Is this 17 Year-Old Korean Ph.D. Student a Plagiarist?

Yoo-geun Song

Yoo-geun Song turns 18 next week.

South Korean prodigy Yoo-geun Song is 17 years-old and about to complete his Ph.D. in astrophysics. The boy genius, along with his dissertation adviser Seok Jae Park, co-authored an article published last month in The Astrophysical Journal, but regrettably, the article closely matches a book chapter published in 2002. The chapter is not cited in the new article.

The recently-published article is entitled “Axisymmetric, Nonstationary Black Hole Magnetospheres: Revisited,” and it was published in October 2015 (vol. 812.1) in The Astrophysical Journal. Here’s evidence of the matching text:

Introduction 2015

The introduction to the 2015 article.

 

Introduction 2002.jpg

The introduction to the 2002 book chapter.

The first image above shows the recent article. The second image is copied from a book chapter entitled “Stationary versus Nonstationary Force-Free Black Hole Magnetospheres.” The chapter appears in a book called Black Hole Astrophysics 2002, published by World Scientific. The chapter’s sole author is Song’s adviser, Seok Jae Park.

Here’s additional evidence:

abstract 2015

The abstract from the 2015 article.

abstract 2002

The abstract from the 2002 book chapter.

I note that the title of the article published last month has the word “Revisited” at the end. However, the article does not cite the 2002 book chapter, and the text and equations in the new article are presented as original.

The author instructions for the American Astronomical Society, publisher of The Astrophysical Journal, state, “Articles published in the journals of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) present the results of significant original research that have not been published previously.”

The new article has updated references and an additional conclusion. There are additional, minor changes, but the bulk of the text and equations in the 2015 article appear to duplicate the 2002 work.

I have emailed the AAS and requested an investigation. The journal has not yet had sufficient time to investigate the case, and I’m sure AAS will handle it properly. My concern is not with the journal but with the paper’s authors. An additional complication is that the editor of The Astrophysical Journal, Ethan Vishniac, has co-authored at least one paper with the boy’s dissertation adviser, Seok Jae Park.

Song — who according to Wikipedia started university at age eight — is set to begin work as a post-doc after he graduates with his astrophysics Ph.D. in February. Let’s hope he gets some better advising.

 

36 Responses to Is this 17 Year-Old Korean Ph.D. Student a Plagiarist?

  1. אריאל קרלינסקי says:

    Maybe self citation is frowned upon?

  2. Jason Ali says:

    More here on the link between Vishniac and the kid’s supervisor S.J. Park – 9 papers.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Vishniac

    then go to “A current list of refereed papers from”

    Jason R. Ali
    Rm 311, James Lee Building
    Dept Earth Sciences, University of Hong Kong
    Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong

    Email: jrali@hku.hk; Office: 2857 8248; Mobile: 5301 3937

    ResearchGate: http://goo.gl/ms5u0; Google Scholar: http://goo.gl/tiR3L; HKU DES webpage: http://goo.gl/RcFvpd
    ________________________________________

  3. Sylvain B. says:

    Apparently, a closely related report also appeared in the proceedings of the 2nd KIAS (Korea Institute for Advanced Study) Astrophysics Workshop. Collected papers were published in 2001, in “Current High-Energy Emission around Black Holes”, pp. 231, World Scientific Publishing Co.
    Please see: http://i.imgur.com/IrWOQtS.png

    Perhaps the 2001 paper was a preliminary version for the 2002 and 2015 published works. The issue is difficult to assess, because only first pages are available on Google books, and because the topic is highly specialized and technical. The investigation should be carried out by someone familiar with astrophysics papers.

  4. Concerned Korean says:

    Actually, Vishniac is Seok-Jae Park’s advisor.

  5. Koushik Pal says:

    Dear Sir, please take note of this journal publisher at http://www.tjprc.org. It uses Thomson Reuter’s ResearchID service to mean that it is indexed by TR. With this they are charging huge amount to the equally corrupt writers. Regards

  6. Concerned Individual says:

    According to a very recent news article, Seok Jae Park claimed that the editor emailed him saying, “There is no plagiarism issue.” and that this will be made public soon.

    (The news article in Korean: http://www.yonhapnews.co.kr/photos/1990000000.html?cid=PYH20151121032400017&input=1196m )

    This sounds suspicious to me. Any reasonable editor would contact the referees of the paper in question (and preferably a few additional scholars in the field), explain what has been going on, and ask for their opinions.

    Only about two days have passed since you reported this issue, and the editor has already received all the replies? Quite unlikely.

  7. it seems that the boy has a technical difficulty with proficient paraphrasing of the statements.but i do not think it really constitutes an intentional plagiarism on his behalf.

    • MC says:

      What. The sentences are identical, he copied them exactly, it’s the same words…what the hell are you talking about?

      • kgeomet says:

        The sentences are not a main idea of the thesis. Song clearly mentioned the previous study by Park& Vishniac. moreover, Park is co-author. What is the matter?

  8. Runny says:

    The problem is not just introduction and abstract sections. If we look at the whole paper, you cannot believe that both are exactly identical including all math formulas. Of course, there are slight different expression of some formulae but it is nothing but a rewritten form by substituting some identities, which means that there is no academical progress between both after 13 years.

  9. Colin says:

    WWKTD?
    (What would Kip Thorne do?) – Prof. Thorne was acknowledged in this 2015 paper that really does seem to be 97% plagiarized from the 2002 book chapter.
    Would it be helpful to get Prof. Thorne’s thoughts on your discovery? And on the seeming lack of progress / change in the mathematical derivations after 13 years, as pointed out by Runny?

  10. James says:

    Definitely, it is just duplication of Dr. Park’s 2002 proceeding.

  11. Ken Lanfear says:

    What has this to do with open access? Reputable journals sometimes make mistakes, and I’m fairly sure this journal will investigate and take any necessary actions.

  12. Dr. Robert Houmsou says:

    Yes, to be genius is a good thing. The boy could have so many discovery but putting it together in writing can be a serious problem. The ability to write is a gradual process and it is being developed over time during the course of study. The boy started University at the age of 8 means the time he would have used to start learning how to read and write at primary and secondary school levels were catapolted. He has no idea in writing. Definitely as he found a source that suited his deeds he had no option than to plagiarize. Good writing and thinking comes with maturity in age and the subject matter studied over the time.

  13. benji says:

    Not only does the paper overwhelmingly meet all technical definitions of plagiarism, but the quality of the paper, especially in light of the 2002 paper, is astoundingly low.
    The only defense that Dr.Park is playing is that his 2002 paper does not deserve citation because it was presented only in a proceeding, and that the boy ‘newly’ derived the equation 4.24, and hence the boy deserves to be the first author of the paper without citing the 2002 paper.
    Anybody who has seen both papers would find that defense laughable, at the very least.
    Not only is the equation 4.24 a mere slight manipulation of the previously published equations, it also seems to contain some error in derivation as shown by some people on the web who have derived the equation without much, if any, difficulty at all.
    Regardless of the decision from ApJ, which I surely believe should be both ‘retraction’ and ‘denunciation’,
    the paper’s quality as a PhD thesis puts UST (Dr.Park’s institution)’s credentials in serious question.

  14. benji says:

    I just learned that the paper was retracted and roundly denounced,
    which was the right and obvious outcome.
    The only way I would have found the paper acceptable on any level
    is if the order of authors was reversed, in which case I would still find it a self plagiarism by Park and a questionable, desperate, and unjustified attempt to get his pupil published.
    If this paper is the result of such an desperate attempt, than I doubt the duo is academically capable of anything much at all.

  15. Yoo boy says:

    Hi, I am a Korean Ph.D. student pursuing an Engineering degree at a state university in NC. I just decided to leave a reply for more details about the Song’s plagiarism issue.

    It was long time ago when Song first got the spotlight from mass media. When Song was about 7~8 years old (about 10 years ago,,, haha) Song’s parents thought (or insisted) that their son was a genius. They advertised (Song solved college level differential equations or something like that) their son to the whole country and they wanted special educations for Song.

    At that time, many Korean people believed that Song is a genius. Since Korean people desperately wanted have a Nobel laureate in science field, many people were uncritical about the situation (still many clueless Korean people believe that Song’s paper is free from plagiarism). He took a national test to be exempted from junior high and high school (people who missed their regular opportunity of education take this test to get a high school diploma equivalent certificate). Song even spent only 1~2 years to finish elementary school education which was very uncommon in Korea.

    After getting high school certificate, one of mid-level university in Korea offered him a special admission to the college of natural science. It was also a very unusual incident because Song didn’t prepare anything related to regular college admission (that is why the admission was “special” admission). Unfortunately, Song was too young to get adjusted to the college culture and dropped out from the school. After quitting the school, Song decided to finish his university course work by union credit bank system (just take certain amount of credits and get college diploma).

    Around this moment, Song met his current advisor Dr. Park. Song entered UST which is a non-formal graduate school in Korea (non-formal educational institute without undergrad program). This grad school was established by several national labs in Korea. There are no undergrad students. Grad students are taught by researchers with Ph.D. degrees (no professors as we see in universities). At that time, Dr. Park was the head of Korea astronomy national lab. It was 7 years ago.

    UST has a clear regulation for graduation. If a student wants to do the final defense, he/she must publish at least one paper to the SCI-level journal as first author. However, Song didn’t have any published paper until his 7th year. The paper brought up plagiarism issue (which was retracted from the journal,,,,,) was prepared during last few months. Dr. Park insisted that due to the ingenuity of Song’s paper, it was exceptionally published one month after the submission (since I study materials, I don’t know the real value of Song’s paper in astronomy people). Then enthusiastic mass media advertisement followed. “Song got the youngest Ph.D. holder record in Korea”.

    However, during last few weeks, funny thing happened. A physics researcher suggested an objection to Song’s paper (on the thread of informal Korea physics online community). He tracked back Song’s paper and Dr. Park’s previous publications and found out that 2015 paper was very similar to Dr. Park’s 2002 proceeding. So many people argued about the self-plagiarism and now all of you guys know the answer. Retraction. I don’t believe both authors were not aware of their misbehavior.

    Whether Song is a real genius or not, I feel very bad for him since many people tried to take advantage of this young kid. The university which gave Song a special admission and even Dr. Park wanted to get something other than academic outcomes (as an advisor of youngest Ph.D. holder or university where youngest Ph.D. holder graduated. even Song’s parents wanted to be superstar parents). Actually, 3~4 years ago, some Korean researchers who saw or heard of Song’s status wrote threads on online science community that there’s something wrong with Song. At that time many people dismissed these opinions and just considered these people were jealous of Song, a child prodigy. Still there are many people who believe Song will be the savior of Korea.

    I will not make any more comment on the current situation, but the retraction was the outcome of series of happenings during last 10 years. I got my undergrad degree at Seoul National University and I am very proud of my professors and alumnus working hard at research field. That is why I feel bad about many blind followers of Song who are misleading the situation and consider many Korean researchers as stupid people.

    • benji says:

      Dr.Park is still playing the media game to make it appear as if this is a case of an honest mistake, and that the paper was retracted solely on the basis of citation technicality.
      He is not merely an academically incompetent person, what he has done with this paper and his handling of the matter afterwards demonstrate that he is an unethical, reproachable person. Some scientific authority needs to contact the South Korean media and just ‘explain’ the retraction notice of the journal, that eq 4.24. is a meaningless juggling of the previous equations and that the paper would not have been accepted WITH OR WITHOUT citation of the 2002 paper if the reviewer(s) were aware of the 2002 paper.
      Which is of course why Park deliberately left out the paper from reference.
      I think many would be stunned to learn that before the retraction notice, Park claimed to the media that the reviewers were fully aware of the 2002 paper but were appreciative of 4.24’s novelty.
      If this kind of farce is the result of a 7 year research, than Song is certainly not a prodigy, and I in fact have to question whether his intellect is even average.

  16. student says:

    Even a school report would get an F if you just copy and paste almost all of material from previously published article without citing it…

    • student2 says:

      If a student only just “copy and paste almost all of material from previously published article,” (as you mentioned) even if he/she cites it, the report WILL get an F.

  17. arendellean says:

    An important issue is being overlooked, largely because the paper was quickly retracted. I strongly believe that the paper is so low-quality that it shouldn’t have been accepted in the first place (plagiarized or not). This incidence seems to reflect the poor review practice of The Astrophysical Journal (ApJ).

    First, for some background on the ApJ, their acceptance rate is 85–90%, and for most cases, just a single referee is involved; ApJ seeks a second opinion only in the case of a stalemate. (See https://aas.org/files/resources/aasjan2014_burton.pdf) They say that their review process is supposed to be constructive.

    Now, regarding the retracted paper, let’s see what resulted from this so-called “constructive” review process. In Section 4, the authors derive PDEs whose independent variables are spacetime coordinates. What is interesting is that one can find $\dot{\varpi}$ and $\dot{\varphi}$ (\dot denotes a partial derivative w.r.t. the coordinate time) in multiple places, including Eq. 4.24 which Park claims to be an important discovery. But both $\dot{\varpi}$ and $\dot{\varphi}$ are trivially equal to zero because each of them is a partial derivative of an independent variable with respect to another. Therefore, a lot of terms in Eqs. 4.15—4.20, 4.24, 4.27—4.29, and 4.31 are nothing but convoluted ways to express the number zero. I believe that a reasonably capable undergraduate student in a physical science should be able to detect such an apparent error and that the reviewer definitely didn’t read the paper.

    I know that it is impractical to demand the peer-review process be perfect. But this incidence clearly shows how vulnerable a single-reviewer process is against an irresponsible referee simply signing off the paper.

    • herr doktor bimler says:

      I note from the retraction notice that Editor Vishniac recused himself from the process of revisiting the paper (on account of his previous collaborations with co-author Park). Did he recuse himself from the initial peer-review and acceptance?

      • arendellean says:

        I have no idea whether Dr. Vishniac (the editor-in-chief) influenced the initial acceptance. According to the AAS document I linked, one scientific editor (SE) and a reviewer participate in the review process. I guess the editor-in-chief is involved in the previous step—assigning an SE to a paper.

  18. benji says:

    The boy gave an interview to the South Korean media today.

    1) He is proud of the paper

    2) He believes the whole fiasco is more or less gossip

    3) He will publish a new paper in a month

    4) Even though the paper was retracted, he believes the Korean
    people granted him a ‘people’s PhD’, and says many people are addressing him as Dr.Song.

    The boy is divorced from reality, he should seek psychiatric help.

  19. astropf says:

    I’m a researcher in astronomy and was surprised about the fact that this paper was approved in ApJ. This paper is not just copied and pasted from the past work but also contains many easy mistakes in their main results (Section 4) as already suggested in this comment form.

    I have never realized this ApJ paper until the AAS announcement of retraction, because authors did not submit this paper to arxiv.org where astronomers checked latest papers and articles. I can guarantee that almost no one does not know him and his work outside of Korea until (or maybe even after) the AAS announcement.

    It looks really strange that this nationally advertised teenager did not appeal his work internationally in arxiv. I guess this is simply because it has a copy-detector that can effectively work on this kind of simple copied & pasted stuffs.

    Currently, Korean media seems to focus on this prodigy and his ApJ paper, but this issue is more serious and of wider impacts at many levels.

    The biggest impact for me is that he succeeded to steal PhD from UST and KASI, which are widely known as a leading institution for astronomy and astrophysics in Korea. He apparently got PhD from UST with this work that was his supervisor’s work in practice. I’m really wondering how this boy justified his contribution to this work and its scientific impact & uniqueness at his defense!

    He proved and succeeded to advertise that students can get PhD without their “own” works in Korea. It would considerably damage credits of other conscientious astronomers and students at KASI and UST. If he were graduate student at a foreign university in US, Europe or Japan, he would have been expelled.

    • My understanding is that his Ph.D. is scheduled to be awarded in February, 2016. I also understand that he needs a publication in an SCI journal, a requirement for earning the degree. This now seems unlikely. So, we will see if he does actually get awarded the degree or not.

  20. […] Alcuni professori la insegnano agli studenti. A 17 anni, Song Yoo-geun, un bambino prodigio ammesso a 8 anni all’Università Inha, doveva essere il più giovane sud-coreano a ricevere un dottorato. Sennonché l’Astrophysical Journal ha appena ritrattato un articolo suo e del relatore della sua tesi, Seok Jae Park, perché era uguale a uno di Park uscito nel 2002. […]

  21. Tina N. says:

    Since when do kindergarten-aged boys get PhDs? And a PhD for just one article?? The requirement is at least four articles (as principal author) published in peer-reviewed journals where I am from. These requirements sound more similar to those of a master’s degree *at best*.

    Also, how is he a “prodigy” when all he does is plagiarizing articles? Any 13-year old can do that. Only a really dumb person who really needs to go back to high school if not primary school would do it in such an unsophisticated way.

  22. […] sure if you’ve been following the story of a South Korean Prodigy, who tried to get his PhD degree based on a proceedings article (copyright protected) that his […]

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