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Apr 25 2012

Adding space dinosaurs can draw attention to your sins

That ridiculous paper that postulated alien dinosaurs has another flaw, to the detriment of an otherwise well regarded researcher: Ronald Breslow has been accused of self-plagiarism. It seems to be true, too; examples show that he has been recycling substantial chunks of text in multiple papers.

I guess that’s how the big names can generate those impressive publication lists: they just recycle each paper a few dozen times.

16 comments

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  1. 1
    kp71

    I guess that’s how the big names can generate those impressive publication lists: they just recycle each paper a few dozen times.

    Yes, I’ve noticed this in my field (fisheries ecology). Colleagues seem to have the same batch of ideas slightly re-vamped for different journals.

  2. 2
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    That just looks like laziness. It’s fine to hone one perfect definition and use it consistently; but to plunk a few random sentences like that is sloppy.

  3. 3
    Reginald Selkirk

    He should sue himself for damages.

  4. 4
    terrellk70

    Maybe we should have a christian prayer group pray for him.

  5. 5
    Louis

    I’ll repeat one of the things that really annoys me about all this: Breslow doesn’t need to do this.

    He’s made dozens of serious and excellent contributions to organic chemistry. He’s a big name prof at a big name university, in a department that gets results (certainly more than “recycling” a paper or two would achieve). This sort of research (and this is more a perspectives article than a proper paper) doesn’t attract the big bucks. This is the same department where Gilbert Stork works/worked for fuck’s sake. Danishefsky works there too. It’s a big name org chem dept full of smart people doing great work. CV padding is not needed.

    That’s why it’s baffling to me that he wrote this paper the way he wrote it. It. Makes. No. Sense.

    Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Breslow. Breslow is a chemist from Columbia. But Breslow is already a big name guy. Now think about it; that does not make sense!

    Why would Breslow, an excellent chemist, want to pull the kind of cheap skullduggery that a new academic might try and get lynched for? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense! Look at me. I’m a chemist confused about another more eminent chemist, and I’m talkin’ about horseshit a five year old can see through! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you’re in that jury room deliberatin’ and conjugatin’ the Emancipation Proclamation, does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Breslow works at Columbia, you must acquit! The confused defence rests.

    Louis

  6. 6
    Blondin

    Louis, you forgot to mention Chewbacca.

  7. 7
    Rich Woods

    Maybe Breslow was just unfortunate in trying to submit his paper to Turnitin when that service was down on Monday.

  8. 8
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Look, as long as we’re throwing around random things that sound cool, we were just talking on the thread about Xian love about umlauts.

    What if the space dinosaurs have names with umlauts?

    Talk about a missed opportunity.

  9. 9
    Louis

    Blondin,

    Did I? Or are the Chewbacca references hidden in Bible code style umlaut laden text?

    Bible codes + conspiracy + dinosaurs + space + umlauts.

    I could only make it cooler if the dinosaurs were pirates. Although, the minute Ted McGinley starts playing a dinosaur wrangler, the idea will jump the shark.

    Louis

  10. 10
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    I recycled a couple of high school papers (with added sources) in my college English composition classes and the professor held them up as exemplars of a college term paper. I did it because I was lazy.

    I wonder if this is the same?

  11. 11
    feralboy12

    I recycled a couple of high school papers (with added sources) in my college English composition classes and the professor held them up as exemplars of a college term paper.

    I recycled a couple of sentences in a college term paper until it was long enough to meet requirements. I got a D. I deserved it.
    Although if I remember correctly, the paper had something to do with Mozart, so I thought of it more as a Theme & Variations type of composition.

  12. 12
    Rick

    Call me ignorant in the arena of scientific publication protocols, but it seems odd to me that one can be accused of plagiarizing one’s own work. I do always look in the mirror before repeating myself, and ask my self for permission to do so. So why would anyone care?

    If its not a new idea, I will notice ;) I think scientific journals have far to much to say about what gets published and what doesn’t anyway. If I happen to repeat myself (which I often do), tough.

    Hell, that’s how I generated all those papers in college. At least it was “my” work.

  13. 13
    WhiteHatLurker

    @Rick
    The work in a published paper should be original. Otherwise, a field will be populated with the same papers saying the same thing. This seems to be painfully close to that – there are significant blocks that are repeated near-verbatim.

    On the other hand, there are phrasings that an author will tend to use – some of that can be caught by co-authors, though junior authors (grad students) may not be that discerning or bold. The peer review process may catch that as well, but most reviewers aren’t that thorough.

    It is still academic dishonesty, whether you copy someone else or present your old drivel as new drivel.

  14. 14
    ibbica

    Is there more convincing evidence than the sentences provided in that Nature News article? Because frankly, that doesn’t look all that terrible to me. Here’s the excerpt shown:

    “Good credibly prebiotic examples of the latter process have not yet been produced.
    Further work is needed to show prebiotic versions of the conversion of D-glyceraldehyde to D-ribose, D-glucose, D-fructose, and D-2-deoxyribose — such efforts are underway in our laboratory. We also need a credible way in which nucleosides and nucleotides could be formed from these sugars and pyrimidines, not just purines.”

    Presenting the same data in multiple papers without citing the first is a big no-no. But a few throwaway sentences that basically say “we need to do more work”? Really? (I’ll note that those papers are all published 2011/2012, so it’s not as though he’s been repeating “this is underway” for years without actually working on it.)

    A lot of ‘big names’ repeat themselves in their papers, because they have a lot of papers on the same or similar topic (partly why they’re considered ‘big names’, after all). Far as I can tell, he’s not recycling old data and trying to present it as new, so what exactly is the issue here? Are there more damning extracts than what the NN article showed?

    I really have to disagree about it necessarily being ‘academic dishonesty’ to repeat your own sentences in multiple papers. Sure, it seems a bit lazy, but if you want to keep making the same point, why would rewording the sentences above make the difference between “OK” and “plagiarism”?

  15. 15
    Rick

    @WhiteHatLurker thanks for the attempt at clarification. I was making a bit of fun at the whole thing. On the one hand, it seems silly. On the other, I suppose in order to maintain good APA format (protocol I am familiar with) one would cite oneself when mentioning some prior data or conclusion. Good science writing should take nothing on assumption and present nothing as assumed.

    This seems to lean toward the former, nit-picky.

  16. 16
    jahigginbotham

    There is good commentary on this at ChemBark
    :http://blog.chembark.com/2012/04/25/what-the-acs-must-do-regarding-the-dinosaur-paper/

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