Political science prof up to five retractions after she “carelessly uses parts of diverse sources”

Teresa Cierco

A professor of political science at the University of Porto in Portugal has had at least five papers retracted for plagiarism.

Or, as one journal put it, Teresa Cierco “carelessly uses parts of diverse sources.” 

Cierco’s areas of research include Kosovo, Macedonia, and Timor-Leste. The retractions, for papers published in 2013 and 2014, began in 2013, with three happening this year.

Cierco told Retraction Watch that she now realizes that she “did things wrong and tried to correct them.”

It was so stupid, so naive of me. A colleague of mine who wants my place, last year, she started reading all that I have done and making complaints and discovered that I was not putting quotation marks in the correct places. I was putting references at the ends of paragraphs but I should have put them throughout. That is considered plagiarism by some editors. Others found that I was naive.

Cierco would not name the colleague. But following the complaints, she said she contacted several journals starting last fall to ask them to publish corrected versions of her articles. 

I never thought I was doing plagiarism. And when I found out that this can be considered plagiarism I tried to correct it.

She added: 

It was my initiative, and I had the courage to correct these things.

One journal, the European Foreign Affairs Review, corrected a paper by Cierco in January. But in November, the journal retracted the article.

Enter Michael Dougherty

The most recent retractions — from the Journal of Contemporary European Studies and European Foreign Affairs Review — came after Michael Dougherty, a professor at Ohio Dominican University who has become a force in plagiarism detection, approached various journals about 13 different papers. 

In August, Dougherty wrote to Martin Bull, the editor of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies, that:

The quotations attributed to fieldwork interviews in the 2013 article conducted by Prof. Cierco correspond verbatim or near-verbatim to non-fieldwork sentences published in a 2011 European Union study. As the sentences appear in that source work, however, they are not presented as interview data but merely as scholarly analysis. Prof. Cierco has not only apparently fashioned fieldwork quotations from the text of the study, but she appears to have plagiarized the surrounding discussion. In addition to suspected data fraud there is suspected academic plagiarism.

Cierco denied making up quotations, and said that one of the people she had quoted in the study had contacted the journal earlier this year to confirm that the interview had occurred. We were unable to verify this.

Earlier this month, Bull and Elizabeth Walker, Global Head of Portfolio, Area Studies Journals, Taylor & Francis, which publishes the journal, wrote to Dougherty:

After careful consideration of all relevant information, including responses from the author to the Publisher, CrossRef similarity check reports on the article, and consultation with an independent expert who evaluated the relevant material, the editors have found that the article contains numerous and lengthy passages that either represent verbatim copies of someone else’s work, or which paraphrase source material with only minor alterations without being identified as such. 

In two cases identified by Dougherty — one with the help of his undergraduate honors students — publishers of books that included plagiarizing chapters by Cierco said they would simply take the books out of print. Cierco is editor of one of the books, The European Neighbourhood: Challenges and Opportunities (Routledge 2016).

Dougherty told Retraction Watch:

I’m disappointed that the publishers of the two books are not issuing formal retractions, but instead are just putting the books out of print. Silently pulling the books is not a proper correction of the scholarly record. I told the publishers that the right thing to do is to issue an online retraction that can be registered on the Retraction Watch Database.

Cierco pointed out that most of the retraction notices did not include the word “plagiarism.” However, they all describe behavior that is consistent with plagiarism, and Retraction Watch readers may be familiar with the tendency among many journals to use euphemisms instead of using the “p word.”

Cicero added:

This whole situation is ruining my life of course. You must know that. It has been a very stressful year and people don’t hear me. Now everything is against me. I cannot participate in national or international projects. Now my life is just to teach. I am a good professor, every year my evaluations are excellent. It has been my only chance to have a job.

Cierco said that she wished “that someone had told me years ago before that I was doing something wrong.”

I only realized that I was always making the same mistakes because it was a pattern. What Michael Dougherty found was easy to find.

This post has been updated with comments from Cierco.

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One thought on “Political science prof up to five retractions after she “carelessly uses parts of diverse sources””

  1. I share Dougherty’s disappointment in the publisher not issuing formal retractions in these cases. However, with respect to the edited book, I sincerely hope that for the sake of the other contributors whose chapters are not tainted in any way, that the publisher commits to the timely reissuing of the book without the problem chapters and, of course, under a different editor.

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