Friday, June 10, 2011

Feeling Rejected?

Earlier this week I had a request to become a "contact" for a particular person on LinkedIn. As this didn't appear to be someone I knew, I was about to press the "Delete" button when I had this strange feeling that the name was just slightly familiar, after all. And then I remembered.

As Editor, or Associate Editor, of an academic journal, you occasionally get to see the darnedest things - and I don't just mean the things that are submitted! I'm referring to the dark underbelly of academia. That place where your supervisor should have warned you never to go. I have a number of editorial responsibilities right now, including being joint Editor of The Journal of International Trade & Economic Development. This year alone I've been saved on two occasions from making a bad mistake (and possibly getting our publisher involved in a lawsuit), only as a result of eagle-eyed referees. Hopefully, there aren't even more cases that I'm unaware of!

One situation involved an author submitting the identical paper to two journals simultaneously. Oh yes, that author had dutifully checked off the box on the electronic submission to us via our ScholarOne site, confirming that the paper had not been previously published, nor was it currently under submission elsewhere. Tch! Tch! It just happened that one of the referees I chose was also asked by another journal to referee the same paper at the same time. That's good luck for me, and bad luck for the author!

Of course, a couple of quick emails to the other editor soon sorted the matter out. Needless to say, the author in question was told not to bother sending papers to us again - and why!

The other situation was slightly different and a little more convoluted. A particular submitted paper went out to referees, and under our double-blind review process the referees don't know the names of the authors. One referee emailed me to say that (s)he had noticed that the title of the paper was identical to the title of a book written by authors  'A' and 'B', and published by a very minor "vanity press" quite recently. The referee didn't have access to the book, but noted that if the authors of the paper in hand were also 'A' and 'B', then I might want to look more closely at what may be going on. Good suggestion, thanks!

As it happened, the paper was sole-authored - by 'B'! I made a bit of progress with Google, and discovered that the book in question amounted to only about 60 pages or so. That being the case, it didn't seem unreasonable to contact the author of the paper, explain that I had some concerns about possible overlap of material, and ask if I could be sent a pdf version of the book manuscript. Much to my surprise, and delight, the author obliged. It quickly became clear that the paper was just an edited version of the book, with no new content and paragraph after paragraph of identical material.

In this case, the author expressed the view that there was nothing wrong with this.  I begged to differ! With many journals, the copyright transfer agreement allows authors to subsequently re-publish an article, or part of an article, in a book subsequently written by that author. But the converse is not true! At least, not without appropriate permissions being obtained, and all parties being on board. (Frankly, I can't think of when this might be appropriate.) This was blatant double-dipping!

Thanks to another alert referee I was saved from another disaster, and our publisher's lawyers missed out on some work. And another author was asked not to waste our time in future.

I thought that I should copy the email correspondence with 'B' to that person's Dean. I did so, but held little hope that this would have any effect. That Dean happened to be co-author 'A' of the book, and the latter turned out to be based on the dissertation written by 'B' under the supervision of 'A'. By now it was starting to feel like "Days of our Lives"!

So, in this second case, the offending author was new to the game. As it happens, the same was true in the first case I described earlier. Not that this is any excuse - especially when, as an author, you certify in writing that you are not doing something that you actually are doing! But as supervisors of graduate students we also have a real responsibility to ensure that those under our wing understand the rules of the game, and why they're important. We're being negligent if we don't do so.

More on this in subsequent posts.

Some of these thoughts went through my mind this week as I looked at the LinkedIn request, and realized why the name was slightly familiar. It was author 'B'!

© 2011, David E. Giles


  1. Good manners? Honesty? Pah! As long as there's enough math, it will all work out, right?

  2. Thank goodness for diligent referees!

  3. I don't know if you have been following the Bruno Frey affair but it reinforces your points in this blog.

    The concerns were first raised on the economic logic blog and with some interesting comments from Barkley Rosser:

    It has also been picked up and investigated further on this blog:

    If those who know better engage in these shenanigans (as in the case above), it is hard for new scholars to discern what is ethical and what is not.

  4. Lindsay: Good point and a great example. You're absolutely right!
    There's similar case running in statistics right now relating to Edward Welman and others. Andrew Gelman has been blogging about it recently. His first such post is at
    and there are several subsequent posts as well.



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