In your paper (http://www.nature.com/news/croatia-s-science-minister-rejects-calls-to-resign-amid-plagiarism-scandal-1.21301) authors Mićo Tatalović and Nenad Jarić Dauenhauer present conflicts in the Croatian scientific community about the case of alleged plagiarism in the paper of Pavo Barišić, Minister of Science and Education of the Croatian Government.
In a plagiarism scandal in Croatia, the country’s highest-level research ethics committee is clashing with its science minister — who says he won’t step down after the committee found he had copied another scholar’s work. Scientists say the case raises questions about academic integrity at the top of a research system that is already riven with misconduct allegations.
Pavo Barišić, a philosopher at the University of Split, became Croatia’s science minister in October 2016. Soon after that, Croatian media began reporting allegations that Barišić had reproduced text without attributing other scholars in a review article that first appeared in 2008 in a local journal, Synthesis Philosophica. The charges were old — they had been raised by four other philosophers in 2011 — but Croatia’s parliament-appointed Committee for Ethics in Science and Higher Education (CESHE) said it would investigate.
On 9 January, the committee’s report was leaked to the local press. The CESHE, which has not yet formally published the report, concluded that a footnote in Barišić’s article used text copied from a blogpost by an American international-affairs specialist, Stephen Schlesinger, at the Century Foundation in New York City. Barišić’s article had other problems too — such as his description of ideas from the deceased US political scientist Samuel Huntington without attribution — but the committee didn’t agree on whether that constituted plagiarism.
In the months beforehand, Barišić maintained that he had done nothing wrong — even as academics in Croatia and abroad called for his resignation. The minister pointed out that in 2011, an ethics committee at the University of Split had dismissed the allegations as ill-founded. In December 2016, the then-head of the CESHE, Vlatko Silobrčić, resigned, alleging government pressure to drop the case.
By then, Barišić had changed his stance. He told journalists that he had taken text from Schlesinger without attribution, and had apologised to him. But the minister said that the fault was merely a “typographic error” — so there was no need for him to resign. After the allegations had first surfaced in 2011, later translations and a later republication of the article in a book did attribute Schlesinger, he noted. (These later versions also corrected other errors, such as the lack of attribution to Huntington.) On 14 January, Barišić’s original article was amended too, although only the Schlesinger footnote was altered.
Barišić did not reply to Nature’s request for comment.
The ethics committee has no power to impose sanctions, but calls for Barišić’s resignation have intensified. Saša Zelenika, an engineer at the University of Rijeka who was Croatia’s assistant science minister in 2012–14, says that Barišić has repeatedly misled the public about the matter. “The minister should definitely resign,” he says.
Ivan Dikić, a Croatian-born biochemist at the Goethe University of Frankfurt in Germany, wrote an open letter to Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on 11 January, saying that Barišić’s actions did not show he could responsibly lead the science ministry. And five days later, Dikić wrote a second lengthy letter, accusing Barišić of further plagiarism in several other places in his 2008 article.
But Barišić has some support. Other prominent Croatian scientists said in a newspaper article that the case was overblown, given the small amount of plagiarized text. Plenković said that he would stand by his minister. And on 15 January, another open letter — signed by 100 or so scientists, including some of Barišić’s colleagues at the University of Split — supported Barišić, saying that his “small omission” could not be considered plagiarism.
The case has wider implications than a back-and-forth about plagiarism and the minister’s responsibility, Zelenika says. He sees the reaction to it as emblematic of Croatia’s struggles to crack down on scientific cheating. In 2008, for example, dozens of the country’s professors were arrested on charges of selling exam scripts — many were later found guilty — while studies have documented widespread plagiarism among Croatian university students1. Other politicians have fallen foul of plagiarism allegations, too. In 2014, for example, the dean of Zagreb’s police academy found that the parliament’s current vice-president, Milijan Brkić, had plagiarized large parts of his graduate dissertation on policing. Brkić has not resigned, but has to write another thesis.
Some of those lining up on Barišić’s side are now seeking to limit the CESHE’s investigational powers. In November 2016, academic heads at the University of Zagreb initiated a case in Croatia’s constitutional court to review whether the CESHE should retain its statutory authority to pronounce on university ethics disputes. If the case removes CESHE’s authority, then Croatia will have diluted an important institution that seeks to uphold its scientific integrity, Zelenika says.
While your authors take up a lot of space, it is hard to give a good grade to their objectivity, as they have made a lot of omissions, and that is not allowed by professional ethics:
- They cite only collocutors who attack Barišić, but none of those who defend Barišić.
- Your authors omitted that the disputed paper was analyzed using plagiarism check software by professor Igor Čatić and dr. Josip Stjepandić (the undersigned author), who, completely independent of each other, came to the conclusion that the similarity and congruence in the disputed paper are marginal (less than 5% of the text). In the attachment Test_plag you can see the result of the analysis of software Plagscan. On the basis of this analysis it is really hard to conclude that this is the case of the OBVIOUS plagiarism.
- Your authors omitted that the arguments in the report, which highlights the famous biochemist Đikić, are contradictory. Thus, they argue that the term “three waves of democratization” is the intellectual property of Huntington. If you check on Google, you will see that different authors speak about two, three and four waves of democratization as well as two, three, four waves of globalization. Google shows millions of hits on this subject. It is difficult for such generic terms to determine to whom they belong, and for that reason they are usually not cited.
- Đikić said, copying an old report (is that not a specific kind of plagiarism?), that Barišić’s article was received on 21 December 2007 (Document 9). Schlesingerov work was published on 10 June 2008 (Document 10), and Barišić cited “Maxim News Network, 11/6/2008”. How could Barišić possibly cite Schlesinger’s paper published half a year AFTER Barišić completed and sent his paper to Synthesis philosophica? Does that mean that Đikić and your authors introduced some kind a ‘plagiarism in advance’?
- They do not say that so far not one respectable philosopher, from the corresponding field, has done a detailed ontological analysis which would show that disputed paper is actually a plagiarism. As it is now three months since the beginning of this political campaign, I suppose that that kind of philosopher will not appear, because if they had anything to say to support this campaign, they would have already appeared.
Barišić admitted his mistake with a FOOTNOTE (just a footnote!) and corrected it back in 2010, also in the Spanish and German edition of the paper. At that time that was not a problem, and charges against him were dropped at the University of Split and Zagreb, where Barišić had worked before. If this Ethics Committee considered that Barišić flaw had been so big, he would have suffered the consequences long before he could become a minister.
Why is this problem heating up right now, when new accusation elements have not been discovered?
Neo-communists have lost power in Croatia in 2016 and they promised “hell”. It is obvious that they have prepared a dossier with possible points of attack for each minister, as is suited to neo-communists’ oligarchy. Ethics Committee, which has now issued another decision, was put together by the neo-communist government. Even so, 4 of 9 board members declined to participate in making such decisions. Among the five remaining members there was neither a single philosopher nor the committee asked for an expert opinion of some philosophers.
Since the main neo-communistic party SDP has totally lost its reputation due to incompetence and corruption scandals, “reserve” neo-communist parties were established in Croatia, such as the party with pretentious name “Smart” led by former SDP officials like Saša Zelenika. Professor Ivan Đikić was a consultant to Zelenika and minister Jovanović, who was accused by the same Ethics Committee of frequently publishing scientific papers during his service as a minister in the role of “added author”. Such are ‘philosophy experts’ who accuse Barišić.
Not surprisingly, all your collocutors are either senior officials or party members of “Smart”. And your authors are their supporters, judging by their Facebook profiles.
Does the editorial board of Nature think that in Croatia there is no competent collocutor outside the neo-communist party “Smart”?
That the campaign against Barišić is politically motivated, the latest news shows (http://direktno.hr/en/2014/direkt/73960/Sankcije-za-dvoje-SDP-ovaca-jer-su-podr%C5%BEali-ministra-Bari%C5%A1i%C4%87a.htm), according to which two members of the neo-communist party SDP in Split await punishment because they supported Barišić.
Since it is not the mission of Nature to support political campaigns in Croatia, I ask you to retract the mentioned paper from your website due to the huge authors’ omissions.
Dr. Josip Stjepandić