I’m resorting to name-calling, and I don’t even know who I’m talking about.
Retraction Watch carries the story of a peer reviewer who published a paper he or she reviewed as his or her own. Stole the paper, in other words:
…after Michael Dansinger of Tufts Medical Center realized a paper he’d submitted to Annals of Internal Medicine that had been rejected was republished, and the journal recognized one of the reviewers among the list of co-authors, it published a letter from Dansinger to the reviewer, along with an editorial explaining what happened.
My colleagues and I find it deeply disturbing that someone whom we selected to review a manuscript entrusted to us would commit such heinous intellectual theft.
Heinous is a good way to describe it. Retraction Watch covers the story well, so I won’t rehash it here, but I do have one thing to add.
I review a lot of papers, and predictably, most of them are relevant to my own research. Predictably, I say, because this is how peer review works: the editors of a journal intentionally send manuscripts to reviewers who do similar research, because these are, generally speaking, the people best qualified to judge the manuscript.
Human memory being fallible, this creates a potential problem: I could easily commit plagiarism unintentionally. Since the topics in the papers I review are often similar to the topics of my own writing, I could steal a phrase (or more) by misremembering it as my own. I know I have reconstructed memories incorrectly, for example in an argument over what had happened in a meeting: it turned out that my ‘memory’ of the meeting was entirely based on the account of the person I was arguing with! That’s right: I hadn’t been there, and I was arguing with the person who had. I had internalized the story, gotten it partly wrong, and converted it into a first-person memory. At least, that’s the way I remember it. Stephen Jay Gould gave a great example of this kind of thing in “Muller Bros. Moving & Storage,” and I recounted another in “Relentless use of passive voice” (I still don’t know where that really came from; maybe it is my phrase and I’ve misremembered it as someone else’s!).
The Louie episode “Oh, Louie/Tickets” describes the kind of thing I worry about: hearing (or reading) something, forgetting the source, and eventually coming to believe that you came up with it yourself.
Something like that would be bad but understandable. I’m sure it happens, and I’m not sure it hasn’t happened to me. But, at least by the original author’s account, that’s not what happened here:
After serving as an external peer reviewer on our manuscript, you published that same manuscript in a different medical journal a few months later. You removed the names of the authors and the research site, replacing them with the names of your coauthors and your institution.
That doesn’t happen by accident. It’s despicable, and probably criminal.