Posts Tagged ‘plagiarism’

The fuzzy line between reworking and enhancing

August 29th, 2017 No comments

One trick academics use to increase their publication count is to publish very similar papers in different conferences/journals; they essentially plagiarize themselves. This practice is frowned upon, but unless referees spot the ‘duplication’, it is difficult to prevent such plagiarized versions being published. Sometimes the knock-off paper will include additional authors and may not include some of the original authors.

How do people feel about independent authors publishing a paper where all the interesting material was derived from someone else’s paper, i.e., no joint authors? I have just encountered such a case in empirical software engineering.

“Software Cost Estimation: Present and Future” by Siba N. Mohanty from 1981 (cannot find a non-paywall pdf via Google; must exist because I have a copy) has been reworked to create “Cost Estimation: A Survey of Well-known Historic Cost Estimation Techniques” by Syed Ali Abbas and Xiaofeng Liao and Aqeel Ur Rehman and Afshan Azam and M. I. Abdullah (published in 2012; pdf here); they cite Mohanty as the source of their data, some thought has obviously gone into the reworked material and I found it useful and there is a discussion on techniques created since 1981.

What makes the 2012 stand out as interesting is the depth of analysis of the 1970s models and the data, all derived from the 1981 paper. The analysis of later models is not as interesting and doe snot include any data.

The 2012 paper did ring a few alarm bells (which rang a lot more loudly after I read the 1981 paper):

  • Why was such a well researched and interesting paper published in such an obscure (at least to me) journal? I have encountered such cases before and had email conversations with the author(s). The well-known journals have not always been friendly towards empirical research, so an empirical paper appearing in less than a stellar publication is not unusual.

    As regular readers will know I am always on the look-out for software engineering data and am willing to look far and wide. I judge a paper by its content, not the journal it was published in

  • Why, in 2012, were researchers comparing effort estimation models proposed in the 1970s? Well, I am, so why not others? It did seem odd that I could not track down papers on some of the models cited, perhaps the pdfs had disappeared since 2012??? I think I just wanted to believe others were interested in what I was interested in.

What now? Retraction watch offers some advice.

The Journal of Emerging Trends in Computing and Information Sciences has an ethics page, I will email them a link to this post and see what happens (the article in question is listed as their second most cited article last year, with 19 citations).

Software engineering: A great discipline for an academic fraudster

September 12th, 2013 No comments

I am a sporadic reader of In the Pipeline, a blog covering drug discovery and the pharma industry, subjects about which I have no real interest but the author is a no nonsense guy whose writing I enjoy reading. A topic that regularly crops up is retraction of a published paper (i.e., effectively saying “ignore that paper we published way back when”). Reasons for retraction include a serious mistake, plagiarism of somebody else’s work or outright fabrication of data.

Retraction of papers published in software engineering journals is rare, why is that? I don’t think software engineering researchers are more/less honest than researchers in other fields. I could not find any entries on Retraction Watch.

Plagiarism certainly occurs and every now and again a paper is retracted for this reason.

Corrections to previously published papers certainly occur on a regular basis, but I don’t recall seeing a retraction because of a serious error (but then I rarely get to gossip around the coffee table in university departments and am not that well up on such goings on).

Researchers are certainly not above using the subset of a benchmark that shines the most favorable light on their work, or simply performing misleading comparisons. Researchers who do such things are seem more as an embarrassment than a threat to academic integrity, they are certainly not in the same league as those who fabricate data

Fabrication of data in software engineering? I’m sure it goes on, but unless the people responsible own up I think it is unlikely to be detected (unless the claims are truely over the top). There is no culture of replication in software engineering or of building on other peoples’ work (everybody is into doing their own thing); two very serious problems, but not the topic of this discussion.

In fact software engineering is the ideal discipline for an academic fraudster: replication is very rare, everyone doing their own thing, a culture of poor/nonexistent record keeping and experimental data is rarely kept past the replacement of the machine on which it sits (I am regularly told this when I email authors asking for a copy of their raw data for my book). Even in disciplines whose characteristics are at the other end of the culture scale, it can take a long time for fraud to be uncovered.

From time to time authors I contact tell me that the numbers appearing in the published paper are incorrect; often there is an offer of the correct numbers and sometimes a vague recollection of what they might be. Sometimes authors don’t reply to my email, is the data fake or is talking to me not worth their time (I have received replies to this effect)?

Am I worried about fraud in software engineering research? No, incorrect data in published work is more likely to occur because of clerical mistakes, laziness or incompetence.