Conference boycott urged over ‘plagiarist’ chair

Appeal to academics to show disapproval of proven research misconduct by Croatian professor. Zoë Corbyn reports

September 7, 2009

A group of academics are urging a boycott of a forthcoming conference in Croatia after it emerged that the chair has a proven history of scientific misconduct.

The group, led by Harvey Marcovitch, the former chairman of the Committee on Publication Ethics (Cope) – which represents about 5,000 journal editors – last week wrote to all 44 of the non-Croatian speakers due to take part in the fifth annual meeting of the International Academy of Perinatal Medicine.

He urged them to not attend the event, scheduled to run from 31 October to 1 November in Dubrovnik, on the grounds that the chairman, Asim Kurjak, a retired professor of obstetrics from Zagreb University Medical School, has a history of plagiarism and duplicating publications.

“Please take some time to consider whether it is right to be associated with a meeting that… is inevitably dishonoured by being chaired by someone who has been found not to live up to [the simple precept of honesty and probity of scientific communication],” writes Dr Marcovitch.

It has subsequently emerged that Professor Kurjak is to chair the international advisory committee of the first Global Congress of Maternal and Infant Health scheduled to take place in Barcelona, Spain in 2010.

The case of Professor Kurjak has been well documented by the British Medical Journal. It first came to attention in September 2006 in a comment article that exposed Professor Kurjak for copying information, including data and text from a Norwegian student’s PhD thesis which he published as a book chapter.

A report by Cope published in December 2006 found that on “at least three occasions” material published by the professor in the Croatian Medical Journal had been submitted elsewhere. In addition, in May 2007, the Croatian government Committee for Ethics in Science and Higher Education found him guilty of scientific misconduct, resulting in it cancelling support for one of his research projects.

Zagreb University judged the offences to be old and, as he had retired, it accepted an apology with no further action.

Dr Marcovitch told Times Higher Education that the group had come together to call for the boycott because it was “pretty disgraceful that a known plagiarist was chairing the conference”. The group includes Sir Iain Chalmers, director of the Oxford-based James Lind Library who originally exposed the case in the BMJ, and Jim Neilson, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Liverpool.

“Here we have somebody that is unquestionably guilty of multiple research misconduct, who has obviously been highly protected, who has been exposed in the BMJ, but who seems to blithely go on, and various people – presumably they don’t know [about it] – seem quite happy to appear at conferences he is running,” Dr Marcovitch said.

He revealed that, so far, four speakers had declined to attend but he hoped numbers would grow.

“If you are an academic and you learn that someone has been guilty of research or publication misconduct, you should not associate with them unless they have made amends and put things right, which he has not done.”

Professor Kurjak declined a request for a comment from Times Higher Education.

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