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Sabotaging the rules of journal publication is a form of academic dishonesty (and should have consequences similar to those of plagiarism)

with 13 comments

It seems to me that when you intentionally put your paper online while it is under consideration at some journal, you want that paper to be spotted as having you as an author. More extreme cases – and quite a few (I don’t want to mention names, as some of them are my acquaintances) – are those who also:

 

(a) put their paper online together with a footnote containing acknowledgments to `big names` or `young stars` of philosophy. (I myself did it, a few years ago, for which I’m ashamed)

(b) conform to point (a) and mention in their CV or even in draft that the paper is submitted to, say, The Journal of Philosophy.

 

The psychology behind such behavior is pretty clear, and, believe me, such things are not done by people affiliated as grad students or profs to, say, University of Alma Ata. For instance, I did it many times as a grad student, but without the belief that it will make publication easier, just for getting some attention (I was a grad student at the Central European University – stupid kid, you know), and a couple of times after graduating (when at Australian National University for a one-year research visit), with the belief that it will further my cause. (What actually turned out to be the case with respect to my beliefs is a long and funny (or unfunny) story, which I might write about in my autobiography, later, when I’ll be a `big name` in philosophy.

 

More importantly, I strongly believe now that such behavior should be as harshly punished as plagiarism. It falls under the concept of academic dishonesty, in more than one way. Once because it sabotages the rules of journal publication, so that the reputation of journals as applying blind refereeing will slowly become meaningless. Second, because the perpetrators mention in their CVs a category called “refereed papers”, which they fill up with their papers that have been accepted by journals; and that is simply a lie, so it is dishonest.

 

Any views on this?

Anunțuri

Written by István Aranyosi

Februarie 19, 2009 la 2:30 pm

13 răspunsuri

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  1. I agree with you that it is a kind of dishonesty, even if it is done unknowingly. More precisely: (i) I think it is fair to have working drafts online, in order to receive comments etc prior to submitting the paper to a blind-review journal/conference, but (ii) while it is considered for admission/publication, no copy should be available online, and not even the title or abstract. I have some experience with these things, as I refereed for both our grad journal and our grad conference, and I was able to find out the authors (together with their affiliation etc) on quite a number of occasions, just by googling the title of the paper.

    The situation gets a bit complex with online repositories of papers, such as the Pitt PhilSci Archive and the arXiv. Many of the arXiv papers, for instance, proceed to be published in refereed journals; but there is some community check on the quality of the deposited papers, as far as I know. Moreover, if they are deposited prior to submission, they can be withdrawn during the reviewing process (as seems fair).

    Stefan

    Februarie 19, 2009 at 3:05 pm

  2. I strongly disagree. There’s nothing wrong with having (and keeping) one’s work available online. I offer some of papers on my website, and though I have never yet submitted to a journal, when I do so I’m not about to go to the trouble of pulling my papers down. If you’re worried about blind review, then that is the responsibility of the reviewer. If they google a paper title to try to learn who the author is, obviously the dishonesty lies entirely with them, and not with the person who has entirely legitimate reasons for posting their work on their website.

    It’s not my responsibility to ensure that cheaters can’t find my work. It’s the cheaters’ responsibility not to cheat.

    Richard

    Februarie 19, 2009 at 5:20 pm

  3. Sabotaging the blinded review system requires two parties: the intentional self-advertisement by the author on the web, and the referee’s inability to resist temptation and google the paper.

    Now, it seems to me that we all know that: (a) the temptation on the part of the referee is very high, because it is so easy to google something, we do it every day, and (b) more importantly, no one can really prove that the referee did google anything, so googling has no consequences to be feared.

    Given this, it is easier to solve the problem by just acting on the side of the author. One way is for referees to google the paper, and if they find out who the author is, to refuse to referee it, and to report the incident to the editor, who in turn refuses further considering that paper.

    Regarding the legitimacy of having one’s drafts online, my (admittedly limited) experience shows that the needed feedback doesn’t come from people who just find your paper on the web, but from a narrower circle of friends, colleagues, professionals you meet at conferences. I myself never ever got any feedback on anything I have ever put on the web because someone just found it on the web.

    Lastly, isn’t there something wrong with the persons who actually leave a long acknowledgment footnote to be seen on the web while the paper is under review?

    István Aranyosi

    Februarie 19, 2009 at 5:50 pm

  4. So what I want to say is that if we stop deluding ourselves, and try to actually make the system really work, we have to act in the direction I mention above. Otherwise, there isn’t really a blind review system at all. I don’t think anyone would base the effectiveness of the system on the good will of the referees (who, remember, are human beings), just like no one with a little sense of reality bases, say, paying taxes or parking in the right places on the good will of the people – there are various negative motivators for such honest behavior.

    István Aranyosi

    Februarie 19, 2009 at 5:58 pm

  5. To be clear: you are proposing to punish innocent people purely as a means to preventing other people from giving in to the „temptation” to do something wrong.

    Note that another way to „stop deluding ourselves” and „make the system really work” would be to torture and kill anybody who is found to violate blind review. (If we find that their search history reveals the cheating google search, off with their heads!) But such disproportionate punishment would clearly be unjust, and so the blind review system is not worth saving at such cost. The same is true when you seek to punish people who haven’t actually done anything wrong. That’s plainly unjust – and if it’s the only way to „save” blind review, then so much the worse for blind review. It isn’t worth such draconian measures.

    Richard

    Februarie 19, 2009 at 11:48 pm

  6. Richard:

    „To be clear: you are proposing to punish innocent people…” I thought it is clear that from my point of view people who put their paper online with a footnote containing thanks to Russell and Frege are NOT innocent. Saying that they are innocent and the referees only guilty is like saying that only the ones who accept a bribe are guilty, not also the ones who offer a bribe. The author offer to bribe the referees by making their papers easily identifiable; the bribe can be something implicit, like: „look, I am affiliated with this top 5 graduate program, so if you accept my paper you are gonna be in a good company, if not (this is not bribing anymore, NB.), then you expose yourself to expulsion from our society of mutual admiration”). I heard such a story with my own ears: someone, my acquaintance, acted as a referee for a very famous journal, and has required revisions for a paper (that he could identify as coming from a certain student). Not long after the referee got an email from the student’s supervisor (who identifies the referee after his writing style, as they were old friends) saying what a good student he or she is, and that the referee shouldn’t be so picky. No comment.

    „Note that another way to „stop deluding ourselves” and „make the system really work” would be to torture and kill anybody who is found to violate blind review. (If we find that their search history reveals the cheating google search, off with their heads!)”

    Why do you put words in my mouth that I didn’t say, and why such a bad and exaggerated analogy? I thought we are discussing as people who take some rules of informal logic seriously.

    First, if your analogy works, then we shouldn’t do anything to plagiarists, because , according to your logic, if we believe that plagiarists should e punished, then we also believe that any punishment is OK, like torturing and decapitating them.

    Second, I really don’t see how it follows from what I said that I am committed to saving the blind review system at all cost. I inform you: I did not say such thing, and it does not follow, as a matter of pure logic if you want, from what I said.

    Third, part of my point that it is nearly impossible to identify googling referees is precisely that invading one’s search history is an invasion of privacy, which I take as a high crime (as high as interfering with free speech). So, you just can’t legally find out what the search history of a referee contains, and you shouldn’t. The author, on the other hand, who keeps the paper with a self-advertising and self-aggrandizing footnote on the web while under consideration at a journal, is himself or herself offering it as a freely available evidence. Right now it is taken as evidence for the author being someone important to publish, because well connected with the „big names”; if my advice is taken seriously, it should be taken as evidence about sabotaging the proper functioning of well established journals, known for their seriousness.

    Finally, I take a real, as opposed to an illusory system of blind review to be a very important thing nowadays, when competition gets more and more intense, and universities might have to make hard choices about who to keep and who to fire. If the system doesn’t really exist, then all these decisions are based on publication lists that are not based on the value of the papers but on: friendship, kinship, gossip, reputation, etc. Of course, some philosophers have no problem with such criteria, as they are the profiteers of them, but maybe one could agree with me that these are not the criteria that officially figure in our implicit statement of purpose.

    István Aranyosi

    Februarie 20, 2009 at 5:50 am

  7. Um, let’s review:

    (0) You argued that people who post their papers online while under review „want that paper to be spotted [by the blind reviewer?] as having you as an author”, and hence ought to be punished.

    [Looking back, I see it’s ambiguous whether you meant the „such behavior” to be punished to be restricted to the „extreme cases”, or interpreted more broadly. I had assumed the latter, but we’ll see below that it doesn’t much matter.]

    (1) I responded that your psychological assumptions were unfounded, and people might have perfectly innocent reasons for posting their work online. Moreover, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong in doing so. The real wrongdoer is the cheating „blind” reviewer, not others in the world who merely make it possible to acquire the information that (i) this particular person ought not to acquire, but (ii) plenty of other people may have a legitimate interest in.

    (2) Your response seemed purely pragmatic: the real wrongdoers can’t be caught, so the only way to prevent the wrongdoing is to punish those who make accessible the „tempting” information.

    N.B. You did not offer any principled reason to convince me that the latter are doing anything intrinsically wrong. That is, it seemed from your response that you acknowledged my point that these people are intrinsically innocent, but you wanted to claim that they ought to be punished anyway, for extrinsic, pragmatic reasons.

    (3) Hence I responded that such a pragmatic justification can’t excuse injustice. (A point for which my example was perfectly apt, contrary to your mangled misunderstanding about what follows „according to” my logic.)

    Now, you write: „I thought it is clear that from my point of view people who put their paper online with a footnote containing thanks to Russell and Frege are NOT innocent.

    Well, I never spoke of footnotes, but just the general case of posting work online, which as I said very obviously can be innocent. Regardless, I can’t see what difference an honest ‘acknowledgements’ footnote makes. It might be blameworthy for someone to add acknowledgements for insincere, opportunistic reasons. But it’s OBVIOUSLY possible for someone to honestly want to acknowledge those who gave them helpful feedback. That may be true even if the helpful people in question are well-known to others. So you can’t just assume nefarious motives here.

    Anyway, I’ve said all I have to say on the matter, so I’ll leave it at that.

    Richard

    Februarie 20, 2009 at 6:38 am

  8. OK, just a little story that I inserted later in my reply:

    Saying that they are innocent and the referees only guilty is like saying that only the ones who accept a bribe are guilty, not also the ones who offer a bribe.

    The authors offer to bribe the referees by making their papers easily identifiable; the bribe can be something implicit, like: “look, I am affiliated with this top 5 graduate program, so if you accept my paper you are gonna be in a good company, if not (this is not bribing anymore, NB.), then you expose yourself to expulsion from our society of mutual admiration”).

    I heard such a story with my own ears from the person who was directly involved: someone, my acquaintance, acted as a referee for a very famous journal, and has required revisions for a paper (that he could identify as coming from a certain student). Not long after the referee got an email from the student’s supervisor (who identifies the referee after his writing style, as they were old friends) saying what a good student he or she is, and that the referee shouldn’t be so picky. No comment.

    István Aranyosi

    Februarie 20, 2009 at 6:49 am

  9. I just want to conclude: the ineffectiveness of the current blind refereeing system IS a real problem, and, in my opinion, we should admit this (and draw some consequences) rather than continue pretending that everything goes well (i.e.: „we are a happy mutual admiration society in our little cottage industry”:)) .

    István Aranyosi

    Februarie 20, 2009 at 7:02 am

  10. That’s obviously a disturbing incident.

    But, just as obviously, it does not entail that everyone who puts their papers online has nefarious motivations (or is trying to offer any kind of „bribe”).

    So yes, by all means, consider the problem and try to find a reasonable remedy if we can. But in this particular case you’ve made some completely unjustified assumptions, which has led to bad conclusions.

    Richard

    Februarie 20, 2009 at 7:05 am

  11. Again, it simply doesn’t follow from what I said that everyone who puts their papers online do it for the same reason.

    But I do say that everyone who puts their paper online is to blame for sabotaging the system. This does not follow from everyone having the same nefarious motivations, but it follows from the following, much weaker, and correct to my mind, consequentialist reasoning:

    1. For all x, if x has a minimal level of intelligence, then x realizes that x’s putting the paper online while under consideration by a journal sabotages the review system, regardless of x’s intention.

    2. For all x, if x has a minimal level of intelligence, then x realizes that sabotaging the review system is dishonest.

    3. For all x, x realizes that x’s putting the paper online while under consideration by a journal is dishonest. (1 and 2)

    4. Suppose i has a minimal level of intelligence and puts its paper online while under consideration by a journal.

    5. i is aware that i is doing something dishonest. (3 and 4)

    6. For all x, if x is aware that x is doing something dishonest, then x is intentionally doing something dishonest.

    7. For all x, if x is intentionally doing something dishonest, then x is guilty of dishonesty.

    8. i is guilty of dishonesty. (5-7)

    9. For all x, if x has a minimal level of intelligence and puts its paper online while under consideration by a journal, then x is guilty of dishonesty. (8, universal generalization)

    I hope this makes my view clear, and clarifies that I don’t need any premise to the effect that everyone puts their papers online with the same motivation.

    István Aranyosi

    Februarie 20, 2009 at 1:53 pm

  12. Premise 2 is false.

    Consider this imaginary case that exposes the problem with your argument: suppose people have extremely good independent reasons for putting their work online (suppose they regularly get super-helpful feedback, their life depends on it, whatever). Further suppose that they take reasonable precautions to try to prevent any „blind reviewers” from accidentally happening across it. Nevertheless, they can’t entirely block a dedicated cheat without also blocking all their readers – and hence blocking all the good advantages that they take to outweigh the badness of enabling the cheat.

    Further suppose they know that there are lots of dedicated cheats out there reviewing papers, and so – despite their attempted precautions – putting their paper online will have as an (unwanted, unintended) consequence that these cheating reviewers will be able to find their paper and so succeed in their attempts at cheating the system.

    I assume this means that your premise (1) is true in the imagined case: this completely reasonable course of action counts as „sabotaging the system” in your consequentialist sense.

    But now, anyone with minimal intelligence should be able to see that (2) fails. There’s nothing dishonest about the above action. Again, it’s the cheaters that are dishonest, not the people who do ordinary permissible actions that enable everyone (including, alas, the odd cheater).

    P.S. Calling people „dishonest” sure sounds to me like an attribution of nefarious motivations.

    Richard

    Februarie 20, 2009 at 5:14 pm

  13. Hmm, very cognitive post.
    Is this theme good unough for the Digg?

    Azazael

    Februarie 27, 2009 at 5:15 pm


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