Wetenschap - 11 maart 2012

Wageningen ecologist uncovers extensive plagiarism

A Congolese researcher has copied material from at least nine articles in the past six years. The plagiarism was uncovered accidentally by a Wageningen University ecologist, Patrick Jansen.

Scientific articles have to be subjected to peer review prior to their publication. Last August, Assistant Professor Patrick Jansen of Resource Ecology received an article from the International Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation which looked very familiar. He found out that ninety percent of the text, as well as the analysis, tables and illustrations were copied from an article that he himself published in 2007 with Pierre-Michel Forget in the Conservation Biology journal.
The researchers immediately sank their teeth into finding out who was behind the article presented anonymously to them for review. When the name of the researcher was known, the extent of plagiarism involved unfolded quickly. Simply by running sentences from the abstract through Google, they found not only the plagiarized article but also the article from which was plagiarized. There were moments when they were completely engrossed in this peculiar case: 'I went at it for a good many days and Pierre-Michel for weeks. You can get obsessed by it very easily,' Jansen says. Above all else, the matter encroached on his sense of justice: 'This had to be stopped.'
Making the plagiarism public picked up speed as soon as Science took note of Forgets' search. When the fraud was brought to light, seven papers were retracted. In total, at least nine papers were involved. The plagiarism seems to be the work of a single person, namely a Congolese researcher and director of a research centre. Most of the co-authors named in the papers do not have any contact with him.

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