Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's not just your plagiarism, it's your reaction to your plagiarism

(Hello folks! I'm Brian Schmidt, newest blogger in the Eli Rabett bunny mill. My old blog's at Backseat Driving and I'll be hanging out here from now on. I can't touch the science as per Eli and John, but as a lawyer I have a nodding acquaintance with plagiarism, and will blog on non-climate stuff as well.)

At WattsUp, a "Professor Bob Ryan" commented on May 19th on one of the Wegman plagiarism posts:

Many students, no matter their origin, paste sections of text into their work files picked up from on-line sources. They then, because they are relatively inexperienced, get these copied tracts mixed up with their own commentaries and two years later when they start drafting their thesis inadvertently plagiarize. Unwittingly, when drafting a paper from one of the chapters for publication, some of this copied text is again inadvertently introduced. I and a co-supervisor working up the paper making corrections as we revise their work may spot the problems but then we may not.

That turned out to be similar to Wegman's defense, if you call it that, as reported by John Mashey and summarized by Andrew Gelman.

Professor Bob continues:

So to any who find Wegman guilty as charged remember this: one day when you are a senior academic and when the fire of self-righteous indignation does not burn quite so bright, it might just happen to you.

Or maybe we might feel differently, and I can speak as someone who came close to standing where Wegman stands some years ago. A large, student-authored project I was involved in stumbled partway into the problem of Professors Wegman and (described by) Bob, where shoddily-cited work transformed into un-cited work that was interspersed with all the properly-done work.

Two differences between our student project and Wegman's, tho. First, we caught our own problem before it was published instead of having someone else do it. We actually checked our own cites, and a praised-be student editor turned in the problem to me. Second, we reacted to the problem immediately. I lost a week of my summer tracking down errant paragraphs, digging them out of their rabbit holes, deleting them and replacing them with properly-cited summaries.

By contrast, Wegman knew of his problem since March 2010 (Mashey at 9), and did nothing about it even though it had by then been published in a supposedly-peer reviewed journal. When someone else finally tracks it down, Wegman then offers a minimal errata with citations, not even a removal and redo of the plagiarized material.

So no, I think this story's not over, and as someone who lost a week of California summer reacting differently to a similar situation, I think it doesn't deserve to be over.


Cymraeg llygoden said...

All academics (indeed, anyone at all) should be aware that inadvertent plagiarism is no defence against the charge of plagiarism (or its punishments). It seems some are not aware of this, and it seems that in at least one particular case that plagiarism, whether inadvertent or not, is institutionalised, despite very clear guidelines by that institution:

"Every professor should be guided by the following:

1. In his or her own work, the professor must scrupulously acknowledge every intellectual debtfor ideas, methods, and expressions-by means appropriate to the form of communication.

2. Any discovery of suspected plagiarism should be brought at once to the attention of the affected parties and, as appropriate, to the profession at large through proper and effective channels-typically through reviews in or communications to relevant scholarly journals. Committee B of the Association stands ready to provide its good offices in resolving questions of plagiarism, either independently or in collaboration with other professional societies.

3. Professors should work to ensure that their universities and professional societies adopt clear guidelines respecting plagiarism, appropriate to the disciplines involved, and should insist that regular procedures be in place to deal with violations of those guidelines. The gravity of a charge of plagiarism, by whomever it is made, must not diminish the diligence exercised in determining whether the accusation is valid. In all cases the most scrupulous procedural fairness must be observed, and penalties must be appropriate to the degree of offense.

4. Scholars must make dear the respective contributions of colleagues on a collaborative project, and professors who have the guidance of students as their responsibility must exercise the greatest care not to appropriate a student's ideas, research, or presentation to the professor's benefit; to do so is to abuse power and trust.

5. In dealing with graduate students, professors must demonstrate by precept and example the necessity of rigorous honesty in the use of sources and of utter respect for the work of others. The same expectations apply to the guidance of undergraduate students, with a special obligation to acquaint students new to the world of higher education with its standards and the means of ensuring intellectual honesty.

So says GMU's "Statement on Plagiarism" (http://www.gmu.edu/resources/facstaff/part-time/plagiarism.html), "adopted by the Council in June 1990, and endorsed by the Seventysixth Annual Meeting".

Anonymous said...

Or he could just submit an article to my journal, and we would roast his butt.

The editorial rabbit

Anonymous said...

Andrew Gelman just weighed in on this on his blog.


"The trouble is that the authors didn't seem to know what they are doing; one piece of evidence of this is that they plagiarized part of the their paper. It's not that the plagiarism automatically discredits the social network analysis; rather, the plagiarism is consistent with the general hypothesis that Said, Wegman, et al. didn't know what they were doing. It's fine for them to present graphs of four collaboration networks, but I don't see these graphs as really adding any support to the authors' normative claims."

There you have it: not only was the report plagiarised, but it was crap science anyway.


Anonymous said...

Little Mouse asks
This is nowhere near over is it?

Cymraeg llygoden said...

What odds on >1 retraction, >2 retractions?

John Mashey said...

Odds on retractions.
See Appendix B.1 of my Strange Tales and Emails report.

Some sharp-eyed bunnies have noticed that 2 letters were missing ( and actually there is a third, but it's r, so not so obvious.). Not public yet, but some are beavering away up North.

Anonymous said...

also the "student" should be listed as an author.
it sounds like your anecdote had the students as co-authors.

Horatio Algeranon said...

Is this the "Six Degrees of Plagiarism" game?

Anonymous said...

The Wegman et al. network seems peculiarly accident-prone as regards plagiarism. Doesn't it seem that either they thought nobody would notice, or that sloppy work was endemic. There also seems to be more than a touch of Dunning-Kruger regarding the social network analysis.

This seems to say a great deal about Wegman's network and it isn't good.

Anonymous said...

Inadvertent plagiarism happens. A motive to deliberate plagiarize: Change a few words in the original material to reverse the meaning. If you cite the researcher you copied from, sooner or later he'll know it, and will call you on it.

Welcome, Brian. I'd love to see a lawyer's opinions of Cuccinelli's briefs as AG of the State of Virginia. He's attempting to get sweeping subpoena's of UVA's emails and documents in order to pursue a charge of 'civil fraud' against the noted climate researcher Mann, who taught at UVA years ago. My untutored view is that these briefs are hogwash. Also the original charges.

Snow Bunny

John Mashey said...

(Yes, welcome Brian, a good guy and not-too-far-off neighbor):

snow bunny:
Well, here's the CID, which of course relies heavily on the Wegman Report (which has NOT been retracted, although it should have been long ago.) Of interest is discussion starting on p.18 about peer review,i.e., the WR material from which the article being retracted was derived.

Of course, inquiring bunnies would probably like to know exactly who helped Russell & Cuccinelli write the CID, since some of the topics seem unlikely to have been key elements of their GMU law degrees.

Ted Kirkpatrick said...

Nice to have a lawyer commenting on these points, Brian. I can imagine many other topics you can bring insight to.

I want to push back against all these comments about how difficult it is to detect plagiarism. Although true, this is beside the point. Plagiarism is easy to prevent in scholarly writing, if you care about the quality of your writing and the clarity of your logic. No one else's words can possibly frame your research question as well as your own, no one else's introductory section can possibly synthesize the research literature with the economy and focus your paper needs. Even if your introduction began as a rough draft made of entirely copied words, as you edited it to meet your purpose, the words and logic would transform into your own and you would delete irrelevant material and add new stuff. (I'm not recommending this approach to writing, by the way, just noting how it would play out.)

The biggest failure of Said et al.'s introduction was not that it was plagiarized (bad as that is) but that it didn't fulfill any of the goals of an introduction. Read their introduction, then stop and try to predict the rest of the paper. You'll have no idea where the paper is going. None at all.

The biggest failure of the CSDA review process was not that it didn't detect plagiarism but that it didn't detect utter hooey. You don't need to be a social networking specialist to spot the big flaws in this paper. It was easy to see, front and centre.

Anonymous said...

The Wegman et al. network seems peculiarly accident-prone as regards plagiarism.

- Anon, + link

And tentacles extend to McShane & Wyner.

Pete Dunkelberg

Anonymous said...

My comments should not be taken as justification of plagiarism but an explanation of how it can occur. However, the point I make is that sanctimony often precedes ignominy and both sides of the climate debate should beware of using charges of plagiarism as a tool to discredit the other.

Bob Ryan

Brian said...

I thank everybunny for the welcoming carrots. I did a few posts at my old digs on Round 1 of Cucinelli:


He's tried to fix his many flaws in a Round 2 that I've not paid as close attention as I should've.

Prof. Ryan: I think (accurate) charges of plagiarism are legitimate tools either side of a debate can use to point out shoddy work on the other, and a no-big-deal response, or non-response for a year as we saw with Wegman, makes it even worse.

Anonymous said...

Brian, I agree up to a point but identifying incorrect attribution should not take away from reflecting upon the conclusion of a study. However, I suspect you like me, do not know the full facts of the Wegman case. But even if they were known - I would be very cautious about rushing to judgement and, before you ask, I take the same line with those who claim academic misconduct against Mann and others. Its the science and what we can conclude from the science that matters. All the rest is a self-serving diversion.

Bob Ryan

Martin Vermeer said...

> both sides of the climate debate should beware of

> I take the same line with

Yep. Equal rights for cops and robbers, right Prof. Ryan?

Cymraeg llygoden said...

There are two issues here Martin: (i) equal rights and (ii) "both sides of the climate debate".

(i) Equal rights for "cops and robbers" is a must. It underpins the rule of law (even though if you play by the rules it can at times seem unfair when others don't). All must be treated in the same manner. Plagiarism is plagiarism (inadvertent or deliberate). Bad science/research is bad science/research. There must be a common standard by which work must be judged; and when that standard is circumvented, the consequent fallout is your fault.

(ii) "Both sides of the climate debate". There is only one side: the side of science, the side that doesn't cherry pick, the side that doesn't tell porky pies for political expediency and possibly for pecuniary advantage.

People who use the phrase "both sides of the climate debate" should define exactly what they mean by it. Singer or Schmidt? Watts or Tamino? Durkin or Gore? ...

chris said...

”So to any who find Wegman guilty as charged remember this: one day when you are a senior academic and when the fire of self-righteous indignation does not burn quite so bright, it might just happen to you.”

That really is nonsense Prof Ryan. First Wegman is “guilty as charged”. Plagiarism is plagiarism, and plagiarism serious enough to force one’s paper retraction is serious plagiarism. There’s no uncertainty about that, nor any justification for equivocation.

“…it might happen to you….”! Really? You make it sound as if plagiarism is some sort of external miasma that may descend to engulf one unnoticed. Plagiarism is an act of knowing deception. Plagiarism doesn’t “happen” to people that don’t plagiarise.

Interestingly enough in some of the teaching literature at my university, plagiarism is sometimes described (to first or second year undergrad students remember) in that sense of being a creepy active force that might sneak up and git you! So you occasionally see phrases like “…in this exercise students are shown examples of plagiarism (copying; patchwork plagiarism; plagiarism by paraphrasing) and shown how to avoid it”. I’ve felt before that this would be better stated as “…in this exercise students are shown examples of plagiarism (copying; patchwork plagiarism; plagiarism by paraphrasing) and told not to do it. Obviously any “senior academic” knows very well what plagiarism is and simply shouldn’t do it.

Prof Ryan, if you don’t plagiarise it won’t “happen to you”.

Martin Vermeer said...

Cymraeg llygoden, legalistically, agreed -- I meant it metaphorically. One right you forfeit with a documented history of telling lies and consorting with liars is the "right" to be taken seriously. Same with peddlers of false balance like Prof. Ryan. Can you say "fairness troll"?

John Mashey said...

re: "rush to judgment"
Let's see, DC started posting examples in December 2009,
did the full-color side-by-sides of 10 pages of the WR http://deepclimate.org/2010/07/29/wegman-report-update-part-1-more-dubious-scholarship-in-full-colour/">July 2010.

Others kept popping up, such as the dissertations.

I showed another 25 pages of side-by-sides, as well as integrating the WR+Said(2008) + Sharabti(2008) + Rezazad (2009) findings in September

Cut-and-paste (or copy-and-paste for those who prefer that), with minimal edits/rearrangments is the *easiest* form of academic fraud to prove. The edits show somebody didn't just happen to forget to quote.

Rice handled their side (admittedly simpler) in *9 days*.

So, "rush to judgement"?

(I'd say, "run away, run away, don't look, try to ignore" is more descriptive. Wait 5 months before first meeting on an *inquiry* committee, jsu to look at few pages of text and see if there's enough reason to do an investigation.)

John Mashey said...

SIGMU p.10 quotes Dan Vergano’s first story in Oct 2010, of which I wrote:

‘His story included a later comment that has confused some people:
“Walsch clarified on Sunday that Bradley’s complaint is under a formal investigation by the university, and has moved past a preliminary “inquiry” to a committee effort."

GMU policies say: preliminary assessment, inquiry committee and investigation committee, A.1. Stough had many times specified inquiry not investigation. Perhaps he and Walsch were not communicating.’

Then the Nature editorial this week had:
‘Daniel Walsch, spokesperson for George Mason University, says that an internal review of the matter began in the autumn. He cannot estimate when that review will be complete, and, until it is, he says, the university regards it as a “personnel matter” and will not comment further. He adds that the review is still in the “inquiry” phase to ascertain whether a full investigation should be held. “Whether it is fast or slow is not as important as it being thorough and fair,” says Walsch.’

Vergano checks things, and updated his story:
‘Update: GMU spokesman Dan Walsch clarified in the May 26, 2011, Nature journal that the year-old investigation is still in its preliminary “inquiry” stage, rather than a full investigation.

“In terms of my comments this past fall, my understanding of the internal procedure was not as clear then as it is now,” Walsch says, by email.]’

Stough had claimed (p.31) that the inquiry committee was formed April 2010, but in email (p.32) first meeting didn’t happen until August. At least Walsch’s current comments are consistent with that.

At least, GMU is not "rushing to judgment."

EliRabett said...

Any dreams GMU had of this going away just went poof with the Nature editorial

Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny says:

John Mashey:

This little bunny was hopping about and noticed Fred Singer sent not just one, but two, letters to the Richmond Times Dispatch endorsing Cuccinelli's quest.

"I ... am primarily interested in examining the climate data that may have been suppressed -- and the tricks used in doing so -- all to convince the world that global temperatures were rising and not declining."

"It is quite likely that Cuccinelli will discover a smoking gun. Perhaps some of the e-mails that British researcher professor Phil Jones admitted to having deleted will tell us just when Mann became aware that the hockey stick was bogus and a fraud."

This bunny cannot say these letters to the editor from the Great Fred are a smoking gun showing involvement in Cuccinelli's court brief. Nor that Fred's association with GMU links him to the selection of Wegman to do "independent statistics". Maybe it's all mere coincidence.