bruno frey and self-plagiarism (or, repeating oneself)

Undoubtedly orgtheory readers have heard about the Bruno Frey affair (if not, the wiki site will get you up to speed).  I think the question of “self-plagiarism” is sort of interesting — what are gray areas and boundaries of self-plagiarism?  Well, apparently there’s now a conference to discuss the matter. Is self-plagiarism simply “repeating oneself?”  Or as economist James Buchanan put it – “It is only by varied repetition that new ideas can be impressed upon reluctant minds.”

A few links related to the above:

Written by teppo

October 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Maybe the bio should read “published more than 350 articles, but when the sum is properly weighted for repetition really more like 135.”



    October 30, 2011 at 10:04 pm

  2. There’s no grey area at all here. Repeat your ideas as much as you want….but trying to hide what you’ve published (or are planning to publish) on a related topic from referees and editors is clearly unethical. No one cares that Frey wrote many papers on topics for which he is an expert. But he has been banned from journals for functionally lying to them about what he has previously published. Open science and academia rely a lot on norms and trust – indeed, the importance of norms is precisely the theme of Frey’s most famous work!

    David Autor, editor of the JEP, covered exactly this issue in a brutal letter published at the end of a recent issue: .



    October 30, 2011 at 10:37 pm

  3. What afinetheorem said. This is about trying to publish the same paper multiple times which everybody knows is not allowed. Next moral dilemma.



    October 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm

  4. I haven’t read all the materials – but yes, it looks like a pretty clear case of self-plagiarism rather than simply “repeating oneself.”



    October 31, 2011 at 1:23 pm

  5. I am only too happy to cite my own works, but it is not always appropriate outside of an academic setting. Within the school, how many students in college or high school submit the same paper for different classes over the course of their years? It is an ethical problem; and we are not explicit in explaining this to our charges.


    Michael Marotta

    October 31, 2011 at 3:08 pm

  6. I think “self-plagiarism” is an inaccurate and thus confusing term for Frey’s form of dishonesty. Not all academic dishonesty is plagiarism. Frey violated the terms of submission to a journal that required that the work be “not published elsewhere” and sought to gain the benefit of additional lines on a cv without doing additional work. That is dishonesty and the journals are justifiable in seeking retribution. But it isn’t plagiarism.

    I don’t think you can “plagiarize” yourself. You can, however, seek to get credit for the same work more than once, which is what Frey did and what our students do when they submit the same paper to more than one course. This is academic dishonesty but it is not plagiarism. Failing to cite your own work is a clue to this form of dishonesty, but note that many of our journals’ double-blind policies require it by mandating the elimination of references to one’s own work from the bibliography.

    Clearly distinguishing between plagiarism (passing someone else’s work off as your own) and double-counting the same work is important because using someone else’s work without attribution is always wrong, while repeating yourself or using some of the same work in different venues may or may not be wrong, depending on the venues. For example, nobody that I know thinks it is immoral to publish an article that is substantially unrevised from a conference paper, even if/when that conference paper is available as a PDF on line. Many believe that it is ok to repackage work originally published as journal articles into book form, but not the other way around. In my view, neither of these is more moral or immoral a priori, but publishers have opinions about whether they do or do not want to publish only “original” research.

    Both of these are separate issues from copyright ownership. Because publishers claim the copyright to work produced by writers, they have a stake in not having work under their copyright also be copyrighted by someone else. And these issues, in turn, are different from the phenomenon of “constructing a cv with mirrors” (also known as the minimal publishable unit) in which the same work with only minor variations is spun out into multiple articles.

    The “self-plagiarism” rubric elides more subtle issues, as when a paper recycles sections from a literature review from a previous publication but the analysis is wholly distinct. I personally don’t think that recycling a literature review (that you wrote yourself for another paper) is even wrong. Even if you do believe the literature review should be rewritten, the sources it cites are still not going to change.

    In short, there needs to be a conversation about when it is and is not appropriate to “republish” or “recycle” the same work, but I don’t think blurring the problem in with the problem of plagiarism is the way to structure that conversation.



    October 31, 2011 at 6:07 pm

  7. olderwoman: well put.



    November 1, 2011 at 1:56 am

  8. Ok, spending to much damn time on this website ( but it is fascinating (some people have “guts”)! Some factoids that I’ve collected in the last 20 minutes:

    (1) B. S. F. was at the other end of a case of good ol’ fashioned plagiarism–you know, the one where you just copy stuff from another paper that you didn’t write (as one of the editors of Kylos), back in 1996.

    (2) The guy responsible was this incredible German wacko–who has acquired legendary status among social science plagiarists–named Hans Werner Gottinger (check out his largely unbelievable story). Peter Klein had an O&M post on him a while back.

    (3) The stupidest case is certainly the one perpetrated by a pair of yahoos by the name of Francisco Fernando and Ribeiro Ramos, who copied almost verbatim a paper on “modelling underreported Poisson counts” originally written by the well-known econometrician (GLMs, count models, etc.) Rainer Winkelmann. That’s like trying to pass a Leo Goodman paper on log-linear models as your own! Gotta love the “original” versus “plagiarized” comparisons on this one (it entails a substitution of “worker absenteeism” for “purchases of port wine” [!]; a clear window into the collective conscience of Southern Europe).



    November 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm

  9. One might not like that the term self-plagiarism exists, but it is the word that (in particular European) the literature on scientific dishonesty uses, and have used for decades.

    The main problem is not, furthermore, the boosting of one’s CV, but the “scientific noise” that self-plagiarism creates. We have enough papers to read and cite, no need to have 4 versions of the same stuff out there.



    November 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

  10. Actually, it appears that Francisco Fernando Ribeiro Ramos is just one guy with a long name.


    John Quiggin

    November 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm

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