When You Should Have Been Cited, But You Weren’t

A philosopher writes in with a query at the intersection of research ethics, publishing norms, and academic etiquette.

What should you do when your work should have been cited in a publication, but isn’t?

More specifically:

Suppose Philosopher 1 publishes a paper on Question Q, presenting a distinctive argument for specific thesis T. Then, two years later, Philosopher 2 publishes a book on Q in which she which includes a version of the very same argument for T, but without any citation of Philosopher 1’s work. Suppose, further, that prior to Philosopher 2’s book, this argument had only been made by Philosopher 1, and that Philosopher 1’s paper was not particularly hard to learn about or access. This seems like an egregious failure to cite. What, if anything, should Philosopher 1 do? And what, if anything, should Philosopher 2 do, if informed of this? 

One thing to note: academic books are typically years in the making and the relevant part of 2’s book might have been written prior to the publication of 1’s paper. That’s not entirely exculpatory (because the literature should be checked throughout the writing process, and also because if 2 became aware of 1’s work he could have cited her and noted that they appear to have independently come to similar ideas at around the same time) but it does speak in favor of not jumping to conclusions.

It seems to me that a sound opening move, generally, would be for 1 to write to 2, noting the similarity and timing and asking in a non-accusatory way if 2 had been aware of 1’s work. If 2’s answer is “oh yeah, I forgot-about/heard-about-but-didn’t-read/read-it-but-I-guess-mistakenly-thought-it-irrelevant” then 2 should find out what steps can be taken by the publisher to try to remedy this. Academic publishers, feel free to chime in on this! Also, 2 should of course cite 1’s work in relevant writings in the future.

In the original version of the question, we’re not certain that 2 knows about 1’s work. It might be useful, then, to also ask a version of this question in which 1 knows that 2 knows about 1’s work on Q, could have cited her work, but didn’t. In these cases, considerations of academic integrity arise.


Related: “Philosophers Don’t Read and Cite Enough

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