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04/12/2022

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early career woman who could use more citations

This happened to me very recently (early career woman). I decided to write another paper on a, at the time, little discussed topic I've previously written on. I went to have a look at literature that had been written in the meantime and found a book and paper (different authors) that both described the exact argument I had made in my paper 5 years earlier. Neither cited it. I complained to my friends but have done nothing about it because, as the OP says, it feels like it's being petty.

Richard Y Chappell

I'd recommend a friendly email to the other author(s), saying that you liked their recent paper and just wanted to draw their attention to some related work you've done, in case it's of interest. I've never gotten a negative response to that sort of thing, and it's a nice way to get on their radar.

Distrustful

Have a list of people in your sub-specialty: people to not trust. Add this person to your list. Other than that, there isn't much to be done.

low hanging fruit

I really like Richard's suggestion, that seems like a nice way to handle things and potentially make a connection, maybe even build your network in that area.

Also, I would add that when you write more papers in the topic, then you should cite your own previous work as well as the work of this other person, noting that they make a similar argument (if contextually appropriate). Not as a way of calling them out, but of keeping the historical record straight, and of being gracious in a way that they perhaps were not. All the better if you get your new paper into a top journal!

Finally, I will say that sometimes ideas are just ripe for the picking. It may not be plagiarism at all, but instead that your idea is relatively low-hanging fruit given the state of play in your field. It happened to me once that I worked on what I thought was a great, original idea only to find that someone had written on it. What did I do? Pouted a bit then published the paper anyway (it made a different argument) and CITED the original person. Credit where credit is due. If enough of us are gracious and honest, then hopefully this will influence the culture in a positive direction. Since I have been in academia I have already seen a positive change in culture in many respects.

Tangentially related rant: until we change word count limits to not include references, we will not fix citation practices in philosophy. We need a better system so we can cite without compromising content.

Helen De Cruz

Low hanging fruit is right. The problem is citation practices in philosophy and those are related to journal submission guidelines. In many psychology journals, references do not count toward the word count (it makes no sense anyway, with so much being electronic) and they cite generously, basically what is relevant to a discussion. They don't use citation as a kind of prestige-currency (Eric Schliesser has several blogposts on how this happens in philosophy, where you cite your friends or Important People and basically ignore others, it's not good. Citation should be done when relevant not to build coalitions or to cite only prestigious figures.
At the Journal of Analytic Theology, we have tried to address this problem by not including the references in the wordcount. Our author instructions say

"An article should not be under review elsewhere when submitted to JAT, and should not have been published elsewhere. Papers should normally be under 9,000 words in length, the word count is not including references but including footnotes, appendices and other supplementary materials. Longer papers will be considered but note that they need to clear a higher bar, and need to have some
justification for their length. We value economy of expression.

We are not including the list of references in the word count so as to encourage authors to cite inclusively, i.e., to cite work that has meaningfully played a role in the ideas of their paper, rather than only signalling their knowledge of the prestigious or most well-known works in the field.

Full guidelines here--
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iT34OEkYlxESofDtWTKROu4_kwmw0Ua3/view?usp=sharing

This is just to say, I loathe the practice that is mentioned in the OP and it's a bad thing when it happens BUT it is the symptom of a structural bad feature of citation practices in philosophy.

ThinkingOutLoud

I would like to think that Richard's advice might help in some cases, but I bet we all know of people like OP who have tried this and were just snubbed again--and maybe caused bad blood in the process. Still, it's probably worth a shot in most cases. But I think the wording of that email is going to matter a lot to its success (e.g. best to avoid coming off "hostile" or worse), so perhaps someone has practical advice for how such an email should be written?

Pragmatically, the popular "nothing to do but rise above" advice is probably right given that academic philosophy currently has no good formal or informal system(s) for assessing or redressing one-off cases like OP's or those in which the snub is more clearly deliberate and on-going. (I mean, sure: if you're buds with the "right" people, they might apply some useful pressure on your behalf, but apart from that what is there?) As I read them, the "suck it up" replies to OP suggest that there's nothing more academic philosophers COULD be doing to encourage/establish more honesty and accountability wrt citations. But is that right? Maybe, but what are the reasons for thinking that?


Also, I think the popular "nothing can be done" response we see to OP has normalized a counterpart "there will be no real consequences for bad actors" narrative, and the latter encourages bad-faith actors. I mean, if you're the sort of person who's inclined to snub people you don't like/respect/whatever (especially those relatively low on the power/prestige academic hierarchy) by not citing them, then wouldn't you be all the more willing to do so knowing that your community will basically ignore/provide cover for your bad actions and focus their efforts on managing the reaction of the victim instead?

Also, some have suggested that any wrongs done to OP in the past might be corrected in OP's future publications. But this kind of "You'll get 'em next time, Tiger" thinking seems like advice for people who got their TT jobs pre-2008. As the job market grows ever more dreary, I am less inclined to assume that a junior person (grad student, post-doc, adjunct, assistant prof) is going to get the chance to correct the record later in their career. Nowadays, if your work isn't cited when it should be, it can really hurt an untenured person's job prospects. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that racking up citations matters wrt how seriously people take your work, how willing they are to cite it, and how willing they are to write glowing recommendation letters about it. Past citations of your work can grease the wheels to publish more, which is pretty important if you want to land a post-doc or TT job. We all know highly qualified candidates who are dropping out of the field given the intense competition--a game of inches has become a game of millimeters, and that's not even including matters of luck--it seems to me that a pre-tenure philosopher has non-trivial reason to worry about the downstream effects of being snubbed when they ought to have been cited. (If that last bit sounds like a stretch, let's just say that I know a story....)

Does anyone have any thoughts about how we could CHANGE the status quo to make things better, e.g. correct for egregious citation oversights, hold bad actors more accountable, and so on?

Tim

I think that the discussion of word counts in references is probably off the mark on this one. My guess is that the author read OP's paper, and the author realized the similarity between OP's argument and the author's. But the author was worried that a reviewer/editor would reject the paper for "not being significant enough" since it is too similar to OP's paper. So the author rolled the dice--deleting mention to OP's paper and hoping that reviewers/editors would be unfamiliar with OP's paper. And it worked. So I would guess that the culprit here is the demand to publish "significant" or "new" work and not have a lower word count.

Marcus Arvan


@ThinkingOutLoud: those are all really good points. Although I forgot to mention this in the OP, it seems to me that a good long term solution these problems (viz. changing the status quo) might be a disciplinary shift toward online prepublication peer review of the sort that Liam Kofi Bright, Remco Heesen, and I defend in our “Jury Theorems for Peer Review” paper in BJPS - https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/719117

In math and physics, where people post papers on the ArXiv as a rule before even submitting to journals, errors of fact or scholarship can be corrected *prior* to publication. This is because anyone can read and comment on an ArXiv preprint to point our errors or omissions, bringing them both to the attention of the author and other readers. If anything would improve citation practices and incentive authors themselves to do better, that might.

beware

One should proceed very carefully here. Someone once made an accusation against me, but then I showed them some earlier e-mail exchanges between us that made it perfectly clear that we had got to the same place independently and at the same time. We were both using the same distinctive phrase.

Interdisciplinary observation

We do not have enough citation culture, which is a bit like theoretical physics, as far as I know. In contrast, mathematics seems to be a bit better, where many people really try to cite all relevant work, whether or not that work is well-known or particularly well-written. I guess that has something to do with whether we see philosophy really as a collaborative work, each building on others, and no need for repetitive results.

Assistant Professor

I had as similar experience to the OP except my publication was in the "better" journal and only came out a year before the one that should have cited my work but didn't. I did what Richard recommended and emailed the lead author noting that I was interested to see their paper and that they might be interested in my work. The complicated thing in my situation is one of their co-authors was at a talk I had given on the very topic two years prior, and had talked to me about the presentation afterward, so they couldn't claim to not be aware of my work on the topic. I agree with all the recommendations to not include bibliographies in word count limits but I don't think that solves the problem of people either being sloppy readers, or just plain dismissive.

Another explanation

Here's another possible explanation. The other person had already written their paper a few years ago, prior to your paper coming out. They then have been sending it to journal after journal repeatedly (remember that the most prestigious journals take a long time). Finally, one journal accepts their paper, and by the time it is published online, it is years after yours.

UK Postdoc

While I am very sympathetic to the OP, I would also recommend caution in 'confronting' purported plagiarists.

After submitting my master's thesis I was accused of plagiarism by a Faculty member at my institution in a way I perceived as quite hostile. Looking back, I now accept that my citation practises were not perfect, but I didn't cross any obvious line or try to pass off someone else's ideas as my own. I was also still a student, and many citation practises seem to me more like common wisdom than explicitly codified rules, so with certain edge cases it's not always clear how to proceed (I am not saying this is the case for the OP!).

But at the time, the accusation seriously fuelled my imposter syndrome as I was just starting my PhD. I basically started out worrying that I didn't have any good original ideas, and that I was only successful in previous work because I used other people's ideas. I really did have a lot of stress because of this. It is easy to imagine that plagiarists have malicious intentions, but that's not always the case.

Caligula's Goat

Unless I had evidence, I would never assume that someone was trying to intentionally hurt me by not citing me. I've certainly read papers on x (especially on x-a, the tiny subproblem in x that I specizlize in) and thought to myself, "I can't believe they didn't cite me!"

But then I realize that many must think the same about me and that maybe fewer people have read my work than my ego would like to believe and that my work is only one piece of a puzzle so large that nobody really has a view of the whole picture. It's entirely reasonable to expect that you won't be cited even in work on your sub-speciality even if it would be relevant and that the upset I sometimes feel when I'm not cited (speaking only for me OP), is really not about the person who didn't cite me and more about my own existential concern that the work I do and the life I've spent doing it isn't really all that important and won't be having that many effects in the world. I think it's that creeping concern that fuels my citation anger anyway.

M

I don't mean to invalidate your feelings; I have had similar experiences myself and on top of all the pressures we face something like this can be very demoralizing. And even if the plagiarism didn't occur, the fact that an idea like yours was published in a more prestigious place without you getting the recognition is rough.

All that said…Why do you think this author should have been aware of your paper? You say it's published in a "less regarded" venue—how would they have come across it? Unless it's in an extremely narrow or brand new research topic, it's not always feasible to scour for every paper that has been written on a topic…does it come up when you google the topic? When you type the topic on philpapers? Is your article itself cited in references the author cites? If not, then why?

If the justevidence is that (a) the idea is similar and the author has used, and (b) the presence of these obscure references, then I think to answer this it matters how eccentric the idea is and how obscure these references are (for example, works of fiction rather or obscure philosophical works far away from the debate).

If possible, I would be forward-looking here. Resenting people can be poisonous, and sour you to the discipline—even if the resentment is justified it's probably in your interest to let it go if you can. And if nothing else it's always encouraging when an idea you had was published in a well regarded journal.


Anna

I'm sorry this happened to you! Just a quick thought. You mention that the paper has an excellent bibliography yet overlooks yours. One possibility is that referees of the paper wrote to the author, 'you should read U, V, W' and 'You should read X, Y, and Z', etc and this author obeyed, and that's why the reference list ended up looking so comprehensive while omitting your paper.

NK

Marcus, I wonder if it might be worth starting a more general discussion here about the *point* of citation. I, for one, would be interested to hear others' views on when, and why, one *ought* to cite a given work.

One suggestion made above is that you ought to (try to) cite everything relevant. Another (to which I take Helen to have objected, though the following is an attempt to describe it a bit more charitably) would be that you ought to cite relevant work that you think is good/worth reading and engaging with. These obvious differ in at least one important way: on the latter proposal, citations would be prestige-markers; on the former, they wouldn't.

Are there other options? And what is there to be said for and against each option?

I'm also curious what others think of the following sociological hypothesis: when you cite "low-prestige" work (whatever exactly that means), you thereby lower the perceived prestige of your own (i.e., the citing) work, in the sense that others are going to be less likely to read your work and/or take it seriously (if/when they take note of the character of your citations).

Prof L

I would assume that the person didn’t cite your paper because the person is unaware of your paper.

I’ve sometimes not cited things because I think they are very bad. Like “this is on the same topic but I can’t make much sense of it, and I don’t want to send anyone to it” … that is really rare, though.

Importantly: no one is obligated to read and cite everything recently written on a topic. There’s just too much out there. Publishing your paper then is one step in getting people to read and cite it.

Marcus Arvan

Hi NK: Indeed, I think that would be a great discussion to have. I'll start a new thread either later today or on Monday!

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