Letís Be Careful Out There!

October 18, 2009

Talk of the Society
James Crowley

Consider the following case from the files of SIAM: The author of a paper published in a SIAM journal recently got in touch with us to report that the paper had appeared in another journal, under two other names. Except for the change in names, the papers were identical.

SIAM takes such situations very seriously---we must do our part to maintain the integrity of the scholarly record. And so to see if we could resolve the problem, we wrote to the (commercial) publisher, which is not in North America or Europe and is not on the long list of publishers worldwide that are known to us. We received no response. This was quite unusual, and we felt that we needed to pursue the matter further.

On inspecting the list of editors, we found, to our surprise, that we knew the
editor-in-chief, who resides in the U.S. Taking the logical next step, we wrote to this editor to see what we could learn. He replied that he had seen a submission from the authors in question, but that it was only an abstract; the publisher must have accepted the full paper without the editor's having seen it. This was indeed very strange. Furthermore, the submission to his journal had occurred before the SIAM paper was published.

We were determined to figure this out: It is simply not acceptable for two papers, identical word for word but with different authors, to co-exist in the literature.

Going back to our author, we learned that he had posted his paper in a preprint archive before either of the other versions was published.

We then tried to contact the authors of the version we believed to be copied, but were unsuccessful. In the end, we were able to elicit a response only by writing to the institutions of those authors. At that point, one of them admitted that he had copied the paper. With this admission, we can begin to try to clear up the record.

There are some interesting lessons here. First, one must be very careful about agreeing to serve on the editorial boards of journals. In an age in which new journals are easily created, it is not always clear that a journal will maintain the highest standards of scholarship unless a reputable organization stands behind it.

Posting preprint versions of papers is also not without its risks. As illustrated by our case, multiple versions of a paper (some attributed to different authors) can end up in the literature; citations in such situations could become quite confusing.

The single most important lesson is that everyone---editors and authors, as well as publishers---needs to be very careful. Many journals fail to follow good scholarly practices, and there are people who will take your work and use it for their personal benefit. That combination has led to a large increase of complaints of plagiarism and misconduct, according to reports from other scholarly societies.

At SIAM, we are keeping close tabs on instances of plagiarism and other threats to scholarly publishing and will alert readers of new developments, as appropriate.

Rosier News from SIAM
At their meetings in Denver this summer, the SIAM Council and Board of Trustees set in motion two new activities that should be of direct interest to many of you.

First, SIAM has a new activity group---the SIAG on Algebraic Geometry. In approving the proposal for the group, the Board and Council applauded the addition of this area to those covered by SIAM, but debated whether the word "applied" should be part of the name. In the end, the fact that the SIAG is under the umbrella of SIAM was deemed sufficient to ensure that applications will play an appropriate role.

To join: You can sign up for the SIAG on Algebraic Geometry when you renew your SIAM membership this fall, or you can contact customer service (service@siam.org).

The other new program arises from the very generous bequest Gene Golub left to SIAM for the purpose of supporting students in mathematics and computer science. In July, the Board approved use of these funds for the first two Gene Golub SIAM Summer Schools. The first G2S3, the International Summer School on Numerical Linear Algebra (ISSNLA), will be held in Fasano (near Bari), Italy, June 7Ė18, 2010. (Details can be found at http://www.siam.org/students/summer.php.) We will solicit proposals from the community for subsequent summer schools, starting in 2011.

The Council and Board, as is their wont, discussed many issues. Among them is the funding of SIAM prizes; a committee was appointed to spend a year studying the situation and will present its recommendations to the Board at the end of that time. One concern is that most (but not all) SIAM prizes have no provision for automatic increases in the size of their cash awards. The award for the Wilkinson Prize, for example, has not changed since the prize was established (in 1979). The intent is to create a policy that governs this aspect of the SIAM prize program.

Another committee is looking into sections and their governance to ensure that this program for regional subgroups develops in a manner consistent with SIAM's goals and in a way that supports local groups (whether SIAM's or other local groups in applied mathematics and/or computational science).

Another issue concerns the large portfolio of the elected vice-president-at-large (who oversees membership, activity groups, and prizes). In Denver, Sue Minkoff was appointed chair of the Membership Committee; in that position, she reports to the VP. She has already been very active and encourages members to contact her with their ideas.

In conclusion, I remind readers to act on two other matters.

First, SIAM fellows: From the initial class of fellows, the Major Awards Committee appointed the first selection committee. The names of the committee members are posted, along with other information on fellows, at http://www.siam.org/prizes/fellows/index.php.

Second, SIAM membership renewal: Each fall we remind members to renew their memberships, and we encourage you to respond quickly. We hope that this will also be a time for renewal in a broader sense---we would like to hear from members who have ideas about things that SIAM should be doing. While not all ideas can be implemented, we take members' suggestions quite seriously and give them careful consideration. To make it easy, we established a Web page for the purpose: http://www.siam.org/about/suggestions.php. Hope to hear from you!

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