Defining and Debating 'Double Dipping'

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. -- From virtually every angle, professors are under pressure to be more productive. Pressure to publish, to earn and keep tenure. Pressure to present at conferences, to prove to their employers their visibility and viability in their disciplines.

November 10, 2008

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. -- From virtually every angle, professors are under pressure to be more productive. Pressure to publish, to earn and keep tenure. Pressure to present at conferences, to prove to their employers their visibility and viability in their disciplines. And pressure, where possible, to be public intellectuals, to try to make their work relevant to institutional leaders and policy makers, as members of the Association for the Study of Higher Education were urged to do at their annual meeting here this week.

Responding to those pressures might lead a young professor to the very logical conclusion that he or she should take every possible opportunity to write, speak and otherwise get their work in front of peers. But that temptation, when taken to an extreme and done without care, "can come back and bite you on the butt," as Marybeth Gasman, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, said at a session on the phenomenon of "double dipping" -- using the same scholarly material in multiple formats and settings -- at the ASHE meeting last weekend.

The session was prompted in large part, said Gasman and her co-presenter, Kristen Renn, an associate professor of higher, adult and lifelong education at Michigan State University, by an Inside Higher Ed article last spring about a discussion raging among political scientists about whether it is appropriate or unethical to give (and claim credit for on one's CV) the same presentation at two different conferences.

That article provoked a spirited conversation not only in Inside Higher Ed's comments section beneath that story but when Renn brought it up during a discussion with ASHE's Board of Directors last spring, she said, and board members agreed that it would make sense to raise it more broadly with the group's members.

Renn and Gasman expanded the definition of potential "double dipping" to include not just presenting at conferences (as was the focus of the political science debate) but publishing, too. In a series of survey questions asked of session attendees (and answered anonymously using Renn's new clicker-based response system, which both intrigued and at times perplexed her audience), consensus about what at least this select group of higher education scholars deemed appropriate (and not) came into view.

Is it ethical to submit a proposal to present the same paper to the annual meetings of both ASHE and the American Educational Research Association , which follows the higher education scholarly meeting by a few months? Yes, if the proposal is rejected by ASHE first, said 14 respondents. Yes, even if ASHE accepts it, said two. No under any circumstances, said three others.

Is it appropriate to present the same paper at more than one conference? Eleven clicked in No, and 6 yes. How about presenting a "research paper" at ASHE one year, and then the same basic paper at a "symposium" session the next year? "No!" blurted out one respondent from the back, perhaps frustrated by her lack of a clicker. The clickees agreed, with 20 nos and just 2 yeses.

Competing points of view, and some shades of gray, emerged during the discussion that followed. Shouldn't it make a difference "when you have completely different audiences?" asked one audience member. "Just because I’ve presented at a meeting in San Diego, I don’t see why I can’t present in Vienna," where hardly anyone will have heard both.

Another young faculty member said she was hearing conflicting messages from her disciplines' leaders. The theme of this year's meeting, she noted, was about "translating our research into practice," which sends the clear signal that "we need to get our work out more, and the more I do this the better." "There's some tension, and some competing goals we have," she added.

Questions of both fairness and ethics were raised in reply. Scholars who might submit a paper to multiple conferences or change a title and submit a largely similar paper to the same conference a year "set me off," said one audience member. "It's unfair to the hundreds of people who present and whose work is good yet it doesn’t get accepted."

The question of "double dipping is about claiming credit" for a presentation or publication for tenure or promotion purposes, not about who hears or reads it, said another young researcher. The concern is whether people are recycling scholarly material in a way that "pads the CV," so they "get double credit for one paper." "Are we honest about why we're doing it, for what reasons? And do we make it clear to people who might read our CV's that something is the same?"

Roughly similar arguments surrounded a set of questions and answers about the publications process (Is it ethical to publish an op-ed version of an idea, then turn it into a research paper and publish it? Overwhelmingly yes. To claim credit on your CV for a non-peer reviewed paper published online, and then the same publication in a peer-reviewed journal? 22 no's and 3 yeses), but some in the audience pointed out that one had to be careful about assuming papers are exactly the same, since the whole idea of research is to improve on one's scholarly work by getting advice and reactions from peers. "If something's substantively revised" between the first and second times a work is presented or published, "it isn’t exactly the same paper," said one audience member.

Ultimately, said Gasman of Penn, the discussion about "double dipping" is mostly about "how this is going to be viewed on your CV," and for that, she said, academics may be able to bypass any problems by taking steps to ensure that they are being forthright.

She divides the list of conference presentations on her vita into "peer-reviewed presentations" and "invited presentations," the latter being talks she is invited to give at colleges that seek to tap into her expertise, rather than those at which she is presenting original research. "If somebody looks under 'peer-reviewed research' and sees the same paper more than once, I think colleagues will be critical of you," Gasman said. But if they see that you're being invited to give the same talk repeatedly, "and you make it clear that you gave it before," that can be a positive sign of a scholar's influence.

Added Renn of Michigan State: "You've got to be looking for a way to clue the reader of your CV in. Transparency is really key."

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