Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Inappropriate Appropriation in Academia

Knowledge is a public good, at least this is typically mentioned. However, academia as a knowledge enterprise experience a lot of problems of inappropriate behavior. As a Dutch citizen the recent cases of Dutch social psychologists varying from academic fraud (Stapel) to unwillingness to give transparency on experimental protocols (Dijksterhuis) comes to mind.

Everyone can make mistakes, but fraud and plagiarism are serious issues that may be more frequent than we acknowledge. Due to the pressure of publishing we may have less time to read in detail the literature and test the work of others, and there is a potential incentive and opportunity for people to cheat.

I am writing about this because a former PhD student of mine was asked to review a paper for a journal that appeared to be a copy of a chapter in his dissertation. His dissertation was not mentioned in the article. We informed the journal of the plagiarism and it will not be published in that journal. Since the paper is not published we cannot do anything about this inappropriate behavior and the plagiarizers do not respond to emails. 

Out of curiosity I googled the plagiarizing authors Yu Changrui of the School of Information Management and Engineering, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Shanghai, China and Luo Yan of the Sydney Institute of Language and Commerce, Shanghai University, Shanghai, China and came across various papers including:

Changrui, Y., and L. Yan (2011) Research on the Development of Customer Ontology,
High Performance Networking, Computing, and Communication Systems, Communications in Computer and Information Science, 163: 584-591

Abstract: This paper is a comprehensive description of Customer Ontology, a collection of terms and definitions relevant to Customer Relationship Management. We state its intended purposes, describe how we went about building it, define all the terms and describe our experiences in converting these into formal definitions. We then describe how we used the Customer Ontology for modeling Enterprise CRM.

I googled the content of the abstract and notice a large overlap with another paper.

Uschold, M., M. King, S. Moralee and Y. Zorgios (1998) The Enterprise Ontology, The Knowledge Engineering Review, 13(1): 31-89

This is a comprehensive description of the Enterprise Ontology, a collection of terms and definitions relevant to business enterprises. We state its intended purposes, describe how we went about building it, define all the terms and describe our experiences in converting these into formal definitions. We then describe how we used the Enterprise Ontology and give an evaluation which compares the actual uses with original purposes.

This might be a remarkable coincidence and they don’t cite the Uschold paper. I have not access to copies of both papers to compare the content, so I cannot really verify whether there is more than a coincidence. I contacted the journal of the two publications in case they want to check. It might be that Yu Changrui and Luo Yan have more publications with remarkable resemblances with other papers.

With the increasing amount of journals and the pressure by scholars to publish it is not strange that we see misbehavior. Journals have a responsibility here to monitor, but many journals also like to have their journals filled and do not have the capacity to check on plagiarism like we can do with assignments of students. Do people now about services where journals can check on plagiarism of submitted papers? This would be an important service to reduce the cheating and would be a worthwhile investment by funding agencies to avoid scholars get funding for plagiarized work.