<span class='p-name'>Balancing Open Scholarship & Self-Plagiarism</span>

Balancing Open Scholarship & Self-Plagiarism

In many posts on this site I have reflected on my attempts to work as an open scholar. In a recent post, I discussion how this is often a balancing act as I try to find a space for my blogging and open scholarship, while also navigating the requirements of tenure and promotion.

A recent round of manuscript reviews has me wondering about the possible challenges of self-plagiarism as we engage in open scholarship practices. Put simply, if we share our notes and data online in order to promote transparency and open scholarship…is it appropriate to expand upon, and use these ideas (and the wording) later in a “traditional pub”? In addition, would this process be viewed as a value add for reviewers and editors…or would this be viewed as a form of “online astroturfing” in the research process?

I’ll explain a bit more about the thinking behind my process. This is not an exhaustive list as I’ve been writing about it for some time. After that, I’ll talk about two recent experiences with peer review, and conclude with some other pieces I’ve read while researching this topic.

The ins & outs of blogging as an open scholar

As an oversimplification of my thinking of this balancing act, I view this as working in two different (sometimes symbiotic) directions.

Input. Direction one could be viewed as “input and transparency in showing my notes” where I expand researcher notes into blog posts as I conduct research. In this, I use this website (and others) to share announcements about my/our research, or opportunities to recruit participants. This is all content that many times leads to an eventual publication (hopefully).

In the writing process, I often share the Google Doc I’ve used to write and revise the manuscript, and send it out for feedback and commentary as I submit it for review to a formal publication. I indicate on the Google Doc and subsequent blog post that I’m sharing this to promote open scholarship, and I’ll use this feedback if I have the chance to move forward in the peer review process for a journal. In my mind, I’m opening myself up to feedback and critique from journal reviewers. I’m also opening myself up to feedback and critique from peers in my learning networks. All of this makes it a stronger, more rigorous piece.

If the manuscript is published in a traditional journal or book, I share these earlier drafts of my manuscript, along with the feedback (anonymized) from the peer review process. I made this decision after a conference session on open scholarship where a senior scholar asked if people in the room would be interested in seeing early, or revised drafts of publications in order to learn about the process and finalized product. All of the members of the room unanimously agreed that this would a huge value and begged the scholar to “share their notes.” In this same vein, I’m trying to be as transparent as possible in my work as I “share my notes.”

Output. Direction two could be viewed as “output and contextualizing my work” where I revise & distill some of my work to make it more appropriate for different audiences. This could be taking samples of publications and sharing out for use in classes, or expanding on an avenue of research. I share many of my formal publications on this website, and I’m in the process of process of cleaning up this space to make it easier to see, share, and annotate my research and publications.

My distillation and recontextualizing process may include simplifying previous passages, ironing out, or updating some of the resources. This also often times includes the addition of multimodal content (image, video, audio, hyperlinks) to expand on the subject of the post. Most of these posts are motivated by something happening in a class, something I’ve read online, or messaging during a keynote or workshop.

I know that sharing publications by authors quickly gets into discussions about copyright, ownership, and intellectual property. I also know that many authors share their works on their own websites. Even more individuals share their works on sites like Academia.edu or ResearchGate. My ideal goal would be to share my works on my site, link to the original published piece, while also providing the citation and perhaps some of the data.

A tale of two reviews

I recently sent out two manuscripts for review and had some interesting, contradictory experiences in the process as it relates to the focus of this blog post.

Manuscript One. The first review system immediately sent the manuscript through the iThenticate plagiarism detection system. iThenticate indicates that they are the “leading provider of professional plagiarism detection and prevention technology used worldwide by scholarly publishers and research institutions to ensure the originality of written work before publication.” iThenticate is a product from Turnitin, a commercial plagiarism detection service used in secondary schools and higher education.

iThenticate scanned my manuscript, and identified a couple instances in which I had talked about the research in blog posts on my site. The system also highlighted several words and phrases that regularly appear in my research and writing (e.g., educators, digital texts and tools, social media) as well as terms that I know that I use too often in my speaking and writing. I was able to revise the couple of instances identified by the system and send it through the system for review. This had me questioning whether or not my self-citation is also a form of self-plagiarism.

Manuscript Two. In a different manuscript sent out for review, I indicated (as I have done in the past) that I collect researcher notes, and that I also share these out as blog posts on my (or my research team’s) website to promote open scholarship and get feedback on lessons learned. One of the reviewers indicated in the peer review feedback that this “seems like an important way to consider sharing research in an accessible format” and that is was “democratizing research!” In this particular publication, I cited Heap & Minocha (2012) and Scanlon (2013) as providing guidance in these areas. 

Across these two experiences, this has also caused me to review, and in some cases cite some of my earlier blog posts containing researcher notes. This also raises questions about whether or not the editors and reviewers will have questions about citing prior public researcher notes. Lastly, and this may sound strange given the amount I blog…I had me start to look at my blogging and publishing as more of a “traditional” or “accepted” source.

Ultimately, this has me thinking more about my blogging on this site, and valuing this “publication” a bit more than I had in the past. I also have questions about what reviewers and journal editors are looking for now…and in the future as we think about these intersections between traditional, accepted publications and blogging as an open scholar.

From feedback loops to guerilla plagiarism

Following these two experiences, I started searching online to see what others were saying, and suggesting about these processes, and the ultimate work products.

In the Columbia University Law Review, Bast and Samuels (2008) provide an extensive review of plagiarism and scholarship in an information sharing society. They provide excellent definitions of all of the topics, from plagiarism, to self-plagiarism, to authorship, and copyright. Ultimately they come down on the side of questions about intellectual honesty and ownership of property.

Yasmin Sokhar Harker (2017) expands on this work and keeps it in the field of law, while also bringing in the concept of text recycling. Harker includes a wonderful mini-lit review at the bottom of the piece sharing some references.

Yasmin Sokkar Harker sees this as “text recycling” to a certain extent, and suggests that it is a case of continually building on your work. “Authors often work on a body of scholarship, building on earlier work to generate new insights. Thus, authors have an interest in being free to use their earlier work, and not being compelled to recreate the wheel.”

In a piece for The Chronicle, James M. Lang talks about the feedback loops involved in the writing process.

“That process is one of the more rewarding aspects of our profession. It’s an opportunity to take good ideas and make them better by a series of feedback-and-revision loops. That process, I’m certain, reminds us of some pretty basic truths about learning and the intellectual life: That good ideas must be articulated and tested in public forums, for example, or that every presentation must be tailored to fit its specific audience, or that even our best ideas should be considered provisional ones, always pending new information.”

Jamie Callahan (2017) writes about the power structures involved in the new norms for publishing, and that self-plagiarism has been (im)moralized through regimes of power. Callahan suggests that publishers are the power brokers in these interactions, and that they alone hold the high ethical ground. In the piece, Callahan shares some of the literature on the various faces of self-plagiarism, and problematizes each of these. The piece concludes with a call for guerilla plagiarism in which authors may “use their own words as a means of resistance against publishers who technically own the author’s words in today’s ‘property rights’–oriented society.”

What do you think?

Are these socially constructed norms and codes of ethics that are built for bygone eras and power structures? Do new publishing habits and techniques offer new opportunities to extend and make more transparent the writing and research process?

Is this self-plagiarism and an ethical failure? Is this an exciting opportunity to democratize the research process?

Obviously this is a situation that calls for further dialogue, exploration, and continued research. Hopefully this piece provides opportunities to allow us to engage in this discussion.


What to read next

Plagiarism & Legal Scholarship in the Age of Information Sharing: The Need for Intellectual Honesty (Bast & Samuels, 2008)

Creation of a Moral Panic? Self-plagiarism in the Academy (Callahan, 2014)

Technology Fails Plagiarism, Citation Tests (Thomas, 2015)

Who controls your dissertation? (Stommel, 2015)

A Guide for Resisting EdTech: The Case Against Turnitin (Morris & Stommel, 2017)

Plagiarism in Research: A Survey of African Medical Journal (Rowher, Wager, Young & Garner, 2018) 

Turnitin: Is it a text matching or plagiarism detection tool? (Meo & Talha, 2019)


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5 Comments Balancing Open Scholarship & Self-Plagiarism

  1. April Leach

    It seems to me that the thinking/writing processes you are looking at are traditional, only now more transparent and widely shared. If we tried to think deeply without repetition and editing our own thoughts with input from others we would be stuck as my grandfather used to say, in mires and bogs. Your blogging and asking for input on docs merely acknowledges the tools available now. And every bit of it is scholarship. I will read up on your links to see if I’m missing your drift.


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