Wednesday, September 05, 2007


"The trouble began last November, when Salti and another graduate student, Oktay Aydogdu, underwent oral examinations for their PhDs. Although both had an extensive list of publications in gravitational physics, they struggled to answer even basic, high-school-level questions, according to Özgür Sarioğlu, an associate professor at METU. “They didn’t know fundamental stuff like newtonian mechanics,” he says. Suspicious, one of Sarioğlu’s colleagues, Ayşe Karasu, began to look through the duo’s publication record. Using Google, she quickly turned up a paper from which it seemed the students had lifted several lengthy sections. By mid-February, faculty members had identified dozens of articles on arXiv that they say seemed to be partly or completely plagiarized."
Even sadder:
"Katepalli Sreenivasan, director of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, which has a programme of collaboration with physicists from the developing world, agrees. “There are some cultures in which plagiarism is not even regarded as deplorable", he says.
The scale of the plagiarism also seems to be huge; 70 papers in all penned by 15 authors. Peter Woit has a list of all the journals and articles.

When it comes to plagiarism, I always have some thoughts:

1. A lot of researchers who publish low-level or relatively less important work are tempted to plagiarise because they feel fairly sure that very few people, if any, will check their work since it's not high profile. Consider a researcher at some obscure Turkish university. He knows that he is not going to win a Nobel Prize. But he thinks that he can slip one (or many) through, and then by sheer number of publications, can get a tenured position in some Turkish university and have job security for the rest of his life. If inexcusable, it's not that hard to understand the temptation and the logic behind such thinking. The dilemma of detecting such plagiarism is really a riddle of the age of information explosion. Who has the time to plough through the thousands of articles published every day, especially if only 1% of them are non-trivial?

The real burden here is on the referees and the journal editors, and a large share of the blame does belong to them. But even there, I can sympathize with the scores of fact checkers who, deluged with so many papers that are keeping them away from their real work, simply have to take a few pieces at face value. Nobody can confirm everything he or she receives. Unless there is some glaring discrepancy, there is usually no need for a referee or editor to check and triple check every single fact. There must be some space for trust and faith in paper submission and evaluation. However, there are also some papers that do have glaring discrpancies and holes, which still manage to get past the editors and referees. In such cases, the blame does belong on their shoulders.

2. On the other hand, that makes me find the antics of people like Hendrik Schon astonishing. How can they think they can get away with publishing so many groundbreaking-sounding papers in such high profile journals, when dozens of researchers will pounce on them and scrutinize them and try to duplicate the results?



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