No, math prof, Google isn’t a proper literature search (and don’t plagiarize your dead mentor)

semigroupSometimes, it’s easiest and most straightforward if we just let retraction notices sink in before we comment on them.

Take this one from Semigroup Forum, signed by Chong-yih Wu of National Pingtung Institute of Commerce, Pingtung, Taiwan:

I withdraw my paper “On right congruences of semigroups having no proper essential congruences” which appeared in Semigroup Forum 85 (2012), 369–380.

This paper is a somewhat expanded version of a rough note by my late supervisor Robert H. Oehmke. He sent over that manuscript to me in 1999, suggesting that I join in by completing the results and then we would publish a paper jointly. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I could not complete the paper until much later, in 2009. Unfortunately, Professor Oehmke had passed away in 2003 before I had an opportunity to show him my completed research. After searching for relative keywords in Google and finding nothing of any significant relevance, I submitted the expanded paper to Semigroup Forum in 2009.

I was shocked to learn now that Professor Oehmke himself had published the results from his rough notes in a paper entitled “On the distributivity of the lattice of right congruences of a semigroup”, Hadronic Journal 27 (2004), 458–472, submitted in 2003. Till now, I was unaware of this paper and of his decision, taken years after writing to me, to publish his own results based on the rough notes alone.

Clearly, a very large part of my paper coincides practically with large parts of Oehmke’s paper. Had I known about Oehmke’s paper, I would not have submitted mine, and therefore I withdraw my paper. I understand that I should have included a proper acknowledgement of the contribution from Robert H. Oehmke to my paper, giving him due credit for a large part of the results. I apologize that I did not do so. In addition, the main theorem in my paper contains errors that are not present in Professor Oehmke’s original notes, for which mistake I also apologize.

So, to sum up:

  • Six years after a researcher dies, one of his trainees decides to publish himself a manuscript his supervisor sent him to co-author, without “proper acknowledgement of the contribution” from his deceased supervisor (in this case, that actually means no acknowledgement at all)
  • Former trainee manages to introduce errors into the paper
  • Said former trainee Googles his supervisor’s name and some “relative keywords,” whatever that means. Finding nothing, the former trainee proceeds with submission without doing a proper literature search that would have revealed a five-year old paper
  • Peer review, revisions, and production take nearly three years
  • Former trainee somehow finds out about his supervisor’s paper, and is “shocked”

The paper has yet to be cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. We asked Wu how the 2004 paper came to his attention, and he forwarded us an April 2013  message from Norman Reilly, an emeritus professor at Simon Fraser University:

The attention of the Semigroup Forum Council has been drawn to the fact that your paper

Chong-Yih Wu, “On right congruences of semigroups having no proper essential right congruences”, Semigroup Forum (2012) 85, 369-380,

is essentially the same as the paper

R.H.Oehmke, “On the distributivity of the lattice of right congruences of a semigroup”, Hadronic Journal (2004) 27, 458-472,

and, indeed, your paper repeats large sections of Oehmke’s paper word for word.

Copies of both papers are attached.  Do you have any comment?

Here’s the version of events Wu sent us, which is slightly different from that in the retraction notice:

I had done Google and literature search before publishing, but did not find Professor Oehmke’s paper.

Since maybe there were mistakes in the paper, I should have Professor Oehmke’s admission before I published the paper. However Professor Oehmke passed away in 2003, I could not have his admission.

When things happened I agreed add acknowledge in this paper; however the Journal seems don’t ask me to do this. I think the reason is that the mentioned mistakes in this paper could harm the Professor Oehmke’s respect. This is why I did not acknowledge Professor Oehmke in this paper.

“No proper essential congruences” indeed.

20 thoughts on “No, math prof, Google isn’t a proper literature search (and don’t plagiarize your dead mentor)”

  1. This is an interesting and weird case. I am struggling a bit with intent and meaning of the phrase “When things happened I agreed add acknowledge in this paper; however the Journal seems don’t ask me to do this.”

    1. I think he probably means something like “When the problem became known, I offered to add an acknowledgement (of prof. Oehmke’s contribution) to the paper, but the journal did not agree to this.” Indeed, a very strange case…

      1. I don’t know the policies of this particular journal, but some journals request that all acknowledged persons provide written permission. Perhaps someone should invest in a Ouija board.

      1. It’s indexed in Web of Science until ’87, so it might be that is wasn’t always that cranky (and Oehmke published there before).

        BTW: This editor-in-chief managed to get a book deal in 2002 with a fairly respectable publisher, and the book got reviewed in a not-so-cranky journal. The review itself reads like Sokal on drugs: I wonder whether the reviewer is the same guy who sued AAAS because they didn’t want to publish a crackpot paper in Science …

    1. Thanks! Certainly a picturesque collection of facts. “These journals are published by Hadronic Press, a firm of which Santilli’s spouse Carla Santilli is the sole officer/director.” Amazing!

  2. In dr Wu’s defense, more proper searches for “congruences” and/or “oehmke” in Web of Science do not come up with this paper either. Apparently more recent issues of “Hadronic Journal” are not widely indexed.
    That leaves of course the absence of acknowledgement or authorship of Oehmke,

    1. Google would have to be a good choice, They have scanned 20 million books from university libraries, and as far as I can see they have cooperations with all major providers of e-journals like sciencedirect. They seem to have indexed all or at least most electronic papers from them, not only the abstracts. And even more, the major plagiarism software used here in Germany in principal only cross checkes your text with google. Google itself should offer the best plagiarism software, as a supplement to google scholar, for free!

      1. And another thing. As a science writer, I am often looking for research in psychology, whith an emphasis on neuroscience and evolution. I used to look up our specialized database Psycinfo, but lately I use it less and less. Google scholar gives better results – for example including “grey” papers and so on. I wonder what is going on in other fields.

        1. “Google scholar gives better results – for example including “grey” papers and so on.”

          This is a good point, esp. for interdisciplinary research that spans many different fields in one paper and don’t really fit into just one category.

  3. As any mathematician knows, you do your literature search with mathscinet (a.k.a. Mathematical Reviews) and Zentralblatt (a.k.a zbMATH). The paper by Oehmke comes up in both if you search by his name.

    About the paper of Wu, Zentralblatt wrote:
    “The author replicates the results of R. Oehmke [Hadronic J. 27, No. 4, 459-472 (2004; Zbl 1066.20057)], finding necessary and sufficient conditions for the lattice of right congruences on a semigroup to be distributive, under the assumption in the title. Although the proof of sufficiency has been expanded and some material has been rephrased, substantial content has been taken verbatim from the cited paper.”

    And Mathscinet wrote about the paper of Wu:
    “This result was previously published in a posthumous paper by R. H. Oehmke [Hadronic J. 27 (2004), no. 4, 459–471; MR2123090 (2005m:20147)] that appeared in a journal that is difficult to find and quite unusual for papers on semigroups.”

    Also interesting to note is that Mathscinet wrote, amongst other things, the following about the paper by Oehmke:
    “The paper contains several disturbing typos and unclear formulations.”

  4. Must have been somewhat of a canundrum for the Springer journal “Semigroup Forum” to have to admit that one of their published papers is more or less a copy with some added errors of a paper that appeared in a very questionable journal linked to a private company that promises energy from ‘Magnegas”…

  5. “semigroup” and “congruence” may be serendipitous. As a self-proclaimed ethicist, I find this to be entirely incongruent. I doubt Wu is not aware of the passing of his advisor, and begging ignorance nowadays make sense. A literature search of similar work especially by his own advisor will definitely turn out that paper. The other incongruent part is the lack of communication between the duo. If they have collaborated with the rough notes, I would as the underling be so excited that I would refine it right away. Something’s wrong with the relationship. But these are speculations. It is good that we learn some lessons from this and keep good relationship with our advisor, dead or alive. In the former case, being just after Halloween, we are reminded that ghosts from the past can come back to haunt miscreants.

  6. One of the many reasons I like RW is that it tends to turn up interesting corners of research I’d never looked into — or (as in this this case) never even heard of. Thanks, Ivan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *