From Ars Mathematica I learned about an article at Ars Technica describing a scandal involving plagiarism of theoretical physics papers by about 20 different people, some of them students at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. Many of the papers were refereed and published in well-known journals, and one made it into what is now perhaps the most well-known particle theory journal, the Journal of High Energy Physics.
According to Dr. Sarioglu, [faculty member at METU] two of the authors of this paper were graduate students with a prodigious track record of publication: over 40 papers in a 22-month span. Dr. Karasu, who sat on the panel that evaluated their oral exams, became suspicious when their knowledge of physics didn’t appear to be consistent with this level of output. Discussions with Dr. Tekin revealed that the students also did not appear to possess the language skills necessary for this level of output in English-language journals (METU conducts its instruction in English).
This caused these faculty members to go back and examine their publications in detail, at which point the plagiarism became clear. “All they had done was literally take big chunks of others’ work using the ‘copy and paste’ technique,” Dr. Sarioglu said, “steal from here and there to cook up an Intro which is basically the same stuff in all their manuscripts, carry out some really trivial calculations such as taking derivatives of some simple functions, and write up the results in the format of a paper.” The department chair was informed and started an internal investigation; the university’s Ethics Committee has since become involved.
In the mean time, the faculty and administration at METU are attempting to do some damage control. The university’s president personally sent a letter to the Journal of High Energy Physics requesting that the paper be withdrawn—a request that, as noted above, has yet to be acted upon. Meanwhile, the faculty members mentioned above are working with the arXiv administrators to ensure that any plagiarized work is removed.
The Ars Technica article emphasizes the role of the arXiv in this, since the plagiarized papers first appeared there and are still available there, although arXiv administrators have replaced the latest versions of the papers with a notation “withdrawn by arXiv administrators due to plagiarism”. I don’t actually think the arXiv is the real scandal here, rather the fact that refereeing standards in theoretical physics are now so low that obviously plagiarized papers don’t seem to have much trouble getting into even the best journals in the field. Some of the other journals that published plagiarized papers from this same group of people include:
There are also other papers by some of the same authors which the arXiv does not list as plagiarized (published in Nuclear Physics B, here, Classical and Quantum Gravity, here, International Journal of Modern Physics, here and here) .
Remind me again, why is it that universities are paying large sums to get these journals?
Update: My guess is that most theorists are just going to ignore this and pretend it didn’t happen. As far as I can tell, the journals involved haven’t even bothered to add a notation to the articles still available on-line to note that they are plagiarisms, much less do anything to stop this from happening again. But at least Lubos agrees with me:
The journals and arXiv are clearly flooded with papers that no one cares about which is why this thing can happen.
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