PPP: Plagiarism, Philanthropy and Politics

Last September, I received a request to referee a mathematics paper that was submitted for publication to a serious European journal.  I admit that I detest when such requests arrive, but …. the editor-in-chief is a friend that I admire very much, so I obliged. Fortunately, the job was a piece of cake. Here was my report:

Dear Luigi, The paper looks very good indeed. The problem is that it repeats verbatum –while using almost the same texfile — my paper that just appeared in … online (though accepted in June 2009).  This is really shameful as it is happening with more frequency.  The fact that one can download the texfile from arxive is making these things particularly easy. Best regards, Nassif

He replied:

Dear Nassif, thanks for letting me know. I suggest never to upload the tex file, but only the .pdf, at least in this way they should work more! It happened also to me for my paper … ; it is now almost verbatim in a ….  journal whose name I don’t remember now. With best regards, Luigi

Later, I stumbled on the following alarming article, “Integrity under attack: The state of scholarly publishing”, written by my friend, Doug Arnold. It is worth reading, especially by mathematical scientists.

But then mathematicians are not alone since Germany’s defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has just resigned his post after a scandal over duplications in his PhD thesis. Guttenberg was eventually stripped of his doctoral degree after the University of Bayreuth confirmed that large parts of his 2006 dissertation were plagiarized.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had attempted in vain to keep the popular minister in her cabinet, arguing that Guttenberg’s academic wrong doings did not diminish his merits as defence minister. “I didn’t hire him as a research assistant”, she said. How does she know about research assistants? Well, Germany is the only country in the world that can claim to have a research physicist (actually a PhD in quantum chemistry) as a chancellor. Egypt might be the next one!

Germany’s research organizations and many German scientists did not share Merkel’s view: An open letter, signed by more than 30,000 doctoral students and academics, sharply criticised Merkel for trivializing academic plagiarism.

And Guess what! The London School of Economics has just noticed.

Parts of the 2007 Ph.D. thesis of Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, a son of the –hopefully soon to be ex– despot of Libya, Muammar el-Qaddafi may have been plagiarized or ghost-written. “Analysis of the thesis, which investigated arguments around “soft power,” different voting systems and civil society, suggests 16 instances where he had plagiarised academic texts. Entire passages were lifted from International Monetary Fund research and a 2005 publication, Denying Democracy: “How the IMF and World Bank Take Power from People“, by Tim Jones and Peter Hardstaff.  Gaddafi acknowledged in the thesis that he used research commissioned from a consultancy, Monitor, in his text.

An LSE spokesman said: “LSE is aware that there are allegations of plagiarism concerning the PhD thesis of Saif Gaddafi. The school takes all allegations of plagiarism very seriously and is looking into the matter in accordance with standard LSE procedures.””

The London School of Economics will now divert a donation of $488,000 it received from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. In a statement, the school said it regretted “the reputational damage” caused by “the association with the Gaddafi name.”

Better late than never! But not before it cost LSE Director, Howard Davies his job.

In other news, UT President David Naylor released an open letter on philanthropy at U of T last Friday in which he defended Peter Munk against what he called “repeated personal attacks on one of our most generous donors and best-known alumni.”

What’s the problem? No plagiarism involved, but there is lots of stuff on the internet about gold and mining and all that jazz, which reminds me of another post. But Paul Hamel and John Valleau seem to have a serious and extensive analysis in “The perils of philanthropy: The case of the Munk School”.

Today, Paul Wells tweeted: “I am saddened to note that Mr. Peter Munk has yet again written to Maclean’s, complaining that we have been mean to Brian Mulroney.”

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