Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Hazards of Synthesis

Image of Richard Eckersley

Richard Eckersley’s review paper was rejected by The Lancet for “self-plagiarism”.

By Richard Eckersley

Synthesis of knowledge from different disciplines is underused in research and has hazards for practitioners.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Last year I sent The Lancet a wide-ranging paper urging the need to rethink the science and politics of population health. The journal rejected the paper on the grounds of “self-plagiarism” and reported me to my university, the Australian National University. The ANU investigated and rejected the charge, saying I had not breached the Australian or ANU codes on responsible research.

The prohibition of self-plagiarism – or redundant publication – is intended to stop researchers reporting the same research findings in different journals. The Australian and ANU codes allow exceptions in certain circumstances such as review articles and where the author discloses the replication when submitting a paper. I had said in my cover letter that I had published before on several of the individual themes, as was clear from the references (some obscure and in other fields, and with web links included). However, the paper was a synthesis of this and new material to present an original and provocative argument.

There was no attempt to deceive; my conscience was clear. Plagiarism is the unattributed use of another’s work, but this was my work and I had attributed it. The Lancet’s interpretation suggests that an author can use another’s words (attributed) but not his own. (“Self-plagiarism” is accepted practice in journalism and consultancy, areas in which I also work.)

...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Richard Eckersley is a founding director of Australia 21 (www.australia21.org.au), an independent, non-profit company that carries out transdisciplinary research, and a visiting fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the ANU.