Lior Shamir was surprised to learn that one of his papers had been plagiarized. He was even more surprised to learn that it had been plagiarized, by his count, 21 times.
But what really astonished him is that no one seemed to care.
In July, Mr. Shamir, an assistant professor of computer science at Lawrence Technological University, near Detroit, received an anonymous e-mail signed "Prof. Against Plagiarism." That's how he found out that multiple paragraphs from a paper he had presented at a 2006 conference, titled "Human Perception-Based Color Segmentation Using Fuzzy Logic," also appeared in a 2010 paper by two professors in Iran. There was no question of coincidence—the wording was identical—and his paper wasn't even cited.
Curious, he started to poke around some more. One of the Iranian professors, Ali Moghani, a professor at the Institute for Color Science and Technology, in Tehran, appeared to have copied parts of the paper in eight different publications. (Mr. Moghani did not respond to a request for comment.) But he wasn't the only one. The more Mr. Shamir looked, the more he found. Those 21 papers had 26 authors, all of whom had published Mr. Shamir's work under their names, without credit.
It's not as if the paper was a central part of his academic work. In fact, he had forgotten about it until he got the anonymous e-mail.
Now, though, he was intrigued, and more than a little annoyed. So he started contacting journals, indexing services, conference organizers. He sent, by his estimate, about 30 e-mails. He expected that the papers, once it was shown that they had been plagiarized, would be retracted. Maybe he would get an explanation, or an apology, or a response of some kind.
In fact, he received only a couple of replies.
Among those he did receive was a reply from Mohammad Reza Darafsheh, the other Iranian academic. Mr. Darafsheh, a professor of mathematics at the University of Tehran, wrote that "[a]bout the overlap of some sentences in chapter 4 of our paper with yours we feel sorry." But he added that it was "only about one page." The email ended with an offer to collaborate with Mr. Shamir in the future.
When contacted by The Chronicle, Mr. Darafsheh wrote in an e-mail that only one paragraph was identical to the original, and that it had "no scientific value." After it was pointed out to Mr. Darafsheh that, in truth, about 400 words of the eight-page paper appeared to have been copied directly from Mr. Shamir's paper, he insisted that there had been no copying, and that it was merely a "co-accident."
Mr. Darafsheh and Mr. Moghani's paper was published in the Italian Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics. The Chronicle contacted the editor, Piergiulio Corsini, who in turn asked Violeta Leoreanu Fotea, a professor of mathematics at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, in Romania, to investigate. After reviewing both papers, she wrote that she could "not say that Darafsheh and Moghani have plagiarized the work of Shamir."
After The Chronicle e-mailed her multiple examples of just such copying from the paper, Ms. Leoreanu Fotea acknowledged that it was "a lot of identical text," and said Mr. Corsini would decide how to handle the matter. But he wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle that he was not sure what decision he was supposed to make. "The paper has been already published, and I cannot cancel it," he wrote. "I'm sorry for what happened."
Later, Ms. Leoreanu Fotea wrote to say that "two lines on this unpleasant episode of plagiarism" would appear in a future edition of the journal.
'Deny the Undeniable'
In 2009, another paper that borrowed heavily from Mr. Shamir's without credit was published in the Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Emerging Trends in Engineering & Technology. One of the co-authors was Preeti Bajaj, president of the G.H. Raisoni College of Engineering, in India, who was also chair of the conference where the plagiarized paper was presented.
That plagiarism was first reported this past September by the journal Nature India, in which Ms. Bajaj acknowledged that portions were copied but blamed a graduate assistant who was a coauthor of the paper. She told Nature India that the assistant had been fired. What she did not mention was that the paper was published again this year in the Journal of Information Hiding and Multimedia Signal Processing. In an e-mail to The Chronicle, she wrote in uncertain English that as a co-author, "I'm guilty but I didn't knew my student will do so." In a follow-up message, she asserted that the "research truth can be known to only those who understands and work on the technology." Ms. Bajaj did not respond to a request for further explanation.
"Surreal" was how Mr. Shamir characterized Ms. Bajaj's defense. Indeed, the response in general has bewildered him. He says he's been greeted either by silence or by attempts to "ridiculously deny the undeniable."
That reaction is echoed by Gerald Koocher, editor of the journal Ethics & Behavior and co-author of Responding to Research Wrongdoing: A User-Friendly Guide. He found Mr. Darafsheh's argument that only one page had been copied laughable. As for Ms. Bajaj's insisting that she didn't know what her graduate assistant had done, Mr. Koocher was unpersuaded: "What does it say about your scholarly integrity that you don't vet what your students write?"
Regarding the behavior of journal editors, he wonders whether there is a reluctance to investigate because doing so might reflect poorly on them. "If you admit that your journal published plagiarized material, you might feel that you have not adequately protected the journal," he says. Of course, Mr. Koocher says, that's no excuse.
At least one investigation continues. The American Institute of Physics, which published a paper co-written by Mr. Moghani in its conference proceedings, says it's looking into allegations of plagiarism. (In this case, Mr. Moghani's abstract is nearly identical to Mr. Shamir's.)
The institute did not respond to two e-mails Mr. Shamir wrote, but it did respond to an inquiry from The Chronicle. Mark Cassar, publisher of journals and technical publications at the institute, wrote that it "regrets not responding to Prof. Shamir in a timely fashion."
Mr. Shamir sees a larger danger here: "Science is based on sharing, and the sharing of results and ideas is protected by strict and welldefined ethics guidelines. If editors allow violating these guidelines, this whole sensitive structure might collapse."
So why did this one rather minor publication attract so many plagiarists? Mr. Shamir finds that yet another mystery. "It wasn't even such a good paper," he says.