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Jake Wright

If only there were some sort of repository where one could post drafts for circulation and comment, thus establishing the primacy of their idea first. Snark askide, this is another excellent reason for a “philosophical arXiv”.


This is really hard. I can't imagine what a person can do AFTER it happens. I would think you would have to have major power and reputation in the discipline to publicly call someone out or anything like that. Most things need to be done before hand, on the preventative side. It seems there are two options. The first is to hide your ideas. Don't post anything online, don't talk about it, etc. One problem is conferences are often helpful, but if you present at a conference before publishing (what conferences are typically for) you risk having your ideas stolen. A second option is to be VERY public about it. Post things on fb and your own webpage, so then there is a lot of evidence this is your idea. This might discourage some potential thieves.

Another problem is it can be hard to know someone stole your idea. There are some obvious cases, but other times it is always possible someone just happened to come up with a similar concept/theory. Even if you have some evidence to suspect stealing, they can always claim coincidence (and it might be true!) This is why calling someone out will, in most cases, just make you look kind of crazy.


Yes. Good question. And relatedly: What to do when you send in a paper to a journal, gets it rejected, and then discover that a few months later a person (who would have been a VERY likely reviewer given content of paper) starts circulating a draft ON THAT VERY TOPIC for other philosophers to comment on. (And when that person is very outspoken about how hard it is for minorities to succeed in this business, blogs regularly on prominent philosophy-blog etc....). It might very well be a coincidence, as Amanda says, yes. But when you know that the topic/angle of your paper was rather untraditional, you can't help but wonder...


oh. and this: when someone on your thesis committee likes one of the ideas in your thesis so much that the person takes it, applies for funding for a big project investigating the issue, then get millions for it. and no one has your back.

Marcus Arvan

Jake Wright: my thoughts exactly. This is one of many problems an arXiv/preprint model would help address. Even then, though, there might still be issues. For instance, suppose an early career person posted something to the ArXiv first, but then some more senior person posted a similar paper later and/or published their paper in a journal first. Even then, an early career person would be in a bit of a quandary. Given their far more tenuous position in the field, would an early career person be able to do much, if anything, to address the issue?


Is it not possible to think about a website where we can post these kinds of acts supported by evidence? These acts may not be important for senior and well-established academics, but for people who are struggling to enter or stay in the academy, it matters a lot.
This website would need a moderator, certainly, and precaution should be taken because the idea would be to report real cases of theft. That is why real evidence would be needed. Evidence could be for example the original written text or presentation and the article or presentation with the stolen ideas, both of them highlighted to show the similarities.
I recently experienced a case like this, and the person who did it was my supervisor, who did not really supervised me during my PhD. He published an article with another PhD student with some ideas from my thesis. He published this article in a handbook, whose editors knew my thesis (one of them was an examiner), and after writing them I have received no answer. Of course, my ex-supervisor is someone well-established in the academia, and I am literary nobody, so nobody supports me neither. But even if I am nobody, I do not want to silence myself and accept these kinds of acts.

Anon prof

I would hesitate to rush to judgment here. Sometimes we have the same ideas as another person, and there's nothing nefarious going on.

I was recently asked to review an article on a paper on the exact same topic as one I had recently written. I had shared this paper with a very small number of people, and I knew none of them wrote this paper (they aren't scholars in my area). However, it is an odd topic, and a strange coincidence, and this person (I still don't know who it is) and I came to the exact same conclusion.

I can imagine that person seeing my paper in circulation and coming to the conclusion that I stole their ideas. But ideas aren't like that. And academic papers aren't like that. There was a time, as a graduate student, when I was worried about getting 'scooped' or having my ideas stolen. But now, if an article comes out on the topic that I'm working on, I read it, see if the ideas are relevant, and if it's good enough and important enough, I cite it and integrate the insights of that paper into my own, hopefully making my paper better in the process. Having a ton of concern about 'credit' means you have a weird idea of what we're doing when we do philosophy.


You might be concerned about being able to stay in the discipline at all. If one is not in the discipline, one can't be too concerned about "what it is that we do" when doing philosophy. That said, I don't think there are any answers to this problem. Unless someone just straight up plagiarizes, there will always be reasonable doubt that the ideas were not stolen, but just an instance of happenstance. Hence if your idea is stolen, I see no choice but to move on and try to keep future ideas away from the thief.

Anon Grad

I've come up with what I took to be quite original ideas and within a few years of each one a paper came out that said something frustratingly similar. This most recently happened to me only a few days ago. It's maddening, to be sure, especially when you had previously felt idiosyncratic for having the idea. Part of this is probably just the natural dialectic of philosophy: there's only so much logical space and only so many unique positions within that space. Our ideas often push in the same direction.

But even if your idea was outright "stolen," short of straightforward plagiarism the question you need to ask is did they steal it *well*. If they did, you probably would have been superseded by their revision to your idea anyway. If they didn't, then set to the task of superseding *them*. Sic semper tyrannis, etc., etc.


At least in my case, I am not dealing with an anonymous "someone" who stole some vague ideas from my thesis: this person is my ex-supervisor. I think it is completely unethical for a supervisor to publish a paper with ideas from one of his PhD students. A supervisor should help his students to publish articles, not steal their ideas to publish them by himself.
It is not a question about the "possession" of the idea, or a concern about credit; it is more a question about recognition (and for those who are not familiar with this idea I suggest reading The struggle for recognition by Honneth). When you try to get a job in academia, committees do not care about the fact that your ideas implicitly circulated in the academic environment and were fruitful; they just care about YOUR publications. Students and recent PhD try hard to get "recognition" from their peers in order to get a job in the academia (because we know that without recognition there is no job), so I think senior researchers and professors should have a responsibility in this process. First, they should credit students and recent PhD for the ideas they took by citing them in their publications, or mentioning their talks (if they heard them in a conference). This an inclusive (and not exclusive) practice, and thus a way to help them to get recognition for what they did.
Second, it should be formally forbidden (and sanctioned) that a supervisor publishes something that has some ideas of a previous student without co-authoring it. And this point is not only a question of recognition, but it should be a question of ethical practices in supervision.


Anon prof writes:

"Having a ton of concern about 'credit' means you have a weird idea of what we're doing when we do philosophy."

Well, what are we doing? (Or, for that matter, are we doing "philosophy"?) It's not weird to notice that in this very very competitive system we're all in, credit for just one published idea might be the difference between having a career and not having one, getting tenure and not getting it. If credit isn't essential to this whole thing, why is it important to publish? For that matter, why does it matter whether you have a PhD or where it came from?

This is a really annoying perverse complaint. If taking credit shouldn't be so important, the complaint should be directed at the people who are concerned to credit _themselves_ at the expense of others whose work they don't credit. They are the ones who should care less about taking credit, perhaps, who have a 'weird' idea.

As for a 'rush to judgment' I've seen this happen so many times, and so blatantly, the judgment is very often obviously right. Back when I was a grad student my supervisor forwarded me a long email from an established older person to the effect that my thesis had helped him to understand X; this same person then published a book on X a year later reiterating some of my ideas in considerable detail with no citation. What are you supposed to think in such cases? Could be some kind of mistake, maybe, but that kind of mistake is outrageous for someone in that kind of position. And this does seem to happen a LOT

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