Late last year, we covered a paper wondering why there were so few retractions in business and economics journals. That post was on our minds as we read a fantastic piece of reporting by reporters at the Scarlet & Black, the Grinnell College student paper.
The story concerns Brian Swart, a Grinnell economics professor who “abruptly resigned in the middle of last semester,” reporters Peter Sullivan and Hayes Gardner note. As is unfortunately often the case, the university wouldn’t say why Swart was leaving. But Sullivan and Gardner didn’t leave it there. They talked to “professors from other institutions involved in the situation” and got the food of investigative reporters everywhere: Documents. Those interviews and documents showed that:
He plagiarized a total of four articles, including his entire dissertation. Indiana University, where he received his Ph.D. in 2011, has now rescinded the degree. Swart was finally caught in September after he submitted a plagiarized paper to the journal Theoretical Economics and a referee noticed similarities to another paper.
One of the researchers whose work Swart copied was Gilles Serra, of the Center for Economics Research and Teaching in Mexico City. Swart’s moves sound like something out of Whac-a-Mole:
As Serra details in his letter to Grinnell, it even appears that Swart followed the changes Serra made to a paper over time and mimicked them. A 2008 paper by Swart plagiarized a 2007 paper by Serra. Serra made changes to his 2007 work in a paper he wrote that was published in 2010. A 2012 paper by Swart then plagiarized Serra’s 2010 paper and reflected the changes. Swart mimicked changes down to word choice. Serra replaced the words “candidate selection method” with the word “effort,” which Swart also did. Serra deleted his welfare analysis. So did Swart. Serra added references to two more papers. Swart added references to the same ones.
So here’s a paper that won’t join the small number of economics retractions in the literature, because it was caught before being published. Read the rest of the Scarlet & Black story for all of the details.
Hat tip: Micahel McBriarty