Neri Oxman accused of lifting from article whose plagiarism led to downfall of concussion expert

Neri Oxman (credit)

Neri Oxman’s problems may be getting worse.

The researcher, who has become embroiled in plagiarism accusations following her billionaire husband’s push to depose the president of Harvard for plagiarizing in her thesis, appears to have lifted about 100 words in her thesis from an article that has been plagiarized before.

Last week, Business Insider reported that Oxman “plagiarized multiple paragraphs of her 2010 doctoral dissertation…including at least one passage directly lifted from other writers without citation.” Oxman, who earned her PhD at MIT and was later a professor there until 2020, has since acknowledged some citation errors.

The new allegation is that Oxman’s thesis also lifted about 100 words from a 2000 article in Physics World without quoting or citing the piece. (See a comparison here using the Vroniplag similarity detector set at a minimum of six consecutive words of overlap. The 2000 article text is on the left, and part of the thesis is on the right.) That article was plagiarized in 2005 by a then-leading sports medicine expert, Paul McCrory, who resigned from a key post in 2022 following revelations of that and other pilfering. McCrory has now had more than ten papers retracted.

Steve Haake, a sports engineer who wrote the 2000 Physics World article, was alerted to the overlap, and who in turn alerted us to it told Retraction Watch that Oxman: 

had done what Paul McCrory did:

  1. Copied and pasted my words and passed them off as her own, as identified by the © 2010 Neri Oxman on page 1
  2. Copied the sentiment of my article without reference to it.

If she hadn’t done the first, the second could have been fixed with due citation and an addition to the references.

The overlap was also noted by an X user on January 6.

Michael Dougherty, who has documented plagiarism throughout the philosophy literature and has written an academic book on the subject, said the identified text seems to be “one more [example] where quotation marks and a precise footnote attribution to Haake’s words are warranted,” noting “Oxman has pledged to correct the failures of attribution in her dissertation.”

He continued:

Without basic punctuation and source attribution, readers cannot know whose voice is truly speaking in the text, and genuine authors are left uncredited. I don’t see any reference to Haake in the dissertation.

Sleuth Nick Brown, who was involved in determining the extent of McCrory’s plagiarism, told Retraction Watch he did not “think this is remotely as bad as what we saw from Paul McCrory. It probably didn’t save her much time compared to writing her own three or four sentences from scratch.”

Brown continued:

Of course, in an ideal world the right amount of text for anyone to be recycling from other authors (or, in most cases, themselves) without attribution is zero, but this kind of thing seems to be so common that if we set out to retract a PhD every time it happened we would never finish. A correction and 15 minutes of awkwardness are probably appropriate consequences, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator. I do think it’s pretty amazing that two prominent cases of plagiarism link into the same piece from a non-academic publication! 

Haake also noted Oxman:

misread my article and mistakenly says that pole vaulting was an ancient Greek Olympic sport.  Pole vaulting was never in the ancient Olympics!

In response to a request for comment we sent at 7 a.m. ET, a representative of Oxman’s company said “Neri has not had the opportunity to review the language presented.” They did not respond to a follow-up asking when she would be likely to be able to review it. We will update with any responses.

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77 thoughts on “Neri Oxman accused of lifting from article whose plagiarism led to downfall of concussion expert”

  1. Plagiarizing wives pushing their husbands to depose plagiarizing presidents… there may be material for a screenplay…

    1. It’s not the same as plagiarism coming from the head of the most important university in the world. While it exposed a fairly mild hypocrisy, I think Oxman is a genuine scholar. It doesn’t seem to be the case for Claudine Gay.

        1. Wrong. Since Neri has no academic position today and she’s not publishing anymore, the only reason she is being targeted is as a retaliation against her husband activities.
          One of the issues highlighted by her husband was plagiarism but far from being the only or even the key issue with Ms. Gay.
          Targeting family is not a fair game if the family is not directly or indirectly involved on your businesses affairs or disputes.

          1. Gay didn’t have an academic position. It was an administrative position. Stop being lousy hypocrites.

          2. Her husband was directly involved in suppressing her involvement in the Media Labs Epstein donation scandal. As such, her academic career is not separate from her husband’s activities.

          3. Just a few days ago I saw a defense of a student thesis based heavily on Oxman’s work. In the design world her work is much followed and much loved by students. It matters if much of it is plagiarized or low quality.

      1. Not at all surprised by your extention of ” unwarranted ” grace towards Oxman..and your prepared readiness to condem Claudine Gay. Your hypocrisy has no bottom.

        1. So you make it clear it’s not actually the act of plagiarism that concerns you. It’s who does it that matters.

      2. “I think Oxman is a genuine scholar. It doesn’t seem to be the case for Claudine Gay.’

        It might be worth pointing out, as Alvin Tillery has recently, that of the 7 Harvard presidents in the 70 years, Claudine Gay ranks #4 for publications at the time of her appointment as president, and #2 for citations.

        My impression is that she has been groomed for administrative positions for some time, and served well in those capacities. That career track is one we are all familiar with, and it differs from a strictly research/teaching track most of us are on.

      3. Silly David this is about ethics in academic publishing. Ethics holds regardless of whether you are president of Harvard, or of the United States, or just tenured.

    2. This is ridiculous.
      One should hold others to no less than one’s own ethical standards. A case of a kettle calling another black.

    3. Or maybe an alumnus who gives millions to Harvard has a right to speak out and this has nothing to do with his wife. You sound like a 1950’s outdated commercial talking about the “nagging wife.”

  2. Oxman’s Dissertation Committee especially her Dis Chairperson failed to exercise due diligence in their final review.. Oxman’s MIT doctorate (PhD) should be rescinded along with the former Harvard’s President’s Doctorate (PhD) due to her Plagiarism .
    Bottom line: there are no allowances for so called unintentional neglect when conducting research and writing research results.

    1. There are degrees of seriousness when it comes to plagiarism. How much has been copied, are ideas being adopted and passed off as one’s own, or is basic information readily available being copied as a lazy shortcut? What she has done does not remotely compare to the former Harvard president. This is mostly political theatrics.

      1. “What she has done does not remotely compare to the former Harvard president.”

        Citation needed. I have seen well-founded opinions suggesting the contrary.

        1. She was not the president of MIT and thus her scholarship did not represent a dire threat to the future of honor code enforcement. Period. Axel Springer is going to close down Business Insider over this, meaning dozens of people will lose their jobs to avoid dragging down an entire company.

          Claudine Gay stole key parts of her entire body of scholarship from better people. Oxman appears to be typical of academics with some bad writing habits. Moreover, Oxman isn’t in academia as a professor or administrator. If MIT wants to revoke her Ph.D. they can but if they did they’d probably suffer grievous harm to future recruitment just like Harvard did.

          You know incredibly little of which you speak for someone so confident. We have a term for this.

          (’04 if it matters)

          1. Can you provide evidence for “key parts”? All I have seen re Gay are bits of patch-writing; I have not seen anyone who understands quantitative poli sci make an argument for “key parts.”

            Are you *sure* you’re an academic?

          2. ” Axel Springer is going to close down Business Insider over this,”

            I knew something awesome was going to come out of all this. Business Insider turned into the overeducated version of Buzzfeed (complete with paywall).

      2. I agree; Oxman’s plagiarism is more pervasive and significant than Gay’s, including lifting large segments of text from Wikipedia with no attribution, and people arguing that it is inconsequential are likely doing so for political reasons.

    2. Actually, I want to propose checking all the PhDs of the last 20 years for plagiarism. If it is too much then only those of the heads of universities. No fear! We’ll be surprised!

      1. Feel free to join the fight against plagiarism at any time. You don’t need our permission to analyze existing research.

    3. I agree. The PhD should be rescinded. Wonder if MIT has the guts to do it or are they too are indebted financially to Oxman”s husband millions.
      Please, we are trying to believe in the Institutions of ? higher learning.

    1. This was for a Ph.D. in architectural design and computation at MIT. Even if she was, say, writing for her MFA, she would still be required to cite and reference her sources. Influences on an actual creative piece (fiction, art) would not be in question – the analysis, however, still requires the same attention to acknowledging sources as any other academic writing.

    2. An influence is different from an exact cut and paste. You don’t cut a piece of Miro out and paste it on your painting. You are suggesting she did nothing more than copy his format style.

      1. Why are so-called progressives and liberals going after the wife? It’s anti-feminist, chauvinistic, and regressive. It reminds me of conservatives going after Hillary because Bill’s a horn dog.

        1. JJ Asks: “Why are so-called progressives and liberals going after the wife?”

          They are exposing Akman’s hypocrisy. It really has little to do with his wife.

    3. They do if it’s a dissertation and partial completion for a phd, which is a science research degree. Supposedly an extension of the knowledge record to demonstrate one’s ability to create or extend knowledge by making a significant contribution using scientific investigation method, which is what a PhD is supposed to signify.

    4. No she didn’t. Read the actual things. One of the allegations was the thanks part atv5he end – hardly “academic” copying

  3. Universities have the money to license software to check for plagiarism inside all dissertations, PhD theses and the like, before sending the draft for review

      1. So until then plagiarism was acceptable because it wasn’t as likely to be caught? Now you have me wondering about your degree. I hope your work didn’t involve designing and manufacturing the brakes on my car.

        1. I am not defending her, at all. Take a chill pill. I am just stating a fact, that back then software was not as popular. It is possible her thesis was never checked for plagiarism before the recent events.

      2. Actually, many major research journals checked manuscripts for plagiarism before sending them for review. The software was widely available since the 1990s, for a price.

  4. What happens if you take a random sampling of PhD theses from 2010 and run them thru a plagiarism detector? What’s the percentage of papers flagged for plagiarism?

    1. It will not suffice to “run them thr[ough] a plagiarism detector”. As I have shown time and again (latest at software can determine text overlap that could be considered plagiarism. But the systems suffer from false positives (correctly cited material marked as overlap) and above all from false negatives (plagiarism not marked as such for various reasons). Software cannot solve social problems.
      In both cases, Gay and Oxman, further serious investigation is warrented. I find it highly problematic how people are trying to excuse plagiarism and hand-wave it away as just missing quotation marks or such. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and if one or two passages are found, a more vigorous investigation is needed. This can take a lot of time, however, as it needs to be done cautiously and carefully.

        This is an excellent article in The Atlantic by Ian Bogost about how he went on the journey of checking his doctoral dissertation from twenty years ago using iThenticate (a cousin of TurnItIn) as a plagiarism detector. He goes into detail about the issues you described — that it only finds overlap, and then a lot of work has to be done manually to eliminate false positives. At the end of that journey his dissertation was completely clear of plagiarism, leading him to the conclusion that these instances of reported plagiarism are important issues, not to be taken lightly, but that the consequences of the plagiarism wars won’t be all positive.
        Unfortunately, as you’ve also pointed out, one of the biggest predictors of bad behavior is previous bad behavior.

  5. Here is the truth behind this article. Mr. Ackman stood up to the elite mob regarding Ms. Gay’s inability to answer a very simple question. Then the scrutiny hit her and all these instances of plagiarism came to light. Yet she remains a tenured professor making $900,000/yr., so no “real” consequences. Then, because the elite mob couldn’t really harm Mr. Ackman they went after his wife. I do not defend the wife if these accusations are accurate. What I do point out is that attacking her is obviously an attempt to silence Mr. Ackman. This is something that even the Mafia had strict rules against. Shame on us all…..

    1. Indeed, it’s a case of whataboutism & has succeeded in knocking back the topic of the harassment & abuse of Jewish students at the Ivys. The systemic dysfunction of higher education is a national issue. Plagiarism may be a tertiary issue, but in Oxmans case, an individual one. Unless BI itself reviews all MIT dissertations for 2010, their reporting is of dubious motivation and intent on personal destruction.

    2. Yeah right… If you can’t take the heat from the fire, don’t light it. He went after Claudine with plagiarism because he couldn’t get her to resign. Her staff supported her. Now his wife is found guilty and admitted to plagiarism. Someone did the same digging Ackman paid someone else to. So, Oxa need to resign. Havard must uphold its standard.

      1. When you throw dirt toward another, some of it is likely to blow back in your direction and possibly land directly on you.

        These are not honorable individuals..Both Ackman and his wife have been accustomed to using their power and privilege to bully others in getting what they want..including a PhD that was plagiarized, and the ousting of a woman he determined he and others like him wanted gone.

        Imagine being on that committee and trying to challenge his wife’s dissertation.
        Career gone in a nano second.
        Ackman and those his club are the present day” Elite Mob”, that they have always so deeply desired and sought to be
        Social climbers of the worst sort.

      2. She doesn’t have an academic position, does she? I don’t particularly like or dislike her, but she has no academic role or responsibility. I just remember vaguely hearing about her when she dated Brad Pitt. She is hardly in a class with the president of Harvard. This just shows BI couldn’t get any dirt on Ackman, so went after his wife.

        1. I personally knew about Neri Ocman before I knew who Bill Ackman was. I watched an hourlong episode devoted to her life and work included in Netflix’s series Abstract The Art of Design, and I also read an NYT profile of her done some years ago. She is a very prominent academic with incredible access to resources, access she had even before her marriage to Ackman, access that is now multiplied hundred fold through his wealth and power. The story is newsworthy because it illustrates that Ackman’s attacks on Gay’s plagiarism and his relentless push for her ouster were in bad faith. BI’s story, and this Retraction Watch post, continue to be newsworthy because he appears to genuinely not be able to stop posting on X, fanning the flames of the scandal and revealing the extent to which he believes his wealth should afford himself and Neri special treatment. The hypocrisy of the mega rich deserves the spotlight.

    3. So you make it clear it’s not actually the act of plagiarism that concerns you. It’s who does it that matters.

    4. All of it is wrong. Mr. Ackman did not merely provide his opinion about her response to the international conflict and behavior, he specifically targeted and retaliated against her career. What was done to his wife was equally retaliatory and wrong. Why is anyone making any conditional statements about either one. Plagiarism in any regard is improper. This practice of retaliation is never ending and will ultimately harm the livelihood of many individuals. It is a terrible state of affairs to be able to claim you will go after anyone publicly (for personal/emotional reasons) and do so without any consequences.

      1. mr ackman has been gunning for dr. gay for somewhat longer than the reaction to the Oct 7 Hamas atrocity. something about the endowment and market returns or something.

  6. Ackman started all this when he assumed his billionaire status also allowed him to be the boss and bully of higher education. That Congressional hearing was a joke. Elise Stefanik is not one to harass anyone about antisemitism when she embraces replacement theory and endorses a candidate who openly hangs out with white supremacists at his fundraisers, but that’s another story altogether. If Ackman didn’t like Dr Gays answers to the questions of that hearing which was nothing more than 5 hours of harassment, then don’t donate to the school anymore. Simple. Instead, he went on this crusade because Dr Gay wouldn’t resign and Harvard backed her…he couldn’t have that. His wife being guilty of the same plagiarism that drove Harvard’s president to resign is just the beginning of what Ackman deserves.

  7. Why is her billionaire husband so upset about this firestorm about his wife? Live by the sword, died by the sword… Get over it Ackman .

    1. Because he may think this is a kind of revenge, or he feels the level of that kind of plagiarism is not a big deal

      1. The accusation of “plagiarism” has served its purpose. It obtained the resignation of someone whom Aikman believed to be unfit to head a major education provider, on account of having the wrong skin color (i.e. affirmative action).
        Now it is time to show that everyone else is guilty of the same level of plagiarism, therefore what Oxman did is no big deal.

  8. The plagiarism triggers on a six word phrase! “The United States Department of Health Education and Welfare” is 9 words. This now split Department cannot be discussed without triggering a spurious charge.

    The engines thus trigger on banalities. Any discussion of the physics of pole vaulting after the advent of fiberglass poles in the 1960s would have very similar phrases. I am not a fan of ultraconservative billionaires, but in this case it is not clear to me that Oxman even saw the supposed plagiarized source.

    1. That’s not actually how those systems work, at all. There’s no simple magic button to identify plagiarism, the software is a tool used to help in the process. Anyone who thinks a plagiarism detector outputs a true/false value is clueless.

      1. I am saying that there is NO magic button. You have better stated the point I was trying to make. Plagiarism detectors need to be used with care. I was criticizing an apparent lack of care.

    2. It triggers on a six word phrase minimum–obviously the users of the tool then examine each instance. And if you look at the comparison, it’s much more than six words.
      All of these tools are going to establish some type of baseline, that doesn’t make them spurious.

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