Plagiarizing Your Pseudonym

Oct 23 2008 Published by under Blogging

As Bora is fond of pointing out, the weblog is nothing more or less than a tool. A communication tool that should be considered no differently from other tools such as the slide projector, the microphone, the printed journal or the telephone. For that matter, little different from airspace. The recent discussions on blogger pseudonymity (Abel, PalMD, Sciencewoman, Janet, PhysioProf) have been rattling around in my head and for some reason I had a thought about plagiarism. The question for today is this.
If you have a pseudonymous blog do you run the risk of plagiarizing yourself?


Plagiarism in academic scientific writing is a little different than the more-familiar definitions in the highschool and college classroom setting. I had a post a year ago about the Office of Research Integrity of the NIH's clarification on plagiarism. I think I've perhaps discussed my supposition that the anti-plagiarism background of the graduate student interferes with generating good paper drafts because they are trying to be unique and all that. Of course, academic papers in a lab may plagiarize previous publications from the group quite freely when it comes to Methods descriptions and even to some extent when it comes to Introduction and Discussion. There are only so many ways to make the same point which may form the relevant argument within multiple presentations of new data.
It is also the case that there are some PIs who generate endless numbers of review articles for slightly different journal audiences. These reviews may reiterate the same points over and over; of course, the points are often collected from those originally presented in the context of a primary data article.
To go one step further we need recognize that at its best, science is a continual communication in which thoughts may be expressed to colleagues in many formats. So you may write something into a paper that is essentially an exact copy of things that you say in your platform presentations or seminars. Right?
Now where it gets a little dodgy is when you write and publish thoughts or concepts that are pulled from the scientific cloud to which many scientists contribute. Steal an idea or phrasing from someone, get it into print before s/he does and you are not plagiarizing. Scooping, maybe. But not plagiarizing. Write an identical idea* or exact phrasing which one of your colleagues has already published without citing the original source and you are plagiarizing.
So what if you blog pseudonymously on topics that are very close to your academic interests. Suppose sometime down the road you are writing a review article, research proposal or even a Discussion section and you inadvertently write down a near copy of something you've written on the blog? I mean, you do just have the one brain in there, right? It seems likely to happen.
What if someone notices? And says, "Hey, I read this exact same stuff on HopperBlog a year ago!" This clown is plagiarizing a blogger!!!!!!
__
*yes, very hazy concept here. Some "ideas" are too general to run afoul of any sort of complaint

30 responses so far

  • Dude, put down the fucking crack pipe. Seriously.

  • ptet says:

    Definitely a risk. Even outside academic circles, you might have an article published in your own name based on previous pseudonymous posts - and then have to explain why you seem to have copied from a blog.
    Them's the breaks. It's bound to have happened in pre-blogging days too, though of course the internet not only makes plagiarism easier, but also checking for plagiarism ;>

  • I came to see if CPP had as yet asked you put down the fucking crack pipe and will now leave satisfied!

  • Comrade PhysioProf (tm) says:

    I thought this post was going to be about someone stealing your internet identity.
    Note From The Editors: This comment was not written by the real Comrade PhysioProf

  • george.wiman says:

    I started blogging under a pseudonym 6 years ago but got bored with pseudonymity. (Pseudoanonymity?)
    Much to my surprise, someone - in the Netherlands, I think - has copied my entire blog going back a couple years, and many others. No idea why. I have taken no action as yet, which raises the possibility that someone will think I am plagiarizing him. Or her.

  • Orac says:

    This is a rare instance where I'm with Comrade PhysioProf.

  • DrugMonkey, this made my head hurt in a metaphysical kind of way. The real life Dr. Isis thinks her pseudonym is amazing. On the other hand, her pseudonym thinks the real Dr. Isis is a total bitch. I could see them getting into a fight over the ownership of a shoe post....

  • bsci says:

    This is sort of link the wikipedia cases where a high school or college student writes a report and notices that the wiki page on that topic is poor so they update the page. They then get accused of plagiarizing wikipedia.

  • This is a rare instance where I'm with Comrade PhysioProf.

    Awesome, dude! Next time we see each other, let's spark a doobie!

  • juniorprof says:

    I also agree with CPP, I'll be following Orac around, looking for CPP.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    At least where CPP and Isis are concerned, there is no way they will ever be accused of plagiarizing themselves, since no scientific journal will ever accept their style of blog writing. As to Orac, there could be a chance that he will be identified and his pseudonymity exposed.

  • Dr Isis may care to visit this classic old post of Janet Stemwedel's dialogue with her pseudonym for laughs and direction writing her own. As is typical of the good professor, it kicks total and complete ass.
    I hate to tell my friends here that I may be partaking from the same crack pipe as Brother Drug. This is a very thoughtful post and an interesting angle on the whole pseudonymity issue. Many of us pseuds use our blogs as kind of a writing laboratory, particularly those of us that analyze peer-reviewed papers if they're in an area where we might write a review article down the road. I've even used some of my posts in teaching and have actually thought about using one for submission to a science education journal.
    P.S. I know that whimple coined the bunny-hopping thing at the old joint but HopperBlog sounds like a place where you'd put up posts that were written on the laptop while sitting on the can. Just sayin'

  • cashmoney says:

    a place where you'd put up posts that were written on the laptop while sitting on the can.
    Isn't that where you all write your stuff????

  • Stephanie Z says:

    I also have to agree with DM here, with the additional note that this doesn't have to rise to the level of "plagiarism" to have an effect. In fiction, where some of the more prolific and popular authors write under multiple names for branding reasons, it's not uncommon to hear a fan of one name trash-talking another for being a "poor-man's" so-and-so.
    Now, in fiction, pseudonyms are mostly open secrets, so there's generally someone around to pull the clueless aside and explain how the world works. That's less likely to be the case in academia. So, while someone with a non-academic voice, like Isis or CPP, is unlikely to be affected by this sort of thing, someone who uses blogging the way Abel does could alienate an audience of blog fans without realizing it just by being themselves.

  • SlowNSteady says:

    In fiction, where some of the more prolific and popular authors write under multiple names for branding reasons, it's not uncommon to hear a fan of one name trash-talking another for being a "poor-man's" so-and-so.
    Hmm. Ok. Thinking. Thinking. .......*click*
    So you are saying that "Greg Laden" is really an off-brand of "PZ Myers"?

  • Stephanie Z says:

    While I may be saying that there are some one-trick ponies out there, uh, goodness no. While they're both very good writers, they're nothing alike.
    It's kind of like the DM/CPP dynamic. PZ is much more methodical and analytic. Greg is the funny one speaking from a place of passion.

  • SlowNSteady says:

    Wait, I thought Statler and Waldorf were actually the same person? Did I miss something? Isn't that why you people are always calling them sockpuppets and muppets and all that ?

  • Becca says:

    Greg is the funny one
    1) PZ is funny
    2) Citation?!!!

  • DrugMonkey says:

    stephanie, why would authors write under different names? Seems like they would want to leverage their rep for new sales.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    To answer everything in reverse order:
    DM, there is a sense that if there are too many new books by the same author when a reader walks into a bookstore, the reader is likely to just pick one. So they somehow avoid competing with themselves that way. I have no idea whether that's backed up by any research--it's marketing. Also, if they're writing for different audiences (say, kids and adults), they'll often separate the work by using different names.
    They do want the leverage, though, which is why these are open secrets.
    Becca, (2) I'm hardly the only one. (1) Of course PZ is funny. Are you saying I said DM isn't?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    oh, and fake CPP...I am surprised pseud-spoofing in comments doesn't happen more. But it is very rare it seems.

  • Becca says:

    (2) Yes, I see your point. Clearly, Dr. Laden is full of God Darwin and Win and will lead us on a never ending journey of LOLERCOSTERS. I give full marks for sheep jokes.
    (1) If I said you were a vermicious kanid, and were obviously insinuating (via using "the" to indicate singular and exclusive) that DM was not funny, would gratutious drama ensue? I am saddened by the lack of active feuding of late. At least public feuding... one never knows what goes on behind the scenes on the internal ScienceBlogs "OMG-Academic-Science-is-not-a-Fucking-CareBears-Teaparty and Teh Internets R Serious Business" message board.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Becca, I can't pick a fight with DM today, apparently. If I could, I certainly would just to oblige someone who knows what vermicious knids are. I can at least show you my favorite silly sheep t-shirt.
    But don't be fooled. There is gratuitous drama to be seen, even if it doesn't break out into full-scale warfare. Can't discuss pseudonymity without it, I guess. Greg's just sort of tangential at the moment.

  • Is Stephanie comparing PhysioProf to Greg Laden?
    Brilliant!

  • So, while someone with a non-academic voice, like Isis or CPP, is unlikely to be affected by this sort of thing, someone who uses blogging the way Abel does could alienate an audience of blog fans without realizing it just by being themselves.
    Stephanie, I understand the first part of this statement but I think I'm unclear on the second part on how folks who use blogs as writing laboratories risk the alienation of blog fans by being themselves. Is this getting back to the issue of the pseudonym being a brand that would disappear if one went RealName or am I just not thinking clearly about your point? (In any case, you'll get the pleasure (or horror) of knowing exactly who I am in January and I hope you attend the pseudonymity session.)
    I am surprised pseud-spoofing in comments doesn't happen more. But it is very rare it seems.
    The cool thing about Movable Type is that your own comments on your own blog will come up in the darker background (as in #s 19 and 21) as long as you type in the exact name you use in authoring posts - it didn't do that on the CPP-spoofer @#4 b/c they added the (tm). But yes, I'm surprised one doesn't see more pseud-spoofing.
    Drug, I also remember that identical automobiles (Honda Accord & Acura Integra of old) have been branded differently to appeal to multiple markets.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I think I'm unclear on the second part on how folks who use blogs as writing laboratories risk the alienation of blog fans by being themselves.
    I'm sort-of aware of what she's talking about. In SF/fantasy (I assume) some author might write her epic space marine warrior shit under John Cobb and her magical elves-n-unicorn shit under Estelle Stardust. Actually I guess her point is more accurate if the author has stuff more closely related like space marine warrior and alternate timeline but real Earth marine warrior (Bob Rocker) in different book series. Then someone might say, "Hey, that Bob Rocker really writes just exactly like John Cobb but damn he's a poor imitation".
    Do I have that right Stephanie?
    So suppose you wrote your current blog as Abel and, say, a career-based blog as RealYou and the casual reader thought you were distinct. They might think Johnny-come-lately RealYou was riffing off and copying the style of Abel (of course, as a poor imitation, hah!)

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Got it in one, DM. The risk is that fans of Abel could stumble across RealYou's blog and be turned off by what they see as imitation. And since they're already Abel fans, guess who's side they'll be on. Sure, the pseudonym gets some extra love, but RealYou, with the real career and important networking, not so much.
    Abel, I'd love to attend the pseudonym panel in January, but unless they move it or the art panel, I'm committed elsewhere.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    btw, StephanieZ why IS it that scifi/fantasy authors favor pen names that sound like oldeSkoole porn names anyway?

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Hmm, I need some examples on this one. The authors I know who use pen names mostly pick them for placement on the shelf or do something basic like go to initials to obscure their gender. Who are you thinking of, and are you sure these are pen names? A lot of SFF authors are in the second or third generation of fandom and were given interesting names at birth.

  • bioephemera says:

    Can i just say how sorry i am that i skimmed this post before all these comments were added? so glad I came back to have a look 'round again. Y'all make me smile.
    To add to this, though, there was a case (can't remember the specifics) where a professor was accused of plagiarizing a student's paper. The defense was that the professor had written that portion of the paper during the editing process. But because it was under the student's name (apparently the prof was not a co-author, which is why I'd like to know more details), it didn't matter. It's a different situation with a blog in that you could solve it by outing yourself as the author of both - but would that price be too high to pay?

Leave a Reply