Posts Tagged ‘Alan Sokal’

An irreverent take on the plagiarism fiasco

October 13, 2007

I just don’t seem to get the Anna University plagiarism fiasco out of my mind. What is more, anonymous commentor(s) on Rahul‘s and Abi‘s blogs seem to have some insider information — about the mails sent by the persons involved to various agencies and people (as well as their chronology). I do not know about the veracity of these mails. But, in case they are true, they in turn raise many uncomfortable questions: if Muthukkumaran did send the paper without Selladurai’s consent, how come his email is listed in the paper? Who received the referee’s comments, page proofs and copyright forms? Who filled them up? And, if Muthukkumaran’s letters are any indication, who wrote the cover letter? Similarly, if Tom Mathews was unaware of the paper’s publication till he came back from vacation, are we to understand that that is usual — one of his co-authors would submit a paper without consulting him? Further, according to the Springer page, the paper was communicated on 6 September 2006, accepted on 26 December 2006 (Yeah! can you believe it — somebody was working at the J Mat Sci office during the vacation time too) , and is available online from 18th May 2007; so, are we to understand that Dr. Mathews and Muthukkumaran never met and/or exchanged mails for this entire (nearly nine months) period? And the mystery of all mysteries, how come Roshan Bokalawela’s name is added to this strange paper?

Having thought through all this, here is my irreverent thought: what if all or some of the authors write a mail to the Editor of J. Mat. Sci (with a copy marked to the Swedish authors) that this entire episode is nothing but a hoax played by these authors (along the lines of the hoax played by Alan Sokal on Social Text) to show that (a) the review process as well as paper acceptance process at J Mat Sci need improvement, and, (b) that they had no intention of plagiarising the fine work of the Swedish authors but are sorry for the inadvertent inconveniences they have caused, and go public with the letter? Not only does this save lots of trouble for these authors, but given the nature of the blatant copy pasting, does even look like an honourable enterprise. May be they can even try a paper on scientific publication enterprise in Social Text!

As an aside, in literary circles such “cheeky experiments” are not uncommon: you take a chapter from say, Jane Austen, just change the names, and submit it to a book house; the editors in the book house, probably seeing that the stuff is an obviously plagiarised piece, put a standard rejection slip and mail it back; then, you go ahead and write an article about the falling publication standards.