader would benefit from using their words. The thesis was withdrawn and replaced prior to the defense. The candidate passed - as I said, his research was fine. Zu Guttenberg, whose copying work was only noticed after his defense, now has to await the University of Bayreuth's decision on whether he will be allowed to keep his title.

I know several examples where physicists, including myself on more than one occasion, have found paragraphs from their papers reappear in other people's papers. While the source was quoted somewhere in the text, the copied paragraphs were not marked as quotation. In all cases I know of, the people copying others' texts were not native English speakers.

Not a native English speaker myself, coming up with a well written motivation for a paper is a problem I can relate to. Otoh, at least I have an excuse for being grammatically challenged ;-) One should also note that some journals do offer editorial help with grammar and spelling. (Better read your proofs very, very carefully.) In any case, I'm bringing this up because already in a post some months ago, where I remarked upon the unreferenced spread of some of my pictures into other people's slide presentations, I was wondering if the possibility of copy-and-pasting is too much a temptation to resist or whether people just think nothing about it. The Times Higher Education for example recently reported that Chinese students admit to little or no idea about ethics:
"Research carried out by academics at Beihang University in Beijing found a startling lack of understanding of plagiarism and academic misconduct, with both students and staff admitting that they knew "very little" or "had no idea" about the norms of scientific ethics. [U]p to 10 per cent of the students surveyed said that they thought copying work directly from the internet should not be considered bad practice."

Even more depressingly, an increasing amount of college applicants seems to be lifting their "personal statements":
"[M]any applicants borrowed phrases from the same free website... In 234 applications to study medicine [from 50,000 applications to study medicine, dentistry and veterinary science at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge], candidates wrote that it was “burning a hole in my pyjamas at age eight” that sparked their passion for the subject."

So much about individualism.

The reason this depresses me is that these young people willingly give up the offered possibility of personalizing their application. The alternative is being reduced to numbers and, eventually, being assessed by some measure for success.

So, evidently, copy and pasting others' texts is becoming ever more common, and many people at least claim to not know it's unethical not to properly cite ones' sources. Where does this get us? I am wondering now if not time will come when a scientist can assemble parts of his paper from already published articles - a motivation from there, some literature review from there, summary of the method from there, of course marked as quotation - and just add the relevant new equations, tables, and figures. Does everybody really have to write the always same introduction in his own words (and then plagiarize himself in further publications)?

69 comments:

tom said...

according to Der Standard, he copied 3521 out of his 16325 lines (21%). for now. they haven't checked his entire thesis.
to be honest, its great that it happened. just shows how incestuous academia is ;)

@plagiarizing myself: absolutely. it cuts down work on useless things. published articles are hardly ever focusing on what counts. how can one justify Introduction+Related Works+References being 35% of a paper?

Steven Colyer said...

It's simply good taste to reference where the source of material included in any publication with one's name comes from. If every now and then one forgets, fine, nobody's perfect and we sometimes forget things when under time pressure.

But on a doctoral thesis?! No. I hope he loses his job and goes to prison as well.

Now lets talk about the REAL world, i.e., cheating.

I blame video games and their cheat codes, first, in the West.

In China, which has been atheist for generations, I blame that, meaning the instinctive Machiavellianism we are born with unless and until a "system of proper behavior", which doesn't have to be "religion" (it can be Taoism and Confucianism, e.g.,), is imparted on youth. But I openly question how many of Chinese youth know what those things are. Also, the communist system encourages cheating, since the kids see parents "getting around the system" and consider that proper behavior.

Peer pressure and the 5 monkeys story then kicks in.

Back to the West. The fastest growing religion is Atheism, so we're doubly damned.

Further depressing thoughts available on request. Have a nice day. ;-)

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I would be the first to agree that plagiarism is a terrible deception, as not only does such practice deny credit where credit is due, yet diminishes the confidence with having one’s work assured anyone is seen qualified as being competent. On the other hand, especially with the number of words being finite, there is a finite number of ways they can be arranged. This has me to wonder, with computers capable of searching vast data bases how many innocent people could be wrongfully accused of being plagiarists. Even more frightening is to wonder how one could ever defend yourself in such a circumstance, if the only metric being that you used the exact same sequence of words.

In as this is further compounded by the fact that the rules of language itself have the number of ways things can be expressed properly even more diminished , I find myself having the opposite concern that our suspicions can be made to realize our fears, when they don’t truly exist. This of course in a world that is becoming increasingly more paranoid and judgemental could have wanting to become an academic or even having lesser ambition a treacherous environment indeed.

In the end I find this just another example as to the resistance quality has to being able to be assured with metrics alone. That is when they come up with better methods of how to determine if people truly care about things, the better off all will be.

Best,

Phil

Arun said...

Recycle newspaper - great!
Recycle articles - plagiarism!

Uncle Al said...

Microcrap's "Bing" steals its searches from Google. Google inserted nonsense hits, Bing had them too. See? It's OK.

A thesis is an original contribution to knowledge. Plagiarism is forbidden. However... management avoids risk. An original contribution to knowledge is unacceptable, for it has no track record to be analyzed.

Pulsar binaries with solar stars, white dwarfs, and pulsars are perfectly modeled by General Relativity for orbit, periastron precession, and gravitational radiation orbital decay. Physics pursues zero risk, trace divergence Eotvos experiments. Spacetime geometry tested with 99.9 wt-% enantiomorphic atomic mass distributions has a small chance of success, thus being too risky to pursue. If it were valid, somebody would have done it.

Tightly packed mud triumphs over loosely packed gems, for ullage is a quantifiable managerial metric. Bible-printing Gutenberg was a monster. Lead is an environmental hazard (to children!). In the 21st century,

http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/floats.png

GMP said...

@Steven Colyer: Also, the communist system encourages cheating, since the kids see parents "getting around the system" and consider that proper behavior.

Having come from a formerly socialist country (not China) and having lived in the US for a number of years now, I must object to this gross generalization. Perhaps I should generalize that the capitalist system encourages people to become arrogant asshats and think themselves superior to all others, especially those of whose culture and "system" they know next to nothing?

On a different note: I do not think it is possible to truly plagiarize yourself, as by definition plagiarism involves using the work of another person and presenting it as your own. So self-plagiarizing as Bee described it is really not intellectual theft, but may violate copyright of the journal that published the original work and can be highly unethical even if not criminal (e.g. publishing nearly identical work in different journals).

Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

I think often, what will be really new in my thesis, since I use equations from other people, and I use methods that are from other people, and I use similar concepts of other people. I have to cite them all. So what's new: the physics is new, hopefully :-)

Best, Kay

Steven Colyer said...

Having come from a formerly socialist country (not China) and having lived in the US for a number of years now, I must object to this gross generalization.

Daddy owned a dacha on the Crimea, did he?

Perhaps you never heard of The Russian Mob. Or you're one of them.

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

Perhaps I should generalize that the capitalist system encourages people to become arrogant asshats and think themselves superior to all others, especially those of whose culture and "system" they know next to nothing?

Agreed. Capitalism sucks. It has one thing going for it though: it's better than all the alternatives.

Same goes for "Democracy."

(Adds new word to vocabulary: asshats. Excellent.)

Steven Colyer said...

From GMP's weblog:
I don't understand the blue collar workers who think that any corporation would ever look out for the workers' interest better than the federal government. Is it the education system that prevents an average worker from learning about the systems in other countries beyond the politically fueled fear-mongering?

Yes. The education is America sucks, it's all about being patriotic in a socialist way. Then the kids grow up and graduate and realize that the Mommy-state doesn't pay their bills, they actually have to work for a living. Big shock. They become grumpy, realize that "government" meaning the school system mis-lead them, then become easy prey for FOX.

Is it the brainwashing via Fox and other red media? Is it the failure of the democrats to connect with the middle and lower class, deliver something tangible, and actually take credit for when they do?

The Democrats connect very well with the lower class. They screw over the middle class, as does the Right, whom they employ as wage slaves.

This is such a great country, yet dysfunctional on such surprising levels... It's such a shame.

Absolutely dysfunctional, agreed. We are very young. We lack the traditions of Europe. Which is why we need more people like you to explain this stuff to us ... after you stop getting pissed. ;-)

GMP said...

Daddy owned a dacha on the Crimea, did he?
Perhaps you never heard of The Russian Mob. Or you're one of them.


LOL -- what a lovely response you have composed! My father is a high school physics teacher, if you must know. And FYI there are a number of countries besides Russia and China that used to have socialist systems.

Capitalism sucks. It has one thing going for it though: it's better than all the alternatives.
Same goes for "Democracy."


We are in agreement here (although I am not sure why democracy is under quotation marks -- are you mocking it?) However, the US capitalism is not the only or necessarily the best version of capitalism. (It is if you are corporate magnat, not if you are a blue collar worker.)

But we are getting away from the subject of the post; my apologies, Bee!

Arun said...

Steven Colyer,
This is the system in which we live:

"Following this is the need to eliminate corporate welfare. Even as America has stripped away its safety net for people, it has strengthened the safety net for firms, evidenced so clearly in the great recession with the bailouts of AIG, Goldman Sachs, and other banks. Corporate welfare accounts for nearly 50% of total income in some parts of US agro-business, with billions of dollars in cotton subsidies, for example, going to a few rich farmers, while lowering prices and increasing poverty among competitors in the developing world.

An especially egregious form of corporate special treatment is that afforded to the drug companies. Even though the US government is the largest buyer of their products, it is not allowed to negotiate prices, thereby fuelling an estimated increase in corporate revenues – and costs to the government – approaching $1tn dollars over a decade.

Another example is the smorgasbord of special benefits provided to the energy sector, especially oil and gas, thereby simultaneously robbing the treasury, distorting resource allocation and destroying the environment. Then there are the seemingly endless giveaways of national resources – from the free spectrum provided to broadcasters to the low royalties levied on mining companies to the subsidies to lumber companies.

Creating a fairer and more efficient tax system, by eliminating the special treatment of capital gains and dividends, is also needed. Why should those who work for a living be subject to higher tax rates than those who reap their livelihood from speculation (often at the expense of others)?"

Joseph Stiglitz,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/dec/06/us-deficit-cut-austerity-alternatives

Steven Colyer said...

ARE we getting away from the intent of this post?

Because what the intent of this post is plagiarism, and plagiarism is a form of cheating, and cheating is a flaw of human nature, and humans have a hard time of organizing themselves, which, if we did so properly, would eliminate cheating (Make "lobbying" illegal that is. And yah, to answer your question, the GREAT flaw with Democracy, is: Lobbying. Well, nothing's perfect).

This great "experiment" that is this United States of America (better name: New Europe) is a perfect example. Strongest nation on Earth, Militarily and Technologically speaking, but it hasn't a clue what to do with all that power.

Some suggestions:

0) Stop rattling the saber at Iran. There are bigger fish to fry.
1) Listen to George Clooney. Split Sudan into 2 parts. It's time, and even the Sudanese know it.
2) Zimbabwe. Nice experiment, but it failed. Remove the thugs by force, if necessary. End the insanity. Mugabe is yesterday's newspaper.
3) Haiti. They'd still be eating the bark off their trees for food, but been there done that and there's no more trees left to eat the bark of. JUST for being the FIRST nation to throw off slavery, they deserve our respect. IF THE UN is to be of any use whatsoever other than keeping the Greeks and Turks on Cyprus from killing each other, this is IT.
3) Somalia. Anarchy. Need any more on that?
4) North Korea. Still technically at war with the UN, albeit in "truce" state. Time to finish the job. One people, one nation, One Korea. Give it up, Kims.

After ALL of that is taken care of, and given our military it shouldn't take long, we can then focus on using the abilities of every human on Earth (thus giving them all jobs and thus ending poverty) to settle the Solar System, beginning with the Moon.

It is our destiny, we all know it. Why wait?

Clean house, then, kick ass. I'm willing to help, but again ...

What's Stopping us?!

Only ourselves.

Neil B said...

Real plagiarism is wrong and bad effect, but isn't it getting harder to write things up than don't (maybe from unconscious memories and readily good turns of phrase, etc.) at least resemble rather much what other people have written, somewhere?

Kris Krogh said...

Hi Bee,

I remember your participation in discussion of the Turkish publication scandal of 2007 on Peter Woit's blog here. There was a follow-up here. Those events still leave me with questions:

1) Is there any other occasion, in any of the sciences or the humanities, where so many plagiarized papers were published, by so many authors, in so many peer-reviewed journals -- and were never caught by the journals? (The person eventually blowing the whistle was on the the oral exam committee of two graduate students involved. He became suspicious that they could publish 40 papers in good English when they hardly spoke the language.)

2) Why have physics journals and the larger physics community not taken that episode more seriously?

Thanks for keeping a light on the topic!

Cheers, Kris

Bee said...

Hi Neil,

I was thinking along the same lines. More people, more papers - how often do you really need to reinvent the wheel and write that introduction if 1000 papers have provided one already? Don't we have better things to do? I do think that a paper does need an introduction that puts its content into context - not everybody who reads it will be familiar with the field - but does there need to be a new introduction for every new paper? Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Kris,

1) I don't know.

2) What makes you think they have not taken it seriously? What did you expect?

Best,

B.

Ed said...

I don't have a particular opinion about that guy's thesis, but copying stuff from others doesn't imply one didn't do original research. You might as well argue that remixing is not art.

If you're using somebody else's idea, why not use their words. And, at least in science, I think people care about you citing their ideas and couldn't care less about you citing their words, so this whole thing about quotes seems silly. It would either make most papers unreadable or it would force people to spend time on something that's completely irrelevant.

I've had one of my articles almost entirely ripped off, and I think that was totally fine (since they did cite us for the idea).

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

Sure, I agree, it doesn't mean he didn't do original research. But it's not honest to use somebody else's words take the credit for it. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

No, I wasn't a girl scout. I don't like uniforms. The mobiles we presently have are flowers and insects. We have one with stars and a moon, but it's too small, they can't yet see it. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

Hi Bee, you responded at the wrong post, but this is totally understandable as you have ... Twins!

>:-o

Christ, it was hard enough for me and my lovely wife with one at a time ... I can't imagine what you and Stefan are dealing with.

Btw and as an aside, we all think it was totally impressive you got your last paper in under the wire just before delivery. Nice! Any clue when the next one will "pop out", if you'll pardon the expression? And heck no don't rush it on our account, but as I'm going to guess that you're seeing that being a Professional AND a Mom is darned hard. Phew.

Not to worry, others have accomplished these twin goals, and no it's not easy, but you're brilliant with a great husband and lots of other support so things WILL go fine in the long run. That short run though .... wow. Good news: it DOES get easier.

:-)

Well, until they're one year old and mobile.

:-)

The mobiles we presently have are flowers and insects. We have one with stars and a moon, but it's too small, they can't yet see it.

Sounds good. But yes they CAN see it, they just can't focus. And yup those mobiles are important, as laying on a crib on one's back is totally boring, so it's nice to SEE something, and nice music in the background.

Gratuitous on-topic stuff:

Keep us informed please if this guy gets fired or loses his PhD. Sounds like a nice cushy job.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was also accused of plagiarizing in getting his PhD., and maybe he did, but all he will ever go down in history for is being one of the two best Americans who ever lived (along with Franklin), for combining the different philosophies of Jesus, Henry David Thoreau, and Mahatma Gandhi into one overarching philosophy that undid a mighty social and evil wrong.

Ed said...

Sure, I agree, it doesn't mean he didn't do original research. But it's not honest to use somebody else's words take the credit for it. Best,

B.


Imo, unless we're talking about literary works (and it may well be that the thesis in the OP is in that category), it's not the words that matter but the ideas. So I don't understand why this word(ing) business is such a big deal, but maybe it's because I'm thinking about this in the context of hard sciences.

Kris Krogh said...

Hi Bee,

What makes you think they have not taken it seriously? What did you expect?

As far as I know, the only journal coverage of the original scandal story was in Nature. I did a Web of Science search just now and found only 4 articles citing that one. Two were in Nature. One suggested the use of text-matching software to prevent plagiarism, as you're discussing here.

The other Nature article was one of the accused authors arguing it's okay to plagiarize an introduction. The two other articles were in Science and Engineering Ethics and Journal of Dental Research.

There are zero citations in physics journals. Beyond plagiarism, this incident raises the issue of large publishing rings, who publish each others work even when it's nonsense. I think that's a huge problem in theoretical physics which is not being addressed.

Since physics journals and their authors benefit professionally and monetarily from current practices, maybe it's understandable they remain silent.

Best, Kris

Plato said...

Thanks for the link/references below.:)

[1] For extensive explanation why it is implausible the LHC will cause the end of the world, see: Black Holes at the LHC - The CERN Safety report, Black Holes at the LHC - again, and Black Holes at the LHC - What can happen?
[2] Please note that we are here talking about temperatures. The energy scales usually quoted for the LHC (14 TeV for pp and about 1150 TeV for Pb-Pb) are total center-of-mass energies, not temperatures.
[3] Since neutrinos decouple considerably earlier than photons, measurement of the cosmic neutrino background could allow us to lock back further than the cosmic microwave background.


In blog posting if you create link to bottom of page with [1]linked of blog posting and link#1 you attribute source for further explanation...nothing wrong with that.

The distinction between mathematical equatorial formalization do not need to be assessed as to the historical infrastructure of formalization going forward, unless something was different about the formalization that shows the postulation/hypothesis is different according to the outcome?? If there is a mistake, the outcome is tossed. Experimental confirmation settles thing and is sound(:) up to that point.

Best,:)

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

Hadn't even noticed I replied at the wrong post. I have some papers in the queue but they're all stuck for one or the other reason. Presently it's hard to tell when one will get finished. Rspt, I recently finished this, but probably not what you were asking for. We'll have a baby update on the weekend. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

Well, zu Guttenberg has a PhD in law. In my impression that's all about finding the right words, so using somebody else's arguments sheds a very doubtful light on that minister's achievements. In any case, even in the hard sciences you don't copy text without proper crediting your sources. Sure, it's about ideas, not words. But it takes time and effort to write the words. It's work. And if you haven't done that work, you should make it clear to the reader it's not your work. It's not only unfair to the person who invested the time and thought, it's a violation of copyright if it was published. I'm surprised actually I have to explain that. If you say it doesn't matter, then why do some people try to improve their writing by such shady means instead of properly marking it as a quoted text? Best,

B.

Bee said...

Here's an update:

University Withdraws Guttenberg's Doctor Title

"On Wednesday evening, following more than a week of mounting indications that German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had inadequately cited several extensive passages in his dissertation, the University of Bayreuth, which had awarded him a Ph.D. in 2006, withdrew the title of doctor."

Bee said...

Hi Kris,

Not sure what you're saying there. You first asked physics journals and the larger physics community haven't taken this episode more seriously, but your second comment just says you'd have expected more coverage of the story in physics journals. Well, I don't know why these journals print what they print, but it's not clear to me why they would want to repeat something that was previously covered by Nature. In any case, that's hardly an indication that this story hasn't been taken seriously by the community, it's more an indication that some editors didn't think it would sell copies. I'm sure it has reminded many supervisors to give their students a speech about ethics and to indeed read the guidelines and rules of conduct from journals and societies. It remains a mystery to me what makes you think it hasn't been taken seriously or what way you expected to be informed of this serious-taking. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

The question of how to measure and aggregate happiness is more than a century old.

Were you or any of your fine advisers Gupta, Rose, Scherer (hmm, sounds familiar), Smolin or Vasquez familiar with one of the 6 heroes of the Enlightenment, Jeremy Bentham, and his attempt to quantify happiness vs his "fierific calculus"? Seems like well more than a century, if so.

You can visit old Jeremy btw in England, or just put his name in Google Images to save some expense), his body is perfectly preserved and he's on display. He led a wonderful life.

Sounds like a nice paper Bee, I'll read it over the weekend. Ack! Spin networks in Happiness Metrics! Cool. ;-)

Ed said...

Bee,

It's funny that you'd mention copyright in an attempt to justify your viewpoint, because:
a) as bad as the current copyright laws are, copying a sentence or two from a large enough text is generally going to fine (see fair use exemption)
b) limiting ourselves to hard sciences, the reason people cite others' papers has nothing to do with copyright (see e.g. the increasing flood of properly cited chinese papers).

Going back to plagiarism, if person A has the following in his/her paper:

wonderful_formula,
this wonderful formula does the following magic


and person B writes the following

wonderful_formula,
this wonderful formula does the following magic [ref person A]


without putting quote marks anywhere, that you seem to fine necessary, yet quoting person A word for word, then I don't see any issues of plagiarism with that. In fact, I think it's silly (and potentially bad) to reword the sentence following the formula, assuming it's a well written sentence that describes the formula well.

-Ed

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

The question is simply the following: if you read it, will you think the work was done by the author, or not? If I read an equation followed by a reference, I'll think the equation is from the reference. If I read a text that's not in quotation marks, possibly followed by a quotation, I'll *not* think the text is a copy. That's the point. Sure, one can argue about the benefits of copyrights, but if you're copying several pages word by word, it's a case that is quite unambiguous. Best,

B.

Ed said...

Bee,

"...I'll *not* think the text is a copy. That's the point."

Agreed, you probably won't think the *text* is a copy, but no, I don't think that's of non-trivial importance (again, in the realm of hard sciences).

"...if you're copying several pages word by word, it's a case that is quite unambiguous."

As far as copyright goes, it's certainly not unambiguous (see e.g. Betamax case). I'd also look at it case by case with regards to plagiarism as well.

-Ed

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

Well, I think it's important. I am pretty pissed of if somebody copies a text I've invested time and effort writing without giving me credits and I'm glad there's laws protecting this - which seems to indicate to me that most people share my opinion. Then again I might be wrong and most people share your opinion. Who knows. Best,

B.

Ed said...

Bee,

As I've already mentioned, current laws generally don't protect small portions of your text, so I don't really know how the ad populum argument is supposed to work in your favor here (not that it's ever a good argument).

I think you've got a lot of things backwards (like for instance who's harmed the most by plagiarism - it's not the original author) - my current favorite on the general topic is the following book: http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/intellectual/againstfinal.htm , do take a look if you have time.

-Ed

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

In summary, you're saying you are not bothered if other people copy your writing without giving proper credit, thus nobody is bothered, thus current regulations, laws and ethics should be changed. That's quite an egocentric world view. You are of course entitled to your opinion. But it's a different thing to assume everybody must feel the same.

It's not an argument ad populum since I haven't used the public opinion to argue some conclusion is right or wrong. I've simply made a statement, maybe reread what I wrote. What do you think why mentioned PhD candidate had to withdraw his thesis and why zu Guttenberg lost his title? Because nobody cares that they've generously copied other people's work? Maybe I should add that in both cases the candidates had to sign a formal statement declaring that the thesis is their own work and sources have been properly cited. Best,

B.

Practical and Theoretical said...

I've lived and worked (as a western citizen) in China for over 2 years, and gained some insight for their point of view (Beijingers POV).

China has "nearly 4000 years of continuous history" (quoted: Wikipedia). My feeling is that Chinese people have used the time well to integrate different wiev of ethics (as compared to western one) into their culture, habits, and even (most importantly) into Chinese language.

It probably paid off during the centuries/millena, when the society (no internet, not so many foreigners, not so efficient factories ...) was totally different.

It is quite difficult for us westerns to understand why copyrights don't hold so well in China etc.

E.g. My Chinese friend confessed later that during his university studies:
'I was offered a summer job, a good one, which I wanted to take. I told this to my laboratory manager who replied that I can do whatever I want, but if I took that job he couldn't promise I would pass a very difficult math exam. The option to summer job was to work (free of charge) in the laboratory, which had projects to an industrial customer to be invoiced (personally) by the laboratory professor.
So of course I didn't take the summer job. It was a win-win-win situation: I got the math exam passed, and the industrial customer got their worker resource, and the professor got extra money. It wasn't away from anybody.'
(non-exact quote from my Chinese friend).

This is just a brief example how different the point of view towarards ethics could be in a different culture. When the framework of behaviour (preferences, wanted outcome, personal vs community intrests...) is set by us, we cannot expect that a culture with totally different background would fit into it smoothly, or at all.

BR, Topi

Ed said...

"In summary, you're saying you are not bothered if other people copy your writing without giving proper credit, thus nobody is bothered, thus current regulations, laws and ethics should be changed. That's quite an egocentric world view. You are of course entitled to your opinion. But it's a different thing to assume everybody must feel the same."

Unfortunately, that's not even close to being a summary of what I've been writing. I don't do arguments from feelings - whether my ego get stroked or hurt when somebody copies my work with or without citing me is completely irrelevant. In fact, this is an argument *you* made above.

To *correctly* summarize - the fact that I think that current laws are bad, has nothing to do with feelings, it is based on a rational and empirical study of the effects of intellectual monopoly rights. This is why I like the above book - since that's exactly what they do, instead of appealing to emotions or whatnot.

I sincerely hope that this discussion is not going to be overwhelmed by emotions that would block further understanding of the topic, since that's the exact opposite of what I'd like to achieve from this conversation.


"It's not an argument ad populum since I haven't used the public opinion to argue some conclusion is right or wrong. I've simply made a statement, maybe reread what I wrote."

"Well, I think it's important. I am pretty pissed of if somebody copies a text I've invested time and effort writing without giving me credits and I'm glad there's laws protecting this - which seems to indicate to me that most people share my opinion. Then again I might be wrong and most people share your opinion."

It seems to me that the 2nd sentence, by relying on majority opinion, is meant to support the first sentence, which it is my impression, seems to suggest that whatever was being discussed is important. If I misunderstood, then ok.

"What do you think why mentioned PhD candidate had to withdraw his thesis and why zu Guttenberg lost his title? Because nobody cares that they've generously copied other people's work? Maybe I should add that in both cases the candidates had to sign a formal statement declaring that the thesis is their own work and sources have been properly cited."

I think you may have gotten the wrong impression that I think that plagiarism is not a bad thing (and please note that plagiarism and copying, as in copyright, are very different things). I DO think plagiarism is bad, but for very different reasons than what my guess of your reasons is. I think it's bad, because it's deceiving the reader, NOT because it's hurting the author's feelings. The other statement I made, was that I don't think that copying a sentence from another paper (in hard sciences) is plagiarism/of importance to the reader, as long as the reader is not being deceived into thinking that the (2nd) writer has come up with the *idea*, which I don't think the reader would if e.g. the formulas are cited.

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

... we cannot expect that a culture with totally different background would fit into it smoothly, or at all.

Yeah, except P&T, I can totally understand why it COULD! It's called .. there is only ONE human race, called homo sapiens sapiens, aka., : Humanity.

So, I cut the commie Chinese of the PRC ZERO slack. Go ahead and suck up to the PTB in Beijing, honestly, what other choice do you have?

For me? I'd rather talk to the fine Chinese of Taipei in Taiwan. They're wonderful. As are their cousins across the sea.

But the difference in their two governments ... is wide.

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

Well, you wrote:

"[A]t least in science, I think people ... couldn't care less about you citing their words, so this whole thing about quotes seems silly... I've had one of my articles almost entirely ripped off, and I think that was totally fine..."

And in your second comment you tried to back up this opinion by arguing that an equation is quoted without quotation marks, neglecting that this is a common practice for equations indeed, but not for text. So please excuse me for erroneously interpreting this as you saying it's fine if the reader is mislead about the origin of text in a scientific publication because you don't care. It seems to have been a misunderstanding.

Yes, plagiarism is bad because it's deceiving the reader, as I wrote in my post. It is also bad because it's hurting the feelings of the author, though I wouldn't have put it this way. I'd have said it's destroying the incentives of people to do original work. And yes, plagiarism isn't the same as copyright, but the two issues are not unrelated. Haven't read the book, so can't say anything about it. Best,

B.

Ed said...

Bee,

I'm a little confused why my previous post got deleted - if you practice censoring of rational discourse I have no interest in participating in this conversation (or reading this blog for that matter, as I am of extremely low opinion of censoring as a way of controlling the direction of arguments in a discussion).

-Ed

P.S. I never said anything about equations being quoted in quotation marks, if you thought that I did, then there was clearly miscommunication.

Ed said...

P.P.S. Once the above comment got posted I can see that there is a delete button, and I'm pretty sure I didn't use it (at least I didn't consciously), thus my confusion about censorship :)

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

Sorry, your comment was stuck in the spam filter for whatever reasons. I hadn't noticed since I get the comments by email. (Why would I have replied to a deleted comment?) If this happens again, please let me know. Best,

B.

Ed said...

Bee,

Ok :) Getting back on the horse, I disagree that having your work copied (whether as plagiarism or as copyright copying) lowers incentives in a significant way. It does lower incentives for creating one-hit wonders, but increases incentives for being a prolific author/creator, which I consider a good feature (and which in a way is supposed to be the underlying reason behind enforcing intellectual monopolies, except that they achieve the opposite).

-Ed

Bee said...

Zu Guttenberg resigned

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

"I disagree that having your work copied (whether as plagiarism or as copyright copying) lowers incentives in a significant way."

Well, having your work copied and getting credits for it I don't think either lowers incentives, on the contrary. I don't think plagiarism as it presently happens (ie, comparably seldom) lowers incentives either, but I think if copying without crediting the source was approved of or became common that's what would lower incentives for people to be creative themselves. See, they do plagiarize even though they know it's not a good scientific standard and if noticed they risk a damage to their reputation. They do it, I guess, in the first line to save time and effort. And to that end, it's useful indeed. If it became the scientific standard to just grab and copy text elsewhere without the need to let the reader know one has done so, people who'd still write their own text would put themselves in a disadvantage. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

"Zu Guttenberg resigned"

Nice! Resigned, or given the choice of resigning or be fired/impeached, however you do it over there?

Lesson learned: give proper credit where credit is due, it's simply polite, otherwise, off with their heads!

Ed said...

Bee,

"I think if copying without crediting the source was approved of or became common that's what would lower incentives for people to be creative themselves."

Only if certain assumptions were met. Copying without crediting the source would have to produce more (or comparable) value to the person than not doing it. Because the ultimate value to the society comes from original ideas (and, probably more importantly, implementations thereof), the reward goes to those who can produce original ideas or can fake producing them. So the assumptions are: the person has to be not creative (enough?) and (s)he should be able to conceal that well enough.

"See, they do plagiarize even though they know it's not a good scientific standard and if noticed they risk a damage to their reputation. They do it, I guess, in the first line to save time and effort. And to that end, it's useful indeed. If it became the scientific standard to just grab and copy text elsewhere without the need to let the reader know one has done so, people who'd still write their own text would put themselves in a disadvantage"

Assuming they are competing in the same market, the original idea producers will only be at disadvantage if they have no means of asserting that they are the authors, and it is arguably becoming increasingly easier to do (e.g. in physics/math you just point to the relevant arXiv paper).

It's also interesting to look back at the historical data, and what you'll find is that virtually in every field most intensely creative part happens when there are no restrictions on what people can copy from each other, but once the major players get a significant market share and political power they redirect their energy into creating legislation that would secure their economic rents without them having to be as creative. From there on the rate of creativity goes on decline. An example of this turning point right now is fashion industry, where up to now people copied everything they could from each other, but there is now a significant push from older players towards monopolization in an attempt to secure their rents.

Ed

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

"Copying without crediting the source would have to produce more (or comparable) value to the person than not doing it."

Not necessarily. It suffices if it saves expenses, as I said previously.

"Because the ultimate value to the society comes from original ideas (and, probably more importantly, implementations thereof), the reward goes to those who can produce original ideas or can fake producing them."

Yes. That's why we should encourage original, creative, work and workers.

"So the assumptions are: the person has to be not creative (enough?) and (s)he should be able to conceal that well enough."

Yes. The point is that one doesn't want an environment that allows such persons to flourish on the expenses of the actually creative ones.

"the original idea producers will only be at disadvantage if they have no means of asserting that they are the authors, and it is arguably becoming increasingly easier to do (e.g. in physics/math you just point to the relevant arXiv paper)."

What's the point of asserting if nobody pays attention? If there's no stigma to copying without crediting who cares if some unknown guy jumps up and down and tears out his hairs because some well known guy runs around and receives credits for an idea the unknown guy had first. Even if that's documented, it doesn't matter as long as the unknown guy has no way to demand he be credited. Best,

B.

Ed said...

Bee,

"Not necessarily. It suffices if it saves expenses, as I said previously."

I should have been more precise and said net value instead.

"What's the point of asserting if nobody pays attention? If there's no stigma to copying without crediting who cares if some unknown guy jumps up and down and tears out his hairs because some well known guy runs around and receives credits for an idea the unknown guy had first. Even if that's documented, it doesn't matter as long as the unknown guy has no way to demand he be credited."

Restricting for the moment to ideas (vs implementations of ideas, which we can talk about as well if you like), the most important thing that's missing in this is what exactly people get paid for (either by private or public employers). When e.g. someone hires you for an academic position, they're NOT hiring you for the ideas you've already come up with. Really, as brilliant as those may have been, those are already out there, and (as long as we're not talking about implementations of ideas) you're not needed any longer. What they ARE hiring you for is the FUTURE ideas that they hope you'd come up with (and on which they are hoping to make some p&l).

With this in mind, it should be clear then that it's in the employers' direct interest to get the idea-guy and not the faker, and there is no need for excessive jumping up and down as long as there is fast and open communication. As an aside, in some cases, like in a world with slow/no easy information transfer, the fakers can provide a valuable service by facilitating the information transfer in which case they can get a, what imo is a well-deserved, reward. To some degree, this is happening in China right now.

It's a somewhat separate issue of how you make money off of your one and only idea, and the answer to this question can be found by consulting history - and the short answer is - you have to be quick with the implementation. The person who grabs the biggest chunk of the market first, has very long lasting advantages even if the rest who come along replicate exactly what he did. This particular issue is explored in much more depth in "Against Intellectual Monopoly".

-Ed

Bee said...

The NYT has an interesting article on the topic:

[B]eneath a surface unanimity of disapproval, the range of responses to plagiarism reveals considerable diversity across cultures and continents.

“I suspect that if [zu Guttenberg's plagiarism] had happened in France there would have been much less of a fuss,” said Wolfgang Mackiewicz, professor of English philology at the Free University of Berlin. “Of course no one will say ‘Plagiarism is fine.’ But in Germany we are perhaps extra-strict,” he said. “In this country a degree is part of a person’s name. It appears on your passport.”

When Vanja Pupovac, Lidija Bilic-Zulle and Mladen Petrovecki, of the Rijeka University School of Medicine in Croatia, studied plagiarism in Britain, Spain, Bulgaria and their native Croatia, they found that the prevalence of the practice depended on “the degree to which plagiarism is implicitly allowed or explicitly accepted” in the wider society.

Their 2008 study, “On Academic Plagiarism in Europe” found plagiarism far more common in Bulgaria than in Britain, but also found that students in both countries were reluctant to report the practice.

Jonathan Bailey, a consultant in New Orleans who runs the Web site “Plagiarism Today,” agrees. “There’s a lot of cultural differences in how people respond to plagiarism,” he said.

Phil Warnell said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Thanks for the interesting article as I never knew in Germany having a degree being included in one’s passport. Then again I should have known, given that your nation places such a high value on education it would become their modern replacement for heraldry.

Now as for this neck of the woods assigning your degree to anything other than what’s related to a professional or qualifying capacity (i.e. official letter head or business card) is considered ostentatious by many. Never the less knowingly plagiarizing someone is what it is and that is passing yourself off as something that you’re not. So like Socrates insisted the first step to personal moral and more general social integrity is to first ”know thyself” and with that being someone other than yourself, isn’t simply bad form, yet worse has one as totally logically bankrupt.

Then again when it comes to being a physicist, especially one who has been able to make an important discovery, could be considered as plagiarism of the one they hold the deepest regard and respect for :-)

“ The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

-Albert Einstein

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

It's worse than that actually. The degree becomes part of the name, that's also why it's included in the passport. (Technically seen, my last name is Dr Hossenfelder.) This can be quite annoying sometimes. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Well then it truly is a modern replacement for heraldry. Now in as you have to put up with it anyway, despite how you might feel at times , why not go the whole way and come up with a symbol (coat of arms) and a motto to have things complete. Then of course you already have those for the blog and yet these stands for both you and Stefan and thus you need ones of your own. Now thinking about it this could be a good blog article in having your readers make suggestions on what those should be Dr. Hossenfelder, knight of the space-time table of the order of the minimum length:-)

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

“I suspect that if [zu Guttenberg's plagiarism] had happened in France there would have been much less of a fuss,” said Wolfgang Mackiewicz, professor of English philology at the Free University of Berlin.

Holy wha .. ?! Did he just SLAM the French? Are you guys all ... Franks or something? Neighbors, too. Where's the "Union" in EU, hmm?

Their 2008 study, “On Academic Plagiarism in Europe” found plagiarism far more common in Bulgaria than in Britain, ...

Yes, well. Quite. The world has long wondered how those two countries stack up against each other. They have so much in common, indeed, they begin with the same letter.

but also found that students in both countries were reluctant to report the practice.

Let me get this straight. Students in BOTH countries were reluctant to admit to cheating? Really? Why, the nerve. One might go so far as to say, they are dishonest!

Bee are you sure that was from the NYT, or The Onion?

ErkDemon said...

If an author's misrepresented the authorship of the text of their paper (which is the bit that's easiest to check thanks to online comparison tools), then I'm going to tend to have misgivings about the reliability of the rest of their paper.

I'm going to tend to think: if they faked that, then what else did they fake?

Bee said...

Hi Ed,

Actually a lot of people *do* get hired for ideas they have already come up with. You don't hire a Nobelprize winner because you hope he'll win another Nobelprize, but because you hope he'll make your place more interesting. That's an extreme, but I think you get the point.

In any case, we weren't talking about copying ideas, we were talking about copying somebody else's text without paying credits, and you set out trying to say that's totally okay because it's just "words." I don't know why you're now trying to deviate the discussion elsewhere. You explicitly said that in science "people ... couldn't care less about you citing their words," and I am telling you that you might feel that way but I don't and I doubt most scientists share your opinion though I'll admit on not having any data on that question. Best,

B.

Ed said...

Bee,

_"Actually a lot of people *do* get hired for ideas they have already come up with. You don't hire a Nobelprize winner because you hope he'll win another Nobelprize, but because you hope he'll make your place more interesting. That's an extreme, but I think you get the point."_

You're still missing the reason why they get hired. It's not their past ideas - when money is at stake no one cares about the past. In the example you gave of a Nobel prize winner - e.g. their current (and future) image can bring in future p&l to the university, and thus can get the person hired (even if he/she ran out of ideas); or they can simply be an inspiration to other scientists, which will in turn churn out some ideas => money. You kind of sort of got that when you said "you hope he'll make your place more interesting".

Should be clear, as before, that you (as an employer) would very much want the original guy and not the faker in the above.


_"In any case, we weren't talking about copying ideas, we were talking about copying somebody else's text without paying credits, and you set out trying to say that's totally okay because it's just "words." I don't know why you're now trying to deviate the discussion elsewhere. You explicitly said that in science "people ... couldn't care less about you citing their words," and I am telling you that you might feel that way but I don't and I doubt most scientists share your opinion though I'll admit on not having any data on that question."_

:) I should've known better than to even remotely imply what anyone should or should not feel.

More seriously - when I said "people couldn't care less", I meant/should've said "it is irrelevant". It is irrelevant from any material viewpoint except for the authors' feelings, which I'd therefore (at the risk of arousing more feelings on the matter) dub as "irrational".

Ed

Thomas Larsson said...

This makes me think about Refaat El-Sayed, who was a famous Swedish entrepeneur in the 1980s. The Swedish business world turned its back on him when it turned out that he had faked his PhD in biochemistry.

A small reading exercise so Bee does not forgets her Swedish.

Bee said...

Jag tränar svenska med Försäkringskassan ;-)

Steven Colyer said...

TRANSLATION: That's "I train with the Swedish Social Insurance Agency" for my fellow Americans who speak only one language, like me.

Bee said...

Jah, actually it's also the health insurance agency.

Steven Colyer said...

I like the word: "jah." So German. Nice. ;-)

P.S. And also Austrian and Swiss. I can't tell the difference really, but a little old thing called "a map of Europe" tells me you pretty much have the central part of Europe covered. Jah, and northern Italy too, land of the "blonde" Italians.

New Jersey is like that. Halfway between Boston and Washington DC. You know, where all the action is, in that area, here in the States. :-)

dopplerduck said...

A year or two ago, an Indian govt advert for something the Women and Children welfare ministry carried some photos of some prominent citizens supporting some cause. On closer inspection, the picture of an army general turned out to be that of a Pakistani general, which is a big deal for the typical Indian, who saw it as shameful. But then, within weeks, a Pakistani govt advert for recruitment into the Punjab province's police force carried the court of arms of the Indian Punjab police!
Copy-paste is the way of life here, in the Sub-continent.
As for one's PhD thesis, there are thesis shops where one can be procured. The more you pay for it, the more "original" it is (fewer people are sold the expensive ones). I actually know some people who've done it. Everybody gets away. Alas!

Phil Warnell said...

Hi dopplerduck,

When being found living in an age where factoids (Ray Bradbury’s expression) are deemed to be the same as information this is the inevitable result. There is an old adage that “bullshit baffles brains” which is a misnomer as it should read “bullshit denies brains”, which is what Bee’s point being.

Best,

Phil