Citations and the Ethics of Credit
A philosopher putting together resources for a professionalization seminar for graduate students in his department writes in with concerns about the “ethics of credit” in philosophy.Jordi Cat, associate professor of philosophy at Indiana University Bloomington, says:
While the students are familiar with issues of scientific misconduct, fraud and discrimination, one particular issue that has been bothering me concerns the ethics of credit. In published and unpublished papers I’ve read over the years I’ve noticed (or imagined) a trend towards more manipulative and self-serving uses of citations and acknowledgements in varieties of ways.
Here are a few types of misuse of citation he has noticed, often as part of an implicit or explicit credit claim:
- Bullciting: a source cited as providing evidence for a claim does not in fact provide that evidence
- Omitting: failing to cite sources (intentional omission in order to claim undue credit—plagiarism—is worse than omission as the result of negligent research)
- Obfusciting: burying a reference to a source of a very similar claim in a footnote without engaging the similarity or differences, e.g., “see also X” (here, the relation to plagiarism is more subtle)
- Snorkeling: neglecting the originator of an idea by citing the more recent source from which the author learned about S’s idea, but not citing S.
Here are types of problematic acknowledgement practices he has come across. (He notes, “several types of misuse involve bundling together sources of ideas and discussion in a collective acknowledgement”):
- Coattailing: the named person is used rhetorically to enhance the credibility of the paper’s claims (this may be in a separate footnote linked to a specific claim with an expression of gratitude for discussion, etc)
- Lacknowledging: the person is acknowledged but not for their specific contribution, which could be substantive, and so will be denied due credit (this raises the issue of the line between acknowledgement and co-authorship)
- Thanks-a-millioning: the source of the unknown contribution is rendered even more invisible as part the indeterminate extension of the descriptor “the audience at X.”
(By the way, if you don’t like the above labels, proper blame for them goes to me. While Professor Cat provided the examples, I gave them names just for ease of discussion in the comments.)
Additions to these lists are welcome in the comments.
Professor Cat is hoping for a discussion of these and related problems, of “integrated ethical and epistemic frameworks for assessing credit practices such as citations and acknowledgements,” and proposals of standards and recommendations in education, writing, and publishing.
Related: “Philosophers Don’t Read and Cite Enough“, “Philosophy Citation Practices Revisited“, “Citation Problems in Philosophy—and Some Fixes“, “Citation Patterns Across Journals”
Thunderstealing: adding a bunch of cute, attention-grabbing names to someone else’s ideas.Report
Hahahaha. Love it.Report
Another, related type of malpractice: people who only cite high status authors and/or work in high status journals. As if ideas never appeared in less prestigious venues first, or never came from the pen of ordinary worker bees. One could call this prestigicitation.Report
That’s an interesting kind of malpractice, as I’m under the impression that it’s a wanted kind of malpractice.
Let me explain: imagine person P writes a paper about interpreting Kant’s ethics. Pretend it’s the question of what Kant means when he says that he ought to act from duty. (Is it only duty? Duty as well as other motives? Etc.)
P cites Christine Korsgaard, Henry Allison, Allen Wood, Barbara Herman, Onora O’Neill, Jens Timmermann, Marcia Baron, and other such big names, but doesn’t cite lesser-known names. I would bet that most reviewers will have no problem with this.
On the other hand, imagine P cites lesser-known names — indeed, imagine the whole point of P’s paper is to engage the work of a lesser-known name or two. But P doesn’t cite the big names. I would bet that most reviewers will have two reactions, one unstated and one stated. The unstated reaction will be: “why should I care what [lesser-known name] thinks?” The stated reaction will be: “you didn’t engage with the most important figures in the field!”
IF I’m right about this, then this gives P an incentive to engage in “prestigiciation”. After all, it takes time to engage with the work of anyone, lesser-known or not, and P might not have time. And it doesn’t cost P anything to engage only with the work of the big names. So, unless P is acting from duty, why would P cite the lesser-known names?Report
This is probably true, but I don’t see why the situation requires mutual exclusion. An author can and likely should cite both big names and lesser names if they have all done work relevant to the paper. In popular areas of research it is hard to engage with everyone, but an attempt can be made.Report
You are, of course, right, but it does require more time for the author to do that, and some authors have to economize on time. The tenure clock is ticking, or they have a 4/4 teaching load and barely have time for research, or similar reasons.Report
Yup. Add to this that reviewers are less likely to know that a not well-known person has already made a point, and you get, well, current citation practices. Incentives explain human behaviour and all that.Report
I had exactly the same kind of remarks from reviewer 2: why should I bother with issues not widely discussed by big names but only by lesser-known authors?
And that was reason no. #1 for recommending rejection, another being my style of writing in English. Admittedly, the editor was wise enough to ask for yet another opinion (r1 was positive) but it was a depressing experience…Report
Grandstanding: I’d like to thank the following 10 super famous people for comments on earlier drafts, just to signal to anonymous reviewers that I’m fancy. I’d also like to thank audiences at Harvard, Princeton, Rutgers, and NYU for “helpful discussions” at their fancy places so reviewers know where I hang out (see also thanks-a-millioning, above).
Good names, Justin!Report
I am surprised by this comment. I have always thought that you were supposed to remove all acknowledgments when anonomizing a paper, since they can provide clues to the author’s identity. Is that not what other people are doing?Report
Not everyone is as concerned as you to make their manuscripts anonymous. You seem to aim for complete anonymity. But not everyone does.
If a journal’s instructions are to remove anything that may reveal your identity, an author is right not to take it literally, for the paper itself may reveal your identity (e.g. to those who know your work from conferences, talks, etc.). But then, it isn’t obvious what the instruction means. For this reason, I guess, many authors interpret it to their advantage: they remove enough to appear to have complied, while leaving as much as possible that will confer the benefits of being perceived as prestigious, and removing as much as possible that brings the cost of being perceived as lacking prestige).
If the instructions are to remove anything that may *potentially* reveal one’s identity, the issue is similar to the one already mentioned.
If the instructions are to remove identity-revealing information, authors are right to remove all and only what *does or will* reveal their identity. But it is difficult to know in advance what does or will reveal one’s identity. The issue, then, is similar to that mentioned above. For this reason, I guess, many authors aim to advantage themselves as previously mentioned.
If a journal’s instructions are to remove identity-revealing *references*, the issue here is similar to that just mentioned.
I could keep going, but you probably already notice the pattern.Report
As a journal editor, I can guarantee you that people leave them in, even the “blinded” versions. I ask that they get taken out.
As Jen says, the calculation is probably that the footnotes either get allowed (which might help), or the editor asks to remove (as some don’t)–so you might as well have a go at your fancy footnotes and see if they work!Report
I haven’t personally come across this issue in any of the papers I have reviewed, but it seems like grounds for rejecting the paper. I think I would be tempted to provide the following one-liner “I recommend rejection on grounds that the paper has not been adequately prepared for blind review.” If journals were more explicit in their policy or if everyone did this seems like the practice would quickly come to an end.Report
Isn’t this a version of coattailing?Report
‘I’d like to thank Saul Kripke and Kit Fine, due to whose constant insistence over many years I finally got around to writing this paper.’Report
Grandstanding, as defined here, might amount to trying to cheat a bit in the blind review process. But I think there would still be an issue worth discussing if the grandstanding is removed from the submitted version, but added in after approval.Report
A related practice I recently came across is chumnoting: citing people in footnotes by a nickname or familiar first-name form only buddies would use, as in “Steve X” or “Jeff Y” or “Judy Z”. So everyone knows you’re in.Report
I am somewhat shocked to learn that, as this thread seems to make clear, it is not standard practice to disallow any acknowledgements previous to acceptance of a paper as a matter of course. Seems like a pretty straightforward requirement that would be super easy to implement with absolutely no reason not to require this. (I always took it that some such requirement is in effect, even if somewhat tacitly. But apparently it has to be made explicit.)Report
I’d like to know what should be done about these things. I’m a recent victim of what I take to be clear cases of Omitting and Obfusciting by a junior person at a fancy place, and it is infuriating. But accusing them of malfeasance seems like bad form. So what should one do? Just keep publishing in the area, citing oneself and them to make the similarities and priority of one’s own work clear?Report
My last comment has disappeared. Is it inappropriate to ask for information regarding grounds for accusing someone of misconduct, as I did in that comment?Report
I deleted it. While I sometimes quite appreciate your participation in the discussions here, I expect people to be mindful of general conversational norms. Think of a large gathering at which one person makes a point to join and then dominate in an adversarial way every little conversation taking place — it’s a bit much. Please consider this when deciding to reply to comments (and especially when doing so in ways that are condescending, as in the above comment, or otherwise unlikely to generate productive discussion). Thank you.Report
Thanks for the reply. I’m glad to know your justification in this instance.
I’m sure that I’m unfamiliar with or don’t care about many of what you’re calling “general conversational norms.” (I’d bet Socrates could have said something similar about the norms of his day.) And of course, you’re free to enforce compliance with your norms/rules/standards/preferences in whatever way you’d like on your blog. For these reasons, I won’t fuss much about how you do it. However, because enforcement against my comments seems to have recently begun to increase (rightly or otherwise), I’m considering never commenting here again.
Here’s my proposal to everyone: if you want me to quit participating here, “like” this comment. If it receives 280 or more “likes” by Monday morning, I’ll quit commenting here.Report
1. I won’t even venture to speculate on whether the choice of 280 was purposeful or arbitrary but given it too so little time to surge past 50 maybe that vacay is well indicated.
2. Some helpful advice: if one plans on being adversarial please provide personal citation in full. Back up such commentary with a full first and last name, and, as such, stand by it firmly…or refer back to 1.
3. One should never themselves that seriously.
280 is the number of jurors who voted to convict Socrates.
You see, in Jen’s story (genre: autobiographical martyrdom), Jen is Socrates, I’m Meletus, and the readers of Daily Nous are the jurors. My asking Jen to chill out a bit in the comments section of a website is similar to accusing someone of crimes punishable by death. The comments on this here constitute the trial. And deciding to quit commenting on a blog if 280 people “like” a comment is analogous to a jury voting to convict and execute you. It is high drama here at Daily Nous!
Judging from the traffic, people are finding this episode riveting. If Jen didn’t exist, apparently I ought to have invented them.
Actually, it’s amazing to me that no one has yet accused me of being Jen, since this episode grandiosely makes Daily Nous analogous to a Platonic dialogue. Such a comparison is rather flattering, and so I may have a motive to say what Jen has said. But I’m not Jen.
“How can I be sure I’m not Jen?” Hmmmm… Maybe it’s time I chilled out.Report
Your analysis seems fitting. And indeed, you certainly are not me. (But I’ve sometimes wondered whether it is you who accounts for the sole “like” that my comments tend to get.) Anyway, it also seems fitting that you allow me to offer my “apology.” A complete one would be too long, of course, so I’ll offer this instead:
“…I thought that he [i.e. someone whose name need not be mentioned, I’m sure] appeared wise to many people and especially to himself, but he was not. I then tried to show him that he thought himself wise, but that he was not. As a result he came to dislike me, and so did many of the bystanders…[Now] I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as the best possible state of your [mind]…Be sure that if you kill the sort of man I say I am, you will not harm me more than yourselves. Neither Meletus nor Anytus can harm me in any way; he could not harm me, for I do not think that it is permitted that a better man be harmed by a worse; certainly he might kill me, or perhaps banish or disenfranchise me, which he and maybe others think to be great harm, but I do not think so…I am far from making a defense now on my own behalf, as may be thought, but on yours, to prevent you from wrongdoing […] by condemning me; for if you kill me you will not easily find another like me…Another such man will not easily come to be among you, […] and if you believe me you will spare me.”Report
Your response here deserves far more than two likes, as does Justin’s lovely presentation of the analogy. They both make me wish Amelie Rorty were still with us. She would enjoy both this meta-dialogue and my coat-tailing of her.Report
Thanks for your reply. I often wonder whether there’s anyone (other than myself) who gets what I’m up to in my comments. For the comment of mine you mention, I think, I can now be confident that there are at least two who get it.Report
“You’d certainly be in a terrible way, my good friend, if upon coming to Athens, where there’s more freedom of speech than anywhere else in Greece, you alone should miss out on it here. But look at it the other way. If you spoke and length and were unwilling to answer what you’re asked, wouldn’t *I* be in a terrible way if I’m not to have the freedom to stop listening to you and leave?” (Gorgias 461e)Report
Socrates made many fine arguments that have echoed down through the ages. There were many once-overlooked problems that, once Socrates pointed them out, could not be forgotten. Whatever one thinks of this or that argument reported as originating from Socrates, he was not in the business of making cheap shots.
Socrates seemed to take time to listen carefully to what others said before he criticized them. I was very impressed by something he says in one of the dialogues (I forget which one): that if his interlocutor wishes at any point to go back and revise one of his answers, Socrates would like him to say so, so that they can find the truth together. Reading that drove home to me that not all dialogue that stems from disagreement needs to be a contest of wills. Great thinkers are genuinely interested in finding the truth, not in finding ways to show that they were right all along.
Socrates was also notoriously brave. He didn’t hide or dissemble, but made his points openly, even when it was clear that he would probably have to pay the ultimate personal price for doing so.
There are many reasons to admire Socrates. Many of think themselves like Socrates. But few among them have the rigor, courage, and intellectual integrity that we admire in Socrates. Without those three things, Socrates would not have been all that much at all.Report
Ah yes of course. And to think I grew up in Athens and learned these texts in the original from elementary school. My ‘Apology’ sir these day I wish I had the time to muse on these lovely points. But I smiled and nodded throughout your reply. Now we must listen to Jen quote directly from the dialogues themselves which is all good!
I still think you should require full name real identity for posting. Too many Jens would have zero courage to go adversarial if we all knew the actual person behind the snark.
ὅ τι μὲν ὑμεῖς, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι,……Report
The rate at which the number of “likes” is increasing has drastically reduced. It now seems highly likely that my commenting here will continue. I will therefore probably continue my efforts to help certain people improve themselves. My hope is that some of you will help me to improve myself if the opportunity arises. In doing so, of course, you might unwittingly become the subject of my scrutiny, and allow me to return the favor.Report
To the small minority of DN readers who have, through “likes,” made known what they think of my activities here: perhaps it’s best to think of my activities as those of one who is attached to Daily Nous “as upon a great and noble horse which was somewhat sluggish because of its size and needed to be stirred up by a sort of gadfly.” And if you find me engaging you in my characteristic way, think of it as my engaging you “like a father or an elder brother to persuade you to care for virtue.” You might in this way come to recognize each of my engagements for what it is: an act of goodwill.Report
I was vote 280!Report
“What has happened to me now has not happened of itself, but it is clear to me that it was better for me to die now and to escape from trouble…So I am certainly not angry with those who convicted me, or with my accusers. Of course, that was not their purpose when they accused and convicted me, but they thought they were hurting me, and for this they deserve blame. This much I ask from them: when my sons grow up, avenge yourselves by causing them the same kind of grief that I caused you, if you think they care for money or anything else more than they care for virtue, or if they think they are somebody when they are nobody. Reproach them as I reproach you, that they do not care for the right things and think they are worthy when they are not worthy of anything. If you do this, I shall have been justly treated by you, and my sons also…Now the hour to part has come. I go to die, you go to live.”
No sock-puppeting, “Kaila”!Report
You do realize that “Socrates” was Plato’s sock puppet.Report
I hope you returnReport
Farewell, but don’t forget your supposed last words:
“Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius. Pay it and do not neglect it.”
“That,” said Crito, “shall be done; but see if you have anything else to say.”
Of course! There are a few things:
1. My decision was made prior to the 280 “likes.” And I goaded people to “like,” just as Socrates goaded people to vote for condemnation. (167 “likes” occurred in the three days before my two back-to-back comments about my continuing to engage people here. In the 40 minutes after posting those two comments on Sunday, the remaining 113 “likes” occurred. The likelihood of a coincidence seems quite low.) My decision was made because my comments were being deleted too often for my liking.
2. My decisions are guided by judgments I deem worthy, not by the judgments of people who disapprove of my being adversarial to the likes of JK. My decisions regarding whether to comment here are not exceptions.
3. I hope, in my absence, many more who are prepared to question, provoke, and annoy the apparently foolish or misguided arise. And I hope their comments will be deleted less often than mine. If none arise, perhaps that will provoke my return.
4. Perhaps something else will provoke me…Report
“I must simply fight with shadows in my own defense, and examine when there is no one who answers.”
You are like a Mid-Western goodbye, just leave and quit lingering if that’s what your gonna do!Report
What silly melodrama.
You are not going to ‘die’. You are not in any ‘trouble’ that you need to ‘escape from’. Your health will stay exactly the same. You will not be imprisoned or deprived of anything, even the ability to comment on this blog. You face no reputational costs whatsoever, since you have not revealed your identity. You are simply going to stop contributing to a blog. And why? Because *you* decided to perform a stunt and see whether at least 280 people who checked in here over a period of a couple of days at the end of semester would indicate that they’d rather not have your comments. And *you* were the one who set it all up and decided that you would not contribute any longer if that many people ‘liked’ your comment by the time you had specified.
In fact, you don’t even need to stop contributing to the conversations. Justin W. never said that he would enforce this ban against you: it’s entirely self-imposed. Moreover, you could keep contributing under a different identity — I somewhat suspect that you will — without even losing face. You have never put anything at all at stake by commenting here behind your mask, and you have lost nothing now.
Whoever you are, the fact that you are trying to pass off this bit of self-indulgent theater as in any way akin to Socrates’ decision to die for the cause of philosophy leaves us with a wonderful reminder of the distance between what you have been and what you take yourself to have been. There are some whose devotion to careful thinking makes them argue for unpopular views, which annoys others. But there are many ways to be annoying without being devoted to careful thinking.
If you want to go, go. If you want to stay, stay. But this business of thinking you’re great just because you’ve put on a Socrates costume and have gone around annoying people is, well, annoying. But it’s the annoyance of a gadfly that does nothing to wake up any lazy horses.Report
<pop corn gif>Report
Yes, but one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.Report
Would a very polite reply paper be an option if one wanted to respond directly?
I am not an expert – this is a question as much as a suggestion.Report
In the academic business of knowledge-generation, yes, it is important to show receipts to verify a chain of custody for ideas. But I don’t know how plausible it is to ask researchers to spend even more time on cleaning up their receipt drawers, which isn’t even the main event of a paper.
Some fields, like technology ethics, simply move too quickly for any human to keep up with, esp. since breaking analyses are found in the news and other public articles; journals can’t move that fast.
It also doesn’t seem reasonable to ask peer reviewers to follow each citation rabbit-hole all the way down, checking for omissions, bullciting, etc. Besides the significant workload, again journals already move too slowly, and this would make it worse.
So, a post hoc process might be the best intervention, which is plausible in the age of digital publications. For instance, perhaps each paper can have a Citations Discussion online page associated with it, which is crowdsourced by those inclined. If there are enough egregious mistakes, then an errata notice could be added to the paper itself, or the author could be given a chance to revise, or the paper could be withdrawn entirely. But this will also take new infrastructure and processes, incl. to adjudicate disputes…
At the end of the day, no one gets all the credit they deserve, whether in academic citations or other parts in life. I’ve had my ideas stolen/uncredited plenty of times; that’s just how it goes, and the cause is not always malice (see Hanlon’s razor). I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t directly contact authors, editors, etc. if there’s serious academic misconduct, but pick your battles wisely. Going through life with small grudges eating away at you is no way to live.Report
Man, how do I cite do a blog post? Can I do Lin (2021) on this one? Good stuff.Report
I prefer the [Author Date] style, but as you like.Report
Context matters, obviously.
People cut corners in ways that are sketchy. E.g., someone who works in the same field praised a paper I’d written. A year or so later they published a paper taking a similar approach on the same issue –but didn’t cite me.
Someone received my paper distributed for a talk I gave then published a paper that contained the argument I made in the talk.
Omissions like this can be inadvertent and perhaps there are situations where it’s impossible to take care as you mention but flagging citation in the profession can have some benefits–e.g., it ensures there are no downsides to sharing work freely, it promotes conversation amongst a wider group of scholars, etc.
It’s a bizarre leap between grad school where we agonize over the thought our work might be cribbing/ unoriginal to the professorate where there seem to be almost no standards.
Sometimes you gotta wonder whether care of this kind is for the little people–whether fewer citations are supposed to indicate status. It’s just weird to me, honestly. And a bit demoralizing.Report
My favorite is famousciting, where an author cites coauthored work (e.g., Lewis, Quine, and Hume, 2009) but discusses the work as belonging to the most famous author (e.g., “Hume and colleagues argue X (Lewis, Quine, and Hume, 2009″) rather than the first author (e.g., “Lewis and colleagues argue X (Lewis, Quine, and Hume, 2009”)—as dictated by style guides.Report
Style guides certainly say that in the format [X et al., YYYY], the name “X” should be the first author. But do they say how works should be discussed in more free flowing text? In many of the sciences, the standard author order convention is that the person whose lab the work is done in (and thus usually both raised the funds for the work, and came up with the research project and methodology that this work is a part of) is the last author, the first author is the graduate student who did most of the physical work of the experiment, and the names in between are other people who worked in the lab, ending with other co-PIs whose lab may have hosted some of the work. Depending on the details, it may be most accurate to attribute the relevant ideas and methodologies to the last author, or to the first author, and I wouldn’t expect there to be a convention that says that regardless of these details, one should attribute them to the first author.Report
Excellent! I think with this list quite a lot of academic philosophical writing will have to count as malpractice.Report
Some of these are closer to intellectual failures than ethical failures. The first four especially seem like they would stem from ignorance of the literature or misunderstanding of the substance of others’ views than anything I would be comfortable calling “malpractice.” Perhaps taken to an extreme, ignorance of the literature and misunderstanding of others’ views is an ethical failure. But isn’t some amount of that just a normal part of intellectual discourse about issues on which we don’t have much of a commonly accepted framework for addressing (as almost all philosophical issues are)? It seems to me that on the view put forth in the original post, if I write a reply piece stating that an objector misunderstood my view or a historical article alleging the relevance of some neglected figure for a contemporary debate, I am making an accusation of malpractice. This seems wrong to me.Report
I have to say that in the context of the mass adjunctification of our discipline and the general loss of autonomy and wellbeing brought on by the hostile takeover of the university by bureaucrats, a lot of this looks like rats fighting over the last scraps of cheese on the sinking Titanic. Yes, it hurts to be excluded or pirated. Why? Well, the lack of recognition sucks a bit, but surely most of us can get over that as such… so, some other people don’t know how smart you are? Well unless this is connected to larger forms of recognition-based oppression (racial, gendered, etc) then it’s not obviously a big deal as such.
But why does it *really* hurt in a way that demands urgent ethical attention? Because our ability to secure vital resources (pay, stability, benefits etc) is unfairly affected: the hotshot kid at Princeton steals your ideas while you languish in a temporary 4/4 lectureship. But these resources are so profoundly scarce mainly because the admins have been turning their screws for 40 years with no mass organized pushback. People are doing more research to get fewer jobs while having to do more teaching and service for less money than ever before, all while tuition has been skyrocketing. And the pandemic has only provided more fake pretexts for this naked profiteering. Is it really best for us to start blaming one another for *citation* failures, in this context?Report
I take this list to be a general guideline and not necessarily to blame others. They’re things to keep in mind the next time we write something. Anything that can help me improve my own scholarship, I’m all for it. I wanna grow and be better.
I don’t think people should feel guilty over these mistakes. We all make them. Will everyone see the value in this list? Of course not. But for those who do care about self-cultivation and improvement, it’s good to have and know.Report
Lacknowledging could also be seen as omniagnostic agonism – I don’t know anything to add (but merely mentioning names suggests I do.)Report
One problem is having no time to constantly catch up with the most recent literature, and thus not citing recent but highly relevant papers (especially those from a lesser-known name).
A partial solution can be found on this website, the Philosophy Paperboy:
where the titles of recent publications are regularly updated.Report
Obfusciting, that is citing someone without engaging with their similarities and differences doesn’t seem to be always wrong. With very stringent word limits for journals, trying to discuss the similarities and differences with yours or others ideas quickly leads to a place where no important work gets done.
Perhaps it might be necessary if the idea in question is the central claim of your paper. However, if it’s not, then not every person you cite needs to have their similarities and differences dissected.Report
There’s also “cut-out citation”: B outlines A’s views on X. C reads B’s account of A’s view (but not A) and then paraphrases it, citing A but not B. Here, C essentially plagiarizes B’s work. This also runs the risk that B has misunderstood A and C’s laziness propagates this misunderstandingReport
tl; dr: What looks like coat-tailing might actually be (in part) an effect of a deeper problem that underlies it. Namely, that the conferences and convos that lead to publication are frequently attended by the same small number of people, who simply talk to more researchers than the majority of academics are able to.
When I was a student I used to assume acknowledgement sections contained a lot of “coat-tailing”, to use these wonderful new terms. This is because I recognised a huge percentage of the names in every acknowledgements section.
But I now think I overestimated the coat-tailing, because it is partly/largely caused by another phenomena: Namely, philosophy’s hierarchical pyramid structure. The same relatively small number of people go to many of the conferences, have research groups together, email each other for clarification, have the research time to keep up with literature, etc.
Here is some evidence: I meticulously keep acknowledgements records from the get-go. It is the first section of notes that I start whenever I have a new germ of a paper idea, and I update it throughout the process. And yet I still see this skewed distribution towards well-known names in my own acknowledgements sections.
But skewed relative to what? And that is an important question here.
It is skewed relative to people who are teachers & students at universities. But not skewed relative to conferences participants, talk audiences, research group attendees, etc.
One partial cause of the distribution is that any particular individual, S, is so extremely more likely to be in a position to talk to the paper writer if S is already well-known. This itself is an unfairness.
Indeed in a certain sense it is a bigger unfairness, because it means only some people have the luxury of research time to attend conferences, etc. Most people are teaching a lot and barely ever attending the philosophy events that mean they are chatting about work with authors before it is published (especially essays that are published in venues that lots of people read).
That is, the thanking distributions are (in part) caused by a bigger unfairness: Who gets to be research active at all. The same small number of people.
This reminds me of some debates about moral encroachment: It is indeed a terrible unfairness that people are mistaken for (say) staff based on race. But this mistake is typically rooted (in large part) in another deeper unfairness: The racial stratification of wealth and job opportunity.
If one only focuses on the first problem without seeing a deeper problem that underlies it, it risks endorsing the status quo. Namely, in this case, that conferences and convos that lead to publication are frequently attended by the same 600 people, who simply talk to more people than the majority of academics.
Some people might think this *isn’t* unfair, because those small number of people have earned this privilege, and most others in philosophy do not deserve the privilege. Needless to say, this is not my view.
That said, I am sure there are lots of other biases in play. One might speak to two people Big Name and 4/4 Lecturer. And the writer interprets the first as “contributing”, and so thanks them. And interprets the second as “learning about the paper” and so doesn’t. Or one simply fails to remember the name of the lecturer, etc etc etc etc. Lots of biases like that. I am not denying coat-tailing happens. I am just saying apparent coat-tailing points to an underlying resource-based injustice. Report
Another very common one could be called quite literally Suppressing. It could be a species of Omitting but you describe Omitting as an author’s failure to cite sources with the result that the author gets undue credit for someone else’s idea. In Suppressing papers that might be the basis for a challenge of the author’s idea go uncited.Report
This is one that I worry a lot about because politics do drive many people’s ideas and they may intentionally exclude criticisms of their ideas or some other ideas.
I learned to cite a criticism of an idea because one author mentioned it in their footnote once long ago. It was the first time I witnessed such transparency and honesty. From that point on, my trust in that author and my vigilance of possible suppression increased.
I noticed that the SEP also improved over the years to be more critical and not just expository.Report
For those who are interested, I recently published a paper that talks about something related to the ethics of credit (especially omitting and obfusciting) but focuses on the contexts of translinguistic dialogue and comparative political philosophy. In particular, I connect the problematic practice that I examined in the paper to what I call “the dynamic of spectacularized postcoloniality”: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/politics-and-religion/article/from-the-specter-of-polygamy-to-the-spectacle-of-postcoloniality-a-response-to-bai-on-confucianism-liberalism-and-the-samesex-marriage-debate/22A9F5DFB7E285BECC0B09FAE889EC6BReport
Independenting. A footnote that reads something like “my idea is also expressed in [earlier] publication by this other author, but I arrived at it independently.” This may not be unethical but it is at least in poor taste. How would YOU like it if some latecomer tried to take partial credit for YOUR idea?Report
What if you wrote your paper before theirs was published? I’m curious. I assume you have to cite them without comment–or what if they *actually read* your paper before theirs was published? It seems odd to cite someone as if the idea in the paper is the origin of yours when it wasn’t.Report
It sounds like you would not count as a “latecomer,” and so the category would not apply. In fact, if they got the idea from you, then you should get full credit.Report
I don’t understand comments like “my idea is also expressed in [earlier] publication by this other author, but I arrived at it independently” as taking credit for someone else’s idea. I understand them as taking credit for an idea which belongs to everybody, as all ideas do, and which was arrived at independently by at least two people (and dependently by whoever reads those articles).
Even if I did understand this as someone trying to take partial credit for “my” idea, I would not mind, and in fact I would be pleased, for three reasons.
1) Credit is not a zero sum game. Their taking partial credit expands the amount of credit there is, rather than taking away from my share of credit.
2) When people independently arrive at my ideas this makes me more convinced they are good ideas. After all, someone else thought them up too! And what I care about is having good ideas, not having them myself. I don’t care who comes up with the good ideas, and the reason I publish philosophy is not so I am on record as having good ideas, but because I want the good ideas to be out there, and nobody else seems quite to be putting them out there in the form I think it would be helpful for them to be out there in.
3) They’re citing me, after all, and anyone citing me is helping me out.Report
I didn’t say that it would be “taking credit for someone else’s idea.” If that were so, it would go beyond “poor taste” to something clearly unethical. Rather, it is a case where, instead of giving full credit to the originator, you hitch yourself up to the credit-dispenser for coming up with the same idea *later*.
Since you did create it independently, the self-credit is not unethical. But it just seems a bit too scavenger-ish for my taste. It seems classier just to concede full credit to the person who scooped you fair and square.
In response to 1: I think there IS something like “diminished credit” when you hitch yourself onto the creation of someone else’s idea. Instead of “the Duhem thesis,” the idea now becomes “the Quine-Duhem thesis.” Instead of getting top billing, you are now sharing the marquee with someone else. (No disrespect to Quine…HE didn’t label it the Quine-Duhem thesis; but if he had, that would seem in poor taste, even if he did hit upon the idea independently.)
In response to 2: Independent discovery does not seem so confirmatory as much as agreement on the thesis (which does not require independent discovery). And the claim about “I don’t care” seems a bit hard to believe. Granted, we care about ideas more than credit, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about credit *at all.*
In response to 3: Sure, “bad press” is still good press, but good press (properly speaking) remains better than bad press.Report
Re 1: Some things are diminished when shared. If I share a pie with someone else, I get less of the pie. Other things are not diminished when shared. If I share the experience of watching a sunset with others, I do not get less joy at watching the sunset. (I may even get more.) I think credit for coming up with original philosophical ideas is in the second category, at least in most cases. I do not think Duhem gets less credit for the Duhem-Quine thesis merely because Quine’s name is in there too. Duhem gets as much credit as he would’ve gotten if it were just the Duhem thesis. (In fact he probably gets more, since more people learn about it because of Quine’s involvement than would learn about it if Quine had never said the same sort of thing.)
Re 2: Sometimes people agree on a thesis for bad reasons. If my reasons are bad, and I convince people with them nonetheless, I’ve tricked them (inadvertently, I hope!). I always worry about this. If someone independently arrives at the thesis, without my having convinced them, we rule out the possibility that I’ve misled anyone with my bad but seemingly good reasons. Independent discovery/confirmation is often taken to be some evidence that you’re not going astray in areas of life other than philosophy. I don’t see why the situation is any different in philosophy. (This is not to discount agreement – I think that’s very important too! And since it’s much more common, often it’s all we have to work with, and that’s fine.) You’re welcome to disbelieve me about what I care about, and of course introspection often misleads us about what we want, but I feel rather confident about this. I do care about credit in the sense that I want the record to be clear, and so if I did think of something the record should reflect this. But the footnote you describe does not misrepresent the state of things: it does not claim that I have not thought of something. It just claims that the author also thought of the same thing. So I wouldn’t mind if someone wrote that footnote about me (and I hope people do not mind when I write that footnote about them – I’ve written one of these before, when one of my papers was accepted and before it was published, a preprint was posted of someone else making a similar argument).Report
One thing that would help with some of these issues is for journals to stop including references in the total word count of the submission. I have had to cull my reference list for this reason and you can guess which philosophers are the first to go when you have to make a choice that is likely to please the referees. If we want to cite more like scientists then we need to change journal rules. This shouldn’t be hard to do with online publishing (in-print references could be highly abbreviated, and the online version in a more lengthy citation style).Report
This idea that words are cost free in online journals keeps cropping up, and it’s absurd. Ink and paper are really cheap, and getting rid of them does little to the cost structure. What is costly is checking for mistakes, and getting the details right.
If you’re actually editing a journal – not just printing whatever you get sent in – checking the citations and making sure they are in a uniform style is one of the most expensive parts of the whole project. I would rather that words in the citations counted for three words each; that would reflect the extra costs of fact-checking and typesetting these parts of the paper.Report
Regardless of how much words do or don’t cost publishers of online articles, they are absolutely costly to readers. However, words in the bibliography are often the least costly to readers, even if they are most costly to publishers.Report
I’d guess that in at least 3/4 of the papers I’ve refereed in the last year that have in-text citations with a bibliography at the end (so, citations like “Easwaran (2019)”, and then when I have to look to the bibliography to find what that is) there is at least one, often more, cases where there is a cite in the paper that is not in the bibliography. Sometimes there are things listed in the bibliography but not actually cited in the paper, too, though I check these slightly less rigorously. Of course I mention these in my reviews. Or, the bibliography has an obviously wrong reference (i.e., one that I know is wrong from sight, or so strongly suspect is wrong that I look it up.) I consider looking at these things as part of my job as a referee. It’s not the most important part, and I don’t spend as much time on it as with evaluating the argument, but not no time, either. When I’m a reader, I also consider this stuff. This makes me think that it’s pretty reasonable to consider the citations as part of the word count – I do read them, after all.Report
This is exactly why handling bibliography manually is not only a waste of time, but also quite possibly misleading.Report
I’ll probably get stoned for this, but I feel like I should write it anyway:
Citations are not for giving credit. Citations are for providing the reader with crucial bibliographic information. That is how I use them, because that is what I expect from them.
So, for instance, take “snorkeling”. If a paper traces the origin of an idea, then citing the originator is probably best. In other situations, however, citing a more recent work where the idea is well explained and contextualized is perhaps better. The usual reply here is “one can do both”. Sure, but at a significant cost to readers, who now have to navigate through a sea of citations which are not actually designed to help them but to fulfill some misguided parallel agenda.
The whole business of citation metrics and using citations to keep track of the “good job” pats on the back we give ourselves and each other is making academic papers less and less readable by the day. The problem is that this dual purpose citations are somehow now pressured to fulfill (keeping track of credit on one hand, and arming the reader with useful bibliographic cues on the other) are often at odds with each other.
I hate to be the one to say that the emperor has no clothes, but the implication that anyone who doesn’t acquiesce to this use of citations as “credit points” are somehow guilty of “scientific misconduct” is absurd.
Now, with regards to acknowledgements, they are mostly useless anyway, so I have no objections to them being repurposed.Report
Kudos to Hermogenes for recognizing that readers (remember them?) have interests that aren’t always served when papers are clogged up with citations, e.g. author-date ones in the main text. Not saying readers’ interests are the only ones that count, but they shouldn’t be forgotten. I’m now reading a philosophy book from 1930 with almost no footnotes or citations – what a treat to read!Report
I do think that readers’s interests should count a *lot* more than the interests of the people being cited! Publication is for the public. The fact that authors get something out of it is a nice way to encourage them to do the thing for the public, but it does seem to me that the interests of everyone else involved (author, cited authors, publisher, referee, etc.) should be considered primarily to the extent that helping those people’s interests encourages them to further serve the interests of the public readership.Report
Hermógenes, I think you’re headed in the right direction. To talk about the ethics of citations, we need to go back to first principles: what are citations for?
Without that benchmark, it’ll be hard to say whether a citation or practice is doing the job it’s supposed to; and this seems critical in determining whether a citation is unethical. (It could also be that a citation is doing what it’s supposed to and not unethical per se, yet the larger system is broken or unethical.)
Citations could do a lot of work, incl. the short list below, but is there necessary work that all citations must do, under the pain of being intellectually negligent or unethical? Or is there sufficient work that a citation could do to avoid being unethical?
Citations could be for:
It could also be that a citation must avoid certain things, despite otherwise doing its job, e.g., dual-purpose citations; so, necessary and sufficient conditions don’t matter.
But this would still require a theory of what citations are supposed to do and not do, in order to explain why those certain things should be avoided, esp. if a citation is otherwise serving a legitimate purpose…Report
Another important purpose: provide evidence for certain claims.Report
Yep, that’s in there.Report
There is tension between giving credit and offering good bibliography as some have noted. This issue is also related to ‘citational justice’. Liam Bright wrote a recent blog post about it here:
The question that arises by the issue of giving credit is: Is citations in an article the only or best way to give credit or raise awareness of works from underrepresented groups?
Given the limitations of articles in general, I hope it’s not. Bright did mention reading recommendations as an alternative to citations in articles. Recommendation is a form of teaching method albeit indirect form via suggestions. For more info on teaching methods see
My sociology professor once provided a list of recent research books in his syllabus. He wanted us explore new research and so we had to pick one book from the list, read it, and write up a book review for the class. I chose the one that sounded the most interesting and new to me. That was the first time a teacher ever did that for me. He directed us towards new knowledge to get us in the habit of researching ourselves and hence enhancing our autonomy.
Reading lists have gotten out of favor these days huh. If we are to improve citations of women and other minorities, having more of them is useful to that end.Report
I guess I have an issue related to Omission. Suppose I come up with an idea for a paper, and write a rough draft (to flesh the idea out), then check the literature to see what others have said, and incorporate that into my paper where relevant. At what point have I done my due diligence as regards identifying and incorporating relevant work?Report
It would be great if scholars cited explicitly in a reference the name and editors of the journal special issue a paper appears in. Just as an edited book, that special issue took a long time to prepare and it deserves recognition.Report
As I learnt from a famous Harvard professor, to avoid most of the problems discussed here you simply write “experience has shown” and there is no need for any citations. Well okay that works in science and engineering, may not go down so well in philosophy.Report
I beg to differ. That does not work in science or engineering…Report
Who is this? That is, who is this Harvard professor?Report
I came onto this from the Retraction Watch Weekly Reads.Good stuff and hardly unique to philosophy. I see it in the environmental science literature all the time. The irony, I’ll use these names of citation malpractices, but how to give credit for an impermanent blogReport
Ah, no need for irony, here! Style books have had guidelines on this since I was in high school – so you can pick your favorite.Report
We at the National Pediculosis Association coined the term “Nitwashing” (akin to “greenwashing”) which refers to the use of deceptive lice product marketing language — a ploy used to promote the idea of a product’s superiority over the cost-effective method of combing out lice and their eggs (nits). “Nitwashing” emphasizes a chemical’s ability to repel or kill lice and nits with unsubstantiated claims that basic nit removal is too difficult for parents and/or the effectiveness of the particular chemical product renders nit removal unimportant and unnecessary. https://www.headlice.org/comb/what-are-head-lice-and-nits/the-deceptive-dozen/Report
Thanks-a-millioning is a tricky one because in general I don’t know the names of all the people who attend my presentation at a conference, or even the names of those who asked helpful questions or gave constructive feedback. (Relatedly – I find it on the spectrum between worrisome and aggravating when a presenter only calls on the people they know/recognize during Q&A). Ideally I would be able to note the name of each questioner and jot down their question/contribution – and actually Zoom conferences have in part been really helpful toward doing this because people’s names are usually indicated on their Zoom profile – but in practice this just can’t happen. I really have been helped in making a paper better by a group that allowed me the opportunity to present it and get feedback, but don’t think that means any instance of presenting a paper rises to the level of needing (or even supporting) an acknowledgement and especially if it is only to show off an impressive presentation. Certainly acknolwedgements should only appear after a paper has been accepted, and I am shocked that this is not the norm based on comments from others.Report
Very late to this party – there are a few papers where I’m sort of anonymously referred to when an author has cited something like “participants in X-event” thanking the group for suggesting, e.g., a thought experiment, a response to an objection, etc., where the suggestion was in fact mine. I presume the folks who have done this didn’t know my name, so they thanked the group instead. The first time this happened early in graduate school I was thrilled to know I influenced the direction of an argument – but tonight, as I’m reading the nth paper that cites a thought experiment I came up with, but the paper where it first appeared in print attributes it to a group, it’s a little less thrilling.Report