CTRL-V Plagiarism in the News - Issue 19

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Feb 11, 2014 6:05:00 PM



Russia’s Children Ombudsman Plagiarized Dissertation - Experts

First off this issue, Grigoriy Sisoev at Ria Novosti reports that Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, is facing renewed allegations of plagiarism, though there seems to be at least some controversy as to who is making them. Back in April of 2013, the citizen group Dissernet reported that Astakhov had plagiarized in his 2002 dissertation. Astakhov strongly denied the allegations, saying that his dissertation was based heavily on his master’s thesis. However, last week, Dissernet announced that the Russian State Library had completed a study they had commissions and not only affirmed their findings, but expanded them. According to Dissernet, the Russian State Library found that about a third of the dissertation was verbatim or near-verbatim plagiarized from third party sources and another third was recycled from Astakhov’s earlier work, primarily his thesis. All in all, they found that some 99.3% of the dissertation was either verbatim or paraphrased plagiarism. But an additional article in the Moscow Times seems to rebut these claims, with the Russian State Library saying that no such analysis has been done. Regardless, the issue of whether or not Astakhov plagiarized is likely moot. Not only has the Kremlin repeatedly refused to terminate Astakhov, but the nation’s education ministry has said that it is impossible to challenge either the dissertation or the degree, saying that the three-year period for such challenges has passed.

Analysis: When dealing with allegations of ethical failings, it’s important for schools, governments and other bodies to operate in a transparent manner. Failure to do so gives the appearance of circling the wagons and covering up key issues. Germany, for all of the negative press it has gotten over plagiarism issues, has traditionally been transparent and quick to handle any allegations of plagiarism by government officials. This is especially true when compared to other countries caught in similar situations such as Hungary and Romania. Russia, however, has performed less admirably in this area. Not just with this case but with other challenges as well. Though the citizenry in Russia has become increasingly active in detecting plagiarism and cheating by the nation’s leaders, primarily through Dissernet, that interest and activity has not led to any drastic change. Most disturbing of all is the three year “statute of limitations” on challenges to a dissertation or a degree. Given the myriad of ways one can cheat or take unethical shortcuts on a dissertation, it could be many years before any issues are discovered. While it’s tempting to impose such limitations rather than dealing with plagiarism or other ethical issues on older dissertations, it basically provides a free pass to anyone who cheats their way to a degree, so long as they can get away with it for longer than three years. Compare this, once again, to Germany, which has routinely investigated allegations of plagiarism that are over 20 years old and it’s easy to see why Germany  may be making more plagiarism headlines, but is handling them much more effectively.


Madagascar President’s Inaugural Address is Awfully Similar To Speech Nicolas Sarkozy Delivered

Next up today, Sara Gates at The Huffington Post reports that Madagascar’s new President, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, has found himself facing allegations of plagiarism just days after taking the oath of office. Several outlets noticed similarities between the inaugural address Rajaonarimampianina gave and a speech given by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. A YouTube video has been posted highlighting similarities between the two speeches, which included several passages repeated near-verbatim but without any attribution. Rajaonarimampianina, for his part, has responded to the allegations but not denied them. His campaign director, Jaobarison Randrianarivon, told the Agence France-Presse that “You can take a quote from a person when needed.” The speech was well received by the crowd when it was given but, since then, the press has mostly focused on the plagiarism issues.

Analysis: As the newly-elected leader of Madagascar, Rajaonarimampianina, undoubtedly, has a slew of challenges and important matters to attend to. Unfortunately, due to what appears to be his own doing, he now has an additional concern, a plagiarism scandal right out of the gate. Like most politicians caught in plagiarism scandals, Rajaonarimampianina would be wise to address the matter straightforwardly, apologize for any transgressions and avoid future mistakes. The faster he is able to put this behind him, the quicker he can return to the matters he was elected to handle. But what is striking about this alleged plagiarism is not just that another politician is embroiled in allegations of lifting content in a speech, but the source. Sarkozy is a widely-known name in international politics and his speeches are well known. Where most politicians lift from sources unlikely to be familiar to their audience, Rajaonarimampianina seems to have lifted from one of the best-known politicians on earth. The response from Rajaonarimampianina’s camp is also less-than-encouraging. Much like Rand Paul did late last year, Rajaonarimampianina’s team does not seem to understand the nature of the allegations. Rajaonarimampianina is not accused of merely quoting Sarkozy, but rather, using his words without credit. Hopefully, this will just be a speed bump and a one-time mistake for a newly-elected President, one that he can leave behind and move on from with time.


Scholar Accused of Plagiarism

Also in this edition, The Saudi Gazette reports that an anonymous Saudi Arabian scholar is being targeted by a complaint by Abdulrahman Al-Lahim, another scholar who claims that the defendant copied word for word passages in a book written by his father. The unnamed scholar is accused of taking the passages and using them on a radio show without citation or indicating that they were quotes. The book involved, “Examples from the Lives of the Prophet’s Companions” is still published in both Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Al-Lahim said that “This is a clear case of intellectual theft,” and is demanding in his complaint to the Ministry of Culture that the episodes of the radio show involved not be aired and is requesting SR500,000 ($133,000) in compensation. According to the Saudi Gazette, the scholar in question has been involved in other allegations of plagiarism, previously another scholar had won a similar case against him for lifting her work without credit.

Analysis: What makes this case unusual is not just the allegations of plagiarism in scholarly work, in this case religious works, but the application of copyright law. Though plagiarism and copyright routinely overlap in the creative world, we rarely see them collide so directly in the scholarly world. However, the move is likely to be a controversial one, especially within Saudi Arabia. As the comments to the original article show, many view works of religious scholarship as not warranting copyright protection, that their greater purpose is to be spread, regardless of who takes credit. Most likely, this case is not likely to be an isolated one. As research is increasingly treated as a commercial product, for better or worse, it’s more likely that plagiarism issues will result in copyright disputes in academia just the same as they often do in film, books, songs and so forth.


Plagiarism Slur Hits Jamia Researchers as Software Finds 59 out of 61 Projects Contain Copied Material

Next in this issue, Heena Kausar at The Mail Online reports that at Jamia Millia Islamia, a University in India, the recent introduction of plagiarism detection software has created a stir by detecting that 59 of 61 projects done by faculty and students in the past three months contained copy work. Four of the projects had between 50 and 75 percent copied materials while another seventeen had between 25 and 50 percent. The survey included dissertations and research works submitted by research scholars at the university. The university said that it has given the works involved back to their authors to rework. They hope that, by using the software, they can “nip the problem in the bud” and deter future copying. The school added that all new research submissions, including those by faculty and those by students, will be run through the software before being finalized.

Analysis: Introducing plagiarism software can be something of a culture shock. Students and researchers who may have been used to freely copying from other sources need to unlearn bad habits and make the necessary shifts to avoid problems in the future. While, considering the numbers, it may be a bit late to say that the school is nipping the problem in the bud, they are certainly working to turn things around. Without a doubt, the first few years will be tough, but if the school can work through it and combine the tools with a robust program to educate and teach about proper paraphrasing and citation, things will improve. And when they do improve, the quality of the writing, the research and the science will improve as well, making it not just a win for the university, but for researchers everywhere.


Chicago State Provost Facing Inquiry Over Dissertation

Also this month, Jodi Cohen at the Chicago Tribune reports that Angela Henderson, the interim Provost at Chicago State University (CSU) is facing allegations that her dissertation, which she received from University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), was plagiarized. The investigation is unusual because Henderson, as the Provost, is the highest ranking academic at CSU and is responsible for many elements of academic affairs including ethical issues. The scandal hits CSU particularly hard as it has already been mired in controversy over a faculty blog that has been critical of the school, having sent it a cease and desist notice over alleged trademark violations. UIC is said to be taking the complaint “very seriously” and another expert consulted by the college said the dissertation was “problematic”. It is unclear what action UIC will take if they find that the dissertation was plagiarized and, if there is such a finding, how CSU may respond.

Analysis: CSU is clearly an embattled school. The issue about the blog highlights the troubles the university is having and the fact they felt the need to involve lawyers at all, even if just to send a cease and desist, shows how deep the divide is between some in the faculty and administration. It’s that divide and that blog that prompted the investigation into Henderson and that investigation now presents the new challenge. Regardless of whether Henderson plagiarized or not, the allegations and controversy set the stage to either give credence to what the faculty says or, perhaps, be a chance at a new beginning. Rather than circling the wagons, a robust, transparent investigation with the aid of the faculty making the accusations, could be a chance to mend some of the fences and bring credibility to the administration. In short, as serious as it is, the actual question of plagiarism is almost a sideshow. The real issue is the divide that clearly exists and how to mend it, for the benefit of the college and its students. Handling this issue poorly will only deepen that divide and reinforce the resolve of the critics.


Benton School Superintendent Apologizes for Plagiarism

Next up, Mikel Livingston at the Journal and Courier reports that, in Indiana, Benton Community School Corporation Superintendent Destin Haas has apologized for three instances of plagiarism in memos sent to his staff. In one instance, a May 6, 2013 letter sent to the staff plagiarized passages from a letter from Providence, RI Mayor Angel Taveras that was sent a year earlier. Haas, who has been the Superintendent since 2011, has apologized to Mayor Taveras as well as the Gary Community School Corporation, which he is accused of having plagiarized in another memo sent in December of 2012, lifting from a nearly identical letter sent four days earlier. However, Haas did not admit to the plagiarism when speaking to the press saying that “If I did plagiarize, I did not do it on purpose.” He added that he routinely uses templates from resource books when drafting letters. Both Mayor Taveras office and the Gary Community School Corporation say that the letters Haas pulled from are original. Haas is already facing termination from the school board due to an unspecified contract reason.

Analysis: Superintendents, just like any other officials in any kind of school, must be held to the highest regard when it comes to academic integrity. It is their example that students will look to when faced with their own ethical conundrums as they make their way through their academic career. Though the issue of stock letters doesn’t appear to be present in this case, at least not according to those Haas is accused of having lifted from, it is an interesting question: When and if is it acceptable for Superintendents, and other officials, to use stock letters in their work? To say this is a gray area is an understatement. Since students don’t have the luxury of turning in stock assignments, the use of stock letters will be frowned upon by many in all circumstances. Furthermore, stock letters often cause confusion, especially with the media, and result in plagiarism allegations that can cause harm even if they are eventually resolved. As such, even if one feels that the use of stock letters is acceptable, it’s likely still unwise. Writing original letters and creating original work can save a great deal of headache down the road.


Bulgarian Artist to Sue Sochi Olympics for Plagiarism

Finally today, Novinite reports that, as the Winter Olympics ramp up in Sochi, Russia, even the international games are not immune to plagiarism controversies. Elena Parusheva, a Bulgarian artist working in France has filed a lawsuit in Paris and with Interpol against two Russian companies, Design Depot and Energomash-BZEM claiming that they used her idea for a high-voltage pylon in the shape of a jumping skier. Parusheva claims that she met with the Adviser to the Chairman of Russian Federal Grild’s management board at an exhibition in 2010. They allegedly discussed a collaboration for the 2014 Olympics, but that, after she sent some of her designs over, communication stopped. She then claims that, in 2013, she saw publications in Russian media that showed sculptures very close to her designs.

Analysis: A similar controversy erupted over the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London as an American design studio accused the London Olympic Committee of plagiarizing its design for the Olympic torch. The claim did not go anywhere legally due to contract issues and those same issues also presented the studio from airing their grievances until nearly a year after the games finished. That is typical for these types of situations. If contract issues don’t get in the way, then the gray legal area of plagiarism of design and ideas do. It is very difficult to prove that something was plagiarized and that, if it were, it qualifies for protection under copyright, trademark or patent. As such, Parusheva has an uphill battle with her claims. If she’s able to make them work, she could easily be the greatest underdog story in this year’s Olympics.

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Topics: Current Events