Thursday, 14 February 2013

Is this plagiarism?

A few years ago I, mistakenly as it turned out, shared some astronomical discoveries with a professional colleague based in the USA.  At almost the same time I also emailed a copy of the article in which my discoveries were formally announced to a magazine co-edited by a different astronomer who just happened to work at the same observatory as the recipient of my, misplaced, generosity. The full significance of this geographical co-incidence was only to become clear some time later.

The months went by and I heard nothing from the magazine and, eventually, it dawned on me that the editor had not the slightest intention of publishing material that might, even slightly, be in conflict with the career interests of his pal.  They don’t call it “publish or perish” for nothing you know! I was pleased that I had put my results, but not the methodology underpinning them, into the public domain believing that not even the most ambitious or unprincipled professional astronomer would claim credit for another person’s work.
Fast forward to 2013. I have just discovered that most of my discoveries have now been published – which is the good news – but that they have been published under the name of the professional astronomer I shared them with 3+ years earlier without a single mention of me appearing anywhere in either the article or the standard catalogue in which discoveries of this type are recorded.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Curiously, or perhaps not curiously, if you are a cynic, a very similar situation occurred a few years ago. A professional astronomer based in the USA was given credit for amateur discoveries that had already appeared in a peer reviewed journal a year before the professional astronomer’s claims were published. Even more curiously, or not, both problems had at least one paid employee in common!

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