Plagiarized Articles at the Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy? (updated)


Mark Thakkar (St. Andrews) says he has discovered plagiarism in around 40 articles in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

In a thread posted on Twitter last night, Dr. Thakkar wrote:

There are ≥40 plagiarized articles in the Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy (@iephilosophy). I know this thanks to a chance discovery by @InnocentOP, who spotted that the Augustine entry was lifted from the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1908–12).

Ditto English Deism, French Deism, Denis Diderot, Emanation, Encyclopedists, Immanuel Hermann Fichte, William Hamilton, Karl Robert Eduard Von Hartmann, Claude Adrien Helvetius, Renaissance Humanism, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Peter Lombard, William Paley, William Warburton.

A 16th entry lifted from the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1908–12) was replaced by a genuinely original article in 2017, but the plagiarized version is still available on the IEP website: iep.utm.edu/aquinas-iep/.

10 entries can be traced to Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1896), occasionally with supplementary material from another source: Damon, Democritus, Demonax, Diogenes Laertius, Hippias, Menippus, Roman Philosophy, Symposium, Theophrastus, Timon.

4 entries are plagiarized from Sorley’s A History of British Philosophy to 1900 (1920): Edward Herbert of Cherbury, Thomas Henry Huxley, Shadworth Hodgson, Leslie Stephen. The last of these also takes material from the Dictionary of National Biography (1912).

The other 10 are from sources including Baldwin’s Dictionary of Philosophy & Psychology (1902) and Burnet’s Greek Philosophy: Thales to Plato (1914): Euclides, Leucippus, Peripatetics, Prodicus, Pyrrho, Pythagoras, Stilpo, James Hutchison Stirling, Synderesis, Voluntarism.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy claims to be peer-reviewed, but some of its articles have had only cosmetic changes since the 18th century (one repeat source being William Enfield’s History of Philosophy, a 1791 translation of Brucker’s 1767 Historia Critica).

I was able to identify these plagiarized entries because they were all labelled with “The author of this article is anonymous. The IEP is actively seeking an author who will write a replacement article.” I very much hope this means the above list is exhaustive.

No doubt Prof. James Fieser, the founder of the IEP (@iephilosophy), will be able to identify the plagiarist(s) responsible. I’m also tagging Michael Dougherty (@MVDougherty123), who deserves to be better known as a tireless opponent of plagiarism in academic philosophy.

I have an inquiry out to the editors of the IEP asking about this, and I’ll update this post when they respond. In the meanwhile, have you come across other articles in the IEP that appear to be plagiarized? Let us know.

(via Catarina Dutilh Novaes)

UPDATE (2/10/22):  James Fieser (University of Tennessee at Martin), founder and editor of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, sent the following response:

I welcome this opportunity to answer questions about the IEP’s “proto articles”. Our resource came online in 1995, and, for much of that time, the IEP “About” page contained the following statement:

“Most of the articles in The IEP are original contributions by specialized philosophers; these are identifiable by the author’s name at the foot of the article. Others are temporary, or “proto articles,” and have largely been adapted from older sources. They are identifiable by the inclusion of the initials “IEP” at the close and will in time be replaced by original articles.” (web.archive.org/web/20120502084107/http://www.iep.utm.edu:80/home/about/)

All these older sources were printed reference works in the public domain. In 2012, during the regular course of updating our site, this statement was removed. However, the current IEP “Submissions” page still includes the following reference to the proto articles:

“Authors may also offer to replace any IEP proto-articles, which are identifiable by the inclusion of the initials “IEP” rather than a person’s name at the foot of the article.” (iep.utm.edu/submit)

While these proto articles have ably served the philosophical community over the years, we are using this occasion to bid farewell to the remaining ones.

 

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Mark Thakkar
3 months ago

An anonymous Twitter user has spotted that the IEP’s About page used to carry the following disclaimer, which was apparently removed about 10 years ago:

“Most of the articles in The IEP are original contributions by specialized philosophers; these are identifiable by the author’s name at the foot of the article. Others are temporary, or “proto articles,” and have largely been adapted from older sources. They are identifiable by the inclusion of the initials “IEP” at the close and will in time be replaced by original articles.”

This certainly helps to explain matters, although as someone pointed out in 1897 in a review of one of the plagiarized sources, itself no stranger to wholesale borrowing: “it remains a fact that very few people who consult a work of reference stop to read the preface to it. And as quotation marks are not used […] there is no finger-post of any kind in the body of the work to distinguish one class of material from another, or to prevent the reader from getting a wholly wrong idea of the character of the book. Most students will be misled in this respect in spite of the candid avowal of the preface.”Report

Last edited 3 months ago by Mark Thakkar
S C
S C
3 months ago

My mind boggles at how many essays I’ve graded over the years that might have been super-plagiarized–plagiarized from a site that plagiarized the material that was plagiarized.Report

Kenny Easwaran
3 months ago

This seems to me like the sort of practice that should be completely fine, as long as there is a note at the top of the article saying something like, “this is a reprint of the out-of-copyright entry on this topic from source X – we hope to some day commission an original entry on this topic, but until then this is better than nothing”. These are all out of copyright sources, so there’s no legal problem. And no one is getting unwarranted credit for work here, since no one is credited with this work. Sure, it would be better to have an original article, but I don’t really see a problem with this sort of thing in a reference work, as long as people know that they’re getting an old and therefore probably out-of-date article.Report

Mark Thakkar
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
3 months ago

I completely agree, Kenny. I should add, though, that these IEP entries did have an “author” of sorts whose cack-handed rephrasing sometimes introduced mistakes that were not there in the source material (a phenomenon that will no doubt be familiar to anyone who has had to deal with cases of plagiarism). Now that out-of-copyright literature is generally available online, I think it would be more useful to give a placeholder link to it than to provide an incompetently edited version.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Mark Thakkar
3 months ago

Yeah, if there’s well-formatted, easily-viewable versions online, just link to those. But I’ve found that, eg, on Project Gutenberg, many out-of-copyright things are either in plain .txt files, or in image scans. In those cases, just retyping them and putting them in the same sort of html or pdf format as the other articles on the site would be a worthwhile service, but attempting to do much more, as it sounds like they did here, could easily go wrong.Report

Sheri
Sheri
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
3 months ago

It’s not true that no one is getting (or gained) unwarranted credit for the entries. The IEP itself — and thus those behind it — gained credit for the entries, which gave the impression that those behind the IEP had managed to create a more comprehensive reference work than they actually did manage to create. I agree that, with clear notice of what is going on, the practice in question may be acceptable and reasonable (especially as a new reference work is getting things going), provided it does have people with competent expertise (in case they actually exist) previewing and assessing the entries before they are accepted to do quality control and to evaluate whether the material being lifted for an entry is adequately trustworthy to warrant being set forth as reputable, as inclusion within a reference work that presents itself as peer-reviewed leads its readers to expect.Report

P.D.
3 months ago

I don’t think it’s fair to say that these are plagiarized. There wasn’t an attribution. Nobody at the IEP said that they wrote these. Instead, they were just offered as a free thing that would maybe be useful.
For years, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy had placeholders for articles that hadn’t been written yet; entries in without any content. The IEP went a different route, putting together somewhat half-assed articles for everything and replacing them with better articles as they were written. Turns out some of those early placeholders were cobbled together from sources in the public domain.Report

Mark Thakkar
Reply to  P.D.
3 months ago

It’s great that the IEP have now removed the articles in question, but I feel I should respond to P.D.’s point, seeing as the accusation of plagiarism was mine. At the bottom of each article was the claim that “The author of this article is anonymous.” On the IEP’s About page was the claim that “The authors are specialists in the areas in which they write, and are frequently leading authorities.” So the IEP was attributing the material to a contemporary academic, albeit one that they declined to name – as with the entry on Deleuze, which for some reason is billed as anonymous in precisely the same way, though it was actually written by Jon Roffe no earlier than 2001 – and it is surely wrong to knowingly attribute borrowed material to the borrower without mentioning the original source. You might well argue that it is inaccurate to call this plagiarism in the absence of an openly identified author (I would disagree, but I’m not too bothered about it) but I think you’d have a harder time arguing that it’s unfair.Report

P.D.
Reply to  Mark Thakkar
3 months ago

I don’t want to split hairs here, but I would say it is unfair to call it plagiarized— precisely because it is inaccurate.
I’m not sure I even object to some articles being mashed together from public domain sources. Concluding that the articles are up-to-date would require both looking at a claim from another page (the About page) and an inference from “peer reviewed” to “up-to-date” (which is a shaky inference), so I don’t think readers are as likely to be mislead as you think they are. But I agree that this is not OK.
“Something not OK” would have been a much less salacious headline than “Plagiarized Articles”— and the different implicature is precisely why I think it’s unfair to call this plagiarism.Report

Mark Thakkar
Reply to  P.D.
3 months ago

Just a factual clarification: most of the articles weren’t “mashed together” from multiple sources (the exceptions being five articles which had two sources). They were generally copied from one source. The article on Augustine, for instance, was produced by scanning an old encyclopedia. This is clear because it had OCR errors like ‘lie’ for ‘he’, and more glaringly because the scanner missed the last page of the original, so that the IEP article ended mid-sentence (for the first 5-odd years of its life) with the comma at the bottom of the page here.Report

Last edited 3 months ago by Mark Thakkar
Graham
Graham
Reply to  P.D.
3 months ago

Patchwriting is a form if academic dishonesty at almost all US universities. https://www.beyondplagiarism.sweetland.lsa.umich.edu/for-students/using-sources/patchwriting-as-a-technique/Report

Mark Thakkar
Reply to  P.D.
3 months ago

Finally (because I forgot to say this earlier and missed the editing window): it’s worth stressing that the IEP claims on its banner, and repeatedly on its About page, to be “peer-reviewed”. So even though the articles in question were billed as anonymous, the effect on readers will have been the same as in a paradigm case of plagiarism: they will have been duped into wrongly assuming that the articles reflected up-to-date scholarship. Whatever you want to call this, it’s surely not OK.Report

Hunter
3 months ago

I would imagine there are some issues out there that we could better devote our collective intelligence to rather than putting the IEP through the wringer, but here we are.Report

John Devereaux
Reply to  Hunter
3 months ago

I agree. Also, crying “plagiarism!” in this case inadvertently muddies the water in such a way as to lessen the (rightful) charge of plagiarism in the genuinely problematic/egregious cases we hear about every now and then. I’m not saying no attention should be drawn to the somewhat odd (but harmless) practice at IEP for their initial placeholder articles – but framing the critical discussion of that practice in terms of of ‘gotcha’-style plagiarism is not the best approach.Report

Cat
Cat
3 months ago

This search turns up 58 articles for which the author is “anonymous”.Report

M. V. Dougherty
3 months ago

At the end of the entry for Augustine on the IEP is the sentence “The author of this article is anonymous.” (The listing on PhilPapers for the IEP article follows suit and says “author unknown.”) But the author of the IEP entry is neither anonymous or unknown: the author is German theologian Friedrich Loofs (1858-1928). Loof’s name has just been effaced from the article in IEP. Effacing the names of known genuine authors from their contributions seems entirely unnecessary, especially since philosophers tend to value the history of philosophy. Report

Prof L
3 months ago

Maybe we could change the title to ‘outdated articles at IEP sourced from material in public domain’ … but that’s less sensational. It all could have been avoided perhaps if someone had reached out to IEP originally, since this seems to be an issue of website clean-up.

1995 was a really long time ago, the early days of the internet, and it’s worth mentioning that the internet was not at all the hub of professional activity that it is now. No one would have considered something typed up on the internet as a publication, and most of the internet was anonymous. It was an extremely different context. Here someone’s dug up a remnant of that context and had a freak out.

By today’s standards, the ‘citation practices’ on display here are extremely sub-par. It’s a good idea to remove those articles, which they’ve now done.Report

Mohan Matthen
3 months ago

This is a useful post, but I think the word ‘plagiarized’ should be removed from the headline. There may have been mistakes (along the lines of what Kenny Easwaran says) but no wrongdoing. The term is unfair to Professor Fieser, who has written a very straightforward reply.Report

aaron goldbird
3 months ago

Ooh a good old fashioned problem of analysis! For those who reckon this isn’t a case of plagiarism, the implication seems to be that plagiarism requires both taking credit and failing to give credit. In cases where only one of the criteria applies, I can see why it might seem odd to say plagiarism. Three examples:
i) when I was 15 one of my friends didn’t do an essay for class and so stood up and said we worked on my essay together as a joint project. This is an example of taking credit without failing to give credit.
ii) what we’ve just learned about IEP is an example of failing to give credit without taking credit.
iii) copying a paragraph from Wikipedia in an essay and pretending its your own is an example of both taking credit and failing to give credit.

The first example is a lie, the second an omission, and the third both a lie and an omission. I can see why you would think one or another is worse, but why not call them all plagiarism? Is plagiarism only taking credit regardless of the credit you give? Or does it have to be both taking and failing to give credit?Report

John Devereaux
Reply to  aaron goldbird
3 months ago

This is not a problem of analysis at all. It matters not a whit whether the IEP’s placeholder policy ‘counts’ as plagiarism on our best analysis of plagiarism. Compare: we can agree that stealing a penny is theft (there is no problem of analysis there). Yet, it would be problematic to draw attention to the crime of stealing a penny under the description of theft (muddies the waters) much as it is problematic to draw attention to the IEP’s odd practice under the description of plagiarism.Report

aaron goldbird
Reply to  John Devereaux
3 months ago

Well not ONLY a problem of analysis but definitely suggests one
I totally agree that the questions “is it plagiarism?” and “is it wrong?”are different questions. Different again from the question “is it very wrong?” But insofar as the clarification of plagiarism contributes to differentiating those questions, isnt it for exactly that reason that the activity matters? Or in other words, we can only understand why it is “problematic to draw attention to the IEP’s odd practice under the description of plagiarism” if we have a handle on the concept.

It really does matter what plagiarism means so that we can say things like “yeah it might be plagiarism but it’s actually fine” (compare: “yeah it might be censorship but it’s actually fine”)Report

Prof Z
Prof Z
3 months ago

I’m astonished at the insensitivity of some of these discussions, and also that the Daily Nous even chose to publish this post. One of our colleagues is being publicly accused of plagiarism, where, in academia, even an ungrounded accusation is as permanently damaging as an accusation of racism or harassment. Once the accusation is put out there, it cannot be taken back. And yet we have one comment making a joke about it, and another reducing it to an interesting theoretical question. The initial charge itself bandies the notoriously vague term “plagiarism” around like a lightsaber out of control. The situation of the IEP proto articles is a one-of-a-kind case that bears no parallel or precedent to unquestionable cases of plagiarism in publishing or academia. Even the slightest difference in fact would throw off an attempted analogy. You would think that contributors to this post would be cautious about slander, but apparently not. No one has challenged that the proto articles are a legitimate legal use of public domain material. But what has been ignored is that public domain works are fully open to use and modification without the attachment to them of any legal “moral rights” regarding attribution (look the term up on Wikipedia). Further, it is clear that the proto articles were modified from the original public domain material, at which point it becomes questionable whether an original author’s name should be cited at all. Let’s be done with this witch hunt, and get back to grading papers like we should be doing.Report

Paul
Paul
Reply to  Prof Z
3 months ago

But what has been ignored is that public domain works are fully open to use and modification without the attachment to them of any legal “moral rights” regarding attribution (look the term up on Wikipedia).” – This hasn’t been ignored, nor is it dispositive. Plagiarism can happen even with public domain sources. As we all know, even if something is legal doesn’t mean it is isn’t plagiarism. If a student used public domain sources in the way this article did and turned the paper in for credit, it wouldn’t infringe on the moral rights of the author and wouldn’t be illegal, I suppose, but we’d still rightly call it plagiarism. There are some perhaps special issues here given this is a different context, but legality does not mean it is legitimate.Report