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Rehab for (recovering) academics.
Multiple discovery, simultaneous research or... plagiarism? 
26th-Oct-2014 10:51 pm
Iggy The Eskimo
In a 2012 Phd by publication, based on a book from 2010, I found a chapter where the author claims to have found some literary references (or sampling) in the literary work of someone else. However, an internet essay, published in 2005 on a forum and updated in 2006 and 2009, has exactly the same findings. But this was published by a mere 'fan' of the work, not by an academic or a scholar.

In 2010 the author claimed there was no problem because he was unaware when he wrote the book that somebody else had researched the same topic 5 years before him. In 2012, for the Phd, he simply ignored it (as the existence of the 2005 essay was several times mentioned to him after the publication of the book).

While there is perhaps no 'plagiarism' as such, shouldn't the doctor have mentioned, out of shere politeness and honesty, that somebody else had already come to the same conclusion?
26th-Oct-2014 10:24 pm (UTC)
This sounds like arts subject work, so my criticisms may be totally misplaced. But in science, 1. ignorance of what is out there means you are a poor scholar who either doesn't know how to or hasn't bothered to research the topic properly (admittedly you don't get Internet 'fan' sources doing original research though, so), and 2. while there are certainly scientists who don't follow ethical rules of publication, many people think that the above is a problem. Could have been dispelled in the second instance merely by saying 'X has described similar work on the matter[ref]; here is what I have to add to it'.
26th-Oct-2014 11:04 pm (UTC)
There are similar protocols in the humanities, but I think part of the distinction here is that the other work was 'published' outside of the institutional structures of academia (peer-reviewed journals, etc.). While this can and does happen in the sciences, my sense is that in the era of "Big Science," where much of the original research being conducted requires access to substantial institutional support, it probably doesn't happen often.

So, here's the tricky part: if the PhD candidate cited a random internet forum as a source of expertise, most traditional scholars would laugh him out of the room, but if he doesn't, he risks these accusations of plagiarism or of failing to review the 'literature' on the subject.

If I knew the person in question, I would suggest to them that they include references to the internet discussion and -- since this sounds like it's coming out of English -- perhaps incorporate some reader-response theory to support he validity of their own reading. But not mentioning it doesn't strike me as a 'failing' (either in ethics or conducting research), but rather just an area that the research might be improved upon.
26th-Oct-2014 11:48 pm (UTC)
This. I personally would cite it, and then fight with anyone who refused to recognize "fan" work as relevant. But depending on the specific field, this will gave greater or lesser consequences.

Edited at 2014-10-27 06:41 pm (UTC)
27th-Oct-2014 08:36 am (UTC)
I'm not sure this is all that much different from citing something you'd found about a person you were researching via an online genealogy/family history site. Though one might want to check any citations to publicly accessible archives, in one instance in my research somebody had scanned, uploaded and transcribed a letter in current family possession which was otherwise unavailable.
27th-Oct-2014 08:47 am (UTC)
I don't think there is an obligation to be aware of every piece of writing in your field, but I agree with #2: Politeness dictates a mention of sources that have been brought to your attention, regardless of their academic status.
1st-Nov-2014 06:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the answers!
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