We’ve known for a long time that Casey Luskin has some very odd ideas about what constitutes a technical publication. Casey’s been good enough to document another deficiency of his in this respect for all to see, but no one is allowed to comment. (I wonder what happened to the Discovery Institute’s grand experiment in interactive commentary, anyway?)
Casey thinks I’m a hypocrite for criticizing Granville Sewell on the topic of self-plagiarism. As evidence, he notes that an essay co-authored by Jeff Shallit and I was published on the web and later in the journal Synthese.
The Case of Wesley Elsberry’s Self-Plagiarism
In 2003, Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit co-published a paper, “Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski’s ‘Complex Specified Information,'” on the website TalkReason.org. (I wrote a response to the substance of their 2003 article here.)[*]
In 2011, Elsberry and Shallit co-published a paper in the journal Synthese titled “Information theory, evolutionary computation, and Dembski’s “complex specified information.'”
If you’ll notice, the titles of those two papers are identical. That’s not all that’s identical in the papers. A comparison performed by a colleague using the plagiarism-detection software SafeAssign shows that these two papers are ~94% matching.
(Note: The analysis used text files I had prepared using the original PDFs of the papers. For processing, I had to strip out some numbers and mathematical equations which did not translate well into the text files. Also, my colleague’s name has been redacted.)
Isn’t it just a bit hypocritical that Elsberry harps upon Sewell’s supposed mortal sin of “self-plagiarism” when Elsberry himself has taken previously published work and then republished it in academic journals?
Yeah, I’ll stipulate that the essay is mostly the same. But…
Casey, Casey, Casey… Republishing essentially the same thing multiple times in the technical literature is a bad thing. Getting something that’s been released on the web but not yet published in the technical literature is perfectly fine, with a caveat: the authors should make sure that the editors are aware of the prior release. This was done for the essay that was published in Synthese. (The editors also knew of a similar essay published in 2004’s “Why Intelligent Design Fails”, which Casey hasn’t mentioned yet.) This situation is not what “self-plagiarism” applies to. Nor is converting material from a dissertation into technical articles considered self-plagiarism, which is another process that I’m still working on. For another case in point, some time ago Reed Cartwright blogged a criticism of a paper. Another researcher saw that and invited Reed to contribute to a response letter in the technical literature. Does Reed’s previous web publication of the line of criticism used in the letter establish “self-plagiarism”? That’s a clear “No”. Scientists treat the technical literature as a separate source of knowledge from popular sources like blogs and portal sites. Repetition of material in lay outlets is essentially of no concern to the scientific endeavor. When it occurs in the technical literature, it is perceived as a pernicious problem.
But Granville Sewell doesn’t have a situation analogous to mine, where I converted a lay release into a publication in the technical literature. The Discovery Institute itself counts his shtick about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics twice already in its list of “peer-reviewed” work on ID. I have no doubt that had AML actually followed through on publication of the essay, the DI would have happily counted it three times over in their list instead of just twice. The DI and its spokes-weasels can’t simultaneously claim that each re-publication counts separately and that self-plagiarism that repeats the same arguments in the technical literature is not happening. Of course, Casey knows how weak his position is, else he wouldn’t have added the following to his screed:
So I personally don’t care if Wesley Elsberry plagiarizes himself, and it doesn’t matter to me one bit if he resubmits material he’s already published to any publication he likes.
My point is simply this: it is hypocritical for Elsberry to attack Sewell for “self-plagiarism,” when Elsberry does the same thing. What Sewell (and Elsberry) have done isn’t a crime. Elsberry’s complaint is both baseless, and hypocritical.
Given that IDC advocates are so unproductive, Casey has to defend the line that if they can manage to sneak the same stuff around to multiple venues within the technical literature, there’s nothing wrong with that. Well, there is something wrong with that. Maybe it isn’t high on the lists of academic sin, but it certainly does goes some way to demonstrating intellectual dishonesty to game the technical literature.
[*] Casey, you did not write a response to the substance of our essay. That would have required reading comprehension on your part. What you wrote was an orgy of strawman gouging and delusional codswallop.