Saturday, August 23, 2008

Debating Intellectual Dishonesty in the BYU Religion Department

Ifinally received a very interesting comment to my post that bears repeating. The commenter supports the idea that has become the status quo in academia. It really needs to be flushed out so that we can raise our consciousness about why it exists as the status quo in many institutions of higher learning:

JimF argues:

I have several bones to pick. First, I suspect that you are wrong about the how often professors at universities other than BYU abuse students. Second, though I am sure that there are those in Religious Education who are intellectually dishonest, I doubt that intellectual dishonesty is "pervasive" in that college. One instance--if what you cite is an instance--doesn't indict the whole group. Third, I'm not sure what the professor asked your daughter to do that was dishonest. You are right that she ought not to rely on his offer of future help. But whether his request that she help with his work amounts to dishonesty depends on what she does and what he does with it. If he publishes what she writes substantially unrevised, and he doesn't explictly give her credit for writing it, that is intellectually dishonest. But he could ask her for research reports and then use them to write up his results without making her a co-author. Of course, sometimes the line between those two is difficult to discern, and a professor ought to err on the side of giving more rather than less credit. But using research assistants to do research without making them co-authors doesn't necessarily amount to intellectual dishonesty or student abuse.


I countered with:

You seemed to justify a system of publishing and perishing at any cost. It is actually a very dishonest system to feel that you shouldn't give credit where credit is due.

I have seen abuse even with the so-called using research assistant where they perform the task of finding stuff. In the case of my daughter he asked her to write some initial things.

Professors don't necessarily direct their research assistants other than to give them a topic, which means many time they find information and insights the professor knew nothing about.

The person then does more than go to the library and find material. Many timees they write rough notes which are used very often with the professors editing them and putting in transitions.

That fact that you buy in to a system where publications are built on the intellectual finds of unnamed research assistants is dishonest in itself. I prefer an environment where I did my doctoral work where people collaborated.

I had a library employee once who did all the research for a bibliographic work on Black Progressivism. The full professor gave him a grateful mention despite the fact the librarian did seventy percent of the work. I questioned him and told him what he was doing was dishonest. He cussed and swore and finally to my surprise not only did he give my employee a second co-authorship he gave him all the royalties to their second book. That is more impressive than what you are suggesting.

My professor and I have continued our relationship for fifteen years co-writing, sometimes I carry my cognate professor and sometimes she cares me. We have not had a problem in the RTP process both having obtained rank and promotion to the full professor level.

I think since I have spent twenty years of my life in academia I can speak from experience here. I was granted tenure at San Diego State University which will compare with anywhere you might have worked. I had to go up against three RTP committees including the main SDSU review committee and I made it in four years. I have worked in six universities and have published. I have seen abuse in the publlication process and I have determined not to use students work dishonestly.

You ought to be ashamed of yourself if you are a professor that doesn't build up his students and raise them up. Because your are promulgating a dishonest practice. I can see you have bought in to the idea that is okay to use the intellectual property of others because you gave them a fellowship or ten bucks an hour. How sad you don't consider them colleagues to be respected and develolped.

The system you believe in is a form of slavery. Mormon scholars should be the most ethical not calling for the status quo.

I am not going to out the professor at BYU I worked for but one time I found a unique fact of Mormon history that had nothing to do with what he paid me. I naively shared it with him. Later he used it as if his own in a publication.
Since I depended on my graduate assistantship there wasn't much I could do about it since I had a wife and two kids to feed.

A lot of times the research assistants become experts at the topic. I remember Bruce Satterfield and a few guys like David Whitaker and Bruce Van Orden that were treated better. They went on to great things. Itis better to err on the side of the student than to make your career on their intellectual finds.


Having worked in five universities I am sure there is a wide range of opinion on this matter. I am fascinated that LDS scholars should be the strongest in favor of the status quo rather than in to building a collaborative approach. I have worked at two of the three LDS universities and watched some peculiar rationalizations on why they did what they did. I frankly perceived a lot of guilt also as many would tell me why the screwed over somebody. I saw the downside up close and personal and done to a lot of faculty members. Never in those conversations did the person telling me about their deeds, deny they should give credit but usually they took the expedient way out and considered it standard operating procedures. I watch people's lives destroyed as professors were transferred to the library. I saw two nationally known scholars get the boot to the library and saw less qualified people put in their place. Even when they produced professors didn't always fare well as others wanted the credit for their work when they wouldn't back down they were removed from their place. I am not talking about myself personally in these cases because being a librarian I see my colleagues in other departments like a fly on the wall.

Having been a dean of libraries where faculty members had to publish I have seen people lie on resumes and claim publications. I have seen plagarism and had to fire people for dishonesty. I would rather walk in the noon-day sun like Elder Kikuchi suggests. Plus it is no skin off my nose to give someone a co-authorship when he or she did more than a minimum effort researching or writing. I have even edited my faculty members publications just so they could publish and do it in a manner that wouldn't embarass themselves or our institution. Why would any institution perpetuate a practice that is more harmful than good by not promoting their graduate students.

9 comments:

steve said...

I'm not sure as it's a cut and dried as you indicate. I set in on a committee at Duke University to discuss authorship. It was getting to the point where if you were responsible for the font chosen you were listed as an author. We decided following several publications on the ethics of authorship that the criteria was intellectual contribution.

Here is a nice write up on authorship ethics http://www.icmje.org/#author

In short the above suggests:

Authorship credit should be based on 1) substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; 2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and 3) final approval of the version to be published. Authors should meet conditions 1, 2, and 3.

Substantial intellectual content also means that all authors can defend the entire paper.

The amount of the work is irrelevant. If a student builds and formats tables, does bibliographic research, writes abstracts of the work in great detail, even runs statistical programs as directed by the professor the student may still not qualify for authorship. The student can actually put in more man/woman hours in on the paper than the professor and still not qualify for authorship. These are broadly accepted ethical standards for authorship. It is the Intellectual content that counts not the amount of work. Every author on the paper should be able to defend the work. This is a strict ethical standard. Technical support does not count.

I agree if the student has contributed to the intellectual content they of should of course be included on the paper. But it's only the intellectual content that matters. In the USDA Agriculture Research Service they have made it against agency rules (except in very unusual circumstances) to include any technician as author on the paper, because they should be always acting under the direction of the scientist.

So for students it can be dicey. I agree one should error on the side of authorship if it's a border case, but you seem to suggesting that technical support deserves authorship. This actually goes against the ethical standards of most journals and granting agencies with which I work. The intellectual content standard must be met in every case. If the Student cannot defend the entire paper they should not be listed.

steve said...

I wanted to identify myself further, this is Steve over at the Mormon Organon (I couldn't figure out how to make it connected to my name). Sorry to waste a comment for this.

Dr. B said...

Steve:

I really appreciate your discussion. I don't want to go to the extreme either way. I think your standard at Duke is commendable. When I was on the University Senate at SDSU we also had guidelines. I wonder if the BYUs have clearly defined policies.

I was arguing the critical theory side to get a discussion going. I think if a graduate student or even a co-author or librarian doesn't meet the criterion you have set out it is acceptable behavior. I am taking a stand against not giving credit where credit is due.

I wish the BYU types would enter in to a discussion here. It would put my criticism to rest but I haven't seen any of them come out and argue that such practices are not still taking place. Denial or silence doesn't make a bad practice okay.

I am not indicting all universities or even BYU in general I am calling out a bad practice by individuals who should know better and set standards that are defensible like yours. I suspect outside the religion department they have high standards since many of them worked at the Harvards etc.

If everyone knows the system and agrees to the rules and you accept it going in than I wouldn't have room to complain. When I was a grad student at BYU they put a carrot out in front of you like a future job there or in the CES. They didn't have the power to deliver so they should have just not made such offers.

Unfortunately when there are not clear policies then students like me twenty years ago and my daughter today get caught in thinking a person will give us credit. I learned when I went to Ball State University that there was a different approach. I saw that professors really and truly mentored their students and delivered the goods many times at a sacrifice. They took their students to conferences and co-presented. My discontent is when they promise you authorship and jobs then renege later.

If you aren't going to deliver then at least be honest and tell the grad student upfront and if they choose to do work for you knowing full well they are paying their dues then it is an honest process. It is when the professor goes beyond this that problems occur.

steve (Steve Peck) said...

Good point,
I agree completely that the Student should understand from the very beginning what the rules of the game are. If students are led to believe that they are going to get a publication out of it, and they are likely not, then that is inappropriate behavior for the researcher.

At BYU my students are even told if their work is likely to lead to a publication, right from the beginning. I've done research I thought was preliminary and exploratory that I knew would not be like published, even though the student really is contributing intellectually. I would not likely be published just because the level at which we are gathering information is not developed or experimentally ready and things are not to the point where publication is likely. When I've had students doing this kind of research I've told them right up front, "This won't be published because we are still at the beginning stages of research." But I'm clear about it from the beginning.

Think full disclosure about the nature of their work (whether it will qualify as an intellectual contribution) and the likelihood that it will be published (if, say, it's just preliminary investigations) needs to be clear to the student before they begin.

I agree completely with you that the Student needs to be completely aware of their role is and what they should expect to come from it. If students are given false hopes then that really is unethical.

steve (Steve Peck) said...

Good point,
I agree completely that the Student should understand from the very beginning what the rules of the game are. If students are led to believe that they are going to get a publication out of it, and they are likely not, then that is inappropriate behavior for the researcher.

At BYU my students are even told if their work is likely to lead to a publication, right from the beginning. I've done research I thought was preliminary and exploratory and that I knew would not be like published, even though the student really is contributing intellectually. Because it would not likely be published because the level at which we are gathering information was not yet developed fully or experimentally ready and things are just not to the point where publication is likely. When I've had students doing this kind of research I've told them right up front, "This won't be published because we are still at the beginning stages of research." But I'm clear about it from the beginning.

Think full disclosure about the nature of their work (whether it will qualify as an intellectual contribution) and the likelihood that it will be published (if, say, it's just preliminary investigations) needs to be clear to the student before they begin.

I agree completely with you that the Student needs to be completely aware of what their role is and what they should expect to come from it. If students are given false hopes then that really is unethical.

SmallAxe said...

FWIW, Jim F. is a prof in the phil dept at BYU so I imagine he does have some 'qualification' to speak on these things.

Could you perhaps provide a more specific example on how the 'rules' steve refers to, and you consent to, have been broken in the case of the religious education dept?

Dr. B said...

SmallAxe:

No one said any rules were broken because none of the BYU types have said they have a specific internal policies in how to treat grad students. Steve's policy has to do with Duke. I am waiting to hear from you BYU types if you have an authorship policy and how it impacts grad students and co-authors. When I worked there there wasn't any set guidelines. If there are today I would like to know how they treat grad students. If they don't they might want to think about setting such policies otherwise there will be the possibility of abuse.

The fact is even if there are rules it doesn't preclude a no foul no harm mentality. Academia establishes guidelines for ethical practice so that there is a clear expectation of the part of all participants in the process.

SmallAxe said...

Dr. B,

Perhaps I should have clarified myself a little more. I realize that steve's rules are not in regards to BYU, but they seem to be reasonable in a more general sense, so perhaps it would strengthen your argument to show that these generally acceptable guidelines are frequently infringed in BYU's RE dept.

My hunch is that BYU's RE dept has a different academic culture than the rest of the university; and this difference plays itself out in less rigorous academic standards. Perhaps the experiences you allude to are part of that difference.

Dr. B said...

Small Axe;

I suspect that you are right that in the departments outside the religion department they probably adhere to national standards of practice. Since none of them have been forthcoming in declaring that is the case in this discussion we are merely guessing. I will give the rest of the university the benefit of the doubt because many universities don't have written guidelines which makes it uniquely up to the individuals. I think in a culture and climate that has an honor code for students they should formalize the process for faculty to protect the faculty and students from any perception of impropriety.

My original reason for all this discussion was that I felt my daughter needs protection in the intellectual process. Juniors in college are not in a position of power to negotiate over their own intellectual rights. In addition grad students and junior faculty when going up against more senior faculty might draw the short straw.

I fully agree that the religion department at BYU marches to a different drummer but that drummer should beat a cadence that is of the highest standards of scholarship. Since BYU has faculty today that would equal or rival other nationally ranked school they should set an example for ethical conduct and the advancement of their students and beginning faculty members.