Saturday, March 10, 2018

Update to the Catalogue of Radiocarbon Determinations & Dendrochronology Dates

As the Research Director of the one-person Irish Radiocarbon & Dendrochronological Dates research project, I would like to announce an update to the Catalogue. Unfortunately, it isn’t an update that I’m particularly happy to have to make.

There have been some recent issues with plagiarism of the Catalogue, where the work was used as a significant component by another research project, but no mention of it was made within the resulting publication. The situation so created would allow the unwary to believe that the authors of this paper carried out the gathering of Irish radiocarbon dates themselves. Only the most devoted would venture to download a zipped file of additional data, search in one of several sub-folders for a .md file to know that my work had been used. It is my intention to publish a number of blog posts in the near future detailing the background to the issue and the sluggishness of both universities and the publishing Journal in dealing with it. The response I have so far received is that my accusations do not meet the narrowly-defined criteria for plagiarism at UCL which hinges on the intention to deceive, rather than arrogantly and callously not caring enough for the work or others to bother giving it credit. University of Plymouth believe that I should be content with the minimised and obscure citation my work received. Only the journal PNAS believe that wrongdoing has occurred and have directed that changes be made to the published paper.

To ensure that such a situation never again arises, I’ve decided that my lack of clarity on the IR&DD webpage may have been a contributing factor. It is for this reason I have included an additional tab on the downloadable resource called ‘Citation & Restrictions

The Citations portion is simple and reads as follows:

*           *           *
If you make use of this resource, I expect it to be cited in publications. The full reference should read something like:

Chapple, R. M. 2018 Catalogue of Radiocarbon Determinations & Dendrochronology Dates (March 2018 release) Oculus Obscura Press, Belfast.

If you do not value this research enough to cite it in the publication, please do not use it. Citation in additional content (such as downloadable material) external to the main paper/chapter/book etc. is not sufficient.
*           *           *

To rework a Beyoncé lyric: “If you liked it, then you shoulda put a citation on it”. I don’t believe that this is too much to ask – if my research is good enough to be used in your research project, it is good enough to receive the same form of citation as any other piece of work that informed that research. I’m not asking for anything above and beyond what any other work is entitled to.

The Restrictions section is, unfortunately, somewhat longer. It contains the full list of authors of the paper which plagiarised my work and bans them all from using this resource in any further work that they are involved with, including (but not limited to) papers, books, chapters etc. While PNAS, the publishing journal, has agreed to make changes to the paper, these are not yet publicly available, so I (reluctantly) extend the ban on using this work to anyone publishing with them. As the two universities appear content that the actions of their staff do not meet their curiously restrictive definition of ‘plagiarism’, I must take it upon myself to ensure that the same approach is not taken by others in their employ. Thus, I have (also reluctantly) taken the step of banning all and any other staff at those institutions from using this resource in any research work. As I am not made of stone, I will consider allowing individual researchers from these universities permission to use this resource, so long as none of the ‘Gang of Six’ co-authors are involved in any way.

The Restrictions section reads as follows:

*           *           *
The Catalogue has always been a free-to-use resource for all people working with or just interested in the scientific dating of Irish archaeology.

However, recent unprofessional activities by certain parties has led to a ban of the authors of the following paper from using this resource or publishing work based on it in any way:                                                                                          
Holocene fluctuations in human population demonstrate repeated links to food production and climate, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)                                                                                                                                                           
The banned authors are as follows:
Andrew Bevan University College London                                                           
Sue Colledge University College London                                                           
Dorian Fuller University College London                                                           
Ralph Fyfe University of Plymouth                                                 
Stephen Shennan University College London                                           
Chris Stevens University College London                                                           

This ban extends to the use of this resource in papers, books, chapters etc. where the above are co-authors or in any way connected.

University College London and Plymouth University do not believe that the conduct of these individuals constitutes plagiarism or is even misconduct of any kind. Thus, to prevent others falling into the same error, the ban on using this resource is extended to all employees of these institutions. (I am prepared, however, to make exceptions on personal application).

As the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) have failed to investigate this matter and retract the offending paper, the ban on using this resource also extends to anyone intending to publish with PNAS.

This notice will remain in place and in force until such time as this matter is resolved.
*           *           *

I’m perfectly aware of the fact that, to rework another recent pop lyric, “plagiarisers gonna plagiarise”, so this ban may not have much impact on their ways. However, I would hope that naming these individuals and the institutions may shine a light on their unethical practices. It may also make them consider that this negative attention may have an adverse impact on their various reputations, both personal and corporate.

At this point my gut reaction is that these individuals – for the most part, senior academics, but all with at least a PhD – felt able to blithely take my research work – compiled over more than a decade – use it in their project and then fail to mention it in the main body of the paper they published. After all, I don’t have so much as a PhD and I don’t work for a university. I’m obviously a nobody. This is how you treat nobodys. It is also clear to me that, at the institutional level, this practice is condoned and protected. Why else would UCL and University of Plymouth have agreed to carry out investigations into the actions of these co-authors, but have failed to report anything after three months? UCL have even gone on record to state that they have not even managed to interview Andrew Bevan yet and do not appear to think that this is an issue. When they finally did respond to pressure, UCL hid behind a narrow definition of plagiarism that hinged on the difficult to prove notion that there was intent to deceive. As an aside, it should be noted that this a much more narrowly-defined version of plagiarism than UCL would seek to apply to its own students if so accused. University of Plymouth presented me with Schrödinger’s Academic, who was both not involved in the portion of the paper that involved the use of radiocarbon dates and was blameless, but as a co-author bore collective responsibility, but still wasn’t to blame as I have received some credit for my work. Only PNAS have recognised that some degree of wrongdoing has taken place and directed that changes should be made to the paper. Once an acceptable version of the paper is available, I will issue an updated version of the resource that removes the ban on publishing with PNAS.

The bigger picture here is that I’m not the only person that this is happening to. In the first instance, it is clear that other works that materially contributed to the PNAS paper have received insufficient recognition from the six co-authors. So, not only are Bevan et al. doing this to me, they’re doing it to others too. In all likelihood, this incident is symptomatic of a larger malaise where the co-authors, either individually or collectively, habitually minimise or obscure the work of others. It is also clear that their various institutions will shield and support them through all of this.

There is, however, a bigger, Bigger picture that has genuinely surprised me. Since beginning a discussion about this on social media (albeit without naming names) is has become clear to me that this is a far wider phenomenon than just these academics, in these two institutions, publishing in this journal. I have received several communications from a number of professional academics, confiding in me that their work had, at various points in the past, been plagiarised to one degree or another. The most common unifying factor that stopped these individuals coming forward and fighting for the recognition due to them and their research was that the plagiarisers were, almost inevitably, senior academics and they were much more junior. Their concerns were that in speaking out, they may be seen as trouble makers and that it may injure future chances of promotion or grant awards. As a Nobody, without a PhD, and without a university lectureship to protect, I do not have any of these concerns and I say that it’s time that this practice stopped! I know that this may bring little comfort to those still fearing negative consequences for speaking out, but I hope that it will start to send a message to Prof Bevan and those like him that this practice is unacceptable and will not be tolerated!

The March 2018 version of the Catlaogue can be downloaded from GitHub | Harvard Dataverse | Zenodo. See also the project website [here] for additional notes etc.