Acknowledgement of research work in professional documents
February 9, 2015 4:38 PM   Subscribe

A number of documents have been brought to my attention concerning an academic field in which I sometimes work. They are technical documents by a prestigious European organisation. They apply a multi-stage methodology which is clearly a stage-by-stage copy of a complex methodology developed by one of my colleagues a year or two before.

The documents are in the same specialist area as the original but use different data (international rather than national). The development of the methodology was a major part of his work. There is no copy and pasting so that is not an issue. However, there is no acknowledgement of my colleague's work at all, the document basically sets out a method as if they had developed it themselves from the available literature and applied it to a new area.

We are aware of one of the authors of the documents and my colleague had supplied him with a copy of his methodology while they were in contact over something else, so we know he is familiar with it. We also know that he is not very specialist in this area and is unlikely to have developed it himself.

I am used to dealing with copy and paste plagiarism, but this is different and I was wondering how much of an issue it is for professional researchers to behave in this manner. Is this acceptable or is it an ethics breach? What action might be taken, if any, and if my colleague was interested in pursuing something (which he probably isn't)?

I am well aware that all research is built on the preceding work of others but I think this may go beyond that and I think is effectively taking credit for the intellectual sweat of someone else without acknowledgement and may be a form of misrepresentation. I feel like a line may have been crossed and would be interested to hear others' perspectives or be pointed to some material that considers these issues.
posted by biffa to Education (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In the U.S., methodology is not protectable by copyright:

Ideas, Methods, or Systems:
What Is Not Protected by Copyright (PDF)

I don't know if there are any countries or organization with any authority over such things that do protect something like this. So I will just say this sucks and leave it at that.
posted by Michele in California at 6:03 PM on February 9, 2015

I think the main thing to do if your friend is concerned would be to contact the university or organization that employs the offending individuals. I'm not sure how plagiarism issues work in different countries/university systems, but certainly in the U.S. this would be a pretty big deal and universities/departments would definitely want to know when making promotion decisions. I can't say how big of a deal it would be in a European university (or private organization), but I think the best bet of getting any type of satisfaction here would be through that route rather than a legal route.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:17 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you discuss what type of documents we are talking about? Are they intended for circulation? If this European organization paid the authors to produce this specific piece of research, they would probably like to know about it. If it's only an internal report or working paper prepared by their own employees they may already know and not care.

Something else you aren't mentioning: do the documents contain _any_ other references or bibliography list? If they do, and your colleague was left out, it is clearly an ethics breach to my eyes.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:08 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Dr Dracator, sorry for the slow response. The documents by the authors for the European organisation are for public use and have a full reference section, drawing on many of the sources that my colleague drew upon. I have discovered since posting that this has now become an annual publication using the methodology in both years published so far. The documents are in the same area as the original research but apply the method within an international rather than national context, that is the main change. My colleague remains within the sector and my concern is that they will not get credit for something which was a significant piece of work that brought together research in a new and novel way.
posted by biffa at 10:51 AM on February 15, 2015

If this has become an annual thing, I would start with sending a polite e-mail to the authors alerting them to the work of your colleague (assuming it has been published in a citeable form, previous to their first publication), and suggesting they include a reference in the future.

If this was a honest omission, they have a chance to make things (sort of) right. If they don't, you can decide if you want to contact employers/publishers.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:41 PM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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