Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Word of the month: Freeman

The Freeman as a measure of plagiary

In 1991, Ned Feder and Walter Stewart, both working for USA's National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK) devised an automatic plagiary detector.
Both scientists had started hunting down fraudulent research in the eighties. Their investigations took all their time, hence they had no time for research of their own. Quite soon their life took after the X-files as they were relocated by the NIDDK in a dark room in the basement and they developped a bit of paranoia which only made them more stubborn in discovering more frauds.
News of their mission arrived in Washington and senator John Dingell asked them to join his team. Still officially employed by the National Institutes of Health, they had become untouchable for a while.
Then they started to do some very silly things. First in a lecture Stewart compared scientists who were aware of plagiary but kept it secret to the Germans who had ignored the holocaust during the third reich.
But their mark of genius came by designing the above mentioned plagiary detector, a dodgy piece of software which could analyze any given text to search for similar strings of 30 signs in a database of scientific texts. The highest score was named 'one Freeman', after a then famous fraudeur. They stated that plagiary was at hand for all values above 30 milli-Freeman. As a result, the software considered plagiary any text with lots of quotations, even if the original authors were referred to, and all literature of very specific branches of sciences where similar words and expressions had to be used.
More and more people complained to the NIH and Dingell finally dumped the duo. Their archives were confiscated and they were separated and relocated. Stewart went in a hunger strike for 33 days, but they finally had to accept their days of fraudbusting were over.
In 1993, the two investigators were heard of again. In a paranoid fit they have held two workshops to explore sexual and racial discrimination, scientific misconduct, and retaliation on the NIH campus.
More recently Ned Feder, now a staff scientist with the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) wrote about his struggle with NIH regarding possible corruption through private funding.

Marcel Hulspas: "Klinklare wetenschap", Prometeus 1995 (pp. 64-67). If the autor's text had been translated in English I certainly would score at least 600 milli-Freemans.

NIH Fraud Investigators Take On New Roles At Agency, But Remain Determined To Resume Sleuthing Activity

Dr. Ned Feder: Ethical Problems at NIH - The Struggle Continues

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