Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

“[A]nonymous accusation…is procedurally immoral and irresponsible,” says researcher fighting allegations

with 8 comments

ssrnAn economist at Takming University of Science and Technology in Taiwan recently posted a preprint attempting to refute anonymous accusations that he repeated himself in critical reviews of textbooks.

From what we understand running the paper (originally in Chinese) through Google Translate, the reviews were published in Takming University’s in-house journal, Deming Journal. The editorial board received an anonymous letter on November 3 accusing Jen-Chang Liu of duplicating — aka self-plagiarizing — three of the reviews.

The editorial board provided Liu with the documents, and together with another Takming professor, Mark Yeats, he wrote a refutation of each of the accusations. It was published on December 20 on Social Science Research Network, a preprint repository for academic works.

Here’s the English abstract for “Academic Ethics: Plagiarism, Anonymous Accusation, and Self-Plagiarism”:

Based on the experience of using textbooks, I found that some publishers were not due diligence in publishing textbooks of adequate quality, some of which are even suspicious of violating Copyright Act. Consequently, I wrote a series of articles criticizing textbooks in a hope that the publishers would incorporate my suggestions when revising the textbooks. This would enhance the textbook quality and lower the cost of revising textbooks. In addition, teachers providing critiques and suggestion get credit of providing academic contribution, and readers are benefited from improved quality and lower price. However, my proposal and action summon anonymous accusation to my University that three of my research works are suspected of self-plagiarism. The purpose of this article is to refute the mistaken message implied by the anonymous accuser. I will explicate self-plagiarism from academic perspective, different from the wrong interpretation of the media report provided by the anomymous accuser. I proclaim that the purpose of academia is the cumulation of knowledge and the practical contribution to the society. Most importantly, we must fulfill the rights of speech, lecture, and publishing granted by the Constitution, citizens and scholar should discuss and communicate openly and publicly, instead of sending anonymous accusation. It is procedurally immoral and irresponsible.

We’ve reached out to Liu and to Takming University, and will update if we find anything else out.

In the meantime, here’s our take on anonymous whistleblowers.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen 

Written by Cat Ferguson

January 7th, 2015 at 11:54 am

  • Daniel January 8, 2015 at 10:45 am

    I agree with RW that whistleblowing must be possible anonymously. The ‘nice’ thing about plagiarism charges is that the evidence for or against the charges is available for all to see. It’s not a s/he-said-s/he-said issue. And sure, it would be nice if communication could be done openly, but to expect that open accusations would not have repercussions even if they are true is … naive. We wouldn’t accept an argument based on authority and we shouldn’t demand it to take issues seriously.

  • Neuroskeptic January 8, 2015 at 10:57 am

    If the accusations are true then they’re true, if they are false then they’re false. Either way it doesn’t matter who made them.

    • Frank Atodaso January 8, 2015 at 11:32 am

      Well, if a collaborator fudges some data, has a falling out and then anonymously reports his own misconduct to get the first/senior author in trouble – it might matter…

      Or if a supervisor encourages/requires data manipulation, has a falling out or gets busted himself and wants to blame their underlings and reports their other work knowing that fraudulent methods were used, it should matter.

      Lastly, if someone in the author’s lab discovers an honest mistake post-hoc and makes an anonymous report before allowing some reasonable time to reanalyze/reinterpret and correct the record in order to make more trouble, that’s an issue too I think.

      • Neuroskeptic January 9, 2015 at 9:14 am

        None of those possibilities apply in this case, however. “They’re anonymous” shouldn’t be used as a blanket defence against any possible allegation, although in some circumstances it might be a relevant thing to consider, as you note.

    • Anonymous January 9, 2015 at 8:31 am

      Um, yeah it does. False accusations will at best waste other people’s time and at worst cause real damage. If they are intentionally false, it absolutely matters who made them. There is a reason libel is a thing.

  • Anonymous January 8, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    Those who criticize anonymity have most likely never tested its strengths. Anonymity can also be used responsibly. The cases that Frank points out are also valid, but eventually the source will come to light because you are basically talking about a circle of knowns. Anonymity is an essential aspect of post publication peer review and it must be respected by those who criticize it as equally as anonymous reviewers and critics respect the right of those who wish to indicate their identities to do so. Anonymity is, in a sense, a true reviewer’s form of defense.

  • Jen-Chang Liu January 19, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    I am accused of self-plagiarism by a series of anomymous mails sent to my University. This results from my action of writing three Chinese papers (with English abstract) severely criticizing college textbook. Some of them are full of erroneous contents and some of them are suspicious. See, 2324338, 2496071
    All of them are written in Chinese with English abstract.
    If you have Chinese friends who have read these articles, he/she will tell you how ridiculous these textbooks are.
    My last work offends a Taiwanese teacher and she asked me to withdraw my works.
    I refused and then a series of anomymous paper mails sent to my school accusing me of self-plagiarism. This makes me write a series of reports to my University. One of my report is adapted as
    This is my work reacting the first anonymous accusation and is what RW posted here. You can imagine that she/he had made every effort to find any evidence against me, like plagiarism, but she/he decided to accuse me of self-plagiarism.
    Maybe you are wondering why I criticize the textbooks openly and get myself so much troubles. The first motive is that I pursue IMPACT and the number of impact factors. The second motive is that if judge, prosecutor, police can do their jobs openly without fear of getting revenges, I am convinced that I can do a similar jobs. I am a scholar who teach students and write papers for impact factors with extremely doubtful IMPACT. I decided to do something more than that.

    • Jen-Chang Liu January 19, 2015 at 12:47 pm

      I mean “…some of the Chinese textbooks are suspicious of plagiarism.” Sorry, I am not quite familiar with English writing.

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