Puerto Rico: Plagiarism Revealed Through the Net

[All links lead to texts in Spanish unless otherwise noted.]

Janet Marilyn Hernández, a Venezuelan blogger and public relations and communications professional, had a very unpleasant surprise when she found that her thesis paper titled “Publicidad 3.0″ had been plagiarized verbatim in an article in the Puerto Rican newspaper El Vocero.

The article was published by Iván Ríos Hernández, professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Carolina campus, public relations officer of the provost of that campus, and former press spokesperson of the ex president of the University of Puerto Rico, José De la Torre.

Janet denounced and documented the plagiarism on her personal blog on September 8, 2012, which resulted in a chain of events that ended on September 26 when Professor Ríos resigned to his position [es]. In the process it was discovered that Ríos had plagiarized texts from authors from Spain, Cuba, Mexico and Argentina. The case has become an example of how easy it can be to plagiarize materials from online sources, but at the same time, how quickly and swiftly plagiarism can be discovered and exposed.

On September 8, Janet denounced and documented the plagiarism on her blog and the next day she documented her attempts to reach the University's authorities by email and also her postings on the different Facebook pages of student organizations denouncing the plagiarism.

Screen shot from professor Rios' deleted blog

This screen capture from Janet's blog shows the post where professor Rios announces the publication of “Publicidad 3.0″, on El Vocero. Professor Rios’ blog was taken offline shortly after Hernández denounced that the article plagiarized her thesis work.

Janet expressed her dismay that her work was plagiarized by a university professor:

¿Cómo se sentirán los alumnos con un personaje como ése de “catedrático”? ¡Es que ni a plagiar los puede enseñar, porque miren qué fácil se le descubre! En fin, qué triste. Yo que pensaba que algunos de mis profes habían sido los peores del mundo mundial, me trago esas palabras: ninguno de mis profes fue nunca tan patético.

How must students feel with such a character of a “professor”? He can't even teach them to plagiarize because look at how easily he is discovered! How sad. I thought some of my professors had been the worse in the world, but I take back those words: none of my professors were so pathetic.

The online news outlet Noticel was the first to report on Janet's charges and interviewed both Hernández and Ríos on September 14. He was initially blunt in his declarations:

Esto está ahora mismo en revisión legal y no puedo hacer unos comentarios en particular

Right now this is under legal revision and I can't make any particular comments

By this time professor Ríos had already taken his blog, Twitter account and LinkedIn profile offline.

In the meantime, Janet's blog post was picked up by the Puerto Rican mainstream media, blogosphere and it started making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook.

On September 17, Janet Hernández published on her blog an official response letter from Ríos and his lawyer where he denies the charges and apologizes for unintentionally omitting the name of the original author:

Si, en mi afán por promover estas ideas e información se omitió la atribución de la propiedad intelectual de otra persona dicha omision no ha sido con la intención de violar los derechos de otros por lo cual expreso mis excusas.

If, in my eagerness to promote these ideas and information the attribution of intellectual property of another person was omitted, it has not been with the intention of violating the rights of others, for which I express my apologies.

However, Jante Hernández was not impressed by the professor's apology. After pointing out that other sections of the same disputed article plagiarized yet another piece, this time from internetesmercadeo.com:

¿Cómo es posible que alguien con un PhD olvide una cita, en un artículo en el que sólo hubo dos autores: Yo y el blog internetesmercadeo.com? ¿No se supone que habiendo hecho tantos trabajos de investigación y habiendo incluido en su blog un apartado sobre normas APA, debería ser más que diestro a la hora de hacer citas?

How is it possible that someone with a PhD forget a quote in an article where there were two authors: myself and the blog internetesmercadeo.com? After having written so many investigative pieces and including on his own blog norms for author attribution, isn't he supposed to be more than capable at the time of quoting?

On the same day, journalist and blogger Sandra Rodríguez Cotto on her blog En Blanco y Negro Con Sandra commented on the apology:

Y aunque pedir perdón es lo menos que se podría esperar de un profesor universitario y relacionista que roba las ideas de otro, lo cierto es que poco vale excusarse sólo porque la noticia trascendió públicamente. La verdad es una y la reitero: el plagio es robar.

And even though apologizing is the least that could be expected from a university professor who steals the ideas of others, it is true that there is not much worth in apologizing only because this became public. The truth is one and I restate it: plagiarizing is stealing.

Things started to come to a close on September 25, when Janet reported getting a private letter from Professor Ríos retracting himself and asking for an apology. Janet declared that she was satisfied with the apology and declared the matter settled:

Por mi parte, la deuda está saldada. Ahora su principal acreedor es la comunidad universitaria de Puerto Rico.

From my side, the debt has been repaid. Now his main creditor is the community of the University of Puerto Rico

On September 26, Ríos resigned his position as professor. Janet decided to blog one more time about the matter and asked her supporters to declare the issue concluded:

Tanto para mí, que quería hacer justicia respecto a la autoría de mi tesis, como para las personas que dentro de la comunidad universitaria querían fuera a Iván Ríos Hernández, las últimas horas han sido victoriosas. Esos procesos culminaron y engancharnos o ir a por más sería un ensañamiento que a la larga nos maltrataría a nosotros mismos.

For me, who wanted justice in respect to the authorship of my thesis, as well as the people in the university's community who wanted Iván Ríos Hernández out, the last few hours have been victorious. Those processes have ended, and to look for more would be extreme cruelty that would on the long run be an act of abuse against ourselves

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