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.

Readers?

Related: “Philosophers Don’t Read and Cite Enough

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E
E
3 years ago

Philosopher 1 should write to 2 and then at the very least 2 should cite 1 moving forward.

But let’s also talk about how this even happens in philosophy, and how it happens as often as it does: Our citation norms are a mess. Many philosophers seem to think that they ought to use citations only as honorifics. Many others seem to think that they ought to cite only whatever they happened to read that non-proximately led them to have their ideas. A seemingly tiny majority seem to think think we ought to be citing on some basis that would lead us to cite more often than we do on the first two norms. And so on.

Let’s start by everyone getting on the same page, shall we? And let’s hope that page doesn’t involve anything like the first two norms cited above, for a dozen or so compelling reasons that someone else in this thread will no doubt itemize for us. Report

E
E
Reply to  E
3 years ago

*A seemingly tiny minority

Report

Corey Wrenn, Phd
3 years ago

We should also keep in mind that there are inherent power imbalances in academia, especially in philosophy[hy. It is all too common for established men in academia to prey on the work and good will of young women in the field. They are also known to go out of their way to block young women’s progress.

For books published with leading, respected publishing houses, such as a university press, it is really on the editor and the review team to catch egregious oversights such as that exemplified here. Unfortunately, sometimes editors take up the position to further their own careers and agenda, not to further the spirit of knowledge and collegiality.

Thanks for writing about this topic.Report

Anna
Anna
3 years ago

I find it interesting when this discussion comes up. So many people seem seriously bothered when they are not cited. When someone doesn’t cite me, it might bother me a tiny bit for like 30 seconds. But honestly there is so much work out there, that it is unsurprising that sometimes citations are missed. I miss citing people sometimes, and I would want to offer people the same “forgiveness” that I would want offered to me. Besides, even when citations are relevant, they rarely have consequences to the main argument. What should matter most in philosophy is that the paper offers an interesting and persuasive argument that has not been said before. Report

Corey Wrenn, Phd
Reply to  Anna
3 years ago

The problem is that it HAS been said before…but it remains invisible until a white dude with a tenure-track gig repeats it. Minorities in the discipline are *systematically* plagiarized because …well, they are minorities, and easily overlooked and unbelieved. It’s sloppy and unprofessional not to do basic research on a topic before presenting yourself as an expert. Research 101 is do a keyword search when writing the lit review.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Corey Wrenn, Phd
3 years ago

Do you have evidence for this claim? While I agree with the normative claim about citation practices, this descriptive assumption about systematic bias is more puzzling. Surely you must have sources to cite.Report

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
Reply to  Nick
3 years ago

Nick: Common sense explains why there wouldn’t be sources to cite regarding what Corey says here. Given that marginalized voices are commonly ignored, many minorities who face this issue don’t bother to report it, as they likely feel powerless and that their complaint will end up hurting them in some way. Moreover, if a minority does make an accusation against a tenured male philosopher, it is rarely taken seriously and it often goes unaddressed, as some of the comments on this post seem to illustrate (and all the “likes” on the comment from Anna which unfairly trivializes the issue in this post and derails the conversation). So one shouldn’t be surprised that there isn’t publicly available “evidence” regarding this issue. Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Elizabeth
3 years ago

If it’s published work, then one can presumably point to the marginalized scholar’s work which predates the plagiarist’s. If it was plagiarized pre-publication, that’s harder but not impossible; name names, and be protected by internet anonymity. Don’t just demand that your assertion be accepted without even trying to offer proof.

Frankly, given the nature of philosophical work it’s difficult to envision how this would work. There has been a history of such things in the sciences, but there there are discrete stages of data gathering and analysis.

Also I don’t see how Anna’s post “details” the conversation. It seems perfectly relevant to the subject at hand.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Elizabeth
3 years ago

Common sense, that good old source of evidence… So “Research 101” now is making sweeping claims about systematic discrimination based on no other evidence than… “sounds plausible to me”? Also, Corey didn’t say she didn’t have sources; she’s just failing to cite them. And if there aren’t, then why make such a claim? Sure, it does sound plausible that minorities would be plagiarized (not cited) by white dudes, but honestly the converse seems equally plausible, and for all we know, anybody is equally likely to plagiarize (not cite) anybody. For now Corey’s claim is just a red herring. Anna was clearly not derailing the conversation, whether you agree with her or not, but Corey and you clearly are.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Nick
3 years ago

PS: just to be clear, I’m not claiming this is false. Again, this sounds plausible and I would like to hear more. But since I have no evidence I am withholding judgment.Report

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
Reply to  Anna
3 years ago

Anna: the problem, as it is stated in this post, is that the book *doesn’t* provide a new argument. I quote: “philosopher 2 publishes a book on Q in which she which includes a version of the very same argument for T…” This doesn’t seem to be a case where someone is upset when their paper, which is on a topic that many people have written on, isn’t cited in a particular paper that briefly mentions the topic. Rather, the problem described in the post seems to be a case where, before the publication of the book, there was *one* paper with a very specific argument, and this argument was repeated in the book and this argument is the central component of the book. Again, I quote: “Suppose, further, that prior to Philosopher 2’s book, this argument had only been made by Philosopher 1.”

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that in 1974, two years after Singer wrote “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” someone wrote a book about an individual’s moral obligation to donate all of her disposable income to famine relief organizations. Say the author of the book uses a principle like “If you can prevent harm without sacrificing anything of great or equal moral value, you ought to do so,” and this person did not cite Singer’s paper.

Would Singer be justified in being bothered that he wasn’t cited? I’d think so. Report

Corey Wrenn, Phd
Reply to  Elizabeth
3 years ago

AND…Would this be shoddy research that any publishing house worth its weight should have caught? I’d think so.Report

Fritz Warfield
Fritz Warfield
Reply to  Corey Wrenn, Phd
3 years ago

No publisher checks for absence of citations. Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Fritz Warfield
3 years ago

Publishers don’t, but surely referees pay at least some passing attention to this sort of issue. However, this is a hard problem, and not one that “any referee worth their weight” would have necessarily caught.Report

Anna
Anna
Reply to  Elizabeth
3 years ago

If something really has been said before, and a book or article offers nothing new, then it shouldn’t be published because it isn’t original. Sure, I can agree with that. I am not familiar with the case study at hand. Report

Danielle Wenner
Reply to  Anna
3 years ago

While this comment paints a nice ideal, it unfortunately fails to reflect the reality of the tenure stream for many academics. Metrics such as citation rates, “impact”, etc are used by many departments to assess the performance of untenured faculty. So even if we were to think that we shouldn’t attach value to *being cited* as such (which I’m not at all sure I agree with), the practical implications for individual careers of having shoddy citation practices is itself a reason to be bothered.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
3 years ago

We almost went 3 whole comments into a Daily Nous post without someone reducing the (quite legitimate) problem into a question of gender and race politics. Is it possible the problem requires discussion of obligations (or even etiquette) that persists across all race and gender lines, such that we can pursue it on its own no matter if author 1 in the hypo is black or white, man or woman? The hammer-nail mentality is not always productive! Report

prime
prime
Reply to  Grad Student
3 years ago

Conclusion from complained about comment: “It’s sloppy and unprofessional not to do basic research on a topic before presenting yourself as an expert. Research 101 is do a keyword search when writing the lit review.”

We went almost a few comments before someone predictably complained about a comment that discussed the relevance of gender and race to an issue at hand. Of course, as the conclusion above makes clear, no one was “reducing the problem into a question of gender and race politics” — unless by “reducing,” people like Grad Student mean, say, “calling particular attention to, even while acknowledging the broader issue.”

Maybe had Grad Student, et al. not been triggered by their perception of gender and race “politics,” they might have realized that the original comment’s real problem was an implausibly strong claim about minorities being “*systematically* plagiarized.” A far more plausible claim would be, say, “casually ignored or discounted by authors and referees.”

Exhibit A: An article on the nature of “the black race” and black racial identification cites only one black philosopher, when anyone (on the analytic side) with a basic philosophical interest in race (undergrad-level basic) could easily cite at least another two or three philosophers — namely, whose arguments would have conceptually and ethically cast grave doubts on the author’s conclusion.Report

Julia
Julia
3 years ago

I think this problem is particularly salient now that departments (including mine) use citation counts as a way of measuring impact. It seems that what is really measured is if you are well-connected in many cases. Citation counts should not be used in this way unless we have better standards for citation practices. But those are hard to implement. When I referee papers that have obvious omissions, I try to point this out, but that’s just a drop in the bucket.
One small thing that would be easy to implement and very helpful: Journals should set word limits that exclude the bibliography. Then authors don’t have to cut their papers down to be able to cite more generously. Analysis already has this, and every other journal should too.Report

M
M
Reply to  Julia
3 years ago

Another problem is that certain prominent journals, e.g. Journal of Philosophy, have a house style which permits no Bibliography at all, but requires one to pack the first full citation into the footnotes. This creates pressure on authors (given other disciplinary norms, e.g. not having overly long footnotes) to cite less rather than more of the literature; and as one might expect, it is very common for articles in JPhil cite to very few papers compared with other prominent journals whose articles are permitted to have Bibliographies. For a very long time, JPhil was regarded as one of the top 1 or 2 journals in the field (and still is regularly regarded among the top 4); this no doubt shapes the mentality of many philosophers who think they should cite others sparingly, and when doing so, to cite only the most prominent figures.Report

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
Reply to  Julia
3 years ago

Julia: the question here is about a book, not a journal with a restrictive word limit. And, still, even if a journal has a restrictive word limit, they likely wouldn’t publish a paper that does not cite the *one* article that provides essentially the same argument that is found in another article. Moreover, a respectable journal wouldn’t publish a paper with a repetitive argument that has been published elsewhere, as did the publishing company of the book that is under discussion. Report

Lisa
Lisa
3 years ago

In response to Julia: This does not address the original question, but still: It is incredibly problematic that university administrators are going all in with respect to bibliometric evidence of ‘impact’. For one, there is no quality control built into the bibliometrics, there is no real control for of the quality of the journals, self-citation, or citation to show the view is wrong. Further different bibliographic programs have different algorithms for measuring citations, and citations in books, (let alone books themselves, or chapters in books) often get missed. I recommend this very good white paper co-authored by philosopher Tim Kenyon found here: https://uwspace.uwaterloo.ca/handle/10012/10323 (Kenyon has, I believe, left Waterloo to take up the VP Research position at Brock)Report

Junior
Junior
3 years ago

I’m a junior scholar who spent many years on the job market. Given the state of the market, I felt overwhelming pressure to publish anything that I could and as quickly as I could. My continued employment in the field depended on it. When I look back now at the work I produced during that time, I find several (unintentional) omissions with respect to citations, among some other errors.

Sometimes this was the result of genuinely failing to understand citation norms in our field. Sometimes it was the result of miscalibrating my notion of “careful” research, given that I needed to have things published or at least under review by a certain time of year in order for my job application to not get tossed in the trash. Sometimes it was the result of being distracted by a heavy teaching load and preparations for another big move. Sometimes it was because the article was written while in a severely depressed or manic state, and I was simply not thinking clearly. And sometimes it was the result of a bad judgment call regarding what to cut so that I could meet the journal’s word count while still incorporating the referees’ feedback. Often it was a mix of these things. To be very clear: I don’t offer these as excuses–I messed up!–but they are part of the explanation of how the errors happened.

When I find a citation omission (or the occasional error of another sort, whether a misspelling, a misattribution, a particularly poor phrasing, or whatever) in my own work, I have a panic attack. The lingering fear of violating norms of professional etiquette or academic integrity causes me to lose sleep and seriously consider leaving the profession. I now find doing research unbearably anxiety-inducing, since I might find something else that I didn’t cite but should have. And, given that the previous errors were made despite (what I take to be) good-faith efforts to be careful and diligent, it has made me unable to send anything else out for review since I am terribly anxious about making similar errors in the future and further establishing myself as an incompetent scholar. I talk with a mental health professional about this on a weekly basis.

I honestly don’t know the extent to which other scholars, junior or otherwise, experience anything similar to what I’ve described here. Even though I hope I’m the only one, I suspect that I’m not. I’m hesitant to post this comment for a variety of reasons, but I’ll go ahead with it in the hope that anyone else who might go through things like this can know that they are not alone.Report

Molly
Molly
Reply to  Junior
3 years ago

This sounds to me like it might possibly be a manifestation of OCD, which I have, myself, and which many philosophers I know also have. (OCD often attaches itself in weird ways to worries that really are legitimate. But the problem is that we worry a bit *too* much about something that it really is appropriate to worry about!) Report

David Beard
David Beard
3 years ago

“An egregious failure to cite” occurs when an argument (a) has a material influence on another argument (b) and the author (b) does not cite (a). Anything else seems to me to be a clerical error, not an egregious error.

Anyway.

I find it difficult to believe that two authors could reach entirely independently the exact same argument. Clearly, the background lit and case studies or exemplars and a million other forces will impact the development of an argument.
But I am not a professional philosopher. YMMV.
Report

Another Grad
Another Grad
Reply to  David Beard
3 years ago

“I find it difficult to believe that two authors could reach entirely independently the exact same argument.”

Sure, not the *exact* same argument. But Newton and Leibniz both arrived at calculus around the same time. A more modern (and less controversial) example would be Irene Heim’s dissertation and Hans Kamp’s “A Theory of Truth and Semantic Representation” both coming out within a year of the other (and developed independently). Heim did the right thing by simply noting that they arrived developed their theories independently at approximately the same time. It’s not that hard to do.

That said, you can’t read everything, and clerical errors or other reasonable oversights really ought to be interpreted charitably.Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
3 years ago

Maybe other people are less awkward and shy than I am about this kind of thing, but I would never in a million years be able to write out of the blue to a professional colleague I didn’t know personally and say “hey, I saw that you published such-and-such argument, did you know that I published that argument already?”. That feels unspeakably awkward and I would never do it.

I don’t know that that reflects particularly well on me—if someone else is comfortable sending emails like that, I don’t have any problem with it—but I don’t think it’s particularly realistic to suppose this should be the usual reaction.Report

Just another philosophy
Just another philosophy
3 years ago

Unless it really looks like 2 plagiarised 1, it seems to me that all 1 can reasonably do is let 2 know that 1 has written about a similar thing. (For the reasons Jonathan mentioned, I would hesitate to say “I’ve published this argument already.” I would hope the author would chase up the reference and realize it’s the same argument.)

The fact that 1’s paper is “not particularly hard to learn about or access” is a tricky issue, given how much is published these days. The mere fact that 1’s paper is in a well-known journal and that an open access draft is on PhilPapers isn’t really enough in our information-saturated environment to mean 1’s paper is something 2 “should” have known about, unless maybe this is a very small field. Is there a professional obligation to read *all* the relevant literature? Surely that standard is too high, at least in many areas of research, especially given the constant pressure to publish plus other professional obligations. Imagine one is writing about pragmatic encroachment in epistemology, but one has side projects on whether ought implies can and also epistemic injustice. One just can’t read all the relevant research as well as teach, write grants, and so on. So I side with those who think the failure to cite in this case is not “egregious”, unless you think it’s a case of plagiarism. (I suppose the problem with cases like this is: we’ll never know.)

This situation seems unfortunate and is probably all too common, but sadly it is just one of the many, many negative consequences of the way the pressure to publish has doomed us all. Report

Mid-career female
Mid-career female
3 years ago

Nick – open your eyes and look around you!Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Mid-career female
3 years ago

Oh thanks, I forgot to do that. Now I see quite clearly the evidence.Report