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for the trade press (e.g., gambling and gaming magazines) as well as articles in professional publications that are not peer-reviewed.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