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The Chronicle of Higher Education
Monday, November 22, 2004

Publisher Ran Identical Articles in Multiple Journals Without Acknowledgment, Librarian Finds

By SCOTT CARLSON






HEADLINES  





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A librarian at Cornell University has discovered that a major scholarly-journal company, Emerald, has often published the same article in multiple journals without noting that the material had already appeared elsewhere.

"I found journals that were complete copies of one another," says Philip M. Davis, a life-sciences librarian at Cornell. He found that Emerald, a British company that publishes journals on management and information science, had republished 409 articles in 67 journals from 1989 to 2003. Mr. Davis says that he contacted the authors of the articles and found that, in some cases, Emerald had asked to republish articles, while in other cases authors could not recall whether they had been contacted.

Mr. Davis says that when libraries subscribe to journals, they expect to get original content and that it is an industry and academic "standard" to note original sources when reprinting material.

His research "was not a systematic study," he says. "I couldn't search every article in every journal, and I believe I only got the tip of the iceberg, which seems pretty significant."

Mr. Davis's study started with journals published in 1989 because Emerald's online databases go back that far. "I got an e-mail from an indexer of journals who spotted this back in early 1980 and contacted the publisher," he says, "but obviously nothing happened."

Officials at Emerald do not entirely dispute Mr. Davis's findings, and they say that the failure to note the republications was a flaw in their production process -- a fault that has been fixed.

A statement from the company says that, from 1989 to 2000, when Emerald operated under the name MCB University Press, articles of "particular merit" were occasionally republished. Previously published articles were also used to buttress journal titles that the company had acquired from other publishers and that were behind in their publishing schedules. Dual publication since 2001 has been rare and accidental, the statement says.

The company changed its name to Emerald in June 2001.

"We're not trying to rubbish the work that Phil Davis has done," says Kathryn Toledano, the company's director of business development. Republishing an article without acknowledgment "was something that we did, but it wasn't a business practice."

"There were occasions, and they are very few, when an article was republished," she says. "What we failed to do, but inconsistently, was attribute where the article had been originally published."

However, Ms. Toledano insists that Emerald always got the authors' permission to republish. "It was done with journals that had a nil or negligible overlap of subscribers," she says. "So from the author's perspective, the key golden thing that an author is looking for ... is dissemination of their work."

Mr. Davis says he began his research in the spring after a friend -- Chuck Hamaker, a librarian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte -- looked for his own name in an Emerald database and was surprised to find his name cited in identical articles that appeared in two separate journals.

Mr. Davis says he and Mr. Hamaker performed a cursory search and found a few more examples of duplication. Mr. Davis says he contacted Emerald and was told that republication had occasionally happened long ago, but that the practice had stopped.

However, Mr. Davis continued searching and found hundreds of examples of republished articles. "I found lots of articles where some received copy editing and others didn't," he says.

Librarians and academics contacted by The Chronicle had varied responses to Mr. Davis's findings, but most viewed Emerald's explanations with skepticism.

Bernie Sloan, a senior library and information-systems consultant for the University of Illinois system, was the author of one of the republished articles. He recalls that Emerald contacted him for permission to republish the article, which he granted.

"The interesting thing is that they stopped [republishing] at a certain point," he says, "so to me that means that they thought that there was something not quite kosher about it."

Margaret Landesman, the head of collection development at the University of Utah's library, says that many librarians thought MCB University Press charged too much for its journals. Mr. Davis's research further harms the company's reputation among librarians, she says.

"It's absolutely unethical," she says. "If something like this were to happen with a publisher that has had a sterling reputation, then it is my belief that we are inclined to think that they had a glitch and that it wouldn't happen again." But with Emerald, "it does not seem out of character."

Other librarians are less critical of Emerald, but are concerned by what Mr. Davis's study says about journal publishing as a whole. "I get the impression that some of the comments from librarians about Emerald reflect longstanding frustration," says Rick Anderson, director of resource acquisition at the University of Nevada at Reno. While Emerald's actions were wrong, he says, "that doesn't mean that we need to surround them with pitchforks."

"We should delay outrage," he says, "and a lot of people on my side of the library equation are quick on the trigger."

However, Mr. Anderson thinks Mr. Davis's findings should lead librarians and researchers to conduct broader studies of republication among commercial journals. "The matter here is principle, and if a hundred publishers are doing this, that's a different equation," he says. "It would be useful to know if this is an aberration or a more widespread practice than we thought."


Copyright 2004 by The Chronicle of Higher Education