Last year, “intelligent design” creationist William A. Dembski, Research Professor of Philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said of one of his coauthors at Baylor University, “[Student] — With pro-ID graduate students like this, Darwinian profs don't stand a chance.” Well, [the student] evidently went on to defend a master’s thesis, Studies of Active Information in Search, in the Fall semester of 2010. I downloaded it from Baylor’s document archive, and had only to read to the bottom of the first page to discover plagiarism.*
Almost half of the first chapter is copied, without citation or sign of quotation, from
- William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success, 2009
- William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, Bernoulli's Principle of Insufficient Reason and Conservation of Information in Computer Search, 2009
Most of the thesis is copied from two published conference papers, and from an article that had been accepted for publication:
- [Student], William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II, Evolutionary Synthesis of Nand Logic: Dissecting a Digital Organism, 2009
- [Student], George Montañez, William A. Dembski, Robert J. Marks II, Efficient Per Query Information Extraction from a Hamming Oracle, 2010
- George Montañez, [Student], William A. Dembski, Robert J. Marks II, A Vivisection of the ev Computer Organism: Identifying Sources of Active Information, accepted August 27, 2010; published December 15, 2010
Chapter 2 is essentially (2), beginning with the fourth paragraph, and skipping Section II. (The first three paragraphs are in Chapter 1.) It corrects errors that I identified here at Bounded Science. More than half of the paper is mathematical analysis that is beyond most master’s students in computer science. I would guess that [the student’s] contributions were programming, data gathering and visualization, and paper preparation. If I am right, then it is inappropriate for the thesis to give the impression that [the student] did the math.
Chapter 4 is (1) with Section I eliminated, and with several small changes. It haplessly ends with “we have not explored in this paper.” (For those of you who are not scholars, I should explain that theses are not referred to as papers.)
Chapter 3 is not so simply related to its source, presumably because its author is not the lead author of (2). Almost all of its text is present in the article. But the chapter reorders passages of the article. Most notably, it moves empirical results ahead of theoretical analysis, and introduces awkward forward references to the analysis. Also, there are occasional replacements of words with synonyms, as well as deletions and insertions of short phrases. All in all, the chapter looks like the work of someone who was trying, pathetically, to make copy-and-paste pass for original writing. (Seventeen years of teaching experience are talking here.)
Chapter 5 is a double-spaced, one-page conclusion.
Some universities limit how much of a thesis may come from published work, but I can find no indication that Baylor is one of them. Yet the thesis does not state that the chapters are excerpted from published and forthcoming papers. Instead there is an appendix entitled ”Copyrights” that gives, without explanation, copyright release forms bearing the titles, but not the complete lists of authors (required by the publisher), of (1) and (2). Guess which author is missing? Yes, that would be William A. Dembski. I suspect that the forms on file with the publisher bear his name.
To get a hint that Dembski deserves credit for contributions to the thesis, you have to click the Show full item record button of the entry for the thesis in the BEARdocs system, and then figure out the meaning of the identifier.citation fields providing full citations of (1) and (2). In my opinion, burying this information in the metadata of the document retrieval system is unethical.
The copyright release forms indicate that the authors retain the right to use the published material in derivative works, “provided that the source and any IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers] copyright notice are indicated.” So the thesis perhaps does not violate the copyrights of the publisher. But there is much more to academic integrity than not breaking the law. When you draw on a source, you cite it, even if you are one of the authors. When you copy from a source, you indicate clearly what you are copying. It would have been so easy to end the introduction of the thesis with an indication that Chapter 2 is excerpted, with emendations, from (2), and that Chapter 4 is excerpted from (1). As for Chapter 3, the author should have written it from scratch, and should have cited (3) in all places where the work was not his own.
Now, should you believe that self-citation and self-quotation are optional in scholarly writing, go back to the beginning of this post. It is unethical for a thesis committee member to condone plagiarism, even if it is plagiarism of his own work. The unacknowledged use of (3) in the thesis is egregious. It is clearly wrong to draw on the work of others, and not indicate that you are doing so. (For those of you who are not scholars, I should mention that references to forthcoming publications are common.) There is no wiggle room here. If the document is authentic, then both [the student] and Marks are out-of-bounds ethically. And one really must wonder what was going on with the chairman of the thesis committee, associate professor of computer science Greg Hamerly. Was Marks the de facto chairman? Had Hamerly even bothered to read the handful of papers on active information? If he had, then he is complicit. If he had not, then his performance was shabby, to say the least.
The contact information below should come in handy for any journalist who wants to work on the story. And I encourage readers to let Baylor administrators know what a blight on the reputation of the school the thesis is. Click here now to open your default email application and address the dean of the graduate school, J. Larry Lyon. You will CC the executive vice president and provost, the dean of engineering and computer science, and the chairman of the computer science department.
Thesis committee member:
Robert J. Marks II, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Engineering
William A. Dembski, Ph.D.
Research Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
J. Larry Lyon, Ph.D.
Dean of the Graduate School
Elizabeth Davis, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President and Provost
Benjamin S. Kelley, Ph.D., P.E.
Dean of Engineering and Computer Science
Signed to approve thesis as department chairman:
Donald L. Gaitros, Ph.D.
Professor and Chairman of Computer Science
Thesis committee chairperson:
Greg Hamerly, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Computer Science
Thesis committee member:
[completed Ph.D. and joined Baylor in 2009]
Young-Rae Cho, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
* I emphasize that my remarks are contingent on the authenticity of the document residing in Baylor’s BEARdocs archive on March 19, 2011. When possible, I assess the thesis I retrieved, and not persons. I have verified that Baylor requires entry of theses into BEARdocs. A metadatum indicates that the thesis was added on January 5, 2011, which is consistent with December 2010 graduation. I contacted [the student] by email to ask if the document were the final draft of his thesis, and he responded, “I have not verified the document, but it should be the final draft.”