Thursday, October 07, 2010

Plagiarizing from Wikipedia?


[Via Retraction Watch.] This retraction notice made me go, "WTF were you folks thinking?" [see below for a quick comparison].

That the authors are from IIT-K -- who really, really ought to know better -- makes it even more damning. FWIW, the paper continues to be listed among the publications of Prof. Ashok Kumar, the corresponding author.

This is the first time I have come across IIT researchers being implicated in a plagiarism case. Let's see how the institutional mechanisms at IIT-K deal with this case.

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Here's the text of the retraction notice:

This article has been retracted. Please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).

Reason: This article has been retracted at the request of the editor as the authors have plagiarised part of several papers that had already appeared in several journals. One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. Re-use of any data should be appropriately cited. As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and we apologise to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

From a limited, non-exhaustive check of the text, several elements of the text had been plagiarised from the following list of sources:

Dihydroxyacetone - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

StateMaster - Encyclopedia: Dihydroxyacetone

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From a quick scan, I found this section in the paper

... In the 1950s, Eva Wittgenstein at the University of Cincinnati did further research with dihydroxyacetone. Her studies involved using dihydroxyacetone as an oral drug for treating children with glycogen storage disease (Wittgenstein and Berry, 1960). The children received large oral doses of dihydroxyacetone, and sometimes spit or spilled the substance onto their skin. Healthcare workers noticed that the skin turned brown after a few hours of dihydroxyacetone exposure. Eva Wittgenstein continued to experiment with this unique substance, painting dihydroxyacetone liquid solutions onto her own skin. She was able to consistently reproduce the pigmentation effect, and noted that dihydroxyacetone did not penetrate beyond the stratum corneum, or dead skin surface layer.

which is very similar to this section in the Wikipedia entry:

In the 1950s Eva Wittgenstein at the University of Cincinnati did further research with dihydroxyacetone.[4][5][6][7] Her studies involved using DHA as an oral drug for assisting children with glycogen storage disease. The children received large doses of DHA by mouth, and sometimes spat or spilled the substance onto their skin. Healthcare workers noticed that the skin turned brown after a few hours of DHA exposure.

Eva Wittgenstein continued to experiment with this unique substance, painting DHA liquid solutions onto her own skin. She was able to consistently reproduce the pigmentation effect, and noted that DHA did not penetrate beyond the stratum corneum, or dead skin surface layer.

* * *

Here is a partial list of recent misconduct cases from India: NCCS, Anna University, Kakatiya University, SVU, NIT-K.

The NCCS case went through many investigations; a high level committee is rumoured to have resolved the case in favour of the authors of a retracted paper, but its report has not been made public. In the Anna University case, the verdict went the other way, with the authors receiving different levels of punishment. There has been no news in the other cases about whether the institution even launched an official investigation.

12 Comments:

  1. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    I wonder if they can use the "Ananda Kumar gambit": claim that it was they who wrote the Wikipedia sentence and so they were justified in re-using their own material.

    Seriously: I find I have to keep reminding students not to cut-paste into their reports, and if they must quote, to quote properly and attribute correctly... but now that our academies have done it too, and (initially, anyway) academy fellows offered this lame justification, maybe I should just give up. Why should students be held to a higher standard than academy fellows and institute directors?

    In the IITK case, I'm waiting for recriminations among the authors (very likely the student will be blamed).

  2. Rahul Basu said...

    Here is a justification (I am getting good at this - what with reading so many cases :-) ) The section that Abi has given as an example is just a history and background of the topic and as such has no bearing on the actual research done which is original...or some such. Oh, yeah, it's word for word...but then their English is so much better than ours, so why try to improve it....

  3. pradeepkumar pi said...

    IITK policy on plagiarism

    http://www.iitk.ac.in/dord/Plagiarismpolicy.pdf

  4. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    My predicted "blame the student" tack may be a bit harder for the senior author than I thought. Apparently two papers from this group have been retracted, and the only common author is the senior author. (The other was plagiarised from multiple sources: their "non-exhaustive check" lists five previous papers.)

  5. Middle Class Indian said...

    It would be highly unfair to blame it completely on the student. Unless the co-author seems to be a post-doc, I guess the faculty needs to take the brunt to check it up!

    One more news that recently came up on Nature was the problem of research sabotage which is generally overlooked when talking about research integrity-plagiarism.

    http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100929/full/467516a.html

    Sigh! The person in news from Uni. of Michigan seems to be an Indian!

  6. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    MCI - I'm not seriously suggesting that the student was to blame. I'm suggesting that that's the first excuse that the PI is likely to make (but that may be unfair: I don't know the PI and based the prediction on previous cases). Anyway, that excuse just got harder.

  7. Shencottah said...

    I like the inspiration from the world of chess - Anandkumar Gambit.

  8. Shencottah said...

    Oh...a is missed!! in my comment

  9. ktwop said...

    I am afraid (though I would like to think not) that plagiarism is endemic at many of the newer Indian Universities but the IIT's are not immune either.
    It cannot be blamed on just the student unless the supervisor himself retracted the paper (see for example the case of Nobel winner Linda Buck retracting papers where she was the supervisor).
    http://ktwop.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/nobel-prize-winner-retracts-more-papers/
    Dr. Krishna Pillai

  10. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    The IITK plagiarism policy sounds apologetic for taking action on plagiarism. As if to say "we know you guys are great, but these days you know, the problem of plagiarism has become really bad, so we have to do something about it. Hence this policy. Please don't feel bad about it.".

  11. NM said...

    I don't think the idea of plagiarism is really even entrenched seriously enough in the Indian education system. That is the sad fact. I don't remember ever being told by teachers that reproducing material, word for word from other works without citing is not done. I only learned to take it seriously in grad school in the US. Hope things change gradually.

  12. Rajeev said...

    This is not the first case of plagiarism in IITK. Much more serious cases have been ignored by IITK in the last few years. And the problem is, of course, not specific to IITK. How many institutes really take a tough stand on copying by students in an exam. I know IITK does not - it issues warnings only. But I am sure others don't take it seriously either.