Tag Archives: Academic

The wrong impact

“We just got a paper in an Impact Factor 10 journal … and hope to go higher soon.”  That’s a statement made to me last week.  It is wrong on so many levels, but does it matter?   Nobel Prize winners think so. This video from nobelprize.org appeared in my twitter feed on Friday.  Before you watch it, consider this, academics in NZ are being encouraged in promotion applications and in preparing for the next round of NZ Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF), which will allocate millions of dollars to academic institutions, to include a metric of the ranking of the journal.  The Impact Factor is the most common metric available.


ps. I would not allow a student working with me to present a raw mean of a highly skewed distribution because it so very poorly represents the distribution.  However, this is exactly what the Impact Factor does (for those who don’t know the most common impact factor for a journal in any given year is simply the sum of citations of articles from the preceding two years divided by the total number of articles published.  The citation distribution is usually skewed because the vast majority of articles receive very few citations in such a short time, but a few receive a lot).  There are numerous other problems with it, not the least that it can’t be used to compare “impact” between different disciplines.

Self plagiarism – a misnomer

The story so far…

Dr Jaimi Whyte publishes in the NZ Herald an article that portions of which are substantially similar to an article he published in Britain in 2005.  This was picked up somehow by @LI_politico who posted:

Twitter on Jaimi Whyte


The NZ Herald subsequently asked Dr Whyte for his reaction to the accusation of self-plagiarism & reported that he did not see anything wrong with submitting an article which was a variant of one he had already published and [besides] Dr Whyte added “There’s clearly no such thing as self-plagiarism.”

I tweeted the article in reaction to the statement about self-plagiarism saying that I agree with Dr Whyte.  This resulted in some very interesting twitter discussion with a number of academics including   .  There were a number of good points made about whether this was more a case which should concern a possible breach of copyright (Dr Whyte had originally published his views in a book; I am not sure who owns the copyright) or whether it was a case of plagiarism; and also about why Dr Whyte’s action may be wrong.

My initial point was that Dr Whyte’s action was not plagiarism. I made this because when I was asked to write an encyclopaedia article on plagiarism a few years back I found that the generally excepted definition was “To represent oneself as the author of some work that is in fact the work of someone else.”[1]  Critically, it is only plagiarism if it is someone else’s work that is being “passed off” as one’s own.  This, though, is not necessarily a universal definition.  pointed to a University of Calgary definition of self-plagiarism:

“Self-plagiarism, however, must be carefully distinguished from the recycling of one’s work that to a greater or lesser extent everyone legitimately does. … Among established academics self-plagiarism is a problem when essentially the same article or book is submitted on more than one occasion to gain additional salary increments or for purpose of promotion.

Like all plagiarism the essence of self-plagiarism is the author attempts to deceive the reader…”[2]

I don’t think Dr Whyte’s article in the NZ Herald would meet the the University of Calgary’s strict definition of self-plagiarism as there is no hint of publication to enhance promotion aspects.  Dr Whyte, is a former politician.   “Repeating oneself” as a politician has become an art form – infuriating in the extreme during election season when we only hear the same thing over and over again.  The angst within academia appears to be that if one repeats oneself in order to gain advantage (eg prestige, promotion etc), then that is deception and not to be done.  On the other hand, as academics we are required to promote what we discover and think (in NZ law to be the “critic and conscience of society”).  Where that comment is confined to the academic journals where we could self-cite (sometimes frowned upon) an issue of deception by replication may be easy to spot.  However, as academics increasingly make use of new media, much of which is not limited to academics, as a means to engage, discuss, debate, and pontificate the line between deception and merely conforming to the norms of the media – ie where citation is not the norm & self-citation may be seen as arrogance and loose one’s audience  – becomes blurry.

The cop-out on many a publication where the results of the experiment are somewhat equivocal is to write “Further study is needed.” [guilty as charged… but only when referees push for this kind of comment].  Certainly here, further discussion is needed.  If you do engage in such discussion, perhaps consider also that the context of plagiarism is culturally bound:

“Plagiarism in the West rests on the assumptions that individuals can and do own their own words and content. …In many non-Western cultures, people find value in their relationships and position in society rather than in their expression of self. In such collectivist cultures, plagiarism is not recognized as a social wrong.”[1]


[1] Pickering, J. W. (2008). Plagiarism. In V. N. Parillo (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Social Problems (pp. 664–667). SAGE Publications: Thousand Oaks, USA.

[2] http://people.ucalgary.ca/~hexham/content/articles/plague-of-plagiarism.html#types



Annual Academic Spam Awards

More annoying than those who boast of the number of unread emails in their inbox are the spammers who contribute to that number.  I’m fortunate to have a university IT department that effectively filters mountains of spam.  Nevertheless, some make it through to my inbox.  In the forlorn hope that I will shame these spammers into disappearing in a puff of smoke I hereby announce my Annual Academic Spam Award winners.

The Robert the Bruce award for persistence.

The Omics Group.

Like Coalgate… they really get in…despite 135 automatic deletes they still sneak through inviting me to write for journals or participate in conferences on topics I don’t know how to spell let alone am able to pontificate about.

The Serpent award for the most tempting conference title of the year

BABE-2013… Omics group!

Dear Dr. John W Pickering,

It is my great pleasure to invite you on behalf of organizing committee for the 4th World Congress on Bioavailability and Bioequivalence Pharmaceutical R & D Summit (BABE-2013), to ….

The CIA award for knowing something about me other than my name

Nephro-2012… Omics group!

Dear Dr. John W Pickering,

We are aware of your busy schedule, still would like to contact you again …

Stop spying on me!

The Stating the bleeding obvious award

Team Catalyst, New Delhi

Dear Professional,

Diseases are the major cause of death,…

The Nutter of the year and Supreme winner of the 2013 AASAs

Alex of the Ukraine


I found your e-mail address on medical site.
My name is Alex, I am from Ukraine, I am 32 years old man, I do not drink alcohol and do not smoke cigarettes, my blood is O+ and I have a good health. If you need liver transplant I am ready to give part of my liver, but I want to receive a big compensation for that…

If you do not need liver transplant, but you know somebody who need it, please send my message to this person or keep it just in case.

[ email address removed ]


P.S. This is not a joke and I am not a cheater or scammer.

All that’s left is to add a reference so that you don’t think I am the only one:

Academic Spam: Comic ID 1590 "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com

Academic Spam: Comic ID 1590
“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham