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Michel X.

It seems to me that this goes hand-in-hand with the question of "voice"--i.e., one of the distinguishing features of the graduate student "voice" is frequent (and wide-ranging) citation. If that's the case, then maybe the solution is to stop pushing graduate students away from that practice. And we can revise our perception of "voice". And actually read things before we write on them.


Not that this entirely solves the problem, but referees can address it. When they are sent a paper doing this, they can instruct the author to add the citation.

Marcus Arvan

Michel: I think you summed up a great deal of what is wrong with professional philosophy in a couple of sentences. Engaging in competent scholarship is equivalent to having a "grad student voice", and ignoring/failing to cite people is being a "professional." Pardon my french, but if this weren't such a serious problem, I would say it is pure comedy. We owe our colleagues better.



If you're going to pardon your French, at least throw some good curses in there.


Since this is a matter of public, published record, could we get the original references for A and B? This is really hard to discuss in the totally abstract.

Axel Gelfert

I agree that this an important question; there seems to be a small minority of academics who do take other people's ideas and 'run with them', without giving proper credit to their original sources. Some of this may have to do with the notion, fairly widespread in some circles, that individual brilliance (even if merely imaginary) can compensate for lack of scholarship (whether this concerns historical sources or awareness of relevant contemporary work). This is especially blameworhty in the situation described in the post: that of a senior academic getting credit for the idea of a junior scholar (esp. when this is exacerbated by gender and power imbalances). However, it also seems to increasingly happen among junior people -- maybe because of cut-throat competition for tenure-track jobs and tenure. I believe reviewers should play a bigger role in identifying such 'oversights' in manuscripts they are asked to assess.

For example, one of the papers I'm most proud of got published in a top-ranked specialist journal (I'm not going to say which paper this is; let's pretend it was published in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science); at the time, it was pretty much the only paper on the topic (the only other paper that had ever raised the topic in general terms was published in a set of not-widely distributed conference proceedings and was duly discussed by me in the main text of my paper). Four years later, a paper on the same topic (though more sloppily argued) gets published in a highly ranked general philosophy of journal (on a par with 'Nous', let's say) -- with only a footnote saying that the author was unable to discuss my work (!). (Really, in four years the author didn't get around to actually reading the paper?) I later found out through the grapevine that a third party, whom I had no knowledge of at the time, had actually pressured the author to include at least that one, uninformative footnote -- but it does strike me a disingenuous to be publishing on a topic and making bold claims when one has put in zero effort identifying (readily available) previous scholarship. I'm also surprised that not more reviewers seem to pick up on such shortcomings.

I've since come across papers, for example in department seminars and reading groups, where I, as an outsider to the debate, can immediately think of one or two important and relevant contributions (which are sometimes extremely close in content to the presented papaer) which are simply not mentioned. Whenever I point this out in Q&A afterwards, in as friendly and constructive a way as possible, I often get the sense that many speakers and members of the audience think of this criticism as a very minor issue, possibly involving 'historical' issues (which can 'therefore' be ignored), or merely as an instance of me pedantically showing off that I've read something they haven't.

Finally, just a minor point concerning the original post: the idea that Wallace was somehow cheated out of getting credit for evolutionary thoery is something of an urban myth. Darwin did come up with the idea of Natural Selection first, though was prompted to publish it by Wallace -- who, in turn, was duly acknowledged. Here are a couple of interesting discussions: http://cabbagesofdoom.blogspot.sg/2013/08/wallace-was-not-forgotten-and-darwin.html -- https://teleskopos.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/poor-wallace/ -- http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/aug/09/charles-darwin-alfred-russel-wallace

Markos Valaris

To clarify, did B himself properly cite A, by then subsequent discussion ignited her? Or did not even B give her credit?

Marcus Arvan

Anonymous: I understand the desire to know the parties referred to, but I don't think it's appropriate, at least not here and now (though stay tuned...one of the individuals involved in the case *may* be interested in discussing the case publicly, without anonymity--probably not at the Cocoon, but elsewhere). I also don't see why it is difficult to discuss in the abstract. The problem here is one we *can* address in the abstract. Moreover,, if other people--like Axel--share their stories, we can discuss those.

Marcus Arvan

Markos: B has published several articles on the argument as well as a book over more than a decade since A's initial paper (A has also published several other articles on the argument as well). Best I can tell, B does not cite A in any his articles, but I cannot say on the book.

[Note/update: I do not mean to imply malfeasance on B's part here. For all I know, B is/was simply unaware of A's work].


I think people should be cautious about accusations of plagiarism or scooping. These are very serious accusations, and consequently ought to be well supported. Further, it is worth noting that citation norms are not as many think. One is not obliged to cite every study touching on a topic; indeed, one cannot. A study of science articles puts the average number of citations in a typical science paper at about 10 (see Price 1963, 72). There is such a thing as being a responsible scholar, but one does not need to cite everything on the topic.

Marcus Arvan

Corrections: Agreed--but maybe I'm missing something. I don't see any accusations of plagiarism or scooping here. Rather, claims are made in the OP about the literature in general. Two philosophers gave similar arguments around the same time, but only one of them appears to be recognized for the argument in the literature. The only other case is the one Axel reports, and he just expressed dismay that his work hadn't received more than a passing footnote. Is there something I'm missing?

Marcus Arvan

Also, isn't a 1963 study on citation rates in the sciences a wee bit out of date? A lot can change in 50 years (I would think it clearly has. The average science article today obviously cites more than 10 articles. Pick up any peer reviewed science article today and chances are it will cite dozens of papers).


i can think of a similar case where a prominent senior male simply failed to cite lots of relevant work on a topic by an (also pretty well-known) senior female. (maybe the same case?)

To echo the previous suggestion that referees can help mitigate this problem by suggesting other work that needs to be cited -- editors could also help referees to do this by *explicitly* asking them to make a part of their report which additional works should be cited. Most papers, including by very well-intended authors, are missing whole swathes of literature -- it can be hard to know about everything that's going on. that's fine and to be expected for *drafts.* But what is the point of peer review if not to help fill in those gaps before publication?

It should also be grounds for rejecting a paper that it replicates important work already in the literature without addressing that work. Perhaps editors could *explicitly* ask reviewers to say whether the work overlaps with or replicates pre-existing work.

Finally, what can we as a discipline do to reign in this practice? I think an explicit naming mechanism (not *necessarily with the usual shaming, though where the omission appears to be of a rather avoidable kind, a bit of shaming might just come along...) would be very helpful here. What would be wrong with a simple blog or tumblr that points out papers that don't refer to other authors (starting with Kripke's notorious neglect of Marcus' anti-descriptivist, 'tagging' theory of names). This could be done without *necessarily* imputing bad intent to the authors who failed to cite. It could also help authors of subsequent work in that area to avoid making the same error. Just as the gendered conference campaign has reduced all-male conferences because people don't want their conferences called out, so too would naming under-cited work make people more cautious in developing their citations, so their paper doesn't end up called out for its neglect of other major work.

Authors themselves should double- and triple-check their citations by using phil papers and google scholar to see if there are important works missing from their references/discussions. And when asking for feedback on papers, including at conferences, they should explicitly solicit suggestions of further literature that they might have overlooked.

Finally, mistakes will happen even with published work and even if authors are attempting to be optimally conscientious in citation practices. Authors who learn that a work already published omits other important work should simply make a note of it on their websites with the original article 'After publishing this work, it was drawn to my attention that it replicates work by X in Y.' I have seen this done before (I now can't remember where...), and I think it would be great if it were to become common practice.


"Leibniz's" and "Kant's" objections to the ontological argument come from the Objections and Replies to Descartes' Meditations. And the comments made there aren't likely to be original either. I don't have any points to make about this. Just one of many interesting historical instances.


One frequently hears that in order to get published one should discuss arguments made by famous philosophers. Responses to arguments made by the non-famous will be rejected as insufficiently interesting. Consequently, if non-famous philosopher A and famous philosopher B have made basically the same argument, one has reason to focus on B's version even if A made it first.

I'm not saying that consideration is overriding. And, of course, even if one primarily discusses B's version, there is nothing preventing one from at least citing A in a footnote, perhaps with a complaint about A not receiving sufficient recognition. Still, I wonder if this pressure to talk about famous people's arguments to seem more relevant and interesting plays a role in this problem.


8:45pm Anon: Your "naming but not shaming" twitter/blog/tumblr idea sounds great. Start one and solicit submissions to it.

Marcus Arvan

Eugene: It doesn't allow "naming" (for reasons I give in the Mission Statement), but I've already launched a site that would enable people to draw systematic under-citation/under-recognition to light:



"Still, I wonder if this pressure to talk about famous people's arguments to seem more relevant and interesting plays a role in this problem."

Sydney, this seems to me to be exactly right. There's also the issue of how hard it can be to summarize and simultaneously discuss distinct theses/arguments that are substantially similar and yet differ in important ways. It can be simply easier to instead focus on a one representative of a particular thesis/argument, and the tendency will be to focus on the version put forward by a more famous philosopher. I think that's unfortunate and veering towards intellectually dishonest (and perhaps already there).

Still, we are scholars, and that it is hard or messy to cite 2 or 3 people who make the same point doesn't justify our not doing it. And people do do it sometimes, sometimes even in text, and sometimes even by how they name theses, e.g., 'I'll attack the Prof A-Prof B-Prof C thesis'-- they'll give the thesis a doubly or triply-hyphenated name to credit multiple theorists who have defended it.

A different, broader issue here: I have in my own experience received almost no training or advice about how to cite. (I'm an advanced phd student, nearing defense at a leiter top 10 program). I've been told I should embed my points within a literature, but I've *never* been told whether I should cite everyone who has made a certain point, just some of them, just the 'famous' ones, or what. I've also never been told which kinds of points require citation and which don't, e.g., sometimes a commonly-accepted point in the literature will go uncited, even though it's been defended. If it's been defended by LOADS of people, this appears to sometimes excuse the need for citing, at least in some authors' minds.

I personally wish our citation standards were much more stringent, more along the sciences, where everything relevant should be cited, every substantial point about what the literature is like should be cited (e.g., 'It is commonly argued that..' or 'Some people think..') and every point or distinction that is not one's own should be cited.

I am frankly embarrassed by the level of scholarship some (well-known, recent, famous-ish) papers show. I can think of one paper in particular where an author attributed multiple distinct arguments to 'opponents' of a particular thesis. And this paper's main contribution was to defuse these arguments. When I tried to track down the arguments attributed to the 'opponents', using the extremely scanty citations suggested for these arguments, almost none of them suggesting anything I could recognize as the argument the article author attributed to them. In some cases the citing was so poor and unspecific, e.g., citing a whole book or article instead of a passage, that it's possible that the arguments were in there *somewhere*, but I ended up losing the patience to get to the bottom of it. So in this particular case, the citations, even if ultimately technically correct, were sufficiently underspecified to be of extremely little value to an interested reader.


Thanks for launching that site, Marcus.

I've been observing the pushback at DailyNous to your suggestion that philosophers ought to cite more work. The main thrust of the response to you has been that doing so would be too "onerous" or demanding, which I have to say is a lousy response. That our jobs would be more difficult is not a good reason not cite more widely. Would it result in less opportunities to publish? Probably. But almost everyone I encounter thinks that our field's rate of publication is too high anyway. What gives?


"I've been observing the pushback at DailyNous to your suggestion that philosophers ought to cite more work. The main thrust of the response to you has been that doing so would be too "onerous" or demanding, which I have to say is a lousy response."

Eugene, I absolutely agree. There is no one who hates compiling citations and bibliographies more than me. But a complete and responsible citation practice is part of being a good scholar. And it's also a necessary component of any meritocratic academic discipline.

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