Tag Archives: poster design

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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Get plagiarized!

Get PlagiarizedIt’s come to my attention that a few science and ethics faculty are featuring my situation when they discuss plagiarism.  So I thought it might be useful if I made a little graphic for them, to use in their Powerpoint shows and such.  The design emulates and pokes fun at the book, Get Funded!, which is authored by Dorin Schumacher, the owner of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research . . . which still refuses to acknowledge that it is plagiarizing my poster design instructions (and threatining to sue me … since I called them on it).

But no, I don’t have plans to write a book on plagiarism.  If you want to know my opinions on the topic, please see my Preventing Plagiarism page.


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Conference poster examples

In case you found this site while searching for advice on poster presentations, here are two that I helped Daisy Bicking make for a The Laminitis Conference in Florida. Both were crafted to be light on text and to show off her great photographs.

Easy application of maggot debridement therapy to treat chronic absceses in laminitic horses

Alternative approach in rehabilitating the chronically laminitic foot utilizing composite materials

And if you’ve found this site because you have a lame horse, you can contact Daisy for details at daisyhavenfarm@gmail.com. She’s based in West Chester, Pennsylvania (near me), but makes road trips with her crew. She also gives seminars on how to do the above, and much more. You can also follow her farm on facebook. Tell her I sent you.

Please also see my Designing conference posters page for tips and downloadable templates in Powerpoint and OpenOffice.

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Example of bad scientific poster

When I give lectures on poster design, I show examples of horrific posters I’ve found on the internet. To be honest, almost all posters on the internet are horrific, so all I really have to do is choose a few. But I fear that someday the author of a poster I’m critiquing is going to be in the audience, in the front row, and carrying a concealed weapon, so I thought it was time to construct my own bad poster. The result is, “Pigs in space: effect of zero gravity and ad libitum feeding on weight gain in Cavia porcellus.” I’m especially ashamed of the bad logos, which I designed so as not to anger actual entities like NSF, SpaceX, and the Corn Refiners Association. A partial list of why the poster is awful is below the image.

Example of bad scientific poster (copyright colin purrington)

Why this is a terrible poster:

  1. Too much text (I’ve been on mission to push for 800 words).
  2. Background image is distracting (distracts from illustrations).
  3. Text box backgrounds are dark, which makes text really hard to read.
  4. Text box backgrounds are all different colors, for no reason (distracting).
  5. Text boxes are different widths (distracting, hard to follow flow of poster).
  6. Some text boxes too wide (aim for 45-65 characters per line).
  7. Text boxes not separated from each other by pleasing “white” space.
  8. Text box edges not aligned (distracting).
  9. Text justified, which causes bad inter-word spacing. Also makes reading harder (brain uses jaggedness of left-justified text).
  10. Logos are distracting, useless, crowd title.
  11. Title word art distracting, hard to read, juvenile.
  12. Title is in all caps, which is harder to read and obscures Latin name.
  13. Title is italicized, which also obscures Latin name style conventions.
  14. Author font and color is annoying (comic sans should be reserved for comic books).
  15. Author font color is too loud relative to other text.
  16. Results are presented in sentences instead of visually with charts.
  17. Section headers have too much formatting (big font, bolded, italicized, underlined, and colored — ack!).  Choose one. [Note: I forgot to number the sections…that would have been even worse.]
  18. Terrible graphic of Guinea pig on scale. Need one of the actual set up (pigs eating while weightless, for example).
  19. Inclusion of an Abstract consumes space needlessly. Abstract section should be banned from posters. Posters ARE an abstract.
  20. Plus the science is terrible! (Bad science is correlated with bad graphic design, by the way.)

I encourage teachers to print the poster and hang in a hallway a month prior to when students’ posters are due. The printable PDF is on my “Designing conference posters” page if you want to take me up on this suggestion.

Believe it or not, the poster got published in the journal Nature. And yes, that street number is a horrific gravity reference. Sorry.

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Poster design goes viral

I’ve been invited to give a lecture on poster design at the NFID‘s 15th Annual Conference on Vaccine Research this Spring, in Maryland, and have tentatively titled my talk,  “Confronting the epidemic of bad posters at scientific conferences.”  To prepare myself, I wanted to drum up some opinons on poster sessions at virology-related meetings (I haven’t attended any).  Anyone?  Or anyone willing to give me photographs of past sessions from conferences #1-14?

Poster judging at scientific conference

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