“I know you aren’t the plagiarism police, but . . .”

November 20, 2012

(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Someone I don’t know writes in:

I have followed your thoughts on plagiarism rather closely, and I ran across something in the Economics literature that I felt might interest you (and if you were to share this, I’d rather remain anonymous as a junior faculty not looking to step on toes anywhere). I know you aren’t the plagiarism police, but figured you would have some input.

I’ve been reading up on some literature regarding all-pay auctions for some research I have been working on and came across an interesting paper in J. Political Economy (1998) with the following intro:

“Many economic allocations are decided by competition for a prize on the basis of costly activities. For example, monopoly licenses may be awarded to the person (or group) that lobbies the hardest (Tullock, 1967), or tickets may be given to those who wait in line the longest (Holt and Sherman 1982). In such contests, losers’ efforts are costly and are generally not compensated. These situations, which are especially common in nonmarket allocations, are of concern to economists precisely because competition involves the expenditure of real resources, or ‘‘rent-seeking’’ behavior. Krueger (1974) estimated the annual welfare costs of rent seeking induced by price and quantity controls to be 7 percent of gross national product in India and somewhat higher in Turkey.”

I also ran across another paper in J. Economic Behavior & Organization (2006, 8 years later) by different authors, with the following introductory passage:

“Many economic allocations are decided by competition for a prize on the basis of costly activities. Some well-known examples for such competitions are research and development (R&D) races, political campaigns, awarding of monopoly licenses, selling franchises, and so on. In such contests, participants’ efforts are quite costly, and losers are not compensated for these efforts. To model such situations, in which competition involves real expenditures, or ‘rent seeking’ behavior, researchers find the all-pay auction quite appealing”………………”It turns out that in a variety of cases where rent-seeking behavior is exercised, total efforts exceed the value of the prize. Krueger (1974), for example, estimates that annual welfare costs induced by price and quantity controls in India are approximately 7% of gross national product. In Turkey, the figures are estimated as somewhat higher.”

We see similar patterns in the conclusion sections (same order as above):

(1) “The all-pay auction has been widely studied because it is an allocation mechanism in which competition for a prize involves the expenditure of real resources, for example, lobbying.”

(2) “The all-pay auction has been widely studied because it is often used as an allocation mechanism in competitions for a prize where players’ effort involves the expenditure of resources. Examples of such competitions are lobbying,…”

I thought I had accidentally downloaded the same paper twice until looking at the title again. I found the similarities rather troubling, and these are not the types of journals that get tucked away as a “line on the C.V.” We all know JPE is top tier, and JEBO is a high quality journal as well. The second article does cite the first, but does not give credit specifically to the introduction. It cites that it is comparing results with that paper, and ultimately the meat of the paper is slightly different.

Anyway, I felt that this would be up your alley of much of your discussions recently and was curious about your thoughts here.

My reply: I don’t know anything about this area of research, but it does seem a bit tacky to quote someone else without the use of quotation marks. Perhaps a statistics group at some state university in the Virginia suburbs could do some research into the social networks involved here?

P.S. I heard from Uri Gneezy, the author of the 2006 article, who writes:

Just want to set things right: our [Gneezy and Smorodinsky's] paper is an experimental test of the [earlier] JPE modeling paper. It is based on that paper; we cite the JPE paper 8 (!) times in our paper, comparing our results to their prediction. Our paper is an empirical test of the JPE model. As we clearly state in the paper, the motivating economic issue and literature are the same. This is why we cite them 8 times! Our paper also benefited from comments (prior to publication) from the authors of the JPE paper.

Given this, it sounds like credit was given fairly. And so I would change my above “it does seem a bit tacky” sentence to: “It seems like a mistake to not use quotation marks, even in a case such as this where the work is clearly labeled as following up from an earlier paper.”

It’s an interesting example of how things can look different from the outside than from close up. (Also, different from the Fischer and Wegman stories, where the more information was unearthed, the worse things looked.) I’m glad to be able to clear this up on the same day it appeared.

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