From the university webpage:
Robert J. Sternberg is Professor of Human Development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. . . . Sternberg is the author of over 1700 refereed publications. . . .
How did he compile over 1700 refereed publications? Nick Brown tells the story:
I [Brown] was recently contacted by Brendan O’Connor, a graduate student at the University of Leicester, who had noticed that some of the text in Dr. Sternberg’s many articles and chapters appeared to be almost identical. . . .
Exhibit 1 . . . this 2010 article by Dr. Sternberg was basically a mashup of this article of his from the same year and this book chapter of his from 2002. One of the very few meaningful differences in the chunks that were recycled between the two 2010 articles is that the term “school psychology” is used in the mashup article to replace “cognitive education” from the other; this may perhaps not be unrelated to the fact that the former was published in School Psychology International (SPI) and the latter in the Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology (JCEP). If you want to see just how much of the SPI article was recycled from the other two sources, have a look at this. Yellow highlighted text is copied verbatim from the 2002 chapter, green from the JCEP article. You can see that about 95% of the text is in one or the other colour . . .
Curiously, despite Dr. Sternberg’s considerable appetite for self-citation (there are 26 citations of his own chapters or articles, plus 1 of a chapter in a book that he edited, in the JCEP article; 25 plus 5 in the SPI article), neither of the 2010 articles cites the other, even as “in press” or “manuscript under review”; nor does either of them cite the 2002 book chapter. If previously published work is so good that you want to copy big chunks from it, why would you not also cite it?
Hmmmmm . . . I have an idea! Sternberg wants to increase his citation count. So he cites himself all the time. But he doesn’t want people to know that he publishes essentially the same paper over and over again. So in those cases, he doesn’t cite himself. Cute, huh?
Inspired by Brendan’s discovery, I [Brown] decided to see if I could find any more examples. I downloaded Dr. Sternberg’s CV and selected a couple of articles at random, then spent a few minutes googling some sentences that looked like the kind of generic observations that an author in search of making “efficient” use of his time might want to re-use. On about the third attempt, after less than ten minutes of looking, I found a pair of articles, from 2003 and 2004, by Dr. Sternberg and Dr. Elena Grigorenko, with considerable overlaps in their text. About 60% of the text in the later article (which is about the general school student population) has been recycled from the earlier one (which is about gifted children) . . .
Neither of these articles cites the other, even as “in press” or “manuscript in preparation”.
And there’s more:
I [Brown] wondered whether some of the text that was shared between the above pair of articles might have been used in other publications as well. It didn’t take long(*) to find Dr. Sternberg’s contribution (chapter 6) to this 2012 book, in which the vast majority of the text (around 85%, I estimate) has been assembled almost entirely from previous publications: chapter 11 of this 1990 book by Dr. Sternberg (blue), this 1998 chapter by Dr. Janet Davidson and Dr. Sternberg (green), the above-mentioned 2003 article by Dr. Sternberg and Dr. Grigorenko (yellow), and chapter 10 of this 2010 book by Dr. Sternberg, Dr. Linda Jarvin, and Dr. Grigorenko (pink). . . .
Once again, despite the fact that this chapter cites 59 of Dr. Sternberg’s own publications and another 10 chapters by other people in books that he (co-)edited, none of those citations are to the four works that were the source of all the highlighted text in the above illustration.
Now, sometimes one finds book chapters that are based on previous work. In such cases, it is the usual practice to include a note to that effect. And indeed, two chapters (numbered 26 and 27) in that 2012 book edited by Dr. Dawn Flanagan and Dr. Patti Harrison, contain an acknowledgement along the lines of “This chapter is adapted from
. Copyright 20xx by . Adapted by permission”. But there is no such disclosure in chapter 6.
It appears that Dr. Sternberg has assembled a chapter almost entirely from previous work on more than one occasion. Here’s a recent example of a chapter made principally from his earlier publications. . . .
This chapter cites 50 of Dr. Sternberg’s own publications and another 7 chapters by others in books that he (co-)edited. . . .
However, none of the citations of that book indicate that any of the text taken from it is being correctly quoted, with quote marks (or appropriate indentation) and a page number. The four other books from which the highlighted text was taken were not cited. No disclosure that this chapter has been adapted from previously published material appears in the chapter, or anywhere else in the 2017 book . . .
In the context of a long and thoughtful discussion, James Heathers supplies the rules from the American Psychological Association code of ethics:
And here’s Cornell’s policy:
OK, that’s the policy for Cornell students. Apparently not the policy for faculty.
One more thing
Bobbie Spellman, former editor of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, is confident “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Sternberg was not telling the truth when he said that “all papers in Perspectives go out for peer review, including his own introductions and discussions.” Unless, as Spellman puts it, “you believe that ‘peer review’ means asking some folks to read it and then deciding whether or not to take their advice before you approve publication of it.”
So, there you have it. The man is obsessed with citing his own work—except on the occasions when he does a cut-and-paste job, in which case he is suddenly shy about mentioning his other publications. And, as editor, he reportedly says he sends out everything for peer review, but then doesn’t.
P.S. From his (very long) C.V.:
Sternberg, R. J. (2015). Epilogue: Why is ethical behavior challenging? A model of ethical reasoning. In R. J. Sternberg & S. T. Fiske (Eds.), Ethical challenges in the behavioral and brain sciences: Case studies and commentaries (pp. 218-226). New York: Cambridge University Press.
This guy should join up with Bruno Frey and Brad Bushman: the 3 of them would form a very productive Department of Cut and Paste. Department chair? Ed Wegman, of course.
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