Tuesday 13 September 2011


It just keeps getting worse for Bruno Frey.

I can't help but wonder though how many folks would survive similar examination. As we strive towards the "least publishable unit" as the optimum rather than articles that exhaust a particular line of investigation, there's always going to be substantial overlap in material across journal articles. The literature review and contextualization will be similar. Maybe the next iteration of the paper has a specification or two that weren't included in the first published version. But the main thrust of the results are similar.

Eventually, somebody will run EconLit, JSTOR and SSRN through TurnItIn. And the results won't be good.


  1. There is a (granted, not always clear) distinction between producing publons—or minimum publishable units—and recycling large parts of papers.

    If one does substantial amount of work in a given research area it is common to have to repeat bits and pieces to, for example, introduce the paper. Nevertheless, most authors would refer to their other papers in an effort to produce a coherent/cohesive body of research, which is one reason why Frey's omissions are problematic.

    The increase of high-visibility article retractions (easy to follow in sites like Retraction Watch) is fascinating. Together with shoddy reporting, particularly of health-related research results, this situation could be contributing to tarnish the (not always deserved) reputation of science as a bastion of honest pursue of understanding.

  2. I'm wondering if the AEA sued, if they would win the case, or if the court would rule that self-plagiarism isn't an offence and single submissions was a restraint of trade?

  3. @Luis: It's hard to do the publon (like the term, thanks) without cribbing bits of your old methods or lit review sections.

    @Sinc: I don't think the AEA needs to sue. The letter in the JEP does more harm than a court would. Would be surprised if the court were to rule Journal submission guidelines as a restraint of trade; they'd hopefully take the efficiency aspects of single submission (fewer folks having to referee in parallel) as justifying. But who knows.

  4. In the spirit of proper referencing, I first saw the name publon (a quantum of publication) in page 40 of Feibelman P.J. (1993) "A Ph.D. is not enough—a guide to survival in science". Addison-Wesley, Reading MA.