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Alleviating Think Tank Plagiarism

Alleviating Think Tank Plagiarism

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Alleviating Think Tank Plagiarism

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  1. Alleviating Think Tank Plagiarism By J.H. Snider, Ph.D. President of and Lab Fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University Presented at the World Conference on Academic IntegrityMay 6, 2013 Montreal, Canada

  2. Outline • Why think tanks are important • Why think tank plagiarism is important • Definition of think tank • Definition of plagiarism • Incentives for plagiarism • Case study • Remedies • Conclusion

  3. Why Think Tanks are Important • More than a 1,000 think tanks in the U.S. • Heavily subsidized by taxpayers. • Influential.

  4. Citations of Think Tanks in the Media Source: “Think Tank Spectrum Revisited,” Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, June 1, 2012.

  5. Ranking of Think Tanks by DC Events (adjusted for annual expenditures) Source: “The Most Popular Washington Think Tanks,” DC Linktank Blog, October 2012. Downloaded May 4, 2013. See

  6. Why Think Tank Plagiarism is Important • Like academic institutions, think tanks place great store on the independence and originality of their work. • Like academic institutions, enforcement of research norms is primarily via social sanction rather than law. • But think tanks are also neither fish nor fowl. They may claim to do “scholarship,” including follow academic research norms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be held to those standards or that think tanks actually take those standards seriously. • My goal here: call attention to issues relating to plagiarism in a particular type of important, taxpayer subsidized institution that doesn’t neatly fit into either an academic or non-academic category.

  7. Mission and Message to Funders “new ideas” Libel Zone

  8. Mission and Message to Funders “new ideas” Libel Zone Note the implied diversity and thus independence from funders.

  9. Ideal-type Definition of a Think Tank A think tank is a type of nonprofit institution that makes public policy recommendations. It is distinguished from other institutions with a similar function—notably journalistic, advocacy, and academic institutions--by the following criteria: • It is a nonprofit that is heavily subsidized by taxpayers; that is, it is a 501(c)(3) corporation. • It is solution rather than problem oriented (unlike investigative journalism). • Its recommendations grow out of research rather than vice versa (unlike public advocacy/lobbying). • It uses a problem-solution rather than contribution-to-literature publication format (unlike academia)

  10. Definition of Plagiarism The false assumption of authorship in a way that is socially harmful; the wrongful taking of and representing as one’s own the ideas, words, or inventions of another.” (See Lindey 1952 and Shaw 1982) Key elements: 1) idea plagiarism is included, 2) social harm is explicitly mentioned and emphasized, 3) no harm to the real author is required, and 4) deception, not intent to deceive, is emphasized.

  11. Think Tank vs. AcademicIncentives for Plagiarism • Structure of publications: problem-solution vs. contribution-to-literature. • Very costly for enforcers • No “peer review” as for academic journals, conferences, and promotions. • Libel and retribution become a much greater concern. • Lay audiences who aren’t competitors. • Lack of private institutions to internalize the cost of plagiarism. (Incentives analogous to team doping use.) • Collective action problems for those harmed.

  12. The Benefits from Plagiarism:The Mechanism • The business analogy • The me-too product launch and its marketing campaign • The think tank product launch and its marketing campaign • How journalists work and how this encourages think tank idea plagiarism • How funders work and how this encourages think tank idea plagiarism

  13. Nature of Think Tank Claims to Originality • The virgin birth of originality claims. (Claims are likely to be made outside the work product.) • Undefined claims (that is, outside a specific context). • Claims in face-to-face or non-public settings: to funders, at events, proximate causation.

  14. Nature of Claims to Independence • Independence claims are a type of originality claim (e.g., students are expected to do their work independently). • Independence claims, like other claims to originality, are usually made in a strategically ambiguous way.

  15. Libel vs. Free Speech Zone Free Speech Zone Libel Zone

  16. Verifiability of Harmful Plagiarism by Occupation Text (e.g., Literary) Plagiarism Idea (e.g., Think Tank) Plagiarism Free Speech Zone Libel Zone

  17. Legally vs. Socially Enforceable Plagiarism by Occupation Literary/Text Plagiarism Think Tank/Idea Plagiarism

  18. Citation Type by Publication Format Qualification on small cites: Could be legal brief/advocacy style citation; e.g., don’t cite the work of opponents unless it is to criticize them, even if their research is useful.

  19. Informal vs. Formal Enforcement Options

  20. Audience Characteristics

  21. Case Study:Conference Board of Canada • Describes itself as “the foremost, independent, not-for-profit applied research organization in Canada.” • Ranked #11 among Canadian think tanks in “2012 Global Go To Think Tanks Report.” • In a May 2009 report on intellectual property, plagiarized, with only minor text changes, a report from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (a U.S. intellectual property lobby). • Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, exposes the plagiarism. • Mr. Geist’s findings are widely report in the Canadian press. • The Conference Board of Canada retracts the report.

  22. The Retraction • Conference Board initially responds that it “stands behind its findings” and has corrected a missing citation “in one instance.” • After widespread press coverage, the Conference Board retracts its report, implicitly blaming its author by saying the report was written by a contract author no longer with the Conference Board. • The author responds by denouncing the Conference Board, saying he left a year before the report was released, did not include the relevant language in the draft he submitted, and asked that his name be taken off the report.

  23. Backstory • Professor Geist found three other reports from three different organizations, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, The Anti-Counterfeiting Network, and the IP Council, that plagiarized text, including recommendations and arguments, derived from the lobbying associations of the Canadian movie and recording lobbying industries, who, in turn, derive many of their arguments from their American lobbying counterparts. • The same claims in different reports cited secondary sources as if they were primary sources, thus creating nested layers of plagiarism. • The lobbying goal was to have essentially independent organizations make the same recommendations.

  24. Lessons Learned • This was idea plagiarism overlapping with wholesale text plagiarism, which made it easy to detect. But smart idea plagiarists are rarely so lazy. • The plagiarism involved no harm to the real author, who was happy to be plagiarized. • The person who exposed the plagiarism wasn’t interested in plagiarism but discrediting the Conference Board’s intellectual property arguments. • The goal of the plagiarism was to claim not new ideas but ideas independently arrived at. It was to demonstrate a consensus of viewpoints.

  25. Remedy Philosophy • Legal enforcement of idea plagiarism norms is impractical and undesirable. • Social sanctions are the only viable method for enforcing idea plagiarism norms. But: • Laws can create an environment that enhances social sanctions.

  26. Separate Legal and Social Enforcement Mechanisms

  27. Legal Enforcement Mechanisms as a Foundation for Social Ones Social Legal

  28. Remedies • Libel Law. Encourage the free flow of ideas regarding plagiarism claims by reforming libel law for think tanks and other charitable organizations. • Standardized Citation Metadata. Develop standardized metadata for citations. Include them in the next generation of HTML tags, starting with a standards body such as (the metadata organization for search engines). • Central Think Tank Publication Database. Create a PubMed-like central database for think tank publications, with bibliographic information for externally published work and full text for internally published work. (All NIH funded articles must be submitted to PubMed upon acceptance for publication.) • Explicit Attribution Standards. Think tanks should publish on their websites their research ethics policies, signed by their designated ethics official. Form 990 filings to the IRS should include a link to this policy. • NSF Funding. Fund surveys of think tank publication practices. • Producer and Advisor Credits. Encourage a norm for think tank publications to include producer (financial interest) credits sorted by funding specificity; e.g., part of work, whole work, think tank program think tank organization. Advisor /Acknowledgement (information interest) credits, including registered lobbyists, trade association staff, legislative staff, and executive branch officials.

  29. Some Questions • Do we have a shortage of creative public policy ideas? • Are think tanks a no man’s land where neither social nor legal sanctions work? • What type of attribution is appropriate in a think tank context? • Is this really a problem? If so, is there a practical remedy?

  30. End