Republishing and Blogging
Let’s talk a little about ethics in two different spheres: journal publishing and blogging. This may be the start of a new topical theme; it may not. If you’re one of those tuned in enough to assume that “ethics and blogging” means a long analysis of the “Webcred” closed conference—well, that was my original intention, but no such analysis appears here.
Easily the most astonishing presentation at last November’s Charleston Conference was Philip M. Davis’ preview of this paper. (Full title: “The ethics of republishing: A case study of Emerald/MCB University Press journals,” to appear in Library Resources & Technical Services 49:2 later this year.)
Davis had anecdotal evidence that Emerald (formerly MCB UP) had republished some articles in its many journals without appropriate notices. He did some keyword searching within Emerald’s online journals—and identified “409 examples of articles from sixty-seven journals that were republished without explicit identification from 1989 through 2003.”
There’s nothing inherently unethical about republishing an article. Freelance writers reuse their own material all the time; that’s essential if they want to eke out a living. Refereed journal articles are a different story, but it’s still reasonable to republish—providing the republishing is transparent and meets certain ethical standards.
Davis quotes Joseph Fulda’s suggested guidelines for ethical multiple publications. Briefly, the five guidelines are that republication should be in journals representing different fields; the editor of the second journal knows the article has been previously published; prior publication is explicitly acknowledged in the second publication; the duplication isn’t simultaneous; and the journals don’t have overlapping readership. There are other guidelines, but all have in common that the republished article must be explicitly identified as such.
Fulda’s guidelines fail in certain cases. Landmark articles will be republished in the same field and possibly the same journal simply because they are landmark articles. The Information Technology and Libraries issue celebrating LITA’s 25th anniversary republished a few “classic” articles from previous issues—explicitly identified, to be sure. (According to Davis’ article, most “redundant publication” within the medical literature is not exact duplication—which makes redundant publication even worse, because it’s much more difficult to identify.) Davis offers examples of legitimate republishing—and notes that he found nothing in the literature about publishers duplicating articles within their own journals without explicit notice.
How bad was the Emerald problem? “Most articles were discovered to be published in two journals simultaneously…or after a significant delay.” In some cases, an article was republished in the same journal without explicit labeling. Some republished articles had slightly modified titles. Articles were duplicated across journals within the same general field and across journals in closely related fields.
Some instances seem bizarre. Library Management 16:5 and Management Decision 33:5, both 1995, consisted of the same ten articles—and these are by no means inexpensive journals. Another 1990 case had two different journals with identical articles for one issue. All of the articles in Asian Libraries 6 (1997) had appeared in other library publications. Twenty-seven of the 40 articles published in OCLC Systems & Services in 1997, 1998, and 1999 were duplicated in other journals. Those aren’t the only cases.
Do the journals reach entirely separate audiences? Well, the subscription lists certainly overlap (based on RLG Union Catalog holdings), as you’d expect.
Did authors, editors, and editorial boards know this was going on? Some authors did; some claim that they did not. Some editors didn’t respond, some were new to the journals, and one provided a labored explanation for duplicate publication. Contacted librarians who’d served on the OCLC Systems & Services editorial board weren’t aware of the duplication.
As Davis notes, this isn’t about illegality—but unacknowledged duplication harms the subscriber, particularly within expensive journals. When you subscribe to journals, you’re paying in advance for what you normally assume will be original content.
Davis offered Emerald a chance to respond during the Charleston Conference, which they did; they also posted a written response. (That response indicates that Emerald “extended our full cooperation”—although Davis’ article suggests that “full” might be an exaggeration, based on unanswered questions.)
The response agrees that explicit notice of duplication should have been published “and regret any inconvenience as a result of that notice not being given.” It says authors were informed, and that it was practice between 1989 and 2000 to republish articles “within another MCB journal where it was felt that their content would be of interest or benefit to the additional journal audience.” That doesn’t explain republication within the same journal, but that’s admittedly a small portion of the whole.
The response also excuses republication as a way to “help” where newly-acquired journals had a “significant delay in the despatch schedule.” That’s tricky; one would not normally think that buying a journal gives a publisher license to temporarily fill its issues with already-published articles.
Emerald says there has been no deliberate dual publication since 2001 and that the corporate policy is not to practice dual publication (except in special cases such as anniversaries and landmark papers).
That might be the end of it, particularly since Emerald renamed itself; the live rejoinder had a feel of “the bad old days at MCB UP,” separating the speaker from those problems. Or maybe not.
Davis prepared a followup letter, which should appear this summer in Library Resources & Technical Services. In that letter, he says there were numerous instances of republication within the same journal; that he’s now identified duplication going back to 1975; and that he finds significant subscriber overlap among journals in which duplication appeared. The number of journals involved is now up to 73.
Most of the letter deals with a related problem that also raises ethical issues. It involves another publishing company that appears to have strong ownership overlap with Emerald (and is purchased through Emerald)—and the fact that owners were also functioning as editors and authors. In fact, Dr. John Peters republished his own article from one MCB UP journal in another journal that he edited at the time.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with owners being editors and there’s nothing wrong or unusual about editors being authors. In refereed journals, however, unless the refereeing process is known and unusually transparent, it’s tricky when an editor’s own work appears within the refereed section. Davis offers a slightly stronger statement:
The peer review process—which is at the heart of scholarly communication—has been cast into doubt. Furthermore, conflicts of interest when individuals serve as owners, managers, editors and authors of academic journals lead us to question whether these individuals may not have been acting in the best interest of scholarly communication. Commercial interests have outweighed editorial independence.
I have no current involvement with Emerald. I published articles and columns in almost every issue of Library Hi Tech between 1984 and 1998, and served on its editorial board from 1986 through 2000. The predecessor to Cites & Insights appeared in every issue of Library Hi Tech News between March 1995 and December 2000. MCB University Press purchased the two publications in mid-1998. When MCB University Press substantially increased prices for both publications, I did not immediately leave the editorial board and terminate Crawford’s Corner. In the end, I left the editorial board because I’d been on it long enough—and terminated Crawford’s Corner over a personnel issue. I do not have any personal experience of ethically questionable behavior by MCB University Press during the time I was writing for them or serving on one of their editorial boards.
Some library bloggers have been writing about the ethics of blogging—and a model Blogger’s Code of Ethics appeared recently at CyberJournalist.net. We’ll get to that. First, in chronological order (as usual), comments from Michael Stephens and Karen Schneider and some responses to their posts.
Last June, Stephens’ Tame the web included one of his noteworthy “numbered lists,” this time “Ten things a blogging librarian must do (an exercise in common sense).” Omitting the expansions, here’s the list: Cite your sources. Post often but have something to say. Make the commitment to follow through (that is, keep your blog active). Post about what you’re passionate about. “Share yourself.” Show your administration how well an external blog is working. Don’t do a personal blog on your library’s dime. “Blog unto others as you’d have them blog unto you.” Read other blogs for inspiration. Learn all there is to know about your software. And have fun.” (OK, so it’s 11.)
It’s an interesting list. One commenter suggested that “not doing it on your library’s dime” was unrealistic. Another emphasized the need for bloggers to keep blogging: “It’s really disheartening to read some really nice first posts, quickly bookmark/blogroll it, only to later discover that no newer posts have been published since.” The rest of the comments were spam.
Stephens returned to this topic on November 14, with a suggested list of “Library blogger’s personal protocols”—six items, this time, with more comments on each. Respect your organization. “Don’t be afraid to put your two [cents] in on something you really believe in.” Play nice (cite sources, link back). Don’t reveal secrets. “Blog anonymously… or blog proudly and let your administration know what you are doing.” That last is paraphrased from two separate protocols: You need to choose one or the other.
I mentioned Karen Schneider’s first couple of posts on “Blogging and ethics” in Cites & Insights 5:1. She continued on December 13 with Part 3, “the anti-guidelines.” It’s a 15-point set that may slightly overstate the things bloggers do wrong, but it’s also funny and worth reading (you can find it in the archives at freerangelibrarian.com). She raises a bunch of ethical issues indirectly, from getting paid for promoting products (without telling readers about it) to avoiding accountability. It’s a good list to avoid.
Karen got into deeper waters—fundamental ethical issues—with Part 4, “Don’t stand too close to me.” Say she’s helping to pour punch and serve baked goods at a party for church parishioners and overhears interesting conversations—maybe picks up some great gossip. Is she free to blog about them? She doesn’t believe so, but notes an article by Jeffrey Rosen offering examples of bloggers who feel perfectly free to invade other people’s privacy. She also has a personal example, “when a librarian blogger quoted another librarian on an issue I was sure was confidential.” (Karen causes no further harm—the item is so blind that I can’t imagine any but the parties involved recognizing it, and probably not them.)
We librarians are all about free speech. But the First Amendment won’t make you less of a chump for kiss-and-tell blogging, and it won’t expunge the stain on your professionalism for knowingly crossing the line between private and public.
So far, I haven’t seen anyone disagree with what strikes me as a pretty fundamental ethical assertion.
Finally, there’s “A blogger’s code of ethics” at CyberJournalist.net: www.cyberjournalist.net/news/000215. php. This proposed code of ethics, based on the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, includes nineteen bullets in three general categories: Be honest and fair; minimize harm; be accountable. Specifics involve avoiding plagiarism, distortion, and misrepresentation, identifying sources when feasible, distinguishing between facts, advocacy, and commentary, and distinguishing all those from advertising. Ethical bloggers should show compassion for those who may be affected, avoid arrogance when pursuing information, recognize privacy as a general right, and show good taste—and they should admit and correct mistakes, explain a weblog’s mission, disclose conflicts of interest, and “abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.” It’s a strong list, well worth reading and printing out if you do a weblog. (Or a web-based print journal, for that matter!)
Where does this all leave us? You’d be surprised how many ethical quandaries can be resolved by paying attention to the single law/rule/ethos that pops up in almost every religion and moral system: Treat others the way you’d wish them to treat you.
I do republish columns—always with explicit identification and some good reason to do so. I probably fail to clearly distinguish between facts, advocacy and commentary: It’s tough in a journal such as this, where everything is partially commentary and advocacy sneaks in unexpectedly. I certainly don’t claim ethical perfection; I do claim to care about ethics and to strive for ethical soundness. Most library weblogs that I read—even the ones I vehemently disagree with—do pretty well, most of the time. Maybe I’ve been lucky. Maybe most librarians really are professionals who understand what professionalism is all about. I believe the latter.
Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 3, Whole Issue 59, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.
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