Category Archives: Plagiarism

Encouraging image credit on Twitter

Adding photo credit to Twitter post
“The image or video is uncredited” is not currently an option on Twitter app. It should be.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to nudge a user to credit the person who made a photograph or video? I.e., users could click on Report, then indicate that an image has been posted without credit in a situation where creator might easily have been determined. There would have to be some algorithm, of course, that used reports from multiple reporters to somehow nudge the account holder to either delete the tweet (and repost with credit info) or to change the user’s future behavior. Maybe the offending, reported tweet would start showing up with red text to indicate to the world that they should be ashamed. Or maybe after a certain number of complaints the tweet gets (gasp) auto-deleted. Or (my preference) the account gets hobbled so user can’t post images anymore (but text-only Tweets just fine). There are lots of really fun ways to do this.

Here’s what does not appear to work: choosing to not follow those accounts that are flagrant copyright abusers.

What also doesn’t work is allowing only copyright-holders to file complaints to Twitter HQ. Not all artists have Twitter accounts, plus the forms are hard to find even if they did. Furthermore, most photographers don’t even know their images are on Twitter, uncredited. Encouraging a culture of credit is something that can be easily crowdsourced, and should be.

By the way, credit can be a Twitter handle (best) or just the artist’s name (when a good-faith search reveals they don’t have an account). And the credit can be in the text (best) but you can sometimes (or additionally) add credit by adding the text onto the image before you post (and that doesn’t eat up your 140 characters).

[ FYI, I made this image using a blank iPhone vector image from pixabay. No attribution requested by this company, but I added it anyway. ]

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Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research has finally stopped plagiarizing me

I’m delighted to report that The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research (CPBR) has finally decided to stop plagiarizing me. Details below. But first, the back story in case you missed it, which is likely.

For the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, CPBR included approximately four pages of my poster advice (my full version is here) as an appendix in a PDF they emailed to thousands of researchers around the country who wanted CPBR grant funding (the PDF was a call for proposals). A sample page of this appendix is at the bottom of this post, with the plagiarized text highlighted in red. There was no indication anywhere in the entire document that the text had been copied from my web page (e.g., there were no quotation marks around text, and no generous citation like, “Text on how to make a poster courtesy Dr Colin Purrington”). This type of plagiarism would be classified as “blatant plagiarism” and would earn you an automatic F in a college course, with possibility of expulsion from the school (I know this because I had served for years on the Swarthmore College judiciary board, where plagiarism cases were often heard). I was also annoyed that they’d decided to copyright my text: at the bottom of the pages in question there was the line, “Copyright CPBR”, verbiage that claimed legal ownership of the text. CPBR also told recipients of the PDF to not post the document online, effectively hiding it from public scrutiny.

But somebody at Purdue University’s grants office decided to post the document (oops), and I stumbled onto it in 2013. Via email, I asked that the document be taken down (or my content removed), and CC’d the folks at CPBR.

At this point, CPBR might have contacted me. For example, they might have said, “Oh, gosh, we had a moron on our staff back in 2006, and he must have just copied that text because he thought it was funny. So sorry, we’ll remove it. Can we link to your web page??”

Instead, they hired a large law firm (Arnold & Porter) and threatened to take me to court if I didn’t take down my website. Yes, that’s right: CPBR officially accused me of plagiarizing them. They threatened very large legal fees, too. In hindsight, I suppose I should have let those threats play out: it would be really amusing to see them try to get my site unplugged. But because the threat was totally legal (so to say) and could potentially bankrupt me, I decided to hire a lawyer, too.

And this is when the story gets completely unsatisfying: I haven’t heard from CPBR or it’s lawyers for over a year. I suspect CPBR’s lawyer became furious at CPBR, because CPBR probably assured its lawyer that I was the guilty party. But I provided crystal clear proof of the contrary to their lawyer, so their relationship probably soured rather quickly. I was hoping to eventually hear from the lawyer that the threat had been lifted, but I guess that’s not going to happen. And CPBR has never contacted me, either.

My only evidence that CPBR admits to the plagiarism is that they’ve finally stopped using my text in their most recent PDF (kindly sent to me by several of the member universities).

So that’s the update.

What continues to depresses me about this whole experience is that CPBR and Dorin Schumacher have faced zero consequences for (1) plagiarizing me rather extensively and (2) falsely accusing me of copyright violation. Most people roll their eyes about (1), viewing advice on “poster design” as far too boring to care about (note: my goal was to craft advice that was less boring than other how-to guides; the theft of my text suggests I might have been successful). But (2), making knowingly false allegations about copyright infringement is really terrible regardless of the topic. I would have thought that after the story went public last year, that Dr Schumacher would quickly lose her job or that CPBR would stop getting government money. But Dr Schumacher still gives herself $250,000+ per year (she owns the company, it turns out) and CPBR still gets millions of dollars each year from the USDA, Department of Energy, and EPA. Some — perhaps tens of thousands — of that money went to a lawyer directed to pursue a legal claim she knew was false. That’s public money, some of it contributed by me (!), a taxpayer. If there was any justice in the world there would be a high-level governmental liaison who would say, “Dr Schumacher, this use of public money is objectionable and you are officially defunded.” (I’ve contacted all the government officials that give the checks to CPBR; they all have told me they cannot get involved.)

What makes this especially bizarre is that CPBR’s goal is to get plant biotechnology research ideas into trademarked products. Hence there’s a lot of talk in CPBR’s documents about trademarks, privacy, and copyrights. For an organization that clearly values intellectual property, it’s really shameful it engaged in blatant plagiarism. And it’s shocking that such an organization would falsely accuse somebody else of copyright infringement as a way to bully the weaker party (me) into ceding legal ownership. Simply shameful.

It’s also rather strange that CPBR would ever choose to plagiarize me in the first place. First, when in doubt, don’t plagiarize from sites that have “please don’t plagiarize” verbiage on their pages (I do), especially if the author also has a page dedicated to the evils of plagiarism and how to stop fight it (I do). There are thousands of sites on how to craft conference posters (plus plenty of articles and books), and the vast majority have no such verbiage. Second, don’t ever plagiarize from people who might reasonably come across your stuff. I’ve actually published on plant biotechnology (e.g.), and it would be completely likely that I’d eventually read CPBR’s PDF on funding sources (and thus discover the plagiarism). So odd, on both counts.

If you’d like to see the PDFs with and without the plagiarism, just let me know and I’ll send them to you (I don’t want to post them). If you have questions for Dr Schumacher, here’s her email: And here’s her lawyer’s: And, just in case you’re curious: I do have official copyright on my text from the US Copyright Office; CPBR most certainly does not.

Thanks to all the people who’ve sent kind words of support to me during over this issue, or who’ve sent messages to member universities or governmental officials. I’m truly grateful for all.

By the way, The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research is on day 2 of its annual symposium today (March 4th). If you’re in DC, please stop by the (posh) George Town Club (1530 Wisconsin Ave, NW) if you have a few minutes to spare. It’s fully funded by US taxpayers so I’m sure they’d let you come in. Oh, and there’s a poster session! And I’d love to know if the posters are any good this year, so if you go, please drop me a line.

Plagiarism by The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research



Posted in Biology, Education, Graphic design, Plagiarism, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Survival of the fittest

In honor of Darwin’s birthday (February 12th), photographs of the Darwinning team during the Reach the Beach relay last year. Plus photographs of their team vans, Nature and Nurture. The team included two physicists, a chemist, a biomechanical engineer, an astronomer, and two earth scientists. A truly evolved bunch. Photographs courtesy Kacie Kefgen and Meredith Danowski (danke!).

Darwinners team photoSurvival of the fittest

Darwinners team caron-bumber

Charles Darwin tattoo on woman's armYou can spot ’em in this YouTube video from the race organizers:


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CRC Press recalls book that plagiarized me

clear and concise communications for scientistsThe book, Clear and Concise Communications for Scientists and Engineers, has been recalled by CRC Press due to plagiarism (of me).  Or at least they said it was going to be recalled: it is still available for purchase at CRC Press a week after their lawyer gave me the news.  But CRC Press / Francis & Taylor / Informa is a massive corporation, so perhaps these things take time.

Anyway, it was nice of CRC to so quickly acknowledge and act on the plagiarism rather than accuse me of plagiarizing them.  They also said they would be happy to give refunds to anyone who had already purchased the book.

My only complaint is that they refused to make a public statement about the recall and the reason.  In my informal research (previous post), most publishers involved in plagiarism cases do tend to make some sort of statement … even if they initially don’t want to.  If CRC wanted to better promote its anti-plagiarism policy to potential authors, making press statements about recalled books would be a wise idea.

Publishers should also get in the habit of running every book through plagiarism-detection software: the sections copy/pasted from my site (Designing conference posters) would have been flagged instantly.  But what publisher these days isn’t doing this?  Taylor & Francis certainly does it.   So the question I have is, why did CRC Press/editor not contact me when those pages were flagged?

By the way, there were a lot of sentences about plagiarism in the book.  None of these sentences was plagiarized from my page on plagiarism.  Now that would be hilarious.

Posted in Biology, Education, Graphic design, Plagiarism, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How publishers deal with plagiarism

Alex Haley's Roots
Image from Wikipedia.

Just because I was curious … here’s how various publishers have dealt with books that contained plagiarism.  Of course, publishers don’t always make public statements about such things, so if you have additions or corrections, please let me know.  Similarly, it’s hard to figure out whether the source authors took the plagiarizer (and/or publisher) to court.  I know I have 19 in the list … am sort of reserving #20.

  1. Roots (Alex Haley 1976). Doubleday & Company was publisher.  Amazon still sells this book.  Haley was taken to court by author of The African, which Haley mined for characters, plot, quotes, etc. [details]
  2. The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys (Doris Kearns Goodwin 1987).  I gather she settled with one of her “sources” (Lynne McTaggart) before the plagiarism news was released. Goodwin requested that all copies be destroyed. [details]
  3. Alexander Graham Bell: A Life (James Mackay 1989).  He apparently paid the John Wiley & Sons to have the book recalled … as part of deal to avoid being sued by Robert V. Bruce.  Mackay was caught plagiarizing his next book, by the way. [details]
  4. The Survivor Personality (Patsy Westcott 1995).  Bloomsbury Publishers recalled all the books and had them destroyed.  Amazon sells used copies of this book. [details]
  5. When Love Calls (Gail A. McFarland 1999).  BET Publications recalled the book.  You can still buy used copies on Amazon. Gina Wilkins, who was the author plagiarized, won an out-of-court settlement. [details]
  6. The Wild Blue (Stephen Ambrose 2001).  Simon & Schuster publishes paperback with plagiarism removed. [details]
  7. Captain Henry Wirz and Andersonville Prison: A Reappraisal (R. Fred Ruhlman 2006)University of Tennessee Press recalled the book. [details]
  8. How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life (Kaavya Viswanathan 2006).  Little, Brown and Company recalled book, cancelled book deal with author. [details]
  9. Shadow Bear (Cassie Edwards 2008).  Signet said it found no evidence of plagiarism, then claimed the plagiarism was “fair use”, then decided to part ways with Edwards. [details]
  10. Free (Chris Anderson 2009).  Hyperion didn’t pull version with plagiarized passages, but did promise to correct future editions. [details]
  11. Axolotl Roadkill (Helene Hegemann 2010).  Ullstein bought rights from plagiarized author, then republished book. [details]
  12. How We Decide (Jonah Lehrer 2010).  Pulled by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. [details]
  13. Assassin of Secrets (Quentin Rowan 2011).  Little, Brown and Company issued apology, recalled all books from online, brick-and-mortar stores, offered full refund to anyone who purchased book. [details]
  14. The Raven’s Bride (Lenore Hart 2011).  St Martin’s Press defends author.  The best response to this defense is a Poe via the blog, The World of Edgar Allan Poe: “All I can do is offer some more words of wisdom from Mr. Poe himself: ‘To attempt the rebutting of a charge of plagiarism by the broad assertion that no such thing as plagiarism exists, is a sotticism, and no more.’ “  [Here’s the definition of sotticism.]  Amazon still sells this book.
  15. You’re Looking Well (Lewis Wolpert 2011).  Faber and Faber stopped selling the book in 2014.  Though it seems to be on Amazon.  He plagiarized parts of his next book, it appears. [details]
  16. Imagine (Jonah Lehrer 2012).  Houghton Mifflin recalled all copies, reimbursed people if they wanted to bring in copy to where they bought it. [details]
  17. Government Bullies (Rand Paul 2012).  Center Street promised to fix the “misunderstanding.” [details]
  18. A Call to Resurgence (Mark Driscoll 2013).  InterVarsity Press seemed sorry, and explained how author erred, but I don’t think it recalled the book. [details]
  19. Seeds of Hope (Jane Goodall with Gail Hudson 2013).  Grand Central (Hachette) had author(s) rework the book for new publication. Hachette made public announcements about recall, reasons. [details]


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