The infectious self-plagiarism of radiologist Hedvig Hricak

The infectious self-plagiarism of radiologist Hedvig Hricak

In medicine, academic performance is evaluated quantitatively, by the sheer number of papers. Promotions are granted according to the publication output, often counted in hundreds. Doctors love to throw around sentences like “I have more than 300 papers”, or 400, or 500, which is meant to put their clinician colleagues in their place. Such high-throughput publishing culture heavily relies first of all on the system of “honorary” authorships, i.e. those utterly unrelated to the actual research become co-authors solely by the virtue of their higher hierarchy status or their being friends or even family. Other questionable tactics are salami-publishing (where even a tiniest dataset or analysis is stretched and re-used again and again for several consecutive publications) and good old self-plagiarism, or text re-use. To avoid being busted for double-publishing, clever doctors combine both methods to achieve some variation between their overlapping publications. At the end of the day, where others would publish only one measly paper, these tricksters get two, three and much more. Guess whose publication list will look more impressive, and who will climb the academic career ladder then. Another danger of self-plagiarism: it can lead to “proper” plagiarism and poor quality research. When untreated in one scientist, it also becomes contagious. Continue reading “The infectious self-plagiarism of radiologist Hedvig Hricak”

Self-Plagiarism: helps careers, hurts noone?

Self-Plagiarism: helps careers, hurts noone?

Times Higher Education recently reported about an online survey on research integrity of British scientists. The study was performed and evaluated by Joanna Williams and David Roberts, two scientists at the University of Kent (their full report here). Interestingly, they not only assessed scientists’ own self-reported research misconduct (this being a topic where scientists tend to be less than perfectly honest), but also the so-called “unmatched count”, which “allows respondents to indicate malpractice without specifically implicating themselves”.  The sad, but hardly surprising results: one fifth of the respondents acknowledged having fabricated their research data, one out of seven admitted committing plagiarism, and more than a third “reported having published extracts from the same piece in more than one location”.

Self-plagiarism is a convenient tool to boost one’s publication record without doing any proper additional research.  This is why many academics see extensive copy-pasting of one’s previously published text as a form of misconduct. Of note, this behaviour has nothing to do with occasional repetition of standard formulations or methods descriptions. However, when I reported in April 2016 about certain excessive cases of self-plagiarism, some of my readers strongly disagreed these were anywhere near research misconduct. They showed a more relaxed attitude to self-plagiarism, especially where literature reviews were concerned. Many even reject the term, and prefer to speak of ‘text re-use’, for the purpose of spreading own knowledge and ideas to reach wider masses. From this perspective, which many journal editors seem to share, exact double-publishing of the same review or opinion paper is still frowned upon, but it is enough to introduce some additional paragraphs or a slightest modification of focus to avoid a retraction. Continue reading “Self-Plagiarism: helps careers, hurts noone?”

The decadence of German medical doctorate

The decadence of German medical doctorate

Germany is a country where a doctorate still invites respect and even deference, in certain circles at least. Here, the prefix “Dr.” even becomes official part of your name, while your professorial thesis advisor is reverentially called “Doktorvater”- doctoral father (there is no appropriate term for female supervisors, which makes the concept even more embarrassing these days). There is a whole zoo of German doctorate degrees, biologists and other natural scientists are generally “Dr. rer. nat.” and medical doctors are “Dr. med”. Unlike in the Anglo-Saxon model, German physicians do not receive a default MD title with graduation, they can only call themselves Herr or Frau Doktor once they wrote and defended a dissertation at their university.

The thing which angers German life scientists (and others) about this peculiar German medical doctorate, is that it is relatively easy to get, while providing equal, if not better, academic advantage as their own PhD-like Dr. rer. nat. Biologists need between 3 and 5 years to have enough material for a thesis, while their medical colleagues invest often less than a year, and even this in-between their university lectures, courses and exams. The medical dissertations themselves accordingly often contain little (if any) own research and are much shorter, occasionally just a couple of pages describing the attached co-authored publications (doctors publish a lot, often the sheer quantity counts). This lightweight model is exactly what generally prevents German medical doctors from having their titles recognized in the US or elsewhere as a PhD degree. In Germany however, both Dr. rer. nat. and Dr. med. have an equal value when academic jobs are distributed. Continue reading “The decadence of German medical doctorate”

Academic self-plagiarism: misconduct or a literary art form?

Academic self-plagiarism: misconduct or a literary art form?

Plagiarism, the misappropriation of the (usually written) work of others in order to present it as one’s own, is universally regarding as academic misconduct. A number of German politicians and even government ministers saw their stellar careers damaged (sometimes beyond repair), and their beloved doctorate degrees occasionally taken away, after they were discovered to have plagiarized large sections of their dissertations.

But what about self-plagiarism, where scientists recycle their own texts and data for new papers, and occasionally even re-publish entire articles (with minor changes)? Most journals, keen to publish original works only, do not allow self-plagiarism. But the science publisher and Open Access pioneer Jan Velterop even suggests that self-plagiarism should be an acceptable or even welcome thing in academic publishing.

Debora Weber-Wulff, professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin and THE specialist for plagiarism detection, disagrees. She is one of the contributors of the anti-plagiarism platform VroniPlag Wiki where the above-mentioned German politicians and many medical doctors were exposed for stealing texts for their own dissertations. Here is what Weber-Wulff told me: Continue reading “Academic self-plagiarism: misconduct or a literary art form?”