I came across a social media post today on an issue that I've heard people raise serious concerns about before, and which once again speaks to philosophers' problematic citation practices (for more, see here, here, here, and here). Although it's not my place to share who told the story or who the story involves, the general story is (in my experience) a disturbingly familiar one:
- Philosopher A defends an argument X in year Y.
- A much more famous philosopher B defends a similar argument several years later.
- Other philosophers routinely cite B's work, and refer to argument X as "Philosopher B's argument."
In other words, the first person who came up with the argument is not given credit for it in the literature, but instead the credit is given to a more famous philosopher who also came up with the argument later. In the present case, I might add that philosopher A was a junior woman in the profession (and published argument X in a very highly-ranked journal), whereas Philosopher B is a senior male in the profession--both of which seem to me quite relevant given recent discussions of citation data. In the present case, Philosopher A not receiving due credit for the idea cannot even be chalked up to A publishing the argument in an obscure journal (which, for the record, I think is a poor excuse to not give someone credit). No, Philosopher A published the argument in a top-ranked journal and yet has still been systematically deprived of credit for the argument.
Unfortunately, although this is only my impression, from stories that I have heard from a variety of different people this sort of thing--a person publishing an original argument or theory not getting due credit in the literature--does not appear uncommon at all. In fact, it appears to happen quite a lot. I've just heard too many stories of it happening, and indeed, have personally encountered something similar recently.
Although this isn't merely a problem in philosophy--the sciences also have a sordid history of some people being deprived of due credit (e.g. Charles Darwin getting all the credit for the theory of evolution when Alfred Russel Wallace published on it first, Rosalind Franklin getting cheated out of credit for discovering the DNA double-helix, etc)--it clearly does seem to be a problem in philosophy, and a problem that something should be done about. But what? What can we do? What should we do?