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Professor agrees to make correction to credit former student's work
STANFORD -- A Stanford engineering professor has apologized and asked his publisher to credit a former student's work in the scientific background section of the professor's recently published book.
William Tiller, professor of materials science and engineering, has requested the Press Syndicate of Cambridge University to include an erratum sheet that would credit the work in unsold copies of the 1991 book,The Science of Crystallization: Microscopic Interfacial Phenomena. Tiller said he is awaiting a response from his editor in England.
"It was indeed an oversight on my part, and I feel terrible about the slipup," Tiller wrote in a July 26 reply letter to the former student, Robert Bruce Beyers, who is now a researcher at IBM Corp. in Almaden, Calif.
In a July 24 letter to Tiller, Beyers had requested an acknowledgment that the work cited was his.
"Given the many other references contained in your book, I assume that the lack of a proper citation of my work was just an oversight on your part. Nevertheless, it is a mistake that should be corrected," Beyers wrote to Tiller.
The text involved is approximately one page in the background section of a 381-page book, Tiller said. In addition, a table from Beyers' original prepublication work was used, and an error was introduced into it in the typesetting stages of Tiller's book, Tiller said.
Beyers earned his doctorate at Stanford in 1989. His work was published in 1984 and 1987 in the Journal of Applied Physics and in 1984 in the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology.
Tiller said he obtained prepublication copies of the material involved from Beyers in about 1983 and has used it in his classes giving verbal credit to Beyers.
"I decided to include it in the final revision of the book as background. The material itself is not essential in any way to the book, which doesn't take away from its intrinsic merit," Tiller said.
While acknowledging a mistake, Tiller said it was difficult for scientists to properly credit all the material they use in presenting the scientific background to their work.
"In technical writing, one typically doesn't use quotes, and there really are only a small number of ways to succinctly express something that is technical. This type of compiling and paraphrasing is often used in background material in scientific articles," he said.
Tiller said he believed the matter was in the process of being properly resolved when Beyers' father, former Stanford News Service director Bob Beyers, issued a press release making their communications public.
"In my view this is a non-issue," Tiller said Tuesday, Aug. 6. "I made an oversight error. I've acknowledged it and taken steps to give him credit."
Robert Bruce Beyers said Aug. 6 that he was satisfied with Tiller's response to his request. "The only thing I'm waiting for now is to hear from the publisher," he said.
In a June 29 letter to Tiller, Beyers wrote, "If the publisher agrees to include the erratum sheet in unsold copies, then I will consider this matter resolved to our mutual satisfaction."
Beyers also sent a copy of his request for proper credit to Tiller's department chairman, the dean of the School of Engineering and the university president.
The university's procedures call for the dean of the appropriate school to conduct an initial inquiry into any allegation of plagiarism "or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting or reporting research."
"Honest error or honest differences in interpretations or judgments of data" are not to be deemed scientific misconduct, the policy states, and the inquiry is to be kept confidential. The findings must be reported to the provost within 60 days, with a recommendation from the dean on whether or not a more formal investigation is warranted.
Engineering Dean James Gibbons was out of town and unavailable for comment, but other officials in the Engineering School said that Gibbons' office had received the correspondence and expected the dean to conduct an inquiry in accordance with the policy.
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