Archive for February, 2011

February 24, 2011

The efficiency of the masses – volunteers find plagiarism on 271 pages of the doctoral thesis of the German defence minister

by Anka Lindemann

Screenshot of GuttenPlag Wiki Website

Screenshot of GuttenPlag Wiki: In an open review system, volunteers help to analyse the doctoral thesis of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

Open peer review systems, like the website GuttenPlag Wiki that tackling the alleged plagiarism in the doctoral thesis of the German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, rely on the motivation and input from volunteering reviewers. These mostly depend on the scientific field of the research and the prominence of the researcher or the paper.

The website GuttenPlag Wiki now shows, how incredibly fast and efficient open review systems can work. Just four days after its start, the initiators of the website published a first report with the interim results of their analyses of the thesis.

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February 24, 2011

GuttenPlag Wiki as a special case of open review

by Anka Lindemann

In the discussion about the alleged plagiarism in the doctoral thesis of the German Defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a vital role is played by the website GuttenPlag Wiki. The website is a perfect example of crowd sourcing, a social networking research technique that uses a large group of volunteers to analyse data. Normally it would take one or two people weeks to carry out this research, in this case a large group of volunteers only needed a couple of days.

On Saturday 19 February, the activists headed by their anonymous leader PlagDoc, who is said to be a PhD student at a German university, alleged that they had found 203 of 407 pages that had been incorrectly cited passages from the doctoral thesis of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

How was this number generated? The website started with a single tweet promoting it as a collaborative project on Google Docs, but it soon had to be moved to the platform wikia due to the high traffic by all the volunteering contributors.

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February 24, 2011

Outside peer review: Plagiarism and the loss of a title

by Anka Lindemann

Can peer review detect plagiarism? As I discussed in a previous post, one disadvantage of peer review is that it relies on the honesty of the author and therefore it is difficult to detect any fraud in the analysis. Plagiarism in scientific papers – that is copying text from other authors without citing it correctly – is another aspect that peer reviewers can hardly detect.

Although there are a lot of applications available, which are meant to detect any use of the ubiquitous copy and pasting, it is not known if and how many of the reviewers use these software for their work. Additionally, if an author does change some of the words, but sticks to the argument of another paper without citing it, even the best software is not able to detect this fraud. So is it easy for scientist to get away with plagiarism?

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February 14, 2011

Detecting Geoneutrinos

by Abi Millar

The paper I was given was, on first read, almost indecipherable to a non-specialist. Published in Nature in July 28 2005, it consisted of an impenetrable mass of equations and geophysics jargon, a sample sentence being:

For typical geoneutrino energies, the approximation P(Enu,|L|) = 1 – 0.5 sin2theta12 only affects the accuracy of the integral in equation (1) at 1% owing to the distributed nu macreproduction points.

This does not make for a light and easy bedtime read (although my cynical first impression was that it might send me to sleep). Moreover, with a daunting 87 authors to sift through, citation checking looked to be quite a task.

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February 13, 2011

Do tumours run away? Whatever p53 is may answer the question…

by Michael Jones
As a non-biologist/non-biosomethingelseist, understanding the importance of the paper on tumours, p53 proteins and ‘surveillance networks’ was particularly difficult. Much of what I did get was based on the number of citations of the original paper (131 overall, all from Web of Knowledge, 46 that appeared in PubMed but also were available in WoK).
So what would a paper that was cited 131 times about cancer (loosely) mean?
At first glance, with cancer being the western world’s most documented killer disease, perhaps not much. Hundreds of journals across the world are dedicated exclusively to cancer, metastasis, tumours and lymphomas, among other associated ailments and indicators of ill health. So surely 131 is low?
February 13, 2011

Ancient glaciation – uncovering the bias of the past

by Michael Jones

In 2005, four geoscientists (Aradhna Tripati, Jan Backman, Henry Elderfield and Patrizia Ferretti) collaborated to produce an article assessing glaciation in a period that is widely understood to have been scoured and scarred since subsequent ice ages.

The article, Eocene bipolar glaciation associated with global carbon cycle changes, looks at evidence for a change in the climate over the 19 million years of the Eocene epoch. Yes, that’s a heck of a long time, but most of the glacial history of the planet during this time had previously been assumed to either have been wiped out following ice ages and warming periods in the Pleistocene (approximately the last 2.4 million years, although this figure is debated).

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