A look at plagiarism at the Pontifical Gregorian University

Retraction Watch readers may recall the work of Michael Dougherty, who has established a reputation as a sleuth focused on plagiarism. We are pleased to present an excerpt of Dougherty’s new book, New Techniques for Proving Plagiarism: Case Studies from the Sacred Disciplines at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Studies in Research Integrity, vol. 2 (Leiden: Brill 2024).

The principles of textual criticism—borrowed from the fields of classics and medieval studies—have a valuable application for plagiarism investigations. Plagiarists share key features with medieval scribes who worked in scriptoriums and produced copies of manuscripts. Both kinds of copyists—scribes and plagiarists—engage in similar processes, and they commit certain distinctive copying errors that fall into identifiable classes. When committed by plagiarists, these copying errors have probative value for making determinations that a text is copied, and hence, unoriginal. 

To demonstrate fully that a text is a plagiarism of another text, one must show how the text is plagiarizing the other text. Many plagiarism researchers, as well as members of institutional research integrity committees, miss this step. They take the mere identification of textual overlap to be the upper limit of analysis. By stopping short, they leave themselves vulnerable to the typical defenses made—sometimes in bad faith—by academic malefactors and their apologists. Those defenses can include: a claim of independent fortuitous discovery; a claim that one was simply recalling a lecture from memory; a claim that one had cryptomnesia from reading many sources; and the like.

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‘A disturbing experience’: Postdoc fights to have work that plagiarized her thesis retracted

Solange Saxby

In December, Solange Saxby, a postdoctoral research fellow at Dartmouth Health in Lebanon, New Hampshire, was notified by her friend of a paper published in the MDPI journal Nutrients that sounded similar to her dissertation. Saxby pulled up her 2020 dissertation, “The Potential of Taro (Colocasia esculenta) as a Dietary Prebiotic Source for the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer,” and compared it to the 2023 Nutrients article. 

To her dismay, the paper “Taro Roots: An Underexploited Root Crop,” co-authored by researchers at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, overlaps significantly with Saxby’s work, including some passages of word-for-word copying with no citation.  

While the corresponding author of the paper has called the omission of any citation to Saxby’s work “unfortunate” and said that she is working with Nutrients’ publisher – MDPI – to add one, the publisher said the behavior did not amount to plagiarism because the prior work was a thesis.

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Caught by a reviewer: A plagiarizing deep learning paper lingers

Last May, Devrim Çavuşoğlu, an engineer at Turkish software company OBSS, was looking at feedback from a conference reviewer of a paper he and his colleagues had submitted. One comment stood out to him: The reviewer had noticed a resemblance between Çavuşoğlu’s work and another paper accepted to a different conference on computational linguistics. 

When Çavuşoğlu first skimmed through the other paper, he came across some sections containing an uncanny resemblance to his own ideas. “I thought, it’s like I wrote that,” he recalled. “How could it be so similar, did we think about the same thing?” 

He checked the accompanying source code and found the authors of the other paper seemed to have directly copied and built upon his own publicly released code without any attribution – a violation of the license connected to the work. “I was shocked, to be honest,” Çavuşoğlu told Retraction Watch.

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Concussion researcher McCrory up to 17 retractions

Paul McCrory

More than two years after retracting an article by one of its former editors in chief for plagiarism, the British Journal of Sports Medicine has retracted six more pieces by the editor, Paul McCrory, a noted concussion researcher in Australia.

The retractions join 11 more of McCrory’s works, including 10 from BJSM and one from Current Sports Medicine Reports.The BJSM, published by The BMJ, is also correcting two additional articles by McCrory.

Troubles for McCrory – for decades “the world’s foremost doctor shaping the concussion protocols that are used by sports leagues and organizations globally,” according to the New York Times – began in 2021 when Steve Haake, a professor at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, told the BJSM McCrory had plagiarized a 2000 article by Haake in Physics World. (It would not be the only time the work was plagiarized.)

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Cureus retracts paper for plagiarism following Retraction Watch inquiries 

The journal Cureus has retracted a 2022 paper on cancer and the environment just weeks after Retraction Watch raised questions about apparent plagiarism in the article. 

As we reported in early April, the paper, “Causes of Cancer in the World: Comparative Risk Assessment of Nine Behavioral and Environmental Risk Factors”, had a bit of a twinsies thing going with a 2005 article in The Lancet – sharing a title, figures, and wording that “follows the Lancet one on a sentence-by-sentence level while using tortured phrases,” according to the anonymous tipster who informed us of the issue. 

The April 19 retraction notice states:

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Exclusive: Embattled dean accused of plagiarism in NSF report

Erick Jones

Erick Jones, the dean of engineering at the University of Nevada in Reno, appears to have engaged in extensive plagiarism in the final report he submitted to the National Science Foundation for a grant, Retraction Watch has learned.

The $28,238 grant partially supported a three-day workshop that Jones and his wife, Felicia Jefferson, held for 21 students in Washington, DC, in April 2022 titled “Broadening Participation in Engineering through Improved Financial Literacy.” Jefferson received a separate award for $21,757.

Jones submitted his final report to the agency in May 2023. Retraction Watch obtained a copy of that report through a public records request to Jones’s previous employer, the University of Texas at Arlington, and identified three published sources of extended passages he used without citation or quotation marks.

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‘The sincerest form of flattery’: How a math professor discovered his work had been plagiarized

Andras Kornai

Not long ago, it came to my attention that a 2016 paper by my students and me, “Measuring Semantic Similarity Of Words Using Concept Networks,”  had been plagiarized, verbatim. The offenders had added two words to the title, which now read: “A Novel Methodology For Measuring Semantic Similarity Of Words Using Concept Networks.” Their article was published in the journal Webology, which has been delisted from Scopus, Elsevier’s abstract and citation database. My first impulse was to ignore the transgression, but I asked the question what to do on a closed mailing list read by former colleagues:

I know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I’m sufficiently flattered, and I know that even a Harvard President was let go for lesser forms of plagiarism, but Integral University of Lucknow is not exactly Harvard. We may already live in a post-truth world (if Trump gets reelected it’s proof positive that we do) and I don’t quite have it in me to destroy the futures of some random students (or perhaps faculty?) in India. The online journal where it appeared is published in Teheran, and does not appear on Beall’s list of predatory journals. What to do?

The responses ran 10-0 in favor of doing something. Here is a typical one: 

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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.

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Copy and euphemize: When ‘an honor mistake’ means plagiarism

via James Kroll

Readers who have been with us for the long haul may remember we used to collect a catalog of our favorite euphemisms for plagiarism. That list died with the demise of Lab Times, for which we used to write a regular column (although we did write this piece a bit later) – but the magazine’s passing did not mark the end of journals that speak with mealy mouths. 

The latest such euphemism to catch our eye comes from the Journal of STEPS for Humanities and Social Sciences, which in 2022 published a piece by a pair of authors in Iraq about trauma fiction. 

Trauma Reverberations: A Study of Selected Novels,” appeared in 2022, and was written by Intisar Rashid Khaleel and Raed Idrees Mahmood, both of Tikrit University.  

According to the retraction notice

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Author of ‘gibberish’ paper admits to extensive plagiarism

Dulian Zeqiraj

A paper that claimed to have developed a new method to predict acid drainage from mines was not so novel after all, according to one of its authors.

In a series of emails to Retraction Watch, Dulian Zeqiraj of the Polytechnic University of Tirana, Albania, admitted to lifting figures and tables from other articles and said he might also have left some “text as it is in original.”

His paper, “A Novel Stochastic Approach for Modeling Acid Mine Drainage in Three Dimensions,” was published November 17 in Process Safety and Environmental Protection, an Elsevier title.

That the article managed to clear peer review is astonishing, said Muhammad Muniruzzaman, a senior scientist at the Geological Survey of Finland in Espoo, who discovered last week that Zeqiraj’s team had plagiarized his work. 

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