Friday, March 20, 2009

Plagiarism Part 3 - Authorship

In times past it was not uncommon for some professors to take credit for their students' work, writings, bright ideas, creativity, or novel solutions. Earning a doctorate was a right of passage in more than the obvious sense; the star pupil earned the right to get proper credit for their efforts. The extent of this practice may be easily exaggerated or perhaps under-counted. I do not hesitate to say that the tide has turned in the last few decades to this practice becoming more generally unacceptable in the academic community.

Yet vestiges of these practices may still thrive. Why? As a hypothetical matter, among a group of highly respected and accomplished scholars is an individual (Z) who frequently is offered publishing opportunities, and who does the following:
  1. Asks A to write an original article for Z, requiring extensive research, that is published in a respected scholarly venue under Z's name exclusively.
  2. Asks B to write an original article, requiring extensive research, that is published in a respected scholarly venue, giving authorship to Z and B in that order.
  3. Asks C to lead the research and writing of an original article among a team of researcher-writers D, E, and F, that is published in a respected scholarly venue, giving first authorship to Z, and then C, D, E, and F based upon their contributions and effort.
  4. Several years after co-authoring a scholarly book with G, H, and J that is published by a respected academic press, whereby authorship is attributed in the order Z, G, H, and J -- Z asks G, H, J, and K to prepare a second edition of the book, requiring substantial research and writing, and maintaining the original order of authorship without adding K.
  5. Asks L to lead the research and writing of an original article among a team of researcher-writers M, N, and P, that is published in a respected scholarly venue, giving authorship to L, M, N, and P based upon their contributions and effort, and Z as last author.
  6. Q, R, and S conduct original research and prepare a manuscript for publication in a special issue of a scholarly journal. Z is guest editor of the special issue. Authorship is given to Q, R, and S based upon their contributions and effort, and Z is last author.
  7. Z conducts original research and writing with T and V and their work (ZTV) is published in a scholarly venue, giving authorship to Z, T, and V in that order. A few years later, Z repackages ZTV and publishes it as sole author in a separate scholarly venue. The credits acknowledge that portions of the new article were drawn from ZTV, though neither T, V or the publisher of ZTV were consulted about the repackaging.
  8. Z conducts original research and writing, which is published in a scholarly venue with Z as sole author. A few years later Z repackages the original article and publishes it in a separate scholarly venue. The credits acknowledge that portions of the new article were drawn from the original, though the publisher of the original article was not consulted about the repackaging.
In addition to the above, Z generally provides some comments and edits to the final drafts. None of the researcher-writers A through V is a studcnt; they are all professional researchers and academics.

Do any of these scenarios constitute plagiarism? Why would any of the researcher-writers A through V permit these outcomes?

Comments are very welcome, as always. Each reader's thoughts regarding whether the 8 scenarios above (any or all) are acts of plagiarism, are encouraged.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Adding Data to the Open Access Debate

(1) A Finnish team of researchers, Björk, Roos and Lauri, present an analysis of the frequency of open access availability of scientific, peer-reviewed articles. They estimate that 4.6% of the 1.35 million articles published in 2006 (i.e., peer-reviewed articles indexed in three core Thomson Scientific citation databases and Ulrich's Periodicals Directory), became open access immediately upon publishing, known as "Gold Access". Another 3.5% of articles, referred to as "delayed open access," became available after about one year. Björk and colleagues further identified usable, "Green Access" copies of 11.3% of the 1.35 million articles available in free online repositories or author / institution home pages. The researchers combined the estimated percentages for Gold, Delayed, and Green Access to reach a total estimate that 19.4% of peer-reviewed articles published in 2006 have become open access.

This last calculation comes as a surprise to me that there would be no overlap between Green and Gold or Green and Delayed access articles. My own work and that of my colleagues is a prime example. We regularly maintain electronic copies of our peer-reviewed published works on our professional author and institutional pages, and are required by some funders to submit to them copies for their electronic repositories. Sometimes these copies are usable, pre-publication (Green) versions, and at other times they are Gold or Delayed versions. Are we alone in this practice?

(2) The Finnish study focuses its attention on peer-reviewed articles. Is this the right approach? Reasonably one may argue that exclusively focusing on peer-reviewed articles is the best measure of open access advances because they are likely to be more sought after by, and therefore, more valuable to the research community. As such, demand drives cost and value up, diminishing incentives for publishers of peer-reviewed journals to go to open access. Others may argue it is more a pragmatic matter of scholarly integrity.
In significant contrast, the U.S. legal community largely lacks a peer-review component, and in comparison to many other disciplines, probably makes greater use on a daily basis of published materials generally, and non-peer-reviewed materials specifically, than any other discipline. Historically, these non-peer-reviewed materials have fetched a handsome profit for publishers.
The legal community relies heavily, and almost exclusively, on published court opinions (i.e., decisions) and to a lesser extent on law review articles. The American Bar Association (2007) reported there were 1,143,358 practising attorneys in the United States in 2007. Judges often rely on law clerks to draft portions of a decision. While many judges consult one another before issuing a decision, they have no obligation to do so, and publishers of these decisions play no role in editing them -- the decision, in this respect, is sacrosanct (except under the scrutiny of a higher court).
Law review articles in the United States rarely undergo peer review. All but a relative handful of law journals are edited by law students, who are selected for the editorial boards of a given journal published by the student's law school. The vast majority of law review article authors are law faculty members.
All this has been to say, or to question, whether the sole focus on peer-reviewed articles to measure advances in open access is the best approach for doing so. It may be. However, the legal community may not be equally benefiting from open access of this nature. Free repositories of court decisions are becoming more widespread. Yet, comprehensive databases of court decisions and law review articles remain controlled by legal publishers.
American Bar Association, Statistical Resources: National Lawyer Population by State (2007), available at
Björk, B-C, Roos, A. & Lauri, M. (2009). "Scientific journal publishing: yearly volume and open access availability" Information Research, 14(1) paper 391. [Available from 12 January, 2009 at]
Thomson Scientific:
Ulrich's Periodicals Directory:
U.S. Courts, 2007 Judicial Facts and Figures (2007), available at

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Open Access - Who Stands to Lose and How?

The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University is the latest to join the open access movement. Implementation of the open access policy, which will make all faculty scholarly articles freely available on the web, follows on the heels of Dr. Peter Suber's February 26, 2009 guest lecture, "What is the Future of Open Access?" at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

In Greater Reach for Your Research: Expanding Readership Through Digital Repositories, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries and SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) explain that "Open Access is the principle that research should be accessible online, for free, immediately after publication. Digital repositories deliver Open Access to the materials they contain." (2008, p. 3). Among the many benefits are long-term preservation, persistent and universal access, faster discovery of information, broad and diverse content, and ensuring that students at every stage of education and life have access to scholarly information regardless of a schools' resources.

If making scholarly information available to the masses is a powerful, compelling, and democratizing argument for open access, what are the strongest and most interesting arguments against it? I'm going to need a little help making them interesting, but there is little doubt that the loudest voices speaking against open access will be those whose bottom line stands to lose. These would seem to be publishers and subscription databases, and their employees of course. In the present economic climate, we are all sensitized to the varying stability of our jobs and those of our family, friends, and neighbors.
I will admit I know very little of the specific financial interests that stand to lose. With this blog entry I challenge myself to learn more and welcome others to share their knowledge and experience on point.
Canadian Association of Research Libraries & SPARC, Greater Reach for Your Research: Expanding Readership Through Digital Repositories (Nov. 2008), available at
Peter Suber, What is the Future of Open Access? (Feb. 26, 2009), available at
Press Release, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Votes for Open Access for Scholarly Articles (March 16, 2009), available at

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Plagiarism Part 2 - "The Greater Good Factor"

On 6 March, 2009 I began this series to explore what society and academia understand plagiarism to be. In Part 1 I questioned whether my own paraphrasing of my college's plagiarism policy was itself an act of intentional plagiarism. And apparently I am not the first to question such a thing.

Recently, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch followed the issues of missing, high-profile library collections, a plague of plagiarism, and a revolving door to the chancellor's office at Southern Illinois University (SIU-Carbondale). Among these challenges was the accusation that SIU "plagiarized" an Indiana University policy in developing the new SIU plagiarism policy (Kumar, 2009).

Would it not be a smart college administrator aiming to implement an effective policy (e.g., plagiarism, grading, tenure, admissions) who turns to respected colleges with successful policies, to draft, model, or modify a new policy to meet its needs? Are the greater interests of all in higher education and all those served by higher education protected and enhanced by the sharing and dissemination of effective policies?

Today, models and templates for legal codes, constitutions, articles of confederation, mission statements, business plans, and financial, human resource, medical, school and other policies are available for adoption and modification in this same spirit of serving the greater good. The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services makes freely available the Model Policy for Responding to Allegations of Scientific Misconduct (ORI, n.d.1). This model serves the purpose of providing researchers and administrators in higher education with a means to comply with federal law regarding research integrity. Specifically, the model policy "applies to allegations of research misconduct (fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results)." (ORI, n.d.2, p.1).

The common denominator among these examples would seem to be a purpose of serving a greater good. Let's call this the "greater good factor" and hypothesize that it is one factor in determining whether a practice is plagiarism.

Kumar, K. & Hahn, V.S. (2009, March 9). SIUC helmsman looks beyond media storms. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, at A1.
Office of Research Integrity. (n.d.1). Policies: ORI model policy for responding to allegations of scientific misconduct. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from
Office of Research Integrity. (n.d.2). ORI model policy for responding to allegations of scientific misconduct. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from