Under These Circumstances, a Larger National Debt Is Indeed a National Blessing
Econ 210a: Spring 2012: UC Berkeley: Memo Question for March 7

Time for a Weblogger Ethics Panel!

Aaron Carroll:

Creditmongering or legitimate gripe?: Kevin Drum has a nice post up about “creditmongering”, or going overboard about concern for being the first to publish a fact…. I don’t think that if you get up first and post that it’s sunny out, then anyone who then comments on the weather is obligated to cite you for the rest of the day…. But, and this is a big “but”, if it’s not a study that you would have found on your own without me, then I think you should throw me a link. As an academic blogger, this is not my real “job”. So when you take my sweat equity, and don’t link to it, you tick me off. Period. When I write about a game-changing study in the NEJM or JAMA that I expect every health policy writer in the world has received a press release on, I accept that you don’t need me at all. When I write a post on a study from the Journal of Minutae and Obscurity, though, and later in the day you happen to post on it? I’m suspicious. We need those links. They’re how we build readership and grow. Moreover, when I spend a fair amount of time making a reasoned argument in the morning that is deep in the weeds of theory nuanced by my particular set of skills, and then someone without those skills somehow manages to restate all of it in shorthand later in the afternoon using the same sources I did – then I’m closer to angry.

We in the academic world are very protective of ideas. They are our currency. So I’m a little disappointed that Kevin said this:

Ideas don’t belong to anyone, and readers don’t much care where the inspiration for a story came from. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.

Readers may not care where the inspiration came from, but ideas and arguments do belong to people, at least initially. They should be cited. If I come up with a theory of why something is the way it is, and I explain it clearly and carefully, then someone else taking my work and presenting it as their own thinking and reasoning is plagiarism. We should be able to recognize that and be unhappy about it.

Austin Frakt:

Creditmongering: [Kevin Drum:]

I’d make the distinction between ideas and IDEAS. The former is inspiration: if I read something that makes me want to dig into the plight of the long-term unemployed, I’m not likely to credit anyone. It’s just a topic. Lots of people have addressed it, and the fact that I happened to get my inspiration from one person rather than another probably doesn’t matter much. But an IDEA is different: this is a very specific theory or model or explanation for something. Or maybe an original insight. If you mention an IDEA, or riff on it to produce one of your own, you should credit the originator. [...]

I guess maybe the overriding rule for credit is this: it doesn’t cost anything and it can’t hurt. If in doubt, give credit.

Having discussed this topic with other journalists, I can add that Drum’s conventions are not universal. Not everyone thinks it’s important to provide credit to someone for shedding light on a story (or source or paper) they’d not have seen on their own. Not everyone thinks it’s important to give credit to an IDEA….

I point out that that property — that you might have come up on your own with an IDEA you saw elsewhere — is unobservable to the reader. I can’t know if you came up with the IDEA on your own or if you copied it from the post on another blog that appeared yesterday. What I would stress to journalists and bloggers is that you should not even want such a suspicion to creep into the mind of your reader. If you read it elsewhere and you repeat it, even if it isn’t the deepest IDEA in the world, and you might have thought of it on your own, you should credit the originator. Otherwise, it could look like you’re trying to get away with something. That doesn’t look good. Moreover, a link doesn’t cost you anything. If you’re worried it’ll make it look like you have fewer original ideas then you’ve already admitted you’re doing something wrong.