Stiff sentence for French researcher found guilty of plagiarizing

A French court ruled that Sixou was not guilty of aiding his wife, Christine Marchal-Sixou, in her plagiarizing of a fellow student's work.
A French court ruled that Sixou was not guilty of aiding his wife, Christine Marchal-Sixou, in her plagiarizing of a fellow student’s work.

We have a follow-up from François-Xavier Coudert on the trial of two French odontology researchers accused of stealing from — and abetting the theft of — the work of a graduate student.

A French court has ruled that French dental researcher accused of plagiarizing the thesis of a fellow student was guilty of the charge, but that her husband was not complicit in the crime, according to accounts in the French media.

As we reported the other day, Christine Marchal-Sixou and her lab-head-turned-husband, Michel Sixou, had been on trial for plagiarism and complicity in the case.

The court’s sentence was surprisingly heavy and went beyond what the prosecution sought. Marchal-Sixou received a 5,000 euro fine and ordered to pay 20,000 euros in compensatory damages to the student, Samer Nuwwareh.

The court said Marchal-Sixou must retract her own thesis – which used Nuwareh’s work but did not cite it – and that all published copies of the document be destroyed. And it ruled that the decision must be posted publicly at l’université Paul-Sabatier in Toulouse, where she is an associate professor, and that of her co-advisor, in Paris.

Sixou, however, was found not guilty on the charge of complicity. The court expressed concern about the context of the case

as it appears that Samer Nuwwareh was taken on as an intern, by Michel Sixou, purely with the aim of working on his wife’s research agenda

and noting that

Sixou did not at any point warn his wife about the text she was borrowing.

However, the court concluded that

these concerns are ethical and deontological, but are not a legal basis characterizing complicity.

10 thoughts on “Stiff sentence for French researcher found guilty of plagiarizing”

  1. Very interesting story, and thanks to the court to give his right back to the student ! Now let’s see how the Paul Sabatier University will react with the court decision!

    1. The judgement is only about “contrefaçon d’une œuvre de l’esprit”, i.e., copyright law. If she copied, then she is guilty. Her husband cannot be found guilty of what she did (unless proved that he helped her). In fact, the university may be found guilty before him (because it reproduces the these).

      The husband-as-head-of-the-lab has not much involvement, because the degree is granted by the university, not the lab.

      More interesting in this case, the degree was granted by University Paris 7 which has nothing to do with the faculty of dentistry of Toulouse 3 (to which the lab is affiliated, which granted the degree of the student and now is the employer of the woman). Nothing problematic in the last sentence, this is commonplace in France.

      The husband-as-thesis-supervisor may be guilty of misconduct, but the law is not about such misconducts.

      Obviously the case will go to appeal and we will hear about it again.

      The law: http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCode.do;jsessionid=1272C372EE01905B7EE4B21216C35804.tpdjo06v_1?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006069414&dateTexte=20131227

  2. Were serious cases of research misconduct treated in similar fashion in the USA, I believe it would have
    a deterrent effect. It is a federal crime to submit fraudulent data in a grant application to NIH or NSF.
    however such prosecutions are rare..

    Don K .

    1. As I indicated in the last post about this case. This is not justice. So a 20K euro fine is nothing. This could be loose change in the pockets of a person who probably gained 100-fold more through salaries, grants, and expenses paid. Stripping a PhD is also nothing. This is not justice in scientific eyes. Only one form of justice exists, a return to the French Revolution, without physical death, but where justice is radical: http://www.studymode.com/essays/The-Positive-Effects-Of-The-French-690603.html. Vive la Revolution!

  3. At least , a step up towards criminalizing research misconduct. What about ill-gotten gains (her degree, associate professorship?)

    1. This story will only end once we hear what the university does about it…If she keeps her job, it will, of course be a travesty with many an ill gotten gain.

      With that said, I do wonder a bit how much we are not seeing… professors hire technicians to help on grad students’ projects all the time. Is it possible that the first these was actually largely plagiarized from work that the tech/masters student received from the wife, but he simply published it first?

  4. There are here in fact two issues. Firstly, there are two spouses with an hierarchical relation between them. Well it must be clear that that should be avoided by all means, by the two involved. They should both take responsibility for that.

    The second issue is that of culture. Is this punishment within the French culture sufficiently clear and appropriate? Not so long ago, there was on retraction watch, an example of an Asian scientist who was caught with some fraudulent science, and he was put to shame without fine, just by publishing his name and what he had done. That was devastating for the person involved and his career was finished – is my estimation. Some comments from American origin referred to the necessity to ban somebody like that from receiving grants – as was suggested in one of the comments here as an example. The American comment shows that there real punishment is through the wallet. Also culture, but then in the US.

    This .brings up the question whether the global science community should not have its own ‘rules of engagement’? But which ones, and what is clear and appropriate? Or, just leave it to local legal systems?

  5. This is a hallmark case which shows what “works” when the fraudsters and their institutions refuse to Do_the_Right_Thing! Plagiarism is a theft and should be treated as such, full stop.
    This case is a lesson for all plagiarists who think that they can get away with it.
    More importantly, this case is a lesson for all institutions which (to the best of my knowledge, so far) do nothing, or even worse — actively do cover up plagiarists if they have higher position than the victim. Can anyone provide at least one case when an institution did the right thing if a superior plagiarized his/her subordinates?
    When the Academia can not and/or does not want to Do_the_Right_Thing, the Courts are doing this instead.
    Bravo, France! The rest of the world should catch up.

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