Plagiarism, incompetence and responsibility: submission history

Nine journals rejected versions of the paper "Plagiarism, incompetence and responsibility: a case study in the academic ethos". A tenth journal invited and published a greatly modified form of the paper.

This is the submission history.

The paper itself

Note that submitting the paper meant posting it. I was writing from Canberra, Australia, so days or weeks were required for delivery. Likewise, the dates on letters from journals are given; I received the letters days or weeks later. Some additional correspondence has been omitted.

The country of the editorial office is indicated for each journal.

None of the journals provided a copy of a referee's report.

Brian Martin

1. Australian Journal of Social Issues
On 16 December 1981 I submitted the paper. The editor, on 14 April 1982, sent a form-letter rejection with this PS: "I found your paper most interesting but I think in its present form it will be better suited in a journal concerned with higher education."

2. Higher Education (UK)
On 20 April 1982 I submitted the paper. On 29 April the editor wrote: "I read your article, almost as soon as it arrived, with great interest. I do, however, feel that it hangs too much on a somewhat unusual case. It would not, I feel, be apt for a journal such as ours. I will, however, if you wish, send it on to another journal. Studies in Higher Education is a possibility as is Higher Education Review. Would you wish me to do this?" I replied saying, yes, please forward the paper to Studies in Higher Education.

3. Studies in Higher Education (UK)
On 28 May 1982, the editor wrote "I am sorry to report that the referees' recommendations were against publication. The theme of the lack of provision for investigating complaints is itself of interest. To base this on a single case, and to report that case in detail, seems mistaken. It is quite common for journals to carry articles which criticise the extent of errors in other people's papers and theses, but these usually review a number of instances and do not concentrate on a single case. It would be different if this were a paper drawing attention to an alleged injustice, but presumably it is on the topic of procedures for resolving disputes, and it would be necessary to consider a range of examples to make a stronger case."

4. Educational Administration Quarterly (US)
On 12 July 1982 I submitted the paper. On 16 August the editor wrote: "It is our policy to emphasize the publication of major studies and analyses related to educational administration and organization. Your case study deals with a single and rather unique situation, but we do not feel it would be of general interest to our readers. In our view, an isolated instance not tied closely to theory or other inquiry not only limits generalizability, but also has restricted potential for prompting further scholarly activity. Thus, in the final analysis, it is our judgement that the manuscript is not within our publication purview. It is, however, an interesting case and we would encourage you to consider submitting it to a higher education journal."

5. Australian Quarterly
On 7 September 1982 I submitted the paper. On 21 September the associate editor wrote: "I write to advise that, unfortunately, we have decided not to use it [your article] in AQ. This should not necessarily be taken as a criticism of the content - the readers enjoyed the piece very much. Currently, however, we are blessed with an over-supply of publishable material which has made the selection process a highly competitive and difficult one."

6. Discourse (Australia)
On 25 September 1982 I submitted the paper. On 11 November the editor wrote: "To guard us against defamatory action, I was advised that Professor Williams of the University of Newcastle should be given the opportunity to read your article. Accordingly, I am asking your permission to send a copy of the article to him for his consideration." I immediately sent my permission. On 24 January 1983 the editor wrote that he had "received Professor Williams' response to your article submitted to Discourse in early October, 1982. We have decided not to accept your article for publication." In a telephone conversation with the editor on 1 February, he told me the article would have been published if everything had been in order, but in light of the reply from Williams and advice from the legal office of the University of Queensland - the home of the journal - the editorial committee had decided not to proceed.

7. Higher Education Review (UK)
On 2 February 1983 I submitted the paper. On 9 May the editor wrote: "The publisher and I have considered the article for publication and have sought legal advice on it. In the light of the latter we have decided that we are unable to accept. I am sorry to disappoint you."

8. Academe (US)
On 4 August 1983 I submitted the paper. On 22 September the journal sent a form-letter rejection.

9. Harvard Educational Review (US)
On 19 October 1983 I submitted the paper. On 7 December the journal sent a form-letter rejection.

10. Journal of Tertiary Educational Administration (Australia)
On 25 January 1984 I submitted the paper. On 8 March one of the editors wrote: "The reviewers thought that it [your article] read well, was soundly written, and raised some important issues in higher education. Nonetheless, they believe there are some possible problems for publication in its present form:
1. Your ideas on plagiarism and incompetence appear to rest mainly on the Spautz case.
2. We note that you have given the Spautz case a good run in Vestes recently, even through you used a different theme for the discussion.
3. We understand that the Spautz case is sub-judice at the moment and believe it might be imprudent to publish an article of this nature at this time.
Given that there are many examples of plagiarism or borrowing of other people's work, or even falsifying research, the Board wonders if it might be more appropriate for you to write a more general article, drawing from a wider range of information. This would not preclude the Spautz case being used as the mainspring for the article and being cited."
I took up this invitation and wrote a new article, drawing on the existing text, submitting it on 28 September. This article, "Plagiarism and responsibility", was published in the October issue.


Brian Martin

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