Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Revised ID thesis describes plagiarism in originally accepted version

The response at Baylor University to my report of plagiarism has been extraordinary, though not entirely perfect. The thesis of [student], [title], now includes a preamble that, while somewhat evasive, describes what was wrong with the originally accepted version.

Before going into the details, I want to emphasize again that I am not reveling in the academic misconduct of a young master’s student. The villains are the members of the thesis committee, who have not, to my knowledge, had to acknowledge their misconduct publicly. I hope that Baylor administrators censured Gregory J. Hamerly, the assistant professor of computer science who served as thesis chairperson despite the fact that Robert J. Marks II directed and contributed to the research, for negligence in oversight. And I hope that they put Marks on a short leash for approving plagiarism of his own publications with William A. Dembski. In particular, Marks, who is an electrical engineer, should not be allowed to direct the research of graduate students in computer science.

Here is the preamble, with my responses interspersed.

This thesis is a replacement of a previous version. The replacement is necessary because of a number of serious challenges. Some of the contents of the first version were taken from previously published work of the author. As was done in the original version, copyright notices are included at the end of the thesis. Although using previously published work in a thesis is common practice, the document itself did not make clear that this was the case.
The replacement is necessary because of defects, not challenges. You did not indicate in any way that William A. Dembski was a coauthor of text you copied into your thesis. You excluded his name from the copyright release forms, and those forms are unchanged in the revised thesis. Are you showing us the forms you actually submitted to the IEEE Press?
Additionally, and more seriously, the introduction was constructed by drawing passages from previous papers including some which the author of thesis was not a coauthor. This was clearly an inappropriate usage.
You copied more than half of the introduction from publications by William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II.
The work for this thesis was done in collaboration with others in Dr. Marks’ research group. All of content in the thesis including the sections from the introduction were produced by members of the research group including Dr. Marks who was a member of the thesis committee.
Dembski and Marks wrote the papers you plagiarized before you joined the group. You contributed in no way to that effort. And you seem not to understand that it is scandalous for a thesis committee member to condone plagiarism of his own work. As for the chapters which you generated collaboratively, I doubt highly that you can explain all of the math (e.g., Markov chain analyses). What sort of thesis defense is it in which the committee agrees not to question the candidate on certain parts of the document?
Within the group, we use tools such as LaTeX and Dropbox which make collaboration very easy. Unfortunately this also made it easy to reuse existing text in an inappropriate manner. This is not an attempt to excuse the content of the original thesis, but rather to explain how the mistake was made.
The technology is a red herring. You did not collaborate in the preparation of the papers by Dembski and Marks, so why should you possess the LaTeX source for them? People have mentioned on this blog that they stapled together photocopies or reprints of published papers to generate theses. Obviously, complete lists of authors appeared in their documents. You went out of your way to avoid mention of Dembski, and continue to do so even here.
In future all members of the lab, especially the author of this thesis, will be careful about the reuse of collaborative work.
It is hardly your place to offer a guarantee that Marks will behave appropriately in the future. He should step forward and acknowledge his own misconduct.
This version of the thesis remedies these problems. The introduction has been rewritten by the author and those sections drawn from previous work of the author have been appropriately cited in the thesis body.
The revisions are indeed appropriate.

Grumblings about the preamble aside, I have to say that it is remarkable to see any admission of wrongdoing at all. My hat is off to Baylor for dealing with the thesis as judiciously as it has. I can only hope that my report to EthicsPoint also triggered an investigation of Marks.


  1. I have eliminated references to the plagiarist by name. Here are expurgated versions of comments I've deleted.

    Bob O'H June 8, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    Good, that is progress, even if it's not perfect.

    In many ways, [student] can be seen as the victim here. I agree that Marks is the one who needs he feet holding to the fire.

    Tom English June 8, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    Bob, I was a victim of creationist con artists as a teen, and feel genuine sympathy for [the student].

    When [the student] deigned to comment on the "no free lunch" theorem at Uncommon Descent, he mangled the misinterpretation of Dembski and Marks. I doubt that there's a theoretical bone in his body. Marks is a very bright guy, and I imagine that [the student] is overawed by him.

    Some of us recall that Dembski and Marks once released a computer program that was shot through with errors. I suspect that Marks used [the student] primarily to write programs, gather data, and prepare plots. (That erroneous plots in one of the group's publications contradict the theory suggests that the research assistants were not giving much thought to theory.) For a master's student in computer science, this is grunt work. If [the student] did not design some of the research, then he has been done a huge disservice by Marks.

    It is clear in the preamble that [the student] still regards himself as a member of Marks' research group (the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, of course). So what we have is a young guy who believes that he's on a mission from God, doing his part to "prove" ID in the engineering literature, when he does not understand the claims of Dembski and Marks about "conservation of information" in search. The description "victim" seems to fit.

    Diogenes April 16, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    Three years later: [Student]'s inability to understand Intelligent Design's premises and definitions of concepts like "irreducible complexity" is so severe that has led him to redefine IC's terms to the point of obliterating everything Michael Behe ever wrote about IC and ID. In a recent (2014) paper in the ID vanity journal BIO-Complexity, [the student] attempts to refute the fact that evolutionary algorithms like Avida evolve irreducibly complex structures. In order to do so, [the student] redefines "Irreducible Complexity" so that "part" in Behe's definition now means "non-trivial part", which doesn't just silently revise Behe's definition, it obliterates Irreducible Complexity altogether. [The student] defines all the parts (computer instructions) in all Avida digital organisms as "trivial parts", so that nothing produced by Avida can ever be IC. But [the student's] definition of "trivial part" means that amino acids are trivial, and nucleotides in genes are trivial, therefore, no protein molecule and no gene can ever be Irreducibly Complex-- in direct contradiction of a mountain of assertions by Behe & William Dembski that almost all proteins and almost all genes are themselves IC.

    [The student] really blew up Irreducible Complexity for good. So, he did our side a big favor. See: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2014/04/once-again-desp.html.

  2. Tom, why did you eliminate references to the plagiarist by name and why have you removed his name from the comments by Bob and Diogenes?