Dutch economist Nijkamp embroiled in plagiarism and duplication scandal

Peter Nijkamp

The Dutch papers are reporting that Peter Nijkamp, one of the leading economists in The Netherlands, has been embroiled in what looks like a self-plagiarism scandal following the cancellation of a thesis defense by one of his graduate students because of plagiarism.

We say “what looks like” because it’s tough to figure out what’s alleged here, given our reliance on translations. Best we can tell, the allegations against his graduate student are for plagiarism, while those against Nijkamp are for duplication, a.k.a. self-plagiarism.

According to the Google translation of this piece in our friends at the Volkskrant:

VU University Amsterdam kept a plagiarism case involving one of its top scientists, the economist Peter Nijkamp, under wraps for months, according to a research report published anonymously on the website of the Association of Universities (VSNU).

Although the university for a long time insisted that ‘nothing serious’ was wrong with the thesis of the economist Karima Kourtit, it now appears from the report on the VSNU site that there is plagiarism. And not only Kourtit but her supervisor Peter Nijkamp is to blame, is to read the report.

In several places in the dissertation is plagiarism. The commission that investigated the case concluded that a chapter has been established on the basis of a workshop. Kourtit has contributions from participants in the dissertation without acknowledgment. “The reader gets the impression that the text comes from the author of the chapter,” writes the committee.

As NRC reports of Nijkamp’s work:

The sample (of which 6 times and 8 times self-plagiarism emerged) raises questions about the extent of Nijkamp violations of academic publishing rules. In an inquiry last year headed by former Academy president Pieter Drenth, Nijkamp said he believes that reusing previous texts is permitted, even if these are written by someone who is not an author of the new publication. The Drenth commission was established in May 2013 after an anonymous complaint about plagiarism Nijkamps researcher Karima Kourtit, whose promotion had to be postponed.

NRC also includes four examples of potential self-plagiarism.

Drenth was also head of a committee that investigated the work of Diederik Stapel.

NRC adds that all of Nijkamp’s work will be under scrutiny for self-plagiarism. We can’t tell if conventional plagiarism also is suspected in the case against the economist, who won his country’s highest science award in the field, the Spinoza Prize, in 1996. Thirteen of his papers have been cited more than 50 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

So far we’re not aware of any other retractions in the case, but we’ll update this post as we learn more.

Update, 5:30 p.m. Eastern, 1/8/14: It seems Kourtit may have inflated her credentials in at least one publication, according to this link.

Hat tips: Wim Weber, commenter Internal Affairs, James Coyne

84 thoughts on “Dutch economist Nijkamp embroiled in plagiarism and duplication scandal”

        1. At the end of the thesis there is a convenient overview of the publications by Kourtit in 2009-2013.
          I counted:

          22 Articles in Journals (Published)
          19 Articles in Journals (Forthcoming)
          4 Articles in Books (Published)
          4 Articles in Books (Forthcoming)
          2 Edited Books
          14 Special Issues of Journals
          2 Book Reviews
          6 Working Papers and Other Documents

          73 Total in 4 years
          18 items per year
          1 item every 3 weeks

          Pretty much, especially compared to Peter Higgs in 32 years (“fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work”).

    1. and the prize is worth is 2.5 million euros (to be spent on research), that pays for an awful lot of economic theory…He is also the worlds most prolific economist with a metric score double that of his closest competitor (according to this website). I found it through his wikipedia article:



      I will resist the temptation to make the usual RW comment about exceptionally prolific scientists…

      1. Let me help you out. Scopus lists him with 664 journal publications, of which 32 have been published last year alone. What are the chances that each of those pubs is an original contribution to the research literature. Folks, something’s gotta give! Either he has scrapped all nonessential parts of life (family, friends, regular meals, trips to the loo) to achieve this stellar output or he got entangled into what is now being investigated.

        1. Don’t forget sleep. Perhaps he’s one of those guys who needs only 4 hours of sleep! In any case, I can see a guy like this generating a lot of professional envy. So, probably there are some people trying to get him. The self-plagiarism accusations can be totally lame, depending on the context.

        2. There is another guilty party here as well: the entire system of rewarding quantity over quality.
          Quality is hard to judge of course, but that should be a challenge rather than an excuse.

          I knew a computer scientist at a Dutch university who seemed to be not productive: in about 20 years he had only 2 publications, AFAIK. He lost his job. But these two papers are IMO excellent, though not yet widely recognized field as such. A colleague produced about 10 publications per year, as I recall, but I’d guess that his total production over 20 years was scientifically far less interesting.

          Last month the Guardian had an interview with Nobel Laureate Peter Higgs. I copied the following:
          “I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system”.
          Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today’s academic system because he would not be considered “productive” enough.
          The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.
          He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today’s academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: “It’s difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964.”
          Speaking to the Guardian en route to Stockholm to receive the 2013 Nobel prize for science, Higgs, 84, said he would almost certainly have been sacked had he not been nominated for the Nobel in 1980.
          Edinburgh University’s authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he “might get a Nobel prize – and if he doesn’t we can always get rid of him”.
          Higgs said he became “an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises”. A message would go around the department saying: “Please give a list of your recent publications.” Higgs said: “I would send back a statement: ‘None.’ ”
          By the time he retired in 1996, he was uncomfortable with the new academic culture. “After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. I thought I was well out of it. It wasn’t my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough.”

          Read more at http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/dec/06/peter-higgs-boson-academic-system
          and Peter Woit’s blog https://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=6459

      1. Hi Boris, Don’t know what you are referring to. I assume you mean “thumbs down” … But where?
        In my blog? Or on retraction watch?
        I reblogged this retraction watch page because it involves a Dutch scientist, and I considered it relevant to some of my readers. Cheers, Marco

  1. From 2002 to 2008 Nijkamp was president of NWO (the Dutch equivalent of the NSF). That makes his case for more interesting than that of just a “leading economist”.

    Much here is unclear. What does seem to be clear is that some people are out to get him, that others are trying to protect him and that many people who know something are keeping their mouths shut (or are anonymously giving information to geenstijl.nl) because they are afraid of him.

  2. I recommend interested readers try machine translations of the columns at GeenStijl (“NoStyle”) on this case.

    – In 2009 Kourtit received 22,500 Euro as compensation for emotional pain and loss of income, allegedly related to intimidation, discrimination and verbal violence by a teacher of the Hogeschool Utrecht (in English the “University of Applied Sciences Utrecht”; but it does not count as an academic institution). The Hogeschool denies guilt but wanted to have the case closed, so they paid.

    – Despite the 5400 published pages that Nijkamp wrote, I doubt that he has contributed any real scientific knowledge. It seems rather that Nijkamp blocked (with others) knowledge gathering on a major issue of societal importance: what are net costs or benefits of immigration. The official political correct view in the past decades by the Dutch governments and by Nijkamp is that one should not talk about the costs of groups of people, and that immigration yields a net benefit anyway: “There is no reason at all to be negative about the influx of migrants”.

    My feeling is that Nijkamp had much more influence and power than Stapel ever had, and that this case of misconduct will prove to be much bigger than Stapel’s.

    For more reading at GeenStijl go to http://www.geenstijl.nl/fastsearch?query=%22peter+nijkamp%22&zoek=zoek
    A video with Nijkamp and Kourtit at a conference in Morocco (Kourtit is said to be Moroccan; probably her parents immigrated to The Netherlands): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuHDDNn1pzk
    There is an article in the newspaper NRC Handelsblad by science journalist Frank van Kolfschooten (who uncovered the Mart Bax case last year), available from here: http://www.geenstijl.nl/archives/images/peternijkampisdenieuwediederikstapel.pdf

    1. This has nothing to do with that. What is being alleged is plagiarism and duplication, that is quite orthogonal to the question of whether what he wrote/stole was correct. You seem to have a political axe to grind – grind it in the privacy of your own home please.

        1. Although we should acknowledge that poor scientific conduct can have an effect on the political landscape (e.g., by publishing false data), this isn’t related to political correctness. Poor scientific conduct could encourage society to be ‘politically correct’, but the feeling that one should be politically correct stems not from science, but instead from what is considered as acceptable behavior in society.

          Conversely, the political correctness you mention in your first post — the principle of not discriminating different groups of society and computing their respective ‘cost’ — prevents the economist from doing a study, but does not prevent others from doing so. Therefore it cannot enable poor scientific conduct: that would imply that not studying a certain topic is poor scientific conduct.

          Of course, the social outrage over this guy discouraging research into politically sensitive topics — the costs associated with different groups of people — will not be any less, but that doesn’t mean that his political opinions are to blame for the bad scientific conduct or vice-versa.

          1. Two problems: 1. Our economists are researching the costs of some groups of people, e.g. the elderly. 2. Nijkamp and our government claim immigration is beneficial but they refuse to substantiate that. For politicians that may be acceptable behaviour, but for a scientist that should not be.

          2. I’m not saying that it is good to claim something without evidence, but if I understand the article correctly, that isn’t what this is about. This issue is about fraud, not about weak claims (which are in fact always present — part of writing a paper is including directions for future work, as well as using deductive reasoning that may later turn out to be erroneous). Again, the political discussion may be interesting on its own, but we should avoid drawing that into the discussion of this scandal, because it colors the conclusions we draw about the quality of the research. Instead, the politicians that relied on this false information should be called out on this, and the public debate should continue.

            I don’t think I need to explain that “researching” the elderly as a cause of national financial problems is any less of a problem than doing the same for foreigners, students or any other group of society. That type of research would be a classic example of a relatively poor research methodology, as it is assuming causation and then looking to prove it with a correlation.

            Both types of poor methodology should, in theory of course, be caught in peer review. For cases beyond those, there is either new work demonstrating that previous conclusions were false, or retractions for really bad cases (many posts here on retraction watch are about the latter). This is also why “there is a paper saying X” and “A study showed that X” does not directly mean that X is a true thing. The reality is that there are many poor papers out there, and if anything politics should work not with freshly published research, but with the underlying data.

  3. Update 5:30 pm: It seems Kourtit may have inflated her credentials in at least one publication, according to this link.

    There is some question whether she misrepresented her degree herself or whether she was incorrectly assumed by the person writing down the list of credits to have already obtained a PhD. If she did not misrepresent her degree, is she in that event still responsible for the wrong degree appearing in the publication?

    1. This reminds me of one of my former teachers, who explained how he was shocked to be introduced at a meeting as having multiple doctorates – the organizers had erroneously thought his “drs” title, which Kourtit also holds, as meaning “multiple dr”. This could well be a mistake by Springer, correcting the “drs” to “dr”.

  4. Please note that this case is also about actual plaigarism! She is accused of adopting an entire workshop of work as her own in a particular chapter of her thesis (as the translation also writes: “The commission that investigated the case concluded that a chapter has been established on the basis of a workshop. “). The article does go on to tell us that a lot of the articles are self-pagarized, and that this person did not get her degree at the end (but this only happened at the last moment).

  5. Finally, a report on the affair in English language.


    Renowned Dutch economist Arnold Heertje, by the way, is furious: “Anyone can make a mistake , according Heertje . ” Mistakes are human, but it is a singular event . Mr. Nijkamp , however, has committed plagiarism on a large scale . Probably become even on a larger scale than hitherto known . “… ” It is completely incomprehensible to me that he has done so. I have no explanation . He has thus ruined his entire academic life . On a scientific level , this is terrible, he stole from others. Nobody should give the impression that a text full of him , and that is not so . ”


  6. Nijkamp seems to have inflated up his real productivity using self-plagiarism; and with changing co-authors it is hardly self-plagiarism any more. However, there should be no witch hunt for self-plagiarizing scientists. The rules for this have not been that clear. Anyway, all people including scientists should be free to repeat their own statements literally in non-scientific media, e.g. in the public debate.

    During the course a few weeks in 1988 there was a polemic in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad between Noam Chomsky and politician Frits Bolkestein, of the liberal VVD party (“liberal” in the European sense, i.e. promoting capitalism and freedom). At one point Chomsky wrote that Bolkestein had copied text from an editorial in The Economist. Bolkestein replied that he himself was the author of that editorial. Chomsky then wrote that it was still plagiarism. Both gentlemen were right, but Chomsky should IMO have conceded that Bolkestein had done nothing wrong by copying his own text for this polemic.

    1. The matter of self plagiarism is difficult. For sure, it is not a form of misconduct as bad as others. But the Philosopher Samuel V. Bruton from the University of Southern Mississippi has some enlightening ideas on the subject. He explains why “stealing from oneself” hinders scientific progress:

      “A further point to be made about originality is that often enough, scientific progress does not occur by new data alone. It requires novel ways of framing issues and fresh perspectives put on established regularities. Originality in writing is not so different from originality in thinking, after all; finding a new way to say something is not so different from finding a new way to conceptualize phenomena that needs to be better understood and explained.”


      1. Perhaps more importantly and decisively, most scientific outputs require that the work be original, and have strict rules against both plagiarism and self-plagiarism. For examples (from computer science) the ACM policy and the IEEE policy.

        Please do note that differences exist between fields — for example, in CS, it is acceptable to re-publish (with improvements) a conference publication as a journal publication. On the other hand, literal quotations are extremely unusual. From what I’ve seen these points tend to be different in other fields.

        1. ACM defines self plagiarism as “the verbatim or near-verbatim reuse of significant portions of one’s own copyrighted work without citing the original source”. That leaves a grey zone wide open. Bruton cites an informal poll showing that many experts accept recycling of up to 10% of one’s own work. Is it good practice to reuse definitions, sentences that describe certain phenomena and so on? Bruton’ s emphasis on the criterion of originality implies that we must rephrase every sentence.

          1. Well, the way we teach our students here says we should indeed rephrase every sentence. This is especially important when borrowing from other peoples’ work (because it shows you understood it — this is the reason quotations are unusual). In my field I’ve seen some very similar texts in introductions, but definitions and descriptions tend not to be extensively recycled. I can’t really draw a general conclusion about that though.

          2. I’d prefer for scientists to spend their time doing science, rather than paraphrasing sentences without adding any content.

          3. Have you ever tried writing a paper, thesis or student paper?
            There are several steps to doing science, and two of them are knowing and interpreting what is there. You cannot discuss an idea without explaining it in your own words, especially if you’re looking to criticize that idea in favor of your own, or when you’re looking to improve upon that idea. One added bonus is that it helps the communication skills of new scienist (knowing how to write a paper), and another is that it helps scientists find relations between previous work to make it easier to know what is there. I know many researchers dislike this part of the job, but it’s still exactly that — part of the job.

          4. Rolf, the paper you reference (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08989621.2014.848071#.Uq2kStLuJA0), although covering an essential and often avoided topic, has some questionable deficiencies. Although it does provide some new light and integrated information from the literature, it fails to address some very important issues. The paper needs to be critically re-appraised by the academic community and reports need to be sent to the journal questioning some of the gaps.

    2. “However, there should be no witch hunt for self-plagiarizing scientists. The rules for this have not been that clear. Anyway, all people including scientists should be free to repeat their own statements literally in non-scientific media, e.g. in the public debate.”
      Absolutely agree! There is a crowd of zealots out there, in the pockets of publishers, who does not get this basic point.

  7. It is another sad example of how the Vrije Universiteit actively covers up scientific fraud: Nijkamp gets a lot of attention because of his status, but it is likely to be the visible part of a proverbial iceberg, with many cases successfully wrapped up, because newspapers typically don’t care about low-profile fraudsters…

  8. It is absolutely unacceptable that Frank van der Duyn Schouten, rector magnificus, of the VU did this away with “It seems that his opinion on self-citation differed from ours. Of this we have initially taken knowledge and distanced us.” (source http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/5288/Onderwijs/article/detail/3573444/2014/01/07/Rector-VU-wat-Nijkamp-deed-was-geen-diefstal.dhtml), which is a polite Dutch way to say “I did not care”. A man like Frank van der Duyn Schouten who looks the other way when confronted with an incident that has the bad smell of scientific fraud, should not even come close to a university.

  9. The original report on the thesis plagiarism is explicit:

    “De commissie is van mening dat in alle gevallen van hergebruik van eigen
    teksten (“zelfcitatie”) een verwijzing naar de oorspronkelijke bron ter plekke opgenomen
    dient te worden” –> This commission holds that in all cases of re-use of one’s own text (“self-citation”) a reference to the original source has to be given at that spot”. How can it be any clearer than that?

    They give a good reason why: in most cases the original text was with a co-author “B”, who is not author in the later paper (definitely not in the thesis), so “B” is stripped of credit.

    They also point out that the reader is always expecting what is written to be new in some way — either new facts or new synthesis. Re-use of text is per definition not new.

    1. I have to disagree with your last point. If the author is describing the conceptual framework on which the new work is built, or the thesis it supports, the restatement should be as close as possible to the original statement. “Originality” in wording merely obscures whether the new work is addressing the same issues as former work.

      This is a significant and increasing problem, particularly in areas where researchers are attempting to tame large quantities of messy data with ideas about trends, correlations, and so on. That process, in turn, leads to a poorly defined, almost untestable, jargon as those concepts evolve. Think of “global warming,” “Out of Africa,” the “Neolithic revolution,” or “punctuated equilibrium” Since these concepts have evolved over time, a degree of confusion is inevitable. However, a requirement that each published description be “original” makes things considerably worse.

      If you don’t work in one of these fields, you may not be familiar with the frustration and sheer waste of time involved in trying to figure out whether a worker has actually changed a concept or is simply trying to be original in his use of words. It’s much like looking at the same proof in mathematical physics using two different notation conventions. Unless you’re a physicist familiar with the specific field, it’s easy to waste hours over essentially typographical issues. I’m all for proper citation, but writers shouldn’t have to waste everyone’s time playing word games to avoid a charge of self-plagiarism, or clutter an argument with ellipses and multi-level quotation marks once attribution is clear.

  10. I appreciate Rolf Degen mentioning my recent article on self-plagiarism above. I should make clear that my position is not that all definitions need to be paraphrased, and neither does my paper say otherwise. I agree that verbatim repetition of technical descriptions (e.g. in a methods section) and the like is often inadvisable. The passage Professor Degen quotes follows a discussion of two different sorts of examples.

  11. The term self-plagiarism I first came across in connection with students who were recycling their essays to gain credits in different courses. It seems to me to be a weird use of the word “plagiarism”. If you recycle an article to get more publications it’s just plain fraud.
    Some of the comments I’ve been reading in connection with this issue on other sites seemed to be coming close to suggesting that scientists should not repeat their ideas in different publications. This is just plain nonsense. Normally one would want to refer to oneself anyway – one wants to remind people that you had this good idea some time in the past. In a case like this, it would only cause suspicion – “as I have stated in Guzzler 2012a-z, 2011 a-m, and so on”. It might invite people to actually look up some of these articles.
    State-of-the-art articles in handbooks often contain sections that are partly “self-plagiarism” – this is not a problem. I think that the two terms “plagiarism” and “fraud” are quite sufficient.

  12. The chair of the committee that investigated the Kourtit thesis, prof PJD Drenth, dissociates himself from the public summary, based on his confidential report, that was compiled by the Vrije Universiteit. In the Dutch newspaper NRC, Drenth states that a number of sentences from the report were merged in the summary, making the latter suggest that every incorrect or sloppy citation is plagiarism, which he never intented to write (http://www.nrc.nl/handelsblad/van/2014/januari/11/onduidelijke-regels-over-zelfplagiaat-1336705 is behind a paywall)

  13. Nijkamp defends himself in Ad Valvas, the newsletter of the Vrije Universiteit (http://www.advalvas.vu.nl/nieuws/nijkamp-beschuldigingen-van-de-zotte): “The allegations of Van Kolfschooten miss any reasonable ground,” writes Nijkamp. The interpretation of the term “self-plagiarism” has been, according to him, “tendentious”. The professor discusses the accusations against him and concludes: “It is ridiculous to call this self-plagiarism”

    1. In reaction to that defense bij Nijkamp, commenter “T2000” quoted on 15 januari 2014 – 21:01 a portion of a mail by Van Kolfschooten that refers to this publication: Peter Nijkamp and A. Mickiewicz, “Migration Impact Assessment: A Review of Evidence-Based Findings” Review of Economic Analysis 4 (2012).
      PDF: http://www.geenstijl.nl/archives/images/96-305-1-PB.pdf
      I repeat the quote of Van Kolfschootens mail:

      I analyzed an article bij Nijkamp. In every paragraph of chapter 3, Nijkamp introduces an author who has written about the subject and mentions the article that has been his source. New Zealand, Australia, Europe etc. To the best of my knowledge, the normal procedure in a review is to summarize the article and/or paraphrase parts of it and/or cite sentences with quotation marks. This is not what Nijkamp does. After introducing author and source he copies text that can be found literally in the source, without quotation marks.
      Another problem in this review: text recycling without reference. A large part of paragraph 2 had been published before as part of a paper by Tüszin Baycan-Levent and Nijkamp from 2007, that was also published in Janssen et al: The sustainability of cultural diversity : nations cities and organizations, 2010
      The largest part of paragraph 3.1 is copypasted without quotation marks from the executive summary of Strutt et al. (2008)
      The largest part of paragraph 3.2 is copypasted without quotation marks from a study commissioned by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA), (2006)
      The largest part of paragraph 3.3 is copypasted without quotation marks from a study by Münz et al. (2006)
      The largest part of paragraph 3.4 is copypasted without quotation marks from an abstract en introduction from Barrell et al. (2007)
      Largest part of paragraph 3.8 is copypasted without quotation marks from Suedekum et al. (2009)
      4.6 text recycling Ozgen et al. (2011) without proper credits from The effect of migration on income growth and convergence: meta-analytic evidence
      (2009, IZA)
      Chapter 5, conclusion: a large textblock from Nijkamp and Kourtit in International Journal of Business and Globalization vol. 7 nr 2 aug 2011 pag. 166-194 quoted

      (end quote)

  14. Kourtit’s retracted thesis consists of 15 chapters whose titles and as far as I can see content mainly duplicate papers written by herself always together with her PhD supervisor Peter Nijkamp and usually together with other authors. (Possibly the introduction and conclusion are “original”). And as has been mentioned, many of these papers are recycled versions or upgrades of earlier ones. This in itself is not the problem. The problem is that there is not the slightest mention *anywhere* in the thesis that this is the case. The closest we get is the long list of “publications” “by” the author at the end of the thesis, and the huge list of people she worked with at the beginning (thanks to Mum and friends …).

    Now in first instance a Dutch PhD thesis is a submission to an examination committee, so we should not call it actually a *publication* (though Dutch theses are published in the normal way along with ISBN etc!).

    The PhD supervisor plays a powerful role in the examination committee, is not called “promotor” for nothing.

    We know that the thesis examination was called off one day before the event by the dean of the faculty, which means that a big stack of rather expensively printed books had to be recycled (and not in the usual way these authors recycle their work). The university told the candidate to rewrite the thesis and to find a new “promotor”.

    There is no way the reading committee / examination committee could know whose work they were evaluating. It is a scandal that the reading committee itself had already approved the defence. The “promotor” is of course very influential (and nominated the members of the committee).

    Now I get to my point: I think the PhD supervisor is responsible when this kind of disaster befalls his student/protege. Kourtit has learnt publication practices from Nijkamp and this has possibly destroyed her academic career. He is to blame.


    This is what Karima Kourtit writes about herself, with Peter Nijkamp:

    Karima Kourtit is researcher at the Department of Spatial Economics at the VU University Amsterdam. Her main research interests cover entrepreneurship, ethnic migration, innovation, geographic location and spatial clustering of industries including the spatial distribution of firms, cultural heritage, and sustainable regional and urban development. In recent years she has focused her research in particular on new qualitative and quantitative methods for business and policy analysis, as well as on spatial-behavioural analysis of economic agents. She also plays an active role in several national and international scientific networks and professional associations. From 2009 she has served as a member of the management board and now is appointed as a supportive scientific advisor of the scientific advisory board of the Joint Programming Urban Europe and of various Dutch ministries. Karima Kourtit is leader and expert of various international research projects related to sustainable diversity, environmental impact of cultural heritage, and complex space-economy of sustainable urban development. In all these fields she has published books and numerous articles.


    (editorial to a special issue of Romanian Journal of Regional Science)

    In *all* these fields she has published *books*?

    It is true that several times she was one of the editors of the proceedings of a conference. Every time, several of the conference papers are by several of the editors of the proceedings. The eBook is generally sold by Springer for about 100 Euro.

    1. Great post!

      I would like to briefly comment on this part:
      “The eBook is generally sold by Springer for about 100 Euro.”

      To those who are not familiar with scientific publishing, please note that authors of such a book (neither editors nor the authors of individual papers) receive exactly 0€ out of this. On the other hand, almost noone buys these individually — most universities have an institutional agreement with the publisher. if you’re not familiar with the issue, please refer to the electronic frontier foundation’s (america-centric) discussion of the topic, here.

      1. Thanks Rens. Your comment is important. Nobody actually buys these books, though (no doubt highly discounted) electronic access to them is paid for by universities in the form of deals with major publishers to take everything in a particular package for their electronic university library. The price of those deals is by the way a secret – the universities bargan with the publisher and the outcome is not public.

        The scientists involved don’t directly get money from these practices but they do get yet more items for their CV’s, which establish that they belong at the centre of large and powerful research networks and hence have large earning power (in the sense of bringing in more grants).

        Nowadays when we evaluate candidates for professorial chairs, or project applications to science funding agencies, the “earning power” of the candidates is an important issue. And Mr. Nijkamp was chairman of the Dutch Science Research Council for a number of years and partly responsible for the mega-madness we have today.

        1. Science has regressed to a Skinner box where rats are conditioned to demonstrate exactly the behaviour that is rewarded. Publications pay themselves, so the rats have learnt to create opportunities to publish, to an extent where they organise their own easy-accessible newsletters, workshops, magazines and conferences to publish even more. Where science was once supposed to be about discussion, cooperation, standing on other’s shoulders and allowing others to stand on yours, it has now developed into a write-only medium

    2. I have to retract one of my statements: I discovered that many (all except opening and closing?) chapters do have a footnote to the chapter heading, containing a literature reference to a regular journal-published article with the same title. Printed in very small letters …

  15. While I agree that a PhD supervisor is responsible for supervision, I would like to add that the PhD candidate is responsible for the thesis herself, so Kourtit is at least partially responsible for her own demise.

    In general, I see too many PhD students slavishly following the lead of their supervisor. I personally witnesses PhD candidates who had never learnt to write a paper, never published on their own, never formulated research questions, and yet claim to have done independent research.

    Too many theses are a set of loosely connected papers, titled “What I have done over the past 4 years”, without any strong theme. Four years is not enough to learn to write, to research, to fail, to publish, to successfully work out a relevant line of research and to write a readable book about it, especially if one is also expected to teach, manage and organize in those four years.

    The training of researchers has regressed to a thesis factory, where theses are cranked out in four years, to get that EU 930,000 bonus, to get that dr degree, to add another line to a resume. There are not too many individuals left who have the strong spine to do the job, without reverting to politics, manipulation or fraud.

    This is, in particular, true for a young field like Computer Science, which in The Netherlands had not developed academically until the ’80s, when the government implemented the ‘Tweefasenstructuur’ as a means to drastically reduce the costs of academic education and research. As a consequence, Computer Science has never developed a healthy academic tradition.

    1. Right on there, Izak. But still I would like to lay a lot of responsibility with the PhD supervisors. We PhD supervisors of the world are nowadays obliged to submit megalomaniac project applications along with milestones and deliverables and detailed four-year plans. We have to hire an army of PhD students and give them bite-size pieces of our big project to carry out. We look for who fit into this model and train students to fit into this model. The ones who don’t fit in the model won’t survive past their first year. Kourtit was just imitating the research practices of her boss who was a Big Man, a Huge Success. She did it very well. I suspect that actually *she* wrote most of *his* papers in recent years. This is not plagiarism. This is called “symbiosis” in biology. Like lichen, coral and many other successful living forms. Even like our own cells. “A new kind of science”.

  16. Richard Gill wrote “We PhD supervisors of the world are nowadays obliged to submit megalomaniac project applications along with milestones and deliverables and detailed four-year plans. We have to hire an army of PhD students and give them bite-size pieces of our big project to carry out. We look for who fit into this model and train students to fit into this model. The ones who don’t fit in the model won’t survive past their first year.”

    I believe that is a bit of idealised reality. At least, I have never experienced it in The Netherlands, where, nobody cares what a PhD student is doing, as long as he completes a thesis sooner or later, making the university cash a EU 93.000 bonus (in the above I mistyped EU 930.000, which is a stupid mistake!!!) I have witnessed many cases where the completed thesis has nothing to do with the original project description!

    The Department of Mathematics and Computer Science of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where I was a PhD student, didn’t even care about a thesis, as PhD students were primarily cheap labour, getting paid less than the minimal wage. So, PhD students were welcome to teach, develop software, organise workshops and conferences, edit proceedings in the name of their supervisor, and write project proposals in the name of their supervisor; they were generally treated as dirt by department staff, and replaced after 4 years, after which their work is republished by their supervisor with their name edited out, like they never existed. Take a look at http://eezacque.blogspot.nl/2012/08/hat-trick-smalltalk.html for my personal story on the matter.

    1. Izak, I suspect that your experience is rather dated.

      You are forgetting that the PhD students don’t just generate money at the end of the trip, they also generate publications during the time they are on board. So they are indeed welcome to do just whatever they like … as long as it contributes to the measurable output of the group = workshops of which the leader or one of his/her lieutenants was the main organiser, leading to books (conference proceedings) edited by same with papers by same; project applications made by the leader or his/her lieutenants, publications by the leader, … It’s even OK if they add to suchlike, outputs of international colleagues, as long as they are close: members of the same EU networks, whatever. You scratch our back and we’ll scratch yours. It’s an ecosystem. A symbiosis, even: the separate identities of the component individuals are almost invisible. A “New Kind of Science”.

      The point is that all those publications, workshops, applications … have to be usuable for the group in new major funding applications so generally speaking they have to fit into the research field of the group. This means that one deliberately trains and recruits “team players” not soloists. You can’t waste your resources on allowing genuinely innovative and unexpected research to be going on in off-topic fields.

      I suspect that one of the reasons for Nijkamp’s prodigious output is that Kourtit and others write it for him. Kourtit doesn’t plagiarize Nijkamp and colleagues, it’s the other way round.

      The other reason is using p<0.1 as criterion for statistical significance instead of the conventional p<0.05. Doubles the number of significant findings when what you are researching is pure noise. Typically the number of coefficients being estimated in these "models" is way larger than 10 so every single study throws up a decent number of statistically significant findings. After that, all one needs is a bit of fantasy.

      1. The joy of having spent a couple of years in the civilised world is that I couldn’t care less about the different notational conventions around the world. I was going for EUR 93,000, but you just showed me another European standard nobody cares about. I should have written ‘ninetythreethousand euro’, instead.

  17. The problem mentioned is not exactly one of an ecosystem called ‘you scratch our back and we’ll scratch yours.’ It is a parasite system called ‘you scratch our back and we’ll sit back and enjoy it, and then you sod off.’ And whatever standards you adhere to, copying 6 pages of published work without proper reference is called plagiarism, which is still considered scientific fraud, at least outside the Vrije Universiteit

  18. Peter Nijkamp was president in 1991-1992 of the Regional Science Association (RSAI), “an international community of scholars interested in the regional impacts of national or global processes of economic and social change.” In 2011 RSAI established the “Peter Nijkamp RSAI Research Encouragement Award for an Early Career Scholar from a Developing Country”.

    “The Award recognizes the outstanding potential of an early career researcher from a nation in the developing world and in which there is a formal Section of RSAI, and seeks to encourage the development of the early career scholar as a high quality researcher in the field of Regional Science and as a participant in the international Regional Science community.
    The Award is established to recognize and honour the outstanding contribution Professor Peter Nijkamp, a Fellow of RSAI and an outstanding regional science researcher, has made to the encouragement and involvement of young scholars in Regional Science research and activities.”

  19. There is a new version of the retracted thesis of Karima Kourtit. See http://www.ubvu.vu.nl/dissertations/temp/temp10.pdf?CFID=418688&CFTOKEN=2ba46858becb9e13-62029E88-5056-8631-D1523E23B907EC71&jsessionid=51B77C6C6E3ED90BE59A97CC09E86808.cfusion

    The retracted thesis had 15 chapters. This new thesis consists of 7 chapters. The public defence of this new thesis will take place on 25 June 2014, see http://www.vu.nl/nl/nieuws-agenda/agenda/2014/apr-jun/25-juni-k-kurtit.asp

  20. The link to the new version of the thesis of Karima Kourtit is broken.

    See http://dare.ubvu.vu.nl/bitstream/handle/1871/51390/complete_dissertation.pdf?sequence=1 for a link to the new version of this thesis. See also http://dare.ubvu.vu.nl/handle/1871/51390

    The new thesis states: “This work may not be quoted nor distributed without the written permission of the author”. I am not aware of another thesis of any of the other Dutch universities which is present in the public domain and with such a disclaimer. I fail to understand why people are not allowed to quote from this thesis.

    See http://nieuws.thepostonline.nl/2014/01/09/kourtit/ for a scanned version (4 parts) of the retracted version of the thesis of Karima Kourtit.

    1. See http://www.math.leidenuniv.nl/~gill/Onregelmatigheden190614.pdf for the entire report of NN (in Dutch) with much background information about the complaints filed by NN against Nijkamp & Kourtit.

      From Ad Valvas ([news magazine of VU Amsterdam Univesity], http://www.advalvas.vu.nl/nieuws/leidse-hoogleraar-zet-anonieme-beschuldigingen-kourtit-online

      By Richard Gill, 23 June 2014 – 17:06

      “The readers of Ad Valvas might be interested to learn something about internet terrorist Richard Gill’s motives. First of all I should state that I care a great deal about VU. I defended my PhD there in 1979. My promotor Cobus Oosterhof was the best teacher and best promotor I could ever imagine. I went on to work for a couple of years in the econometrics dept at VU, where I made friends for life as well as enjoying the company of my contemporary FvdDS. Whom I enormously respected both for his mathematics and for his sense of humour. I have many good colleagues at VU still and often been co-promotor there. I discuss the case with my VU friends.

      Till this weekend I had only seen and studied the technical parts of NN’s complaints. The NRC article merely touches the surface. The last year has seen a constant stream of propaganda including several down-right lies from the VU top; and the media debate was a wild goose-chase, self-plagiarism a red-herring. I am sure this came very much in handy. I hope that the poor rector was misinformed by his advisors rather than deliberately Machiavellian.

      In the meantime VU is going for a “Blitzpromotie”, breaking all rules. The procedure is incomprehensible and seems to me immoral and probably illegal. NN deserves support and false propaganda has to be countered.

      As far as I am concerned, Mrs Kourtit may have her PhD from the VU and I wish her well and am sorry for the incredible stress this all must cause her. Nowadays there is an enormous variation in quality, and scientific culture in different fields has wildly diverged.

      I hope the debate about values in science will be stimulated by NN’s work. And I hope that organisations like VU will at last learn that instinctive “damage control” tends only to make things far worse.”

      1. The VU newsletter Ad Valvas (http://www.advalvas.vu.nl/nieuws/je-hebt-dit-gevecht-gewonnen) refers to Richard Gill’s accusations as “He [Kourtit’s supervisor Henk Scholten] says he is shocked by remarks of the Leiden statistician Richard Gill in de Volkskrant, and by the suggestion that her data are not correct. “I have seen the data, they are ok. I asked Gill why he did not take a look. He says he hadn’t found time for this yet” ” (translation from Dutch is mine).

        I would appreciate if Gill could clarify whether he is quoted correctly here.

        1. Well … I wasn’t going to go to internet to reconstitute the little data set belonging to just one of those papers in the new thesis myself when Nijkamp, Kourtit and Scholten had had weeks and weeks just to email me the little Excel spreadsheet. So I certainly did say, as a polite Englishman, that I hadn’t had the time to do that; but that is not what I thought to myself. What I thought was two words, and not very polite.

          You have to know that six weeks before, Nijkamp, with cc to Scholten and van der Duyn Schouten, had told me he wanted to talk to me in person first before giving the data. We both had very busy schedules. It would have to wait till July. There was at that time no draft thesis, no date of the PhD exam, no examination committee. The impression given to me by Scholten and van der Duyn Schouten was … relaxed. There was going to be a heavy reading committee and the thesis was going to be carefully and properly evaluated … but of course, first of all, submitted.

          Well the busy schedule of Nijkamp clearly already included the meetings with the examination committee at a little conference in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, as well as the examination itself. A “blitzpromotie”, with new examination committee = old examination committee, new promotor = member of former reading committee. Well, good luck to them all …

      2. The VU strategy of instinctive “damage control” has been effective for decades, given cases of Stolk, Bax, Treur, Scheltens and Kourtit, where scientific misconduct either is accepted or uncovered long after those responsible have left the games. I do not expect this to change.

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