The Free University of Amsterdam found Peter Nijkamp, one of the nation’s leading economists who has lost several papers for self-plagiarism, has been found guilty of “questionable research practices,” according to the newly released results of an investigation.
Nijkamp has published a strongly worded criticism of the report (at least according to Google Translate, since his writing is in Dutch).
According to independent student publication Ad Valvas, the commission, led by Jaap Zwemmer, a professor emeritus at the University of Amsterdam, found Nijkamp was guilty of “questionable research practices.” University rector Frank van der Duyn Schouten, on the other hand, said in an official statement that there was “insufficient basis” to claim questionable research practices for each article.
The scandal first broke when the school canceled the thesis defense of one of Nijkamp’s graduate students, Karima Kourtit, due to plagiarism. According to Volkskrant (in Dutch), a report published anonymously on the website for VSNU, the Association of Universities, also accused Nijkamp himself of self-plagiarism.
The Review of Economic Analysis later retracted two of Nijkamp’s papers for self-plagiarism.
Now, a report from a commission convened by the school has found him guilty of “questionable research practice” after finding 60 out of 261 articles had “frequent reuse” issues:
The frequent reuse of fifty words or more, from texts authored by himself, or jointly with co-authors, has emerged from the inquiry into Nijkamp’s publications. Most of the overlapping passages would appear to involve his own work, with or without co-authors, and to a far smaller extent to involve the work of others. This leaves the Committee with the impression that the practice of cutting and pasting served to support a possible strategy aimed more at achieving a high number of publications than an original oeuvre.
The size of the texts that were reused varies. In some cases it was just a few sentences, but in others whole paragraphs were copied. It is conspicuous that minor adjustments were frequently made by changing, deleting or adding a few words. Mostly, references to texts used previously were absent. In some cases where a reference to a publication did appear in the text, it was not made clear that the text had been literally reused.
Although the size of the overlapping passages without reference that were encountered varied, the Committee is of the opinion that the number of publications in which passages of this kind were encountered, which is 60 out of 261, or over twenty per cent, is substantial.
Of the 60 articles with overlap, 43 were peer-reviewed papers.
The Executive Board of the school sent us a summary of the report, which endorsed the report but disagreed on some finer points:
The Executive Board has not adopted the term “Questionable Research Practice”, which was used by the Zwemmer Committee. This is because the term, by its very nature, applies to individual publications. The Committee did not examine the detailed content of individual publications. Nor has the Executive Board adopted the Zwemmer Committee’s statement that overlapping passages might account for the scope of Prof. Nijkamp’s oeuvre.
The summary includes a written statement from the rector of the university, Frank van der Duijn Schouten:
When these articles were published, the guidelines now laid down in the Dutch Code of Conduct did not exist. Partly for this reason, VU University Amsterdam has decided to refrain from further investigation into the individual publications in question. However, the outcome of the Zwemmer Committee’s investigation does raise the question of whether the principle that academic work must be original has been systematically undermined. Partly based on the Zwemmer Committee’s report, we will be intensifying the discussion of this subject within VU University Amsterdam. What standard are we using, and how should the members of the academic community call one another to account with respect to this standard?
Nijkamp’s response is strongly worded, as far as we could tell via Google Translate. His main criticisms seem to be that out of the 2,400 articles he’s published since 1972, the committee only looked at the 260 currently available digitally; many of these are “lighter genre magazines” rather than peer reviewed papers. He also disagreed with the validity of the term “self-plagiarism” itself, and was upset that the committee — or, more specifically Zwemmer — investigated the work of a dead co-author, Piet Rietveld.
Nijkamp won his country’s highest science award, the Spinoza Prize, in 1996. A spokesperson for the Free University of Amsterdam emailed us to say that Nijkamp was made an emeritus professor in January 2015. His work is heavily cited; he has an i10-index of 319 since 2010.
Update 9:40 a.m. EST 3/23/15: Nijkamp sent us a statement via email:
1. Last year various successive anonymous allegations were raised questioning my scientific integrity.
2. The University appointed a few committees to investigate the various anonymous complaints.
3. The findings – in various stages – as of the beginning of this year – are:
– one of the main sources of false information dispersion, Richard Gill (University of Leiden), has been instructed by his University to offer a public apology for scientific misconduct (to be published on his University website).
– a recent verdict of LOWI (a kind of national court on scientific integrity) has convincingly proclaimed that any accusation of violation of scientific integrity from my side misses any ground. Moreover, the VU University has been found guilty by treating my case in an improper way, by drawing false conclusions and by violating confidentiality rules.
– finally, in a recent starement the VU University has also concluded that my publication practice does not jeopardize or violate scientific integrity rules.
So, in conclusion, my case is clean and can be closed.
The “public apology” he is referring to is a declaration by Richard Gill after an adjudication between the two professors over Gill’s publishing the initial accusations against Kourtit. You can read some background on ThePostOnline (in Dutch), and the declaration here. The relevant portion is below:
Ad 1) prof. Gill recognises that he has made public a document that partially contained confidential information. Gill was aware of this and took account of this at the time of publication. He has only made the decision to make the document public after extensive deliberation and on the basis of the fact that an important part of said document consisted of scientific criticism of published scientific articles. He never has, and never has had, the intention of harming the interests of the plaintiffs by publishing the document. His only wish was to elicit a scientific debate. He acknowledges that he could have used other means.
Ad 2) Prof. Gill has indicated that it has never been his intention to accuse prof. Nijkamp and dr. Kourtit of data fraud, or of any other violation of scientific integrity, and that he has never expressed these allegations. Prof. Gill has declared that he only wishes to conduct a substantial scientific discussion about the quality and results of the research. He is of the opinion that, on the basis of the available information, there are a number of ambiguities in the analysis and presentation of the research data that should be further investigated. Prof. Gill does not thereby support all conclusions and allegations that the aforementioned document contains, specifically those that relate to allegations concerning data fraud.
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