I'm an early-stage researcher (post-doc) in Europe. The early-stage bit makes this particularly frustrating. Perhaps I'm a bit wet-behind-the-ears wrt to publishing ethics, but to me the right and wrongs in this regard are quite basic common sense. Thou shalt not steal, but rather cite and build-upon.
In my last post I described work I had done (paper B) during my PhD that I suspect has been plagiarised by a group in North America (paper C), and bears some resemblence to a much earlier paper we cited, paper A. I am now facing another similar (but not quite the same sort of situation) with a new article I wrote in January, which could have involved some "hanky-panky" by the editorial team of a journal I submitted it to. It's quite peculiar.
In December, I noticed a really cool educational piece that was in many ways based on work during my PhD, but it properly cited us so was very nice to see. It gave me a good idea to such a paper in a different area, but to appear in the same journal. This is an inter-discplinary journal in my field, and the educational article that cited us has a short, very well defined, specific format comprising X number of basic rules for/on Y.
So, just before Christmas, and with a view as an early-stage research to practice more publishing, in the spare time I had over the holidays I wrote my x basic rules article on topic Y. I based this on experience I had in a research institute and the particular stumblings blocks inter-discplinary researchers face using certain equipment. Some of this material is generically covered in such places as part of an induction, but often falls short resulting in new staff members (and some who should know better) making the same sorts of mistakes. With this in mind I added my expertise also covering optimisation. All in the basic rules educational article format.
In January I archived the work on arxiv.org. I picked an CC-BY-NC-ND license.
I then came to submit it to this inter-disciplinary journal. I checked their submission guidelines and it said these basic rules articles are editorial pieces and should be submitted by their submission system.
After creating an account on the system, I noted that the Editorial article type had "(invitation only)" next to it. I emailed the journal enquiries asking about basic rules article submission - initially got no response. Quite keen to get my work submitted, I submitted it as an "Educational" type article and provided 4 reviewers. A few days later I got an email from the journals front-end servicedesk saying "sorry for slow delay, please submit as editorial". I thanked and said I'd already submitted it. They said it was now with editor. All this happened by end of Jan.... CONTINUED...
...I heard nothing back, the status of my submission is now "with editor". After facing the first other suspected plagiarism issue, I was totally shocked (on checking the inter-disciplinary journal) that a similar x basic rules on y article was published mid February. I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I could see that 6 or 7 of the rules in my article (which only had a few more) had been written into this new one, but the title was vey different. It had a much wider scope to make the article look different at the outset. It was a general x rules article for "beginners in the field". It used the same phrases, rational and logic but added a few bits -- like a glossary, and one of the basic sections was expanded a bit. Many of the particular rules, especially quite specific unusual ones (but useful) were woven into this new work. Bear in mind that these x basic rules articles are usually quite short, sometimes a rule is just a big paragraph.
I noticed the article has the same editor (one of two I suggest that is listed as being responsible for these x basic rules articles), so they must have known about both these works given the time proximity.
One of the senior editors is from a particular country, and the new paper is from two authors I've not heard of, from the same country, especially wrt to my specific area. It is potentially possible that either this editor tipped them off (or asked them by solicitation to write something similar with a more general slant but gobbling up my work), or that the two authors found it on arXiv.org and did the same.
Given aspects of the content are extremely niche, and many of the basic rules I wrote in mine are incorporated and woven in, it's highly probably they have encountered my work or have been "coached" to write it with my ideas in.
Has anyone experienced anything like this before? It's sort of like rewt alluded to about theft of ideas in peer review, but editorial pieces don't usually go out to external reviewers, but are done inside?
It has gotten me done to think this is what goes on in "professional" academia, and high-ranked journals that have been running for years.
What can I do about this?
thanks for reading
Well, yes, unfortunately there are many people in academia who build a career upon (p)recycling other peoples' ideas. I met many "distinguished scientists" who clearly got to where they were by cheating and stealing. A "renowned" professor who was my postdoc supervisor openly talked about the race to prepublish other PhD students' ideas in slightly reworded language, which they used to have in his old research group when he was a PhD student himself. He and his wife (also a professor) fondly remembered and laughed about the many promising researchers who they managed to frustrate out of academia this way. All in good fun, right?
I once had a paper on a then revolutionary idea accepted at a major conference in the field. Only weeks later I received, as reviewer for another conference, a paper which very closely mimicked my own idea and in fact cited my paper - which hadn't even been published. Clearly, one of the reviewers for my paper, a renowned established professor in the field, had largely copied my idea. So while this was not plagiarism in the strict sense (he cited my paper, after all), the author of that paper then immediately "took over" the sub-field which I started: He started publishing a large number of trivial knock-off papers, flooding publication venues with similar publications within months. In these numerous following papers, he then only cited his own first paper and did not mention mine anymore. Many later publications from other researchers then only cited the various later publications of that "colleague", leading to the widespead legend that he had the initial idea and started the subfield.
I was the victim of this technique of burying earlier original work under a mountain of citations of later knock-off papers by established professors many times, in fact.
Later, I had another groundbreaking idea blacklisted from major conferences in my field, because the powers that be (conference/area chairs, etc.) had decided that "the fundamental problem I was proposing to solve is non-sensical". The resistance was such that they repeatedly overruled unanimous positive reviews by external reviewers to keep my work out of major venues. Lo and behold: From about a year later a well-established professor in the field started publishing full papers at major conferences and in the best journals, winning best paper awards several times in a row, etc., on what was essentially an expanded version of my work. I.e., solving the exact same "non-sensical problem" using improved versions of the techniques I had proposed. At least he had the decency to cite the one paper I had meanwhile managed to publish at a minor, inconsequential workshop.
Were these cases of plagiarism in the strict formal sense? Not really. Was it unethical? I think you could say so.
You see: There is no black-and-white here. In your case, they published an article possibly heavily inspired by your work, which you yourself had made public in the meantime. But apparently it was an expanded, permutated and re-worded subset of your material. Is this strictly plagiarism? Hard to tell. Is it possible one of your reviewers or editors effectively stole your ideas? Yes, it certainly is.
Don't ever publish anything of value anywhere unless you get a hard, CV-ready, peer-reviewed publication out of it immediately. arXiv sounds like a nice idea, but from the point of view of an academic career it means throwing your hard work away. Get acquainted to the fact that academia is a dog-eat-dog world filled with many unsavoury characters.
Thank you for replying and sharing your experiences.
I was torn about this story because I think you trusted in airXIV too much. I always thought that site was protecting data, hypothesises and unique ideas and was not a general copyright protection method. Re-summarising other people's work is in the basis of all review articles and editorials with a blatant (but seemingly acceptable) level of copying. It is most likely that the editors might have tipped them off but incorporating other people's ideas into your work is somewhat acceptable. Given that, your choice is simple; give up up or make your paper even better than theirs
Thanks for your comments. Yeah, I guess I did. You're right. As you point out I can see now the emphasis more on the hypothesis and data. I knew it was created by the physics community to protect those areas and to prevent authors who are first to discover something being pipped to the post as a result of lengthy peer review. I guess I thought my article ideas and structure were quite unique, but then there are "clever" or devious people out there who will happily subsume it into another article with a different title, but containing most of the same points, albeit with a few extras like a glossary table and intro claiming it as another publication under their belt. Very similar to what Walter_Opera experienced.
I guess I could do the same, i.e. add in a glossary and other bits and pieces - but I'd be careful not to stoop to their level and copy the same additional bits. It's a good idea to make improvements, and I'll keep to the same title/specific area. The only thing now is I wrote it according to the very specific "basic rules article" format that is specific to that journal. So I'm a bit constrained unless I expand it out more. I won't trust that journal again, which is annoying as I have another full paper that would have been good to have published there as it's a leading one in my field :-(
I wonder if anyone knows if there is an actual term for what walter_opera and I have described here -- burying original ideas through excessive publications and subsuming ideas of other work without referencing?
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