A Cardinal sin? Communications researcher accused of plagiarizing former Pope

Peter Schulz

A communications researcher in Switzerland found guilty of plagiarism and sanctioned is facing more allegationsincluding that he plagiarized work by a former Pope.

Peter J. Schulz, who works at the University of Lugano, has already lost two book chapters. He also has retracted two papers and issued three errata; the errata note failing to properly cite other authors and plagiarism. In 2016, he was temporarily suspended by his university for misappropriating the work of others.

Most recently, Schulz has been accused of plagiarizing Pope John Paul II (who resigned died in 2005) and the English philosopher, Sir Anthony Kenny, in a 2001 book chapter.

Dario Martinelli, the director of the International Semiotics Institute, which published the book chapter, told Retraction Watch he has verified the allegations and plans to issue a retraction. Martinelli explained that he appointed a committee to investigate, which verified the accusations.

Once published, this retraction will bring Schulz’s total to five retractions and three errata.

Plagiarizing from Pope John Paul II

In April 2017, Michael V. Dougherty, a philosopher at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, sent a letter to Martinelli, accusing Schulz of misappropriating material from Pope John Paul II, and requested the 2001 chapter be retracted. Dougherty sent a similar letter to the University of Lugano in December 2017, requesting that the university investigate the issue.

In both letters, Dougherty compares highlighted passages in the book chapter “Subjectivity from a Semiotic Point of View,” to Pope John Paul II’s essay, Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” published in 1993 and to Kenny’s 1988 book “The Self.”  

On January 2, James South, director of Marquette University Press, which published Kenny’s work, sent Martinelli a letter, also requesting Schulz’s chapter be retracted in light of “severe plagiarism of a copyrighted work.”

Dougherty has alerted publishers to potential problems with Schulz’s (and others’) work before, including a 2006 article by Schulz that was retracted in 2017. (Although the notice for the 2006 paper does not indicate why it was retracted, an Oct. 2016 email from journal manager Philipp Bachmann says the 2006 paper contained “major” instances of “misappropriations of the expressions of other scholars.”)

Dougherty told us:

I have been working on all of these Schulz cases for over two years now. I requested the retractions on the basis of suspected plagiarism, requested institutional investigations, provided written documentation, and testified by Skype in one case.

Schulz did not respond to requests for comment. He has acknowledged mistakes in other works.

Multiple investigations

In 2016, the University of Lugano in Switzerland investigated plagiarism allegations in eight works by Schulz. In August 2016, a university statement (which we translated via Google) announced that only two of the cases examined constituted minor violations of copyright, and the other six could be attributed to incorrect methods of citing sources. It sanctioned Schulz by suspending him from his role as full professor for the fall 2017 semester.

In addition to the University of Lugano’s investigation into Schulz’s work, two other universities have looked into the roles Schulz’s co-authors may have played. The University of Amsterdamwhere Bert Meuffels is basedrecommended two corrections; Virginia Tech, home to co-author Kent Nakamoto, concluded in 2016 that “substantial plagiarism had occurred,” but that Schulz was responsible.  

Dougherty has alerted two other publishers about potential issues in works by Schulza 2012 book chapter published by Springer on which Nakamoto is co-author, and a 2014 paper in the Journal of Communication in Healthcare on which Meuffels is co-author.

In February 2017, a spokesperson for Springer told Dougherty it was “publishing an erratum for the chapter which is currently in production,” but, as of January 5, the publisher said “Our Ethics department is working on the matter urgently” but has not yet finalized “a retraction or errata.” In August 2017, Renata Schiavo, the editor-in-chief of Journal of Communication in Healthcare, told Dougherty that the journal planned to issue a correction to the paper in the fall of 2017.

We followed up with Schiavo and a spokesperson for Springer to ask if and when they plan to take action.

Update, 1600 UTC, 01/15/18: On January 13, Martinelli sent us a link to a retraction announcement on Facebook.

Update, 2000 UTC, 01/17/18: Schiavo responded to our request for comment:
Yes, the Journal was informed that the Ethical Committee of the University of Amsterdam examined an allegation on issues of alleged plagiarism and referencing re: one of Dr. Schultz’a papers the Journal published. The committee apparently concluded that the authors had not violated the Code of Scientific Integrity, but a correction or correction note was called for at the discretion of the editor.
The Journal is further investigating this case (e.g., verifying the information we received in collaboration with the Publisher), and to the best of my understanding is planning to publish a correction in one of the upcoming issues, at which time further information will become available.  Obviously, the Journal takes these kinds of concerns very seriously.

Update Jan 19 2018 16:27 UTC: A representative of the Journal of Communication in Healthcare tells us the erratum will appear in the March 2018 issue. 

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3 thoughts on “A Cardinal sin? Communications researcher accused of plagiarizing former Pope”

  1. Editing note: John Paul II died in 2005, not resigned.
    His successor, Benedict XVI, retired in 2013. As we say in Poland, German people work until they retire, Polish people – until they die.

  2. The brain trust at the U of Lugano has seemingly adopted a stance that will inspire climate change deniers, anti vaccine zealots, and flat-earthers everywhere by adopting the position that if they don’t like the source or messenger of knowledge then such knowledge can be ignored, dismissed or otherwise swept under the proverbial rug of ignorance. For now, at least, they have not taken up the fake news mantra that is so popular in certain circles! One can only wonder how the U of Lugano’s contempt for intellectual property rights will impact potential research collaborators, funders, and partners in the future.

    Media reporting of Un;iversity of Lugano’s response (Lugano is located in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland):


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