Tag Archives: Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research

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: info@cpbr.org. And here’s her lawyer’s: david.metzger@aporter.com. 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



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Happy anniversary Dr Dorin Schumacher!

Dorin Schumacher with motocycle.
Photograph of Dorin Schumacher from Cambridge Who’s Who. She was Professional of the Year for Non-Profits Management in 2011.

One of the mildly entertaining things about having a blog is seeing what type of web searches lead people to my site.  For me, key search terms usually include “killing camel crickets”.  But “Dr Dorin Schumacher” is up there, too.  The former is a pestiferous creature that dwells in dark places and leaves frass stains everywhere. The latter has a doctorate in French literature, has a fondness for wearing black, and heads a Georgia-based non-profit (The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research) that plagiarizes my site heavily.  When I complained about the plagiarism, she used CPBR’s money (which comes from the DOE, USDA, and EPA … i.e., you) to hire a fancy lawyer to threaten me with copyright infringement.  She has demanded that I take down my site or face hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

That was a year ago, and it seems like a fine day to make an anniversary post in her honor, if for no other reason than to solidify my awesome “Dr Dorin Schumacher” Google ranking.

When news of this frass behavior hit the internet last year, there was a lot of interest (albeit brief), even from people who don’t normally care about the design of scientific posters (the content of mine that CPBR had stolen and claimed was theirs).  For example, the story crashed the servers at The Chronicle of Higher Education (that had never happened before, I was told).  A lot of people contacted me with emails of sympathy, but nothing really affected Dr Schumacher’s little hive in St Simon’s Island (a resort town).

So here’s what I did: I spent a fun-filled week contacting Presidents, Grants Administration Chairs, and designated DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Agents at every single one of CPBR’s member institutions.  I informed them that CPBR’s document infringed on my copyrighted material, attached proof (PDFs, etc.), and asked them to stop emailing the document to their researchers.  Naturally, forwarding material that is known to violate copyright is something universities traditionally avoid.  I also informed the private corporations that they were trafficking a document that violated my copyright. Biotechnology corporations generally like copyright law, too.

One year later: not a single member has complied with my wishes — they are all still members of the CPBR racket (it diverts millions of dollars of taxpayer money that would normally go to USDA, EPA, and DOE grants).  The only encouraging response I got was from a person who said, “we will continue to follow this” (yeah, thanks a lot).  All of them apparently decided that ignoring my request (after all, just some snarky botanist in Swarthmore) would preserve the juicy financial benefits of continued CPBR membership.

And CPBR continues to email the document containing my text to all its member institutions and still has “copyright CPBR” plastered on the pages in question.  In fact, everything seems to be peachy at CPBR in the resort town of St Simon’s Island, Georgia.  They just finished an annual gathering in DC, and even had important government officials (Dr Johnathan Male, Department of Energy; Sanford Bishop, US House of Representatives) and scientists give keynote talks (see program details).  And its funding seems rather secure (according to the DOE’s Dr Male in this PDF).  The Department of Energy has given them $23 million dollars.  Dr Schumacher pays herself $1/4 million per year.

So I thought it would be fun to list the member institutions below as a way to call attention to their inaction.  If you’re an alum who might care to contact them, you’d get 17 karma points. If you want to contact the DOE office that gives CPBR its money, you can email them.

cpbr member institutions

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Psst — plant biotechnology researchers …

Anyone have the latest program announcement from The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research?  The title is “Bioenergy and Biomass Conversion From Plant-Based Research to Prototype Bio-Materials.” I’m hugely curious to know whether they have deleted the appendix on poster design tips.  In case you didn’t know, they are accusing me of stealing their tips … in fact, if I don’t take my page down (Designing conference posters), they plan to bring me to court to sue for damages. If they deleted or completely reworded their appendix, the change would be an admission of copyright infringement guilt.

Hence my curiosity.

So please let me know if you have a copy.  Would also love to chat with anyone who submitted a pre-proposal back in December 2013.  Especially interesting in chatting with those who might have been selected to present a poster in Washington, D.C. in March 2014.  I can give you poster advice if you contact me! Don’t worry, I will not release your name.

If you are curious, below are some pages from their previous Appendix 5, “Symposium Poster Rules and Guidelines.”  If you see highlighting, that’s where the text is taken from my site, which I published years before they crafted their Appendix 5. Yes, that’s right: they copy/pasted, then made minor edits.  And then just claimed it was theirs.


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False statement in Arnold & Porter letter?

Arnold & Porter LLP is threatening me with a big lawsuit, and I am wondering if anyone could help me parse a statement their lead lawyer made in a letter on behalf of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc.:

CPBR owns a copyright in a document titled “2014 Competition, Bioenergy and Biomass Conversion, From Plant-Based Research to Prototype Bio-Materials, Request for Preproposals, Submission Deadline: December 14, 2012.”

(The bolding is mine.) If CPBR “owns a copyright,” then it seems like the title or author would have to be registered in some database at the U.S. Copyright Office. I tried searching for the title, and also for the author, but couldn’t find any matches.

It would be inconceivable (to me, at least) that CPBR’s lawyers didn’t check the copyright status of the document. And also inconceivable that they wouldn’t do a quick Google search to see whose poster hints had primacy on the internet.

Any thoughts, folks?

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Desperately seeking CPBR “Call for preproposals” PDFs

If anyone happens to have archived versions of documents sent out by The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology, Inc., I’d be grateful to receive copies. They copied/pasted some text of mine into their guidelines on poster design, and I’d like to know what it looked like before and after that copying event. They are hard to find on the internet because of the “For internal use only. Do not post on the internet” warning that is printed in red on the first page. The document is sent to thousands of researchers and research administrators each year, so I know people have them. Unfortunately, I have emailed over 500 people asking them, and only one person has replied with a PDF so far. I suspect that the researchers and administrators I’d emailed were rightfully concerned about potential retribution by CPBR or Dorin Schumacher, but given the current news climate I don’t think people have to worry about that anymore (a bigger concern is whether CPBR will be around next year).

File name might be something like, “CPBR 2014 RFP.pdf”.

I’m also curious whether the “For internal use only. Do not post on the internet” text appeared after they plagiarized my content.

Oh, would also be equally interested in any poster-related handouts / Powerpoint slides from any of CPBR’s annual meetings (e.g., like the one from 2005, pictured below).

Thanks in advance!!!

CPBR symposium 2005

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