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Gambling with someone’s reputation (Part 3)

Over the past few weeks there have been a number of academics who have accused me of self-plagiarism. Here, I briefly outline what I have done and have not done in relation to the allegations I have seen. I think we would all agree with the definition dictionary definition of ‘plagiarism’, i.e., “the process or practice of using another person’s ideas or work and pretending that it is your own” (Cambridge Dictionary). Logically, based on this definition, ‘self-plagiarism’ would equate to the process or practice of using one’s own ideas and pretending that they are your own, but this is of course ludicrous.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘self-plagiarism as “the reuse of one’s own words, ideas, or artistic expression (as in an essay) from preexisting material especially without acknowledgment of their earlier use”. On the same page as this definition is a quote from the journalist Taylor Wofford who notes “Borrowing your own words is a tricky issue. Writers and publishers tend to rank self-plagiarism as a lesser offense than – what should we call it? – ‘real’ plagiarism? Still, they mostly agree it’s a no-no”.

On July 10 (2020), Dr Annie Brookman-Byrne (Deputy Editor of The Psychologist) emailed me:

“At The Psychologist, we are considering writing a piece on the concept and practice of self-plagiarism. We have seen Brendan O’Connor and others on Twitter highlighting concerns over some of your published output. Might you or your institution be interested in making a statement for us around whether you think there is actually a practice here that needs to change?”

I immediately responded to her email and said:

“I’ve not read all the comments on Twitter (and I am not going to respond to anything on Twitter as that is not the place to do it) but the alleged instances of self-plagiarism primarily revolve around my use of journal text in populist non-refereed non-journal outputs. For instance, when I write for magazines like ‘Education and Health’ (a magazine for teachers) or in newspaper or magazine articles I will use text from my journal papers…I write for many different audiences. Obviously I write and co-write refereed journal papers but I am also a freelance journalist, a prolific blogger, and write articles for the trade press (e.g., gambling and gaming magazines) as well as articles in professional publications that are not peer-reviewed. Personally I see nothing wrong in using material from my refereed papers in these other types of article as I am a prolific disseminator and want to get my ideas and thoughts to as many people and to as big an audience as possible. The alleged examples of self-plagiarism that I have seen directed towards me comprise less than 1% of my refereed journal papers. I am very proud of my publication record in many different spheres. For the record, most of those accusing me of alleged self-plagiarism are citing papers that I wrote 15 or more years ago and are making no distinction between what I have published in peer-reviewed journal papers and articles that have not been peer-reviewed and which I would describe as populist outlets”.

I make no secret of using text from my refereed papers in my blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, press releases, trade press publications, consultancy reports, and reports for third parties (e.g., calls for evidence from parliamentary committees). Those who have been using plagiarism software on my refereed papers have included results from text that is not from refereed papers.

For instance, a number of examples I saw of my alleged self-plagiarism concerned the magazine Education and Health. Education and Health is a magazine for teachers and parents and is produced by the School Health Education Unit in Exeter focusing on adolescent health and education issues. Education and Health has no copyright (i.e., no author has to sign a copyright form), is not peer-reviewed, and articles do not have a doi, contain keywords, or have an abstract). I have published in it regularly for three decades. In some of the articles I have written for Education and Health, I have taken an academic review paper (6000-11000 words) and then turned it into a dumbed down ‘pop’ article (1000-1500 words). I’ve done this a number of times over the past 30 years. An example that I saw online last week was in relation to a 2011 open access paper by Daria Kuss and myself (i.e., Kuss, D. J. & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). Online social networking and addiction: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552).

This was an 11,000-word systematic literature review on social networking addiction. It has become one of our most cited papers (1,528 citations on Google Scholar as of this morning). After publishing this refereed paper, I then turned this into a 1500-word ‘pop’ version for Education and Health (Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Excessive online social networking: Can adolescents become addicted to Facebook? Education and Health, 29. 63-66.). In the first paragraph, the Education and Health article clearly states:

As a consequence of the increased media attention to headlines about ‘Facebook addiction’, we recently reviewed all the scientific evidence on the topic (Kuss & Griffiths, 2011a). This article briefly summarises what we found”.

This sentence cites the paper from which all the material in the article comes from. I have not tried to hide anything or pretend that the article contains original material. The article was for teachers and parents. It contains a summary of the key things found in our refereed paper and uses text from that paper. If others want to view it as ‘self-plagiarism’ I have no problem with that. I view it as dissemination of our work to an audience outside of academia.

Any of us in British academia knows how important the Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact agenda is. My own research was rated as having 4* world-leading impact at the last REF and I’m hoping to repeat it this time. One of the ways I have gone about this is to disseminate my work to as many non-academic audiences as possible. My articles in the gambling trade press have been instrumental in the research and consultancy monies that I have generated for my university in the area of responsible gambling, player protection, and harm-minimization.

Almost all of the examples I have seen of my alleged self-plagiarism comes from this type of practice where I have turned pure academic papers into something more populist. Occasionally it has worked the other way (i.e., I’ve written a populist piece and then worked it up into an academic paper although the instances of this are much fewer). As I said above, personally I see nothing wrong in using material from my refereed papers in these other types of article as I am a prolific disseminator and want to get my ideas and thoughts to as many people and to as big an audience as possible.

Most of those accusing me of alleged self-plagiarism are citing papers that I wrote 10-15 years ago (although I did see one from 2015, again with Education and Health being the source of alleged self-plagiarism) and no-one appears to be making any distinction between what I have published in peer-reviewed journal papers and articles that have not been peer-reviewed and which I would describe as populist outlets. Plagiarism software does not indicate whether the text it finds comes from a refereed paper or non-refereed article. No-one who has accused me of self-plagiarism has contacted me personally and asked my about the source material and whether a particular piece of writing was refereed or not. There appears to be an assumption that all alleged self-plagiarised sources were from refereed papers (but they weren’t).

I should also add that there are other examples of my work that have been reproduced with permission from the publishers and/or copyright holders. For instance, the publisher IGI Global regularly republishes my work in other guises. Here’s an example I received this week from them (the words in bold were by the publisher and not me):

“I hope this message finds you well, especially during this turbulent time. It is with great pleasure that I am informing you that your contribution titled “UK-Based Police Officers’ Perceptions of, and Role in Investigating, Cyber-Harassment as a Crime,” previously published in an IGI Global publication, was carefully assessed and selected by IGI Global’s executive editorial board for inclusion as a reprinted chapter (100% completely unchanged from the original) in the recently published IGI Global research anthology titled Police Science.

IGI Global’s research anthologies, also called “Critical Explorations”, were created after an extensive survey was conducted with academic librarians, who requested to have a cost-effective and timely way to enhance their collections with the highest quality, timely research. This line of publications allows our publishing house to hand-select the highest quality research content (book chapters and journal articles of which IGI Global owns the copyright), to be reprinted in a research anthology format. This format also allows the author’s research to become more accessible and visible to a larger community of researchers around the world so that they can benefit from additional exposure (i.e. citations) for their work.

Please note that there is no intent to deceive anyone. We execute the highest level of transparency, as every single chapter that appears in these publications are labeled with a special notation indicating that it is reprinted content and listing the original source of the material. Additionally, because we are maintaining the integrity of the original published work, no changes have been made nor can be made to the chapter”.

I fully understand that my explanation for how and why I publish with different audiences will not be accepted by detractors, but that’s not why I wrote this. All I can do is give my side of how I disseminate my work and ideas to as many people as possible.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

The words and the we’s: When is a new addiction scale not a new addiction scale?

“The words you use should be your own/Don’t plagiarize or take on loans/There’s always someone, somewhere/With a big nose, who knows” (Lyrics written by Morrissey from ‘Cemetry Gates’ (sic) by The Smiths)

Over the last few decades, research into ‘shopping addiction’ and ‘compulsive buying’ has greatly increased. In 2015, I along with my colleagues, developed and subsequently published (in the journal Frontiers in Psychology) a new scale to assess shopping addiction – the 7-item Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale (BSAS) which I wrote about in one of my previous blogs.

We noted in our Frontiers in Psychology paper that two scales had already been developed in the 2000s (i.e., one by Dr. George Christo and colleagues in 2003, and one by Dr. Nancy Ridgway and colleagues in 2008 – see ‘Further reading’ below), but that neither of these two instruments approached problematic shopping behaviour as an addiction in terms of core addiction criteria that are often used in the behavioural addiction field including salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, relapse, and problems. We also made the point that new Internet-related technologies have now greatly facilitated the emergence of problematic shopping behaviour because of factors such as accessibility, affordability, anonymity, convenience, and disinhibition, and that there was a need for a psychometrically robust instrument that assessed problematic shopping across all platforms (i.e., both online and offline). We concluded that the BSAS has good psychometrics, structure, content, convergent validity, and discriminative validity, and that researchers should consider using it in epidemiological studies and treatment settings concerning shopping addiction.

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More recently, Srikant Amrut Manchiraju, Sadachar and Jessica Ridgway developed something they called the Compulsive Online Shopping Scale (COSS) in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (IJMHA). Given that we had just developed a new shopping addiction scale that covered shopping across all media, we were interested to read about the new scale. The scale was a 28-item scale and was based on the 28 items included in the first step of BSAS development (i.e., initial 28-item pool). As the authors noted:

“First, to measure compulsive online shopping, we adopted the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale (BSAS; Andreassen, 2015). The BSAS developed by Andreassen et al. (2015), was adapted for this study because it meets the addiction criteria (e.g., salience, mood modification, etc.) established in the DSM-5. In total, 28 items from the BSAS were modified to reflect compulsive online shopping. For example, the original item – ‘Shopping/buying is the most important thing in my life’ was modified as ‘Online shopping/buying is the most important thing in my life’… It is important to note that we are proposing a new behavioral addiction scale, specifically compulsive online shopping … In conclusion, the scale developed in this study demonstrated strong psychometric, structure, convergent, and discriminant validity, which is consistent with Andreassen et al.’s (2015) findings”.

Apart from the addition of the word ‘online’ to every item, all initial 28 items of the BSAS were used identically in the COSS. Therefore, I sought the opinion of several research colleagues about the ‘new’ scale. Nearly all were very surprised that an almost identical scale had been published. Some even questioned whether such wholescale use might constitute plagiarism (particularly as none of the developers of the COSS sought permission to adapt our scale).

According to the plagiarism.org website, several forms of plagiarism have been described including: “Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not” (p.1). Given the word-for-word reproduction of the 28 item–pool, an argument could be made that the COSS plagiarizes the BSAS, even though the authors acknowledge the source of their scale items. According to Katrina Korb’s 2012 article on adopting or adapting psychometric instruments:

“Adapting an instrument requires more substantial changes than adopting an instrument. In this situation, the researcher follows the general design of another instrument but adds items, removes items, and/or substantially changes the content of each item. Because adapting an instrument is similar to developing a new instrument, it is important that a researcher understands the key principles of developing an instrument…When adapting an instrument, the researcher should report the same information in the Instruments section as when adopting the instrument, but should also include what changes were made to the instrument and why” (p.1).

Dr. Manchiraju and his colleagues didn’t add or remove any of the original seven items, and did not substantially change the content of any of the 28 items on which the BSAS was based. They simply added the word ‘online’ to each existing item. Given that the BSAS was specifically developed to take into account the different ways in which people now shop and to include both online and offline shopping, there doesn’t seem to be a good rationale for developing an online version of the BSAS. Even if there was a good rationale, the scale could have made reference to the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale in the name of the ‘new’ instrument. In a 2005 book chapter ‘Selected Ethical Issues Relevant to Test Adaptations’ by Dr. Thomas Oakland (2005), he noted the following in relation to plagiarism and psychometric test development:

Psychologists do not present portions of another’s work or data as their own, even if the other work or data source is cited … Plagiarism occurs commonly in test adaptation work (Oakland & Hu, 1991), especially when a test is adapted without the approval of its authors and publisher. Those who adapt a test by utilizing items from other tests without the approval of authors and publishers are likely to be violating ethical standards. This practice should not be condoned. Furthermore, this practice may violate laws in those countries that provide copyright protection to intellectual property. In terms of scale development, a measure that has the same original items with only one word added to each item (which only adds information on the context but does not change the meaning of the item) does not really constitute a new scale. They would find it really hard to demonstrate discriminant validity between the two measures”.

Again, according to Oakland’s description of plagiarism specifically in relation to the development of psychometric tests (rather than plagiarism more generally), the COSS appears to have plagiarized the BSAS particularly as Oakland makes specific reference to the adding of one word to each item (“In terms of scale development, a measure that has the same original items with only one word added to each item … does not really constitute a new scale”).

Still, it is important to point that I have no reason to think that this use of the BSAS was carried out maliciously. Indeed, it may well be that the only wrongdoing was lack of familiarity with the conventions of psychometric scale development. It may be that the authors took one line in our original Frontiers in Psychology paper too literally (the BSAS may be freely used by researchers in their future studies in this field”). However, the purpose of this sentence was to give fellow researchers permission to use the validated scale in their own studies and to avoid the inconvenience of having to request permission to use the BSAS and then waiting for an answer. Another important aspect here is that the BSAS (which may be freely used) consists of seven items only, not 28. The seven BSAS items were extracted from an initial item pool in accordance with our intent to create a brief shopping addiction scale. Consequently, there exists only one version of BSAS, the 7-item version. Here, Dr. Manchiraju and his colleagues seem to have misinterpreted this when referring to a 28-item BSAS.

(Please note: This blog is adapted using material from the following paper: Griffiths, M.D., Andreassen, C.S., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R.M., Torsheim, T. Aboujaoude, E.N. (2016). When is a new scale not a new scale? The case of the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale and the Compulsive Online Shopping Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 14, 1107-1110).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aboujaoude, E. (2014). Compulsive buying disorder: a review and update. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4021–4025.

Andreassen, C. S., Griffiths, M. D., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R. M., Torsheim, T., & Aboujaoude, E. (2015). The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: reliability and validity of a brief screening test. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1374. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01374

Christo, G., Jones, S., Haylett, S., Stephenson, G., Lefever, R. M., & Lefever, R. (2003). The shorter PROMIS questionnaire: further validation of a tool for simultaneous assessment of multiple addictive behaviors. Addictive Behaviors, 28, 225–248.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D., Andreassen, C.S., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R.M., Torsheim, T. Aboujaoude, E.N. (2016). When is a new scale not a new scale? The case of the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale and the Compulsive Online Shopping Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 14, 1107-1110.

Korb, K. (2012). Adopting or adapting an instrument. Retrieved September 12, 2016, from: http://korbedpsych.com/R09aAdopt.html

Manchiraju, S., Sadachar, A., & Ridgway, J. L. (2016). The Compulsive Online Shopping Scale (COSS): Development and Validation Using Panel Data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-15. doi: 10.1007/s11469-016-9662-6.

Maraz, A., Eisinger, A., Hende, Urbán, R., Paksi, B., Kun, B., Kökönyei, G., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Measuring compulsive buying behaviour: Psychometric validity of three different scales and prevalence in the general population and in shopping centres. Psychiatry Research, 225, 326–334.

Maraz, A., Griffiths, M. D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2016). The prevalence of compulsive buying in non-clinical populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Addiction, 111, 408-419.

Oakland, T. (2005). Selected ethical issues relevant to test adaptations. In Hambleton, R., Spielberger, C. & Meranda, P. (Eds.). Adapting educational and psychological tests for cross-cultural assessment (pp. 65-92). Mahwah, NY: Erlbaum Press.

Oakland, T., & Hu, S. (1991). Professionals who administer tests with children and youth: An international survey. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 9(2), 108-120.

Plagiarism.org (2016). What is plagiarism? Retrieved September 12, 2016, from: http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/what-is-plagiarism

Ridgway, N., Kukar-Kinney, M., & Monroe, K. (2008). An expanded conceptualization and a new measure of compulsive buying. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 622–639.

Weinstein, A., Maraz, A., Griffiths, M.D., Lejoyeux, M. & Demetrovics, Z. (2016). Shopping addiction and compulsive buying: Features and characteristics of addiction. In V. Preedy (Ed.), The Neuropathology Of Drug Addictions And Substance Misuse (Vol. 3). (pp. 993-1008). London: Academic Press.