Thursday, April 08, 2010

Plagiarism by Michigan State professor

The copying author Mariam Sticklen has been found to have plagiarized by taking an article, which was sent to her for review for the journal Plant Science (and ultimately published in the Feb. 2010 issue of Plant Science), extracting an idea from that article, and inserting it into her own 2008 paper in Nature Reviews Genetics (volume 9, June 2008, page 433).

From the Lansing State Journal:

Jonathan Gressel, the review editor of Plant Science, wrote in an e-mail that the manuscript of the article Sticklen borrowed from had been sent to her to review.

Shortly after Sticklen's article appeared, an author of the Plant Science article contacted Gressel to ask if she had been one of the reviewers, "as there were sections that were almost identical."

"What irked him most was a paragraph in which the first author, a graduate student, performed an original synthesis of his own data and literature data and came up with a novel idea that was going to be a key element in his thesis," Gressel said.

"I received a few-page comparison from him" Gressel said, "and the irksome paragraph was indeed almost identical in both papers except that two literature citations in Dr. Sticklen's paper were changed to ones that were totally irrelevant to the subject."

Details of the investigation are found in MSU professor admits to plagiarism in 2008 article.

There is some talk of "inadvertent" plagiarism. Here, Sticklen replaced two references from the copied piece with different references. That very deliberate substitution undercuts any argument that the act was inadvertent.

The now-retracted article is titled: Plant genetic engineering for biofuel production: towards affordable
cellulosic ethanol and comprises 95 references.

The manuscript given to Sticklen for review from which Sticklen copied is now published: Miron Abramson, Oded Shoseyov, Ziv Shani, Plant cell wall reconstruction toward improved lignocellulosic production and processability. Plant Science Vol. 178: 61-72 (2010)

Within her 2008 review article, Sticklen discussed RNAi (interference) technology at page 439 of the article. One notes that Sticklen's most recently published PCT application was on the subject of RNAi.

Sticklen's PCT/US2008/003799 priority date March 23, 2007

The first two claims:

1. A transgenic maize plant having at least one DNA comprising:

(a) at least one promoter capable of promoting transcription in the transgenic plant; and

(b) at least a portion of a coding region of one or more lignin biosynthesis pathway enzymes operably linked to the promoter.

2. The transgenic plant of Claim 1, wherein the transgenic plant expresses short interfering RNA (siRNA) for the one or more lignin biosynthesis pathway enzymes that forms a double-strand to activate RNA interference (RNAi) that decreases expression of the one or more lignin biosynthesis pathway enzymes in the transgenic plant.

Sticklen's review article does not mention Sticklen's economic interest in RNAi, as manifested by her PCT application.

**Journal article reference: Nature Reviews Genetics 9, 433-443 (June 2008)

**Comment to The Scientist on April 8, 2010:

Plagiarism is copying without attribution, and is not a violation of any federal law. Copyright infringement, which is copying copyrighted text without permission (even if properly cited), is NOT coextensive with plagiarism and is a violation of federal law. One is free to plagiarize public domain material without violating copyright law. [Under the Dastar decision, one can claim to have authored Hamlet.] Here, the material in question was given to Sticklen under an agreement of confidentiality, and was not public domain material. Further, once fixed in tangible form, the material in question would be copyrighted under US law (tho registration would be needed for a right to sue). Independent creation is a defense to copyright infringement, but does not look promising here. As to the inadvertence argument, the intentional substitution of the two references is problematic. Patent infringement requires one to have an issued patent, and is established by measuring an accused product or process against a claim of the patent. A different patent issue in Sticklen's review article is the mention of RNAi, in which Sticklen has a PCT application, and thus an economic interest, undisclosed by Nature RG. [Coincidentially, a different application of Sticklen's received an unfavorable action at the BPAI on April 8]. Although I suspect all the dates in this case have been vetted, I note the link to the Plant Science paper states: Received 24 June 2009; revised 11 November 2009. How can an article published in June 2008 plagiarize from a paper not received by the journal until 2009?

Read more: The Scientist : Post a comment

Comment to the Scientist on April 12-->

Plagiarism is copying without attribution of text, whether or not that text comprises a novel idea. In the present situation, an argument would be that BOTH articles are review articles, merely compiling that which is known. In the copyright context (which is not coextensive with plagiarism), one can get protection in things like phone books, which are compilations of known material. All of that said, there is something additionally at issue here. The Plant Science people talked about their OWN work. That relates to text associated with ref. 149 of the published Plant Science paper. Note the correspondence of footnotes between Sticklen's review and the published Plant Science paper. Ref 61 of Sticklen is Han 1990 which is the same as ref. 148 of the published Plant Science paper. Ref. 62/63 of Sticklen are Graves/Kawasaki. There is NO analog of ref. 149 of Plant Science in Sticklen BUT ref. 150/151 of Plant Science are in fact Kawasaki/Graves.

Comment to the Scientist on April 26-->

The film "12 Angry Men" (1957, directed by Sidney Lumet) was about jury deliberations in a murder case wherein some of the presented "facts" were not what they seemed to be. In the present situation, the most relevant consideration is simply a side-by-side comparison of the original text to the allegedly copied text. Plagiarism and copyright infringement concern the EXPRESSION of an idea, not the idea itself. That is an issue here. As Max Klein points out, the IDEA itself is an issue here. That Sticklen received both the idea and its expression in a confidential communication is separately an issue here. In terms of the handling of the matter, rather than reaching back to 1957, one can refer to the Pangilinan plagiarism matter of 2010 to see an example of someone immediately taking responsibility for a bad act (likely done by a subordinate).


Post a Comment

<< Home