What You Call Self Plagiarism I Call Syndication

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Just as researchers do not present the work of others as their own (plagiarism), they do not present their own previously published work as new scholarship (self-plagiarism)-APA Manual

Who is best served by our policies of self-plagiarism? Is it the scholars who conducted the work? Is it the public whose tax dollars fund the research? The same public  who then must spend tax dollars to read the research in over priced journals? Most important is it knowledge itself?

shaking head no

No. Policies of self-plagiarism serve publishers not science. In fact  the APA code of ethics states “authors should not submit manuscripts that have been published elsewhere in substantially similar form or with substantially similar content.”  This is a mistake. The Web has unleashed an ability for science to leave the cloistered halls of academia. We need to syndicate our results to the general public.

Furthermore the problems the world faces are too substantial for anyone discipline to solve. Why should years of research have to be retooled to be cross-posted in journals from vastly different fields. We should be disgusted.


Researchers often (almost always) sign away their copyright when publishing their articles. So when you syndicate YOUR ideas you are infringing on the copyright of stakholders who seek to profit from your efforts. In fact according to the APA 6th edition manual (2010):

The general view is that the core of the new document must constitute an original contribution of knowledge, and only the amount of previously published material necessary to understand that contribution should be included, primarily in the discussion of theory and methodology. When feasible, all of the author’s own words that are cited should be located in a single paragraph or a few paragraphs, with a citation at the end of each (pg. 16).

So what is the solution? First you must respect copyright. If you sign away your work to publish (and as junior faculty I do it often) respect it. You can release pre-draft version to elicit “feedback,” but many journals frown on this.

They want to horde your treasures. It makes sense. Publishing is big business.

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You could also publish in open science journals or simply on the Web. Though these journals may have lower impact values or be financially closed  ( such as the AERA “open” journal chargin $800 an article).

We as researchers also need to push back against policies that protect publishers and not science.

Some simple guidelines to follow:

  • Include a link or citation back to where the work was originally published.
  • Work in the open. Explain to me why exactly we need the publishing industry.
  • Borrow from the #indieweb movement. Publish on your own site and syndicate elsewhere (POSSE).
  • Create new publications. Many of our organizations are dependant on publication revenue and therefore are not incentivized to support a POSSE model.

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