Communications researcher loses two book chapters, investigated for plagiarism

BrillA researcher who studies how others communicate is struggling with his own communications: Peter J. Schulz has lost two book chapters for misappropriating the work of others, and is under investigation by his university.

Although the publisher believes the errors were unintentional, the retractions have prompted it to stop selling the books altogether.

Schulz now has a total of three retractions and one erratum for failing to properly cite other works. The University of Lugano in Switzerland, where he is based, told us they’re investigating allegations of plagiarism against him.

Both of the chapters that were recently retracted appear in books published by Brill. The retraction notes say the same thing:

While we do not believe that it was the intention of the author of the article to misappropriate other persons’ material, we do admit that the chapter does not meet standards currently expected of an academic publication. We regret any misappropriation of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions in our publications and will remain vigilant to prevent this recurring in the future. We give notice that the chapter has been retracted and will not appear in any future editions of the book.

The chapters that the note applies to are:

The publisher is no longer selling Bordering Biomedicine, thanks to the issues with the chapter. Eric van Broekhuizen, the acquisitions editor at Brill, told us:

As we hardly sell any copies any more (the book is 10 years old after all), we will no longer sell it. Indeed, because of that chapter. It’s no use printing a new edition.

He told us he also plans to pull Social Studies of Health, Illness and Disease.

I will pull it out. It should not be sold. We are not planning another edition.

The retractions follow an email to the publisher from Michael V. Dougherty, a philosopher at Ohio Dominican University who has alerted us to instances of plagiarism before. Dougherty provided evidence that the chapters contained misappropriated material, and requested that they be retracted.

Comments on PubPeer have suggested other papers by Schulz (here, here, and here, for instance) may contain instances of overlap, as well.

The University of Lugano (also known as Università della Svizzera italiana) is investigating allegations of plagiarism against Schulz, Federica De Rossa Gisimundo, head of the Ethics Committee, told us:

Yes, we confirm that professor Peter Schulz is the subject of an investigation for plagiarism, conducted by the Ethics Committee of our university (USI Università della Svizzera italiana). Professor Schulz has been accused by third parties of scientific misconduct that could have detrimental effects on the academic integrity (plagiarism) of our university. USI is therefore taking the required measures to clarify the matter. The USI Ethics Committee ( is the body in charge of independently examining cases of scientific misconduct by USI Faculty and staff members. The Committee is, at the moment, evaluating all aspects in order to draw its conclusions.

She added that:

for the purpose of the administrative investigation, he is to be presumed innocent until the Ethics Committee draws its conclusions.

We reached out to a few journals in which papers by Schulz appear. Philipp Bachmann, the Geschäftsführer (“managing director”) for Studies in Communication Sciences told us that the journal is looking into two papers, following a suggestion from Dougherty that there is evidence they might contain plagiarized material. Bachmann told us:

We at SComS take allegations of plagiarism very seriously. The issue is under investigation.

The papers in question are:

Dougherty explained to us why he is invested in this case:

I first came across Prof. Schulz’s work in a collection of essays on Renaissance philosophy that I was asked to review for a journal in 2012, and I mentioned a citation problem with Prof. Schulz’s chapter in my published review. Then last year I noticed that Prof. Schulz had published two articles in Argumentation, a journal in which I had published. Since one of my research interests is serial plagiarism, I examined carefully those two articles, and then I submitted what I took to be evidence of plagiarism to the editors of the journal. As Retraction Watch recently reported, one has now been retracted and the other received an erratum.

In addition to the importance of retractions for preserving the integrity of the body of published scientific works, I thought it could be valuable to compare the responses by editors and publishers in my own field (philosophy) to the field in which Prof. Schulz now primarily publishes (health communication) in the matter of correcting the scholarly record.

We’ve reached out to Schulz for comment. We’ll update this post with anything else we learn.

Update 4/19: Thanks to commenter Chris for pointing to coverage of this case in the Italian press.

Though we still haven’t been able to reach him regarding the chapters in this post, in our past coverage, Schulz has acknowledged some of his mistakes:

I regret very much the severe shortcomings in the three publications.

Read his full statement here.

Hat tip: @FrueheNeuzeit and Michael V. Dougherty

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3 thoughts on “Communications researcher loses two book chapters, investigated for plagiarism”

  1. Local media coverage of the Schulz investigation at USI (links provided below) provides a very unique perspectives about the application of ‘plagiarism’ in cases of misappropriated or unattributed material. In the media reports, Mr Schulz does not deny misappropriation, but asserts that ‘intent’ is a required/essential element of plagiarism: “I made some mistakes, do not deny it and I’m sorry. But plagiarism is another thing: it presupposes intentionality and will be the Ethics Commission to determine whether there was or not ” – translated from Italian using Google Translate (–Sono-distrutto-/).

    Plagiarism is a strict liability offence, analogous to the dichotomous outcome of compliance with traffic speed limits. One drives at a speed love a posted speed limit or not, regardless of the driver’s intention.

    Allowing a defence, against allegations of plagiarism, based on carelessness, recklessness, thoughtlessness or negligence creates an unreasonable burden of proof and will seriously harm public trust in higher education, science and research.–Sono-distrutto-/–E-incredibile-/

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