A good cartoon

Earlier this week, an article at the International Business Times was accused of plagiarizing content from a Gizmodo article. I was interested in seeing what happened next. And I’ll pull a clickbait here and say that what I found amused me.

The Gizmodo article

On the afternoon of the 4th, Ryan F. Mandelbaum published an article about two new (published that day) Nature papers that discussed four spatial dimensions: Lohse et al. 2018 and Zilberberg et al. 2018. Ryan was able to get comments from the contact author of the second paper and the first author of the first paper, and overall it’s a good science journalism article.

The International Business Times article

On the morning of the 8th, Suraj Radhakrishnan published an article about the same two papers. It’s not as well written of an article and it chose to include quotes from the shared researcher (Zilberberg) between the two papers.

Ryan tweets, part 1

On the evening of the 8th, Ryan states that Suraj’s article is “incorrect.”

The IBTimes makes small edits

Either on the evening of the 8th or the morning of the 9th, someone at the International Business Times (Suraj?) edits Suraj’s IBTimes article. Most of the edits are relatively minor (e.g. adding a “the” in front of “U.S.”) but one particular edit is a really bad idea. The fourth paragraph third sentence, in the original, read:

When an electron system is subjected to very high magnetic fields perpendicular to the material at very low temperatures initially leads to what is observed as the quantum Hall effect where the voltage no longer increases continuously like seen in the conventional Hall effect, but rather jumps in discrete steps.

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But the fourth paragraph third sentence, in the edit, reads:

When electrons are confined to two dimensions, and a magnetic field passes through perpendicularly, some of the system’s electrical properties become restricted to multiples of exact number values.

The paragraph now reads much more clearly, which is good, but the bad news is that this is a plagiarism of Ryan’s article’s sixth paragraph first sentence:

At each of the new experiments’ core is the quantum Hall effect: When electrons are confined to two dimensions, as if they are stuck on the surface of a sheet of paper (like in graphene or in certain layers of semiconductors), and a magnetic field is passed through that sheet perpendicularly, some of the system’s electrical properties become restricted to multiples of exact number values.

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Ryan tweets, part 2

On the morning of the 9th, Ryan subtweets that Suraj’s article plagiarized him. I classify this as a subtweet because he doesn’t identify the author, or the article, or the publication in the tweet. But based on what happens in the next day or so it is fairly obvious who and what this subtweet is about.

Ryan tweets, part 3

After Ferris Jabr, a science reporter for places including Scientific American, retweets Ryan’s earlier subtweet, Nicholas St. Fleur, science reporter for The New York Times, asked Ryan what happened. Ryan said that he got his editor (one of the nine Gizmodo editors, it is unclear from the context which one Ryan is referring to) to email the offending place’s editor and that the offending place corrected the piece. Ryan felt bad because he assumes plagiarization happens either on accident or because of overworked writers, and he further stated that his opinion is that

any statement that is not a writer’s original thought should be attributed to the source, period

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That is a good quote, Ryan, I’ll borrow it later.

The IBTimes reacts, again

Sometime after the morning of the 9th, someone at the International Business Times (Suraj?) edits Suraj’s IBTimes article. These edits are massive, it’s almost an entirely new article, and the article now includes a very firm admission of plagiarism.

language that should have been attributed to Gizmodo has been deleted.

Wait a second

So I was writing this article and I was looking at the first published version of Suraj’s article and I was looking at Ryan’s article and I could not at all see where Suraj had plagiarized Ryan. Suraj didn’t quote the same researchers as Ryan, Suraj didn’t use the same wording as Ryan, I was really confused here.

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It turns out that my problem was that Suraj had plagiarized Ryan on the edit of Suraj’s article. But I didn’t know that at the time of writing this initially, so I kept looking around.

In the massively edited IBTimes article, there is a link to a news article from the Swiss university ETH Zürich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich if you don’t like abbreviations). That institution is where Zilberberg is employed at, so it has quotes from him. That institution’s news article is what got plagiarized by Suraj in the first published version of the article.

Here’s an unattributed few lines from Suraj’s article:

A team of physicists from Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh applied the idea birthed by Zilberberg by burning a two-dimensional array of waveguides into a fifteen-centimeter-long glass block using laser beams.

These waveguides were cut into the glass in random pathways, such that the distances between them varied along the glass block at different points. As the distances between the waveforms changed, the light waves (lasers) moving through the waveguides could jump easily to a neighboring waveguide.

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Here’s the very similar lines from the university’s news article:

A team of physicists led by Mikael Rechtsman at Penn State University and including Kevin Chen’s group at the University of Pittsburgh in the USA has realized Oded Zilberberg’s idea by burning a two-dimensional array of waveguides into a fifteen-centimetre-long glass block using laser beams. Those waveguides were not straight, however, but rather meandered through the glass in a snake-like fashion so that the distances between them varied along the glass block. Depending on those distances, light waves moving through the waveguides could jump more or less easily to a neighbouring waveguide.

So it looks like Suraj did plagiarize; the editorial team’s contact page at ETH Zürich mentions that

Text published by ETH News may be used by other media and online portals free of charge only if it is not altered and the author’s name and ETH Zurich are cited as sources.

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And Suraj did not cite the author (Oliver Morsch) or ETH Zürich while very liberally paraphrasing Oliver Morsch’s work. So Suraj massively plagiarized ETH Zürich’s Oliver Morsch, and then edited the article to also plagiarize Gizmodo’s Ryan F. Mandelbaum. That’s making mistakes on top of making mistakes.

And just for further confirmation…

On the morning of the 9th, Suraj Radhakrishnan published an article about some medical news about psilocybin. Through the magic of “websites that just copy and paste articles written by other websites,” it is possible to see this article.

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Apparently the IBTimes really did not like this article by Suraj, because
1) Its IBTimes link now has a video and says his story has been deleted because it violated IBT editorial standards.
2) It is the last article that Suraj has published at the IBTimes.

This psilocybin article by Suraj is … well, for example, here’s an unattributed line from the January 9th article

Psilocybin, the primary psychoactive substance in magic mushrooms can profoundly alter the way a person experiences the world by producing changes in mood, sensory perception, time perception, and sense of self.

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And here’s a line from an article at Psypost.org from 13th May 2017

Psilocybin is the primary mind-altering substance in psychedelic “magic” mushrooms. The drug can profoundly alter the way a person experiences the world. It produces changes in mood, sensory perception, time perception, and sense of self.

So in short it looked like Suraj plagiarized thrice in one week. Sorry you had to find out the hard way, the International Business Times.

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Meanwhile, at Gizmodo

George Dvorsky still is employed.

any statement that is not a writer’s original thought should be attributed to the source, period

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Good point, Ryan. George should attribute statements that are not his original thoughts to the source. Period. And I’ve brought up incidents of lack of attribution to him, and he doesn’t appear to care. So the next time that I see him using someone else’s words without attribution, I’ll let that other person know to contact the science editor of Gizmodo to see what should be done.

IBTimes reached somewhere between 4-7 million U.S. visitors every month in 2017, whereas Gizmodo reached 18-22 million U.S. visitors every month in 2017. Since Gizmodo has 2-5 times the audience of IBTimes, I expect Gizmodo to be 2-5 times more fastidious about proper citation attribution than IBTimes. I wish them luck in matching or exceeding that goal!

(edit on the 13th: Some paragraphs were improved thanks to feedback in the comments. I like feedback in the comments, please leave some, especially if it’s constructively critical.)

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(edit on the 16th: Ryan F. Mandelbaum showed up in the comments to show where Suraj plagiarized him. This led to several improvements in the text. Thanks Ryan for pointing out something I wasn’t seeing.)

lead image from here. They say they got it from another place, but that place doesn’t seem to exist any more.