Skip to content
 

Another Wegman plagiarism copying-without-attribution, and further discussion of why scientists cheat

Copying from Wikipedia but introducing an error in the process . . . how tacky is that??

I’ll discuss another minor outrage and then consider the more general question of what motivates researchers to plagiarize and otherwise break the rules of scholarship.

If you’re gonna steal from Wikipedia, remember to preserve formatting or you might end up embarrassing yourself

John Mashey pointed me to this:

From “Roadmap for optimization,” by Yasmin H. Said and Edward J. Wegman, from Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews, Computational Statistics:

Klee and Minty3 developed a linear programming problem in which the polytope P is a distortion of a d-dimensional cube. In this case, the simplex method visits all 2d vertices before arriving at the optimal vertex. Thus the worst-case complexity for the simplex algorithm is exponential time.

From an old Wikipedia article on the simplex algorithm:

Klee and Minty[2] gave an example of a linear programming problem in which the polytope P is a distortion of an n-dimensional cube. They showed that the simplex method as formulated by Dantzig visits all 2n vertices before arriving at the optimal vertex. This shows that the worst-case complexity of the algorithm is exponential time.

I see four possibilities here:

1. Wegman and Said wrote the Wikipedia article based on their existing (but at that time unpublished) paper. This seems unlikely given that they are not cited in the Wikipedia article.

2. The Wikipedia author stole from Wegman and Said’s article.

3. Wegman and Said stole from the the Wikipedia article or from some other similar source such as the article at wordiq.com.

4. Wikipedia and Wegman/Said stole from a common source.

I’m guessing it was 3. Why? For three reasons. First, Wegman and Said have a long track record of plagiarism from Wikipedia and elsewhere—and it’s standard procedure for plagiarists to make minor changes in the blocks of text that they copy without attribution. From the other direction, if the Wikipedia writer was going to steal, he or she could just steal verbatim—there’d be no reason to hide the copying.

Second, the above-linked Wikipedia edit predated the publication of the Wegman and Said article, so if the Wikipedia editor stole, he or she would’ve had to steal from an unpublished manuscript. Which doesn’t seem so likely, especially given that the Wegman and Said article is nothing like an authoritative source on the simplex algorithm.

The third reason why I suspect Wegman and Said of stealing plagiarizing copying blocks of text without attribution (whether from Wikipedia or some other source) is that, as Mashey notes, they botched the math. Wikipedia correctly states that an n-dimensional cube has 2^n vertices. Wegman and Said think a cube has 2n vertices. And . . . here’s the kicker . . . the “2^n” in the Wikipedia article becomes “2n” if you cut and paste into plain text. (Go to the links and try it yourself.)

It’s also possible that Wegman and Said got the 2^d correct in their manuscript and then it was mistakenly changed to 2d by an ignorant copy editor. But, if that happened, it doesn’t explain the similarity to the Wikipedia article. It seems unlikely to me that the Wikipedian would steal from this obscure unpublished manuscript, make minor changes in the wording, correct a mistake, and then not bother to cite it.

Possibility 4 above also does not seem so likely. I guess it’s possible that the Wegman/Said and the Wikipedia editor stole the above paragraph from the same textbook (with Wegman and Said taking the extra step of garbling the 2^n). But, given the other instances of Wikipedia borrowing on Wegman’s part, it seems more plausible to me that they took the easy way out and copied from the Wik. After all, stealing from a textbook is more work—you can’t just cut and paste, you actually have to type!

2^n != 2n

This is not the first time that Wegman and his crew have introduced errors as a byproduct of apparent plagiarism. As I wrote in that earlier discussion:

Doing the right thing is easy, easy, easy, easy. All you have to write is something like, “Scholar X wrote a clear summary of topic Y. We paraphrase Scholar X’s summary as follows…”

The only bad thing about this is . . . maybe people who read this will realize you’re not much of an expert, and maybe they’ll ask Scholar X to write that expert report instead. But that’s the honest thing to do. That, or become an expert yourself.

Let me say it again: There’s not much mystery to plagiarism. If you take the work of person X and claim it as yours, you get credit for that work. A common defense of plagiarists is that the work being copied without attribution is not so important. But, if so, how much would it hurt to write, “Scholar X wrote a clear summary of topic Y. We paraphrase Scholar X’s summary as follows…”? The answer is: it could hurt a lot, because it could quickly become obvious that you didn’t do the work, and then the question arises, why should you be considered the expert? Why indeed?

But if you’re not careful, you end up looking like an idiot who can’t tell the difference between 2^n and 2n. That sort of thing can happen, especially if you publish in journals that don’t have serious peer review.

[Note to Drs. Wegman and Said: You can replace “2^n” by “2n” only if n=1 or 2. I checked by following the principles of statistical computation and making a graph in R: curve (2^x-2x, from=-2, to=5). I know it’s a pain to do superscripts in Word, but next time you should really put in the effort to do it right.]

Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews, Computational Statistics

From the journal’s webpage:

Editors in Chief:
Edward J. Wegman, Bernard J. Dunn Professor of Data Sciences and Applied Statistics, George Mason University
Yasmin H. Said, Professor, George Mason University
David W. Scott, Noah Harding Professor of Statistics, Rice University

Editorial Advisory Board:
Jianqing Fan, Princeton University
Jerome H. Friedman, Stanford University
Michael Friendly, York University
Genshiro Kitagawa, Institute of Statistical Mathematics
Carlo N. Lauro, University of Naples “Federico II”
Jae C. Lee, Korea University
Xiao-Li Meng, Harvard University
James L. Rosenberger, Pennsylvania State University
Luke Tierney, University of Iowa
D. Michael Titterington, University of Glasgow
Antony Unwin, University of Augsburg

The editorial board has some big, big names in statistics (including two of my own coauthors!), and I don’t think any of them are complicit in the cheating that’s been going on. To clarify for the non-academics in the audience: being on an editorial advisory board doesn’t really mean anything—if you’re well known in some academic field, publishers will ask
you to do it, and it’s easier to say yes than to say no—but, still, I don’t think I would want to remain on the board of a journal where two-thirds of the editors in chief are serial plagiarists.

A negative social value

As far as I can see, Wegman’s cut-and-paste jobs have no redeeming social value. Actually, they have a negative value: they steal from others’ writing and introduce errors. Bruno Frey is writing interesting articles and just wasting the time of people who might encounter them in different places. Doris Kearns Goodwin can argue that she’s fashioning others’ material into more readable prose. Frank Fischer can claim that he’s adding necessary background material to otherwise insightful articles and books. Even Mark Hauser can make the argument, tenuous as it may be, that his scientific theories are true and that he is guilty of nothing more than a debatable interpretation of data. But what can Wegman claim? The world is a better place because he copied and pasted other people’s material into empty review articles, adding errors along the way?

Wikipedia already exists, it’s free, and everyone knows where it is. What is contributed by copying bits of Wikipedia and adding errors? The point of academic publishing should be to add to knowledge, not to copy and degrade existing work. Just disgraceful. It pollutes our scientific discourse. There are enough honestly crappy papers out there—I’m sure I’ve written a few. No need to deliberately add noise to the system.

And, yes, if you write a review article on a topic on which you’re not an expert, that qualifies as noise. Unless you’re Doris Kearns Goodwin and can do a rewrite that’s more readable than the original.

The question then arises: why did Wegman do it? It’s not like Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews was paying him a $500,000 advance for the article. It’s not like he needed it for tenure. It didn’t serve any political goal, nor do I think it helped him get a research grant. Why cheat when there was nothing to gain?

To get at an answer to this question, I’ll consider some of the other cheating cases we have discussed recently.

Why did they do it?

Here are my guesses:

Bruno Frey is interested in his academic status which in his case is associated with having a high rate of publications in top journals. In his writings he’s expressed the belief that it’s common practice to manipulate the journal game, and so he does it too.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is proud of her writing ability and, when she found it convenient to take from somebody else’s book, did not want to acknowledge the plagiarism because she felt that a long quotation from a secondary source would add awkwardness to that passage of her book. (To keep the book smooth, her choice was to plagiarize or to rewrite entirely in her own words, and she didn’t have it in her to digest the stolen material and process it herself.)

Frank Fischer is a similar case. He wanted to include some background material but he was too lazy to digest it and write it in his own words. (Here, I’m not talking about changing a phrase or two here and there to avoid being caught in a google search, I’m talking about actually rewriting to give it from your own perspective.) Unlike Goodwin, he has (so far) refused to admit that he copied without sufficient attribution. Given the low stakes—I doubt Fischer’s books have much influence beyond his circle of friends and colleagues—and lack of continuing attention to the case, I suspect he’ll get away with denying it for the rest of his life if he feels like it.

Mark Hauser is a true believer. He’s a super-confident guy who is sure his theories are correct. He sees in the data the confirming evidence that he wants to see. At the same time, he knew he was breaking the rules and he knew that other people wouldn’t read his data the same way, that’s why he didn’t want to share his tapes.

I know the least about the Diederik Stapel case, but from the level of fraud it sounds like he went beyond Hauser-type overzealousness. I have no idea whether his entire career was a fraud or whether he more recently got into the data-faking game. If the latter, his motivation may have been greed for fame and reputation, possibly also simple greed for money if he was planning to use the faked findings to get research grants.

Ed Wegman, the only statistician in the bunch, is the most interesting case to me. I see several different motivations for his plagiarism:

– He did the report for the U.S. Congress out of a sense of duty, then he and his students found themselves overwhelmed with the technical challenges and, in order to get the report out in time, copied and pasted. For political reasons they couldn’t bring themselves to admit they were copying from their scientific and ideological adversaries, and, in their efforts to cover up the plagiarism, they introduced errors which (inadvertently) revealed their cluelessness about the science they were purportedly discussing.

– The motivation for the followup report (the one in Computational Statistics and Data Analysis) was political; the plagiarism came up because Wegman and his coauthors wanted to summarize a research area they knew nothing about. They were too lazy to learn it themselves so they copied it.

– But what’s the motivation for Wegman to plagiarize in review articles, for chrissake? Here I wonder if it’s just a vague sense of duty to the profession, that Wegman feels he’s supposed to write these articles, but again he’s too lazy to actually do it.

But . . . then why doesn’t he just cite the sources he’s stealing from? It’s not like the congressional report where he’s copying and distorting from the opposition. I have no idea why he doesn’t just do exact copies with quotation marks. I’ll say this, though: his desire to avoid looking like he’s using the work of others appears to be greater than his desire to avoid scientific errors in his manuscripts.

Wegman’s is a fascinating case, in that he’s breaking the rules, destroying his own reputation, and not getting anything out of it personally. He already was well respected with a comfortable job, and the cut-and-paste jobs were bringing him neither fame nor fortune. The sad thing is that I think Wegman may have done it out of a sense of obligation to his country, his profession, and his students. He promised more than he had the ability or inclination to do, and then he didn’t see any reasonable way of backing out. I hope that at some point he has the decency to apologize to the people whose work he ripped off and distorted.

The above imputed motivations are all just guesses. I met Bruno Frey once and exchanged a couple of emails—I liked they guy but I wouldn’t say I know him at all—and the others I’ve never met. So really I’m using these cases as an opportunity for some general speculations.

P.S. Don’t forget the top 10 excuses for plagiarism (or this more serious version).

P.P.S. Wegman is listed as the “Bernard J. Dunn professor” at George Mason University. Unfortunately, the very accomplished Dunn (check out his Wikipedia page!) died 2 1/2 years ago. I wonder what he would think if he knew that his donation to the university went to paying the salary of a plagiarist the author of papers that bear a striking similarity to, but are worse than, Wikipedia articles.

P.P.P.S. You might very well ask why I keep writing about this. I write about it because it makes me mad. Being a scientist is a privilege, and academic jobs are hard to find. So, yeah, I get angry if repeat offenders can get good jobs, just because they’re connected. It looks a bit like the mob, or like Tammany Hall. Maybe a bit of graft is needed to grease the system, but one way of keeping the corruption under corruption under control is to point it out when we see it.

Also, I work hard in my research, and I don’t appreciate those people who spew out meaningless nonsense (or, even worse, fake their data) making it that much harder to find the signal amidst the noise.

I’d certainly be annoyed if someone were to ever take work of mine, introduce errors, and then publish it as if it were his own idea.

48 Comments

  1. un-Frank says:

    Given the low stakes—I doubt Fischer’s books have much influence beyond his circle of friends and colleagues—and lack of continuing attention to the case, I suspect he’ll get away with denying it for the rest of his life if he feels like it.

    It seems that he has a large circle of friends:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=frank%20fischer

  2. “From the other direction, if the Wikipedia writer was going to steal, he or she could just steal verbatim—there’d be no reason to hide the copying.”

    Ah, if only that were true. Wikipedia has the same standards for copying without attribution as any academic journal, and people are just as lazy there. Of course, there it’s surely more common to do it, (probably) harder to prove it, and nearly impossible to directly benefit from it in this case, but I’d like to think that the pride that most Wikipedians take in their work is on the same level as academics.

    • Andrew says:

      AT:

      I realize that in Wikipedia you’re supposed to cite your sources. My point was that if you’re writing a Wikipedia entry, and if you’re willing to plagiarize to do it, then you might as well just cut and paste it in directly. There’s no need to cover your tracks; you can just do it.

      • John Mashey says:

        As in anything else, Wikipedia articles vary widely in quality and some are subject to amazing abuse as people try t odefned articles from inconvenient facts.

        But, actually, a lot of Wikipedia articles are pretty good, people usually seem to use good citations.
        As it happens, Said&Wegman(2009) “relies” on quite a few Wikipedia articles, easily findable in a few hours … but they are generally of much higher quality than the result in WIRES. One has to wonder if anyone reviewed this, as even a modest background in Operations Research suffices to see lots of errors.

        BTW, in Wegman’s CV from early 2010 (no longer online), there is an INVITED PAPERS section and then:

        PAPERS:
        178. “Implications of co-author networks on peer review,” with Yasmin H. Said, Walid K.
        Sharabati, John T. Rigsby in Classification and Data Analysis, Macerata, Italy: EUMEdizoni
        Università di Macerata, 245-248, 2007

        179. “Style of author-coauthor social networks,” with Yasmin H. Said, Walid K. Sharabati,
        John T. Rigsby, Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, 52, 2177-2184, 2008;
        doi:10.1016/j.csda.2007.07.021, 2007 [That’s really the retracted CS&DA piece. #178 looks like conference version.]

        197. “Roadmap for optimization,” with Yasmin H. Said, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews:
        Computational Statistics, 1(1): 3-11, DOI: 10.1002/wics.16, 2009

        200. “Author-coauthor social networks and emerging scientific subfields,” with Walid K.
        Sharabati and Yasmin H. Said, Data Analysis and Classification, (F. Palumbo, C. Lauro,
        M. Greenacre, eds.), 257-268, 2010
        See: http://deepclimate.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/strange-scholarship-w-5-7a.pdf

        And not on that list was Wegman and Said(2011) in WIRES, covered by DC in:
        http://deepclimate.org/2011/03/26/wegman-and-said-2011-dubious-scholarship-in-full-colour/
        http://deepclimate.org/2011/05/15/wegman-and-said-2011-part-2/

        No grad students to blame.

  3. John says:

    Although I guess, if I were you I’d be slightly less annoyed if they published your work as theirs WITH errors than if they published your work as theirs WITHOUT errors ;-)

  4. Rapsodia says:

    This is terribly depressing for me as a grad student. First, for a profession with such a high bar for entry, it is sad and discouraging to see that such things get published into the canon. After last week’s article in Nature Neuroscience, I truly wonder how much of what I am told to believe (and to use as justifications for my own work) is either falsified (hopefully not much) or just wrong (who knows how much?). Second, things that I work hard on are being crowded out from potential publication because page space is being taken up by work like this. It is fine, great even, that my stuff is crowded out for better papers. I can’t wait to read them. But for stuff lifted out of Wikipedia? I imagine if I did that, I would be immediately dismissed from my program, three years of my life having been wasted. But it looks like the consequences are not nearly as severe for Dr. Wegman. Are there any, other than people avoiding him at conferences? I am not sure what to make of this whole situation, but I appreciate your anger.

  5. Deep Climate says:

    I think the 2^n -> 2d error may have been a typo introduced in copying (i.e. incorrect rendition of the superscript font) and not noticed by the authors or copy editors afterwards.

    FWIW, I have a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the “Roadmap” article and its antecedents that I will likely blog about in the next few days. If you are interested, I’ll come back and point you to it when the time comes.

    • Deep Climate says:

      Or perhaps, just as plausibly, maybe the error (change from superscript to regular) came only when the n was changed to d, rather than in the initial paste.

      • Andrew says:

        I know I have some readers at George Mason University—maybe they could walk over to Wegman and Said’s offices and ask them if they remember when they changed n to d in their copying process. If anyone tries this out, please report back to me on the response!

        • Deep Climate says:

          Actually, it looks like subscripts and indices were changed in many equations and expressions, although usually with less embarrassing results. But not always.

          Stay tuned.

  6. Nicolas says:

    “Bruno Frey is writing interesting articles and just wasting the time of people who might encounter them in different places.” Well, there’s other costs I guess: a cost to the person whose article would have been published instead of Frey’s nth version of the same paper, for instance, or the fact that this sort of behaviour spurs others to cheat as well.

    Again on Frey: “In his writings he’s expressed the belief that it’s common practice to manipulate the journal game, and so he does it too.” Could be endogenous: his beliefs might have been shaped by his behaviour, as some sort of ex-post justification for what he’s done.

  7. Marc Levy says:

    Finding plagiarism via typos can be useful beyond scholarly forensics. Somewhere I recall an article tracking the diffusion of national constitutional provisions or legislation (can’t remember which) by tracking typographical errors and misspellings that originated in the source documents. Some people will find it more surprising that national legislation has typos and misspellings than that the people who draft such things copy off other countries’ work.

  8. Jonathan says:

    “I’d certainly be annoyed if someone were to ever take work of mine, introduce errors, and then publish it as if it were his own idea.”

    Wouldn’t you be even more annoyed if they took work of yours, introduced errors and published as if the work (including the errors) were your idea?

  9. Cars says:

    Wikipedia writer can’t be alone blamed..he/she was given enough freedom to do so..I think there must be some mechanism to identify who wrote it first.

  10. Eli Rabett says:

    FWIW, which is not much, Kearns Goodwin is obviously doing it for fame and fortune, to be the go to historian for TV. It pays well, if not in $$ in recognition

    Wegman, one can only speculate. The two thoughts that occur is that a) this IS political with him and b) he was/is trying to launch Said for whatever reason. Eli will NOT go there.

  11. andrewt says:

    The text seems to been added to Wikipedia in 2004 by Jitse Niesen now an applied maths lecturer at Uni of Leeds.
    The difference between the article and now speaks well of Wikipedia.

  12. John Mashey says:

    A minor nit:
    “- The motivation for the followup report (the one in Computational Statistics and Data Analysis) was political; the plagiarism came up because Wegman and his coauthors wanted to summarize a research area they knew nothing about. They were too lazy to learn it themselves so they copied it.”

    Actually, I think they did that in the Wegman Report first, and the followup CS&DA paper was because they got a lot of criticism on peer review, so Wwegman calimsed tehre woudl be a stream of peer-reviewed work (see p.54 of Strange Scholarship.

    “7. Prior to sending your report to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, was your report peer reviewed, i.e. did someone other than the authors select the reviewers, were reviewers allowed to submit comments anonymously, was someone other the authors involved in deciding whether the authors‘ responses were adequate?

    Ans: Our report was not peer reviewed in the sense you ask. The review process we went through was similar to that employed by the National Research Council. At the NRC, the Committee makes recommendations to the Committee Chair and the Study Director. The list is narrowed and a recommendation is made by the Study Director. This list is approved by a higher-level authority and the document is sent out for review. The reviewers are not anonymous and their names are listed in the document. This was true of the recent North Study on Paleoclimate Reconstruction that was also the subject of our first round of testimony. Because we did not have the NRC structure, we obviously did not have a higher-level review of our list, but to the best of our ability, we acted in good faith to obtain reviews, some of which expressed dissenting opinions.

    Subsequently, we have been preparing papers that will be peer reviewed for the Applications Section of the Journal of the American Statistical Association, another for the journal called Statistical Science published by the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and finally for a more popular outlet called Chance. *In addition, we are preparing a paper motivated by our social network studies on the styles of co-authorship.*
    The Statistical Science article will have even more rigorous scrutiny than a normal peer review. It will be a discussion paper meaning that discussants will have an opportunity to comment in writing for the audience to see.”

    As far as I can tell, the only “peer-reviewed” article that came out of this was the CS&DA one, but read pp.49-55 for details.

  13. […] Gelman details yet another case of apparent plagiarism by Edward Wegman. This one is a copy and paste from Wikipedia that manages to introduce an obvious error, claiming […]

  14. Nicky says:

    From the other direction, if the Wikipedia writer was going to steal, he or she could just steal verbatim—there’d be no reason to hide the copying.

    Sadly, it is not that simple. Pretty much every time I log in, I have to block someone over their indignant protestations that changing a few words and copying from multiple sources *like, totally* elevates their writing from plagiarism into actual creative work. When checking whether a Wikipedia article has copied another source or has itself been copied without attribution, it helps to see when the text was added and how it has been edited in the meantime; if the exact phrasing in the Wikipedia article evolved organically by various contributors changing words and moving bits around, it is highly unlikely that the other source stumbled upon the same phrasing coincidentally. Look at the History tab at the top of the page and select Revision history search. In this case, it looks like the text in question was added whole cloth in September 2004, five years before the other was published.

    Developing and maintaining a solid reputation it seems can be a powerful motivator.

  15. harvey says:

    I remember a great story on software plagiarism (copyright violation even) where the copyist changed all the code BUT left the leading whitespace alone. He was convicted. I think the article may have been in Communications of the ACM.

  16. Marieke says:

    So what should you do if you are the one who is being plagiarized? In 2009 I published a paper of which almost the complete background section was literally repeated in a paper by someone else that was published later that year. The author only gave me credit after an added sentence about the results of my study. However, my supervisor was one of the co-authors of the plagiarizing paper. I stumbled on the plagiarism by accident, when I was looking at papers that referred to mine. I have been hesitant to do something about it, not willing to discredit my supervisor. In the end I decided that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. In my background section I wrote about well known facts, with an addition a few fresh ideas. Apparently I voiced this well. Nevertheless, had my supervisor not been involved, I would have written to the journal about the plagiarism. I had a look at the journals conditions, but it is unclear what they do when that is reported. How discrediting would it be?

    • Andrew says:

      Marieke:

      Sometimes if you’re plagiarized, the most rational course of action can be to do nothing. After all, the kind of person who plagiarizes might also be the kind of person who would do unethical things to attack you. (Recall Frank Fischer, and consider that even the simple act of denial is unethical in that it is a lie that is an unfair attack on the credibility of the whistleblower.)

      Unfortunately, a strategic cheater can figure out this calculus too, hence the appeal of stealing from people who might be too intimidating to fight back.

      More generally, most people don’t want to get into unnecessary fights, they can drag down everyone involved. I have a colleague whose work was published by a student (!) at another university. But even in this case, where my colleague could easily blackball the student with no personal risk, instead he just told a few people quietly. This might have been to give the student a second chance, but I’m guessing it’s more that my colleague had better things to do than get in a public fight with anyone.

      Again, savvy cheaters know that good researchers would generally rather do research than get into a fight, and they can use that to their advantage by making boldly unethical moves on the (often well-founded) gamble that nobody will call them on it.

  17. chris says:

    Andrew, re the motivation for Wegman’s plagiarism, there may well be a more basic explanation. He might simply think he’s done nothing wrong; i.e. he considers plagiarism an acceptable part of constructing a paper. I have worked with a scientist of rather dubious scientific ethics some time ago who also (I discovered subsequently) did some rather blatant (but as yet undiscovered I think – I’m in a sort of similar situation to Marieke) plagiarism. This guy really didn’t think he was doing anything wrong.

    The fact that Wegman participated in what was a rather nasty hounding of another scientist, might also lead us to suspect his fundamental integrity. Didn’t he say at some point “We’re not the bad guys here” (or such-like)? I suspect that he feels perfectly justified in his behaviour, and is probably a little hurt and confused that he seems to have landed in a mess (through no fault of his own!). Have to say also that I think some of the junk that a couple of his plagiarised papers constitute also begs some questions about his academic standards, let alone his ethics.

    There is a sort of “car-crash” fascination about these events, but like you they also make me really mad. Doing science is hard and it’s more and more difficult (in my experience) to attract funding, do the work you want to do and get it published. The fact that some people have apparently no inhibitions over taking what are actually rather pathetic shortcuts is pretty sickening…

    • Andrew says:

      Chris:

      Wegman may well think he did nothing wrong (or, as you say, he might feel that the usual rules don’t apply to himself or his students). But he certainly must know that copying (from Wikipedia, no less!) without attribution is against the rules.

      I have a mix of bafflement and outrage over these instances of rulebreaking. I suppose that Wegman must have felt that the personal cost to him (from plagiarizing via Wikipedia) is so low, that it was worth doing for the essential zero goal of publishing a low-quality review article in an obscure journal. At least Doris Kearns Goodwin and Frank Fischer got books out of it!

      • John Mashey says:

        1) Do recall this was Said&Wegman(2009).

        2) “Neither Dr. Wegman nor Dr. Said has ever engaged in plagiarism,” says their attorney, Milton Johns, by e-mail. “
        in USA Today. OKI their lawyer says so.

        3) In this case, one might speculate they thought they needed another article.

        4) A more fundamental question remains:
        what is the real review process for this journal often labeled peer-reviewed?
        We already see 2 article with obvious plagiarism, and certainly, the Optimization article is so bad than anyone with even a modest O.R. background would see problems in one quick read.

        SO:
        a) There are 3 Editors-in-Chief: Wegman, Said, Scott.
        b) There is a set of people on the Editorial Advisory Board.
        c) There are (potentially) outside reviewers.

        SO, who reviews articles written by Wegman&Said or Said&Wegman?
        What’s the review process for others?

        One finds here that Said is the Managing Editor, and that:

        “We are delighted that you are considering joining the circle of authors of Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Computational Statistics (WIREs: Computational Statistics). This is an important and timely endeavor that will do much to assist the communication of high-quality information in our field.”

        “WIREs: Computational Statistics is an online serial publication that will evolve into a fully integrated, dynamic reference source. As the major topics are fleshed out with your contributions and those of other notable scholars, John Wiley & Sons intends to capture this content in a comprehensive print reference work, the Wiley Encyclopedia of Computational Statistics. We believe this novel dual-format publication will be an exciting and important contributor to research and scholarly discourse in our field.”

        “4.5.13 Reviewers
        At the end of the template, please provide the full names and email addresses of 4–5 potential referees who are qualified to review your manuscript.”

        One might read the scope section: pp.4-5. This seems to have subsumed much of computer science and maybe O.R. This might or might not make sense.

        • Andrew says:

          John:

          Yes, Said shouldn’t get off the hook either. All I can say is that her case seems clearer to me: she could be manufacturing papers in order to stay employed. And, sure, her mentor Wegman is helping her out. But it seems above and beyond the call of duty for a mentor to tolerate plagiarism just to help a former student get a job!

          • John Mashey says:

            I’m not sure “tolerate” is the correct verb.

            See Strange Tales… 05/26/11.

            p.7:
            “and thinking that the page and ½ Denise had given me was original work that had not been formally published, I gave it as reading material to Walid as background material along with a number of other references. Walid included it as background material in his dissertation with only minor amendments.”

            Some of that text ended up in Rezazad’s dissertation as well.

            See p.15 for the various flows, but with the following additions:

            [k] Said(2005) in Rao, Wegman, Solka, Eds here.
            [l] Wegman, Solka(2005) in Rao, Wegman, Solka, Eds, likewise.
            [r] Said&Wegman(2009)
            [s] Said, Wegman, Sharabati (2010), described here

            Fortunately, there is empty space.
            That’s 4 PhD dissertations (3 departmental “best of year”) and a bunch of articles, book chapters.
            Depending on how one counts, that’s something like 15-20 instances.

            Some chains start with Wegman and end up elsewhere [a] to Al-Shammeri, [d] to Wegman, Said [i],
            [m] to Sharabati [o], Resazad [p] and Said, Wegman, Sharabati [2010].

          • John Mashey says:

            By popular demand from elsewhere, here’s the updated chronology chart that I mentioned yesterday.

          • Eli Rabett says:

            OK, so here is a question, has anyone written to Wiley pointing out that 2 of the three Editors of their journal have serious plagiarism charges pending against them?

          • Ted Kirkpatrick says:

            Eli: Several formal plagiarism complaints have been filed with Wiley. Wiley’s policy is to only comment on the progress of such complaints when they have reached and published a formal conclusion.

  18. Observer says:

    A parallel. There is a book published called “Celebration Day: The Led Zeppelin Encyclopedia” by Malcolm Dome and Jerry Ewing. The entries are clearly copied and pasted from Wikipedia, factual and spelling mistakes and all. I complained to the Wikimedia Foundation about this but nothing was done. For an experienced journalist like Malcolm Dome, it’s a shock that he would put his name to this. It’s all about author laziness and quick fame, I suspect.

    • Andrew says:

      I have a cousin (now retired) who used to do this for a living—writing nonfiction books with zero original content. This was before wikipedia or the internet, so I assumed she just went to the library and took notes. I also expect that she rewrote everything in her own words. She was a professional writer, after all.

    • Nihiltres says:

      This is fairly common, unfortunately, but there isn’t much that can be done. Wikipedia article text is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, so if you want to re-use it, all you have to do is credit the original author(s) and use the same license for your derivative work. Thus, if Dome & Ewing credit the contributors and mention the license, their laziness is at least legitimate with respect to copyright.

      Even if they are infringing upon the copyright by not respecting the attribution and share-alike clauses of the free license, there isn’t much that the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) can do—the WMF doesn’t own any of the copyright. All of the copyrights in an article still belong to the editors who made the changes, so the WMF doesn’t have an interest in the copyright and thus can’t really pursue action with respect to infringement of the license.

      The community looks down on this sort of reuse, but most of the time there isn’t much practical that can be done against it, in part because the complaint needs to be made by someone whose intellectual property (IP) has been infringed upon (i.e. the authors of the specific copied articles) and in part because it’s already hard for “the little guy” to defend his IP (which is a broader legal problem, IMHO). When you consider that the copying is completely legitimate when the minimal license conditions are followed, it’s rare that there’s something that can be done.

      • Observer says:

        Nihiltres, I can tell you right now that their only attribution is listing the wikipedia website “www.wikipedia.org/” (just a web url nothing else), and that’s right at the back of the book in a generic bibliography section near the bottom of the page, once, with no mention of any licence conditions. The publishers Cherry Red Books never responded btw. Both authors have other similar ‘encyclopedia’ titles on AC/DC and Metallica. I haven’t seen what’s in them so can’t comment further.

        Just check out Amazon or BookDepository, and you’ll be shocked to see how many titles simply reprint what’s found in Wikipedia. Some are more blatant than others. Some show the licences, some don’t. When I go to purchase a book, I want to see at least some research that’s not simply regurgitating what’s already on Wikipedia. That’s GBP£14.99 for me wasted on Wikipedia 2009 content.

  19. […] even worse, fake their data) making it that much harder to find the signal amidst the noise. Another Wegman plagiarism copying-without-attribution, and further discussion of why scientists chea… More at: Yet another example of Wegman plagiarism : Deltoid Richard Littlemore | Wegman Report: […]

  20. […] blog. While he ventures away from his research to talk about topics such plagarism in academia (see here for the latest of many entries) and criticizing microeconomics (see here for the latest of many […]

  21. John Mashey says:

    Well, WIRES:CS finally got it closer:

    “Yasmin H. Said, Assistant Professor, George Mason University”

  22. […] journalWikipediaFrequency6 issues per yearContinuously updatedIncludes articles from Wikipedia?YesYesCites the Wikipedia sources it uses?NoYesEdited by recipient of ASA Founders Award?YesNoArticles […]

  23. Kristen says:

    the answer… all George Mason people know the justification behind Wegmans behavior..
    Yasmin Said
    He made her graduate so fast.. and since then she became his shadow.. he is giving her his recycled work to go and give talks..
    he is trying to make her famous..

    but she is taking him down…

    • Andrew says:

      Straight out of a David Lodge novel: academic empire-builder manages to put together a semi-illustrious career out of smoke and mirrors, then gets tripped up in his old age . . .

    • John Mashey says:

      If one checks chronology, there were 2 plagiarism chains that started (a and d) before Said arrived at GMU.

      Good professors help their students. Certainly, Kristen’s comments are consistent with the public data:

      1) SSWR pp.74-75 shows that she became Wegman’s most frequent coauthor. p.87 mentioned the Said dissertation, which not only plagiarized, but seemed pretty weak at first look. p.77 notes “Said replaced Wegman as Co-Editor (with Barry A. Bodt, ARL) in 2003, 2 years before her first ACAS paper …” pp.78-79 show history for both ACAS and Interface conferences.

      It seems slightly odd that a grad student would be a a co-editor of conference proceedings.

      2) WIRES:CS Author’s Guide (12/03/10) has information hat might be misleading or out-of-date (the earliest version was from 2008 and maybe it never got updated.

      “Yasmin H. Said, Ruth L. Kirschstein National Fellow, George Mason University.
      Dr. Yasmin H. Said is a Visiting Fellow at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge in England and is a National Research Fellow from the National Institutes of Health. She earned her A.B. in pure mathematics, her M.S. in computer science and information systems, and Ph.D. in computational statistics. She does alcohol modeling, agent-based simulation modeling, social network analysis, text, image, and data mining, and major public policy work trying to minimize negative acute outcomes, including HIV/AIDS, related to alcohol consumption. Dr. Said is also the Statistical Methodology Director of the Innovative Medical Institute, LLC, and Co-Director of the Center for Computational Data Sciences in the College of Science at George Mason University. She is the editor of Computing Science and Statistics, is an associate editor of the journal, Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, serves on the board of the Washington Statistical Society, and serves on the American Statistical Association Presidential Task Force on Science Policy. Dr. Said is an elected member of the International Statistical Institute, an elected member of the Research Society on Alcoholism, and an elected member of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. She is currently writing a book, Controversies in Global Warming and another, Statisticians of the Twentieth Century. She has published a book, Intervention to Prevention: A Policy Tool for Alcohol Studies. With colleagues she has developed testimonies on global warming for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and to the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. She has also taught probability and statistics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.”

      • Kristen says:

        The sad part is that many students has been sacrificed in Wegman’s star making efforts…
        Mason knew about it back then but decided to side with their man… the Army money … the donations…

  24. Barry says:

    What’s ironic is – didn’t Wegman make a big stink about inbred networks being unable to properly check each other’s work, due to lack of independence?

    Looks like he was projecting.

  25. […] a fool!2. If you do plagiarize, don’t paste into Word. Use font-preserving software so that “2^n” doesn’t become “2n”.3. Hope that nobody actually reads your article—if they […]

  26. ligne says:

    bit late to the party, i know :-)

    i’ve found this story deeply amusing. in my final year at uni, one of my housemates was a fellow physicist who had just started on his PhD.

    while he was working as a supervisor for the first year lab classes, he had to fail one student’s lab report, because (s)he had copied the first paragraph of the introduction, verbatim, from wikipedia. his attention was drawn to this fact by the strange bold text in the student had accidentally left in during the hot copy-and-paste action.

    so yeah. Wegman & Said: less good than a lazy/partied-out first-year.