“Unacceptable level of text parallels” loses neuroscientist a paper, but not her PhD

maynoothWe should probably launch a new blog just on the euphemisms used for plagiarism.

A case of “inadequate procedural or methodological practices of citation or quotation” causing an “unacceptable level of text parallels” has sunk a review paper, but not a thesis, for a PhD who studied memory consolidation at Maynooth University in Ireland. According to a statement from the school, Jennifer Moore used “poor practice of citation and attribution” in both her thesis and in a review article published with her post-graduate P.I. in Reviews in the Neurosciences.

The review article, which has been cited four times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, will be retracted. Because there was no data fabrication and “no misleading of other scientists or laboratories,” the school will not be retracting the thesis nor taking away her PhD.

According to Google Scholar, the review has been cited 8 times. Moore now works as a neuropsychologist at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. We’ve contacted her for comment and will update if we hear back.

Here’s the notice for “Reconsolidation Revisited: A Review and Commentary on the Phenomenon”:

The Editor and the Publisher of Reviews in the Neurosciences retract from publication the following article:

Jennifer L. Moore and Richard A.P. Roche

Reconsolidation Revisited: A Review and Commentary on the Phenomenon. Rev. Neurosci. 18 (2007), pp. 365 – 382, DOI: 10.1515/REVNEURO.2007.18.5.365.

This retraction is due to an unacceptable level of text parallels with several other sources. The following is a statement of the authors:

It has come to our attention that our review and commentary paper contains the words, phrases and sentences of others without correct or adequate citation, in a situation where there might be a legitimate expectation of original authorship. We therefore request a retraction of the article.

This situation has come as a shock to all the authors and we wholeheartedly regret and apologise for this to the journal, readership and especially the original authors. It was never our intent to disguise the origin of the work presented in this literature review but arose from either inadequate procedural or methodological practices of citation or quotation that we were using at the time.

We hope that the journal and readership accepts this full and frank acknowledgment. Whilst it is no excuse for the lapse above the original paper was a commentary/review piece and as such the discipline can be re-assured that no primary material is affected by this retraction.

Richard Roche,

and on behalf of Jennifer Moore

Here’s a statement from Maynooth University:

Maynooth University has investigated an issue in relation to the thesis of a PhD student from 2007.  The student has made a full acknowledgement of defects in the thesis related to poor practice of citation and attribution.

A subsequent review paper, based on the literature review of the PhD thesis has been withdrawn, from ‘Reviews in the Neuroscience’ and a retraction notice has been published.

According to policy, the issue has been reviewed by the University’s ethics committee and it has been decided to permit the thesis to stand, subject to the necessary corrections in relation to citation and attribution.  The committee noted that while it was a serious matter, there had been no contamination of primary literature, no misleading of other scientists or laboratories, and an audit of the scientific data found that no fraudulent data was presented.

The thesis was completed in 2007 and Maynooth University’s systems and processes are being adapted to incorporate latest technologies, then unavailable, to ensure a similar issue cannot reoccur.


16 thoughts on ““Unacceptable level of text parallels” loses neuroscientist a paper, but not her PhD”

  1. I took a quick at the retracted paper, parts of it appear very similar to Meeter & Murre (2004) “Consolidation of long-term memory: evidence and alternatives” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15535740), a paper (similar in content to the retracted paper) which is not cited.

    e.g. compare Moore & Roche: “Given that the hippocampus is conjectured to play a time-limited role in memory – a central tenet of consolidation theory – then retrieval of both recent and remote memories should theoretically differentially affect the hippocampus.”

    vs. Metter & Murre: “If the hippocampal memory system plays a time-limited role in memory, a central tenet of consolidation theory, then retrieval of recent and remote memories should differentially tax the hippocampus.”

    My guess is that Moore used Meeter & Murre (2004) as a “template” for her paper.

  2. “Because there was no data fabrication and “no misleading of other scientists or laboratories,” the school will not be retracting the thesis nor taking away her PhD.”

    But this ignores the fact that the PhD was obtained through fraud. Students are indoctrinated with the notion that plagiarism is fraud. I guess the take-home lesson is: don’t get caught until after you leave university.

  3. “Plagiarism” is probably considered these days as insult or defamation, just as “fraud”, “cheating”, “faking” etc. Apparently, you can only accuse someone of “plagiarism” either by their own admission or when proven in court. So I guess RW will have to moderate for the use of the “P” word to avoid being sued.

  4. Leonid, so why don’t we just invent a new word to describe “P” that will save all of us – including DeGruyter – from legal trouble. How about skaplonking?
    Noun: skaplonk
    Verb: to skaplonk
    Adjective: skaplonky or skaplonktious
    Adverb: skaplonktiously

    I made sure I ran my new word in Google to make sure it didn’t exist. The closest I could find was Ska Punk or SkipLink, so no fear of skaplonking any other existent word.

    So, to use this within context: Dr. Moore was found to skaplonk several sources. Even though skaplonktious methods were used, these were not considered to be misleading. Based on the premise of skaplonk, DeGruyter issued an EoC. The take-home message: do not skaplonk.

    I am now trying to see how the future perfect continuous could be applied: will have been skaplonking?

      1. Toby, please don’t get me started! The present continuous, in Spanish, would then be escaploqueando. For example: “Estoy escaplonqueando este articulo” (accent-free for “I’m P-ing this paper”). Yes, definitely a viable choice. I tremble to see the term skaplonking written in Arabic, Chinese, or Russian, however. But definately possible in Japanese and Chinese, which rely purely on sounds for foreign words. So, in Japanese, based on fairly clear rules for the import of foreign words, skapalonk would be: スカプロンコ (pronounced su-ka-pu-ro-n-ko).

        1. So, to make sure I am using the terminology correctly (Spanish is my mother tongue, but I am no longer fluent). If I want to say: s/he is a skaplonkers and they are skaplonkers, it would be ‘ella es una escaplonqueadora’, ‘él es un escaplonqueador’, and ‘ellos son unos escaplonqueadores’? And if I wanted to say ‘skaplonking is research misconduct’: ‘El escaplonqueo es una falta de ética en la investigación’, and the past tense would be ‘he skaplonked or ‘él escaplonqueó’?

          I’m dizzy …

  5. Interestingly, the University of Maynooth has a new policy on plagiarism (https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/sites/default/files/assets/document/Policy%20on%20Plagiarism%20May%202014.pdf):

    “Plagiarism involves an attempt to use an element of another person’s work, without appropriate acknowledgement in order to gain academic credit. It may include the unacknowledged verbatim reproduction of material, unsanctioned collusion, but is not limited to these matters; it may also include the unacknowledged adoption of an argumentative structure, or
    the unacknowledged use of a source or of research materials, including computer code or elements of mathematical formulae in an inappropriate manner. […] Instances of plagiarism among postgraduate research students will be treated as being particularly serious.”

    The parties involved are also to be informed. However, this policy is from May 2014. I informed the university about the thesis in February 2014, but have not heard anything of the outcome. They wrote to me in March 2014 to request removing the “allegations” from the web site “in advance of a finding of fact by a review panel”.

    I do think that “facts” are not determined by a review panel, but that every person can examine the evidence and make a decision for themselves as to whether a text parallel is acceptable or not. The review panel does, however, have the authority to judge if a sanction is in order.

    One should note that the “text parallels” documented at VroniPlag Wiki were not discovered by the use of a software system such as Turnitin, which can identify some text parallels that may constitute plagiarism, but does not by any means find all such instances. It is amusing to see that the university believes that such software was not available in 2007; I’ve been testing such software since 2004. So-called plagiarism-detection software has been available since the late 90s.

  6. I’m just a stupid doctor, but I thought plagiarism or skaplonking was pretty obvious, even when the author changes the wording as noted in Neuroskeptic’s comment. Obvious as in stub your toe obvious.
    Why would the standards have changed in the last ten years?
    I used to rue my decision to go into clinical medicine, but now I’m glad… I’ve never had to write a complete sentence, much less worry about skaplonking.

  7. Great work Debora

    Debora Weber-Wulff
    They wrote to me in March 2014 to request removing the “allegations” from the web site “in advance of a finding of fact by a review panel”.

    They’ve got a lot of nerve! They should instead have thanked you for tipping them off about a serious matter, and encouraged you to get in touch again if you found any more evidence.

  8. I am glad to see the use of the “P” neologism, skaplonking, at least twice in the past 24 hours. In fact, I missed a few important issues, and wish to thus expand the terminology associated with skaplonking, simply because I sense that we will meet with many more cases of skaplonking in 2015.

    One important issue is self-skaplonking. How much skaplonking of one’s own words, ideas, data, or figures, is deemed to be ethically acceptable? We need a set of skaplonking guidelines that clearly define the % of skaplonking that is acceptable. I am not against an anonymous Committee of Skaplonking, or COS.

    Detection of skaplonking and software. I propose a new product name: TurnipSkaplonk, so as not to be confused with the now popular TunitIn software by iParadigms. I encourage the wider scientific community to make TurnipSkaplonk free-ware, open and free to benefit science and not business.

    And of course, we should allow a BB-CY license to use the term skaplonk and all of its derivative forms, provided that the original source is fully referenced, namely here at RW.

    And finally, courage to the sleuths working hard to detect cases of skaplonking. Surely, the STM publishers, and the editors of their journals, have the responsibility of scanning all the papers in their repositories for cases of skaplonking or self-skaplonking? Indeed, this could be costsly, extremely costly, and could seriously dent profit margins, but surely there is a responsibility towards the correction of the literature BEFORE thinking about profits? Of course, if some IT specialists could rapidly develop TurnipSkaplonk, then there would be no costs for anyone, and we would hail the developers of TurnipSkaplonk as global heroes and true defenders of publishing ethics.

  9. ” […] it has been decided to permit the thesis to stand, subject to the necessary corrections in relation to citation and attribution. ”
    As part of some ongoing research, I tried to find the corrected version. The original version has been removed from the digital repository, I can find no replacement, corrected version. I’ve written to the dean, but since the university has not contacted me in the past 7 years, I’m not holding my breath.

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