In the course of this blog, I have engaged in the occasional tortuous tangled trail.
I doubt if any of my trails – or trials – is as complicated as one recently followed by Debora Weber-Wulff. In her latest blog post, A Confusing Pakistani Plagiarism Case, she relates how she tried following up a report in the Pakistani Express Tribune, Confession: Ex-HEC head apologises for plagiarism.
Her difficulties involved trying to find the original paper which the former chair of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) might or might not have co-authored and which might or might not have been included in this writer’s CV and which might or might not have appeared in an academic journal; the paper might or might not have included plagiarised material. This last doubt arises because any plagiarism in the paper might not be considered plagiarism on the (questionable) grounds that the paper was published before Pakistan had legislated any policies regarding plagiarism.
Weber-Wulff sums up her investigation and the issues much more succinctly than I have managed. She writes:
L. has apologized for plagiarism in a paper he didn’t write that is no longer available at the journal named but where his co-author was editor and it still ended up listed on his CV by mistake? And now it has been removed from the journal page (and is not mentioned in the CV) but it is still on arXiv? Because it was put there before the Pakistani policy on plagiarism came into effect?
Indeed, the case is more complicated than it appears on the surface.
As Weber-Wulff points out, so too could be the consequences. The paper is still available on arXiv with no notice of withdrawal or retraction. It is therefore still part of the public/ academic record. Despite its (alleged) flaws it might still be used by other writers. It might already have been used in the 12 or so years since original publication.
Thank you, Dr Weber-Wulff. Well untangled.