12 July 2008

Self-Plagiarism

There is an interesting observation on self-plagiarism among academics here at The Times Higher Education Supplement. (Via John Quiggin at Crooked Timber.) Based on both casual observation and my nearly decade-long experience as a journal editor, the problem is rampant. There are simply too many incentives to publish the same thing or a minor variation on it again and again and again. The resulting c.v. padding is pretty pathetic. Interestingly, and I suppose not to surprisingly, the comment thread at CT repeatedly invokes "sour grapes" and references allegedly "prolific colleagues," as though complaining about this sort of thing were simply coming from the slackers and aimed at the true stars. But it is important to ask what it means to be "prolific." In some instances, one criteria for being prolific seems to be shamelessness.

I posted a comment at the original THES article referencing one flagrant case of a political theorist I know who has published, whole cloth, the same modestly interesting but hardly agenda setting paper in at least four different places. The individual involved is tenured at an elite department, so in no danger of perishing for lack of publishing. That said, there simply is nothing special about the paper except that it is hers. But being special to a paper's author is not a criterion for re-publishing it serially. This is simply an illustration, not the most egregious case with which I am familiar.

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