Conference invitation

My mailbox today had a rather alluring invitation to a conference:


On behalf of the organizing committee, I am delighted to invite you to attend the [name removed] Summit, to be held in [place removed] from January 21st to 22nd, 2011.

We would like to welcome you to our Conference as our valuable speaker
and present your recent work and ideas of <%{CURRENT_EXT1}> that were published in <%{CURRENT_EXT2}>. This is one of the high profile and interesting studies we wish to invite to our meeting…

(The bits in square brackets were removed by me, since I don’t want to embarrass the organizers, who may possibly be above-board — I haven’t looked too closely. The rest is verbatim.)

I am one of the hold-outs who sets the e-mail program to text mode by default, so after staring at this for a while, it occurred to me that the HTML version may look different. And it did: my name, work and the journal name were inserted correctly.

“Conference spam” is increasing almost exponentially, so such merge-mail techniques are no doubt useful. Perhaps, with a HTML mailer, I would have mistaken it for a personal invitation — but I doubt it. Apart from the cliched language, the conference theme is at best peripherally related to my work. Still, maybe the conference is legitimate. If so, a word of advice to the conference organisers: don’t make your invites look like spam.

Why would anyone organise a bogus conference? To make money via exorbitant registration fees, of course! Among the most prominent such offenders are a thing called WSEAS. But they passionately argue that they’re legitimate and others are envious of their success. Read for entertainment. Also note that you don’t actually have to submit a well-researched paper to such conferences: a computer-generated one will do. But you do need to cough up the money.

Bt Brinjal, continued

A considerably updated version of the opinion piece by Gautam Menon and myself, that I previously posted here, has been published in Current Science [link corrected — 8/1/2014].

As far as the professionalism (or lack of it) of the report goes, I have nothing to add. The disappointing thing is that there has been no further reaction from the academies since we wrote the letter, and ours is the only piece on the subject in this edition of Current Science. It has disappeared from the mainstream media, too. Since writing that letter, the best piece on the subject that I have seen is this one by Latha Jishnu. The article leads with a picture of a fortress-like INSA in New Delhi with forbiddingly high gates, and a security guard apparently trying to push the photographer away.

Those responsible have been sacked

The movie credits for “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” included irrelevant lines in pidgin-Swedish and moose references, followed by lines such as “We apologise for the fault in the subtitles. Those responsible have been sacked” and “We apologise again for the fault in the subtitles. Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked have been sacked” and so on. (Youtube video, text from IMDB).

Aroon Purie’s letter to the editor of Slate, explaining his plagiarism, is depressingly similar: “serious action has been taken against those concerned.” Earlier in the letter, he observes that he asked for “inputs” from his staff, “believed it be original copy” and pasted it into his own copy. But his copy appeared under his name, not the staffer’s name! And even a cursory reading should have convinced him that this was not something an India Today staffer wrote. Did he take serious action against himself?

He adds that “India Today Group has always stood for integrity in journalism”. So, those responsible have been sacked, or chastised in some way. Purie makes his stand clear: responsibility lies with his subordinates. The buck stops below.

(Plagiarising Niranjana, however, isn’t such a big deal.)

Monty Python’s tale of incompetence lasts about 91 minutes. Apparently India Today’s is never-ending.

How to react when you’re ripped off

[UPDATE 21/10/2010: Aroon Purie wrote personally to Grady Hendrix, to non-apologise. And sent a longer explanatory letter to Slate’s editor, which Hendrix — generously, in my opinion — accepts as a “satisfactory close to the matter”. However, I am a bit alarmed about the “serious action taken against those concerned”. Asked for inputs, apparently some staffer sent Purie Hendrix’s article — but it was Purie who cut-and-pasted it into his own signed piece. Did Purie take serious action against himself? Or was some poor lackey in the office made to take the blame?]

I don’t intend my blog, in its new abode, to be exclusively about ethics and plagiarism. But, please, just one more.

Via Nilanjana (whose take on the India Today plagiarism case is worth reading), I came across the response of Grady Hendrix, the original author of the lines in question. To recapitulate, Aroon Purie wrote an editorial on film star Rajinikanth whose first two paragraphs are lifted directly from Hendrix’s piece in Slate. India Today staffers then searched the net for blogs that referenced the episode, and inserted Purie’s apology as a comment in every blog that they found.

India Today hasn’t offered space to Hendrix, but here is Hendrix’s reaction on his own blog. And here is a comment by him (scroll down). Choice quote from the latter:

When a tiger has sex with a tornado and you plagiarise the result…

As if on cue, shortly after I write on plagiarism, the editor of one of India’s top weekly newsmagazines contributes his own example.

A few days ago this Slate profile of Rajinikanth, by Grady Hendrix, was floating around and attracting much interest, especially for the line “If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth.” Which, as a pictorial evocation, belongs up there with Matt Taibbi’s characterisation of Goldman Sachs as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”.

Apparently India Today’s editor-in-chief, Aroon Purie, liked it too. He liked it so much that he decided to use it without attribution.


Plagiarism in the internet age

Some “Content creators” have, for a while now, been running in panic of the “internet age” — where content is available, freely, both legally and illegally, for everyone in the world to use. But for many of us, this is not so much of a problem as an opportunity — as long as we play by some very simple rules. Alas, most of us seem ignorant of those rules, which predate the internet and, really, amount to basic civility and courtesy.