The oft-recited adage is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Going by this logic, there can be no higher praise from an academic than outright plagiarism of your work. I have had recent cause to be on the receiving end of just such praise and I can assure you, dear reader, that it doesn’t feel like a compliment at all. In fact, it sucks. I decided that, rather than meekly accept it, I was going to fight back for the recognition due to my work. To this end, I reached out to the two universities involved (University College London and Plymouth University) and the publishing journal (PNAS) and asked them to initiate investigations into the conduct of their employees/authors. I trusted that these institutions would be keen to ensure that their academics adhered to the highest standards and that any deviation would be met with swift correction. I was wrong and my trust was sorely misplaced.
Until now I have only really discussed this issue with my contacts on social media. I was given strong support and much useful advice by a diverse group of academics and non-specialists and in return I kept them appraised of the progress (and lack thereof) of my complaint. The TL;DR version of events is that the universities closed ranks, refusing to acknowledge that any wrongdoing had taken place. By contrast, the PNAS journal admitted wrongdoing on the part of the authors, but their remedy was functionally useless, and far below the minimum level of citation any research that contributed to their publication deserved. My response has been to issue an updated version of my research resource (The Catalogue of Radiocarbon Determinations & Dendrochronology Dates) that includes a Citations & Restrictions tab. The Citations portion details the minimum expected level of citation that the Catalogue should receive in a publication (essentially, no less than any other work used). The Restrictions portion is lengthier and lays out a ban on the six co-authors of the PNAS paper from using this resource in any further research. Owing to the readiness of both University College London and Plymouth University to support plagiarists on their respective payrolls, I felt it only appropriate that the ban should extend to all their employees, lest a similar situation arise in future. While the PNAS journal acknowledged wrongdoing, it has refused to retract a paper clearly dependent on plagiarism and spectacularly failed to even make the most basic emendations to correct the situation, the ban must, of necessity, cover anyone wishing to publish there too. Although I have no great expectation that such a ban will have any effect on academics already comfortable with plagiarising the work of others, I do hope that it will serve to highlight the issue generally and shine a light on these academics in particular.
What I proposed doing in this post is creating a chronology of how the issue came about and how it was dealt with by all involved. In this way, I hope to show the reluctance of Prof Bevan, his co-authors, the two Universities, and the publishing journal of acknowledge the issue and, even when pressurised, respond in a fair manner.
Correspondence with Andrew Bevan
My first encounter with Andrew Bevan came in 2015 when I received an email asking me for the most recent version of The Catalogue of Radiocarbon Determinations & Dendrochronology Dates for a project he was working on. From time to time I get similar requests and was happy to oblige. From there we continued a sporadic correspondence that I would characterise as certainly polite, and even friendly. When I received an email from him on November 30 2017, I thought that it was just another point along the way of our cordial correspondence. He was writing to say that the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) had published a paper: ‘Holocene fluctuations in human population demonstrate repeated links to food production and climate’. He was the lead author, along with Sue Colledge, Dorian Fuller, Ralph Fyfe, Stephen Shennan, and Chris Stevens. Ralph Fyfe is at Plymouth University, while all the others are at University College London. This is our little ‘Gang of Six’. The email said that he had created an online archive of radiocarbon dates for Britain & Ireland and that he was including the associated paper ‘in case it is on interest’. He says that ‘A lot of the Irish dates come from your dataset, for which many thanks again … . And of course I cited that in the archive readme file.’ Just so we’re all clear – the Irish radiocarbon dates in the resource I maintain had formed an important component of the research he had undertaken. They had been incorporated into his archive that was available as downloadable content (DLC) associated with the PNAS paper. Thus, both the paper and the archive incorporated/were in part based on my work of cataloguing and compilation. I was absolutely delighted! This is exactly what any good researcher, in my opinion, should hope for – that their work is of sufficient quality and utility that it can inform further research. Unfortunately, my delight was short-lived. When I looked through the paper it was immediately obvious that the Gang of Six had included no reference to my research. It was only after some work that I discovered that, if one took the trouble to download the associated .zip file, it could be found in a .md file inside a subfolder. Think about this – the citation was in an obscure file type, in a subfolder, within the zipped DLC. Would you care to consider what subset of the people interested in this paper would be sufficiently engaged and detail-oriented to even download that content, much less sort through all its component parts to find the contribution that my work (and others like me) made to this paper? One in ten? One in a hundred? As much as that? My point is that most people coming into contact with this paper will be left with no awareness of the research that underlies it. It is this deliberate obfuscation of their sources that constitutes plagiarism of not just my research, but that of several others too. Worse than that, Bevan hadn’t even bothered to get the name of the resource correct, further limiting the little recognition available to me.
It is no understatement to say that I was shocked, hurt, and angry. Up until this point I had presumed that I was dealing with an honourable academic, working at one of our leading universities. It was devastating to think that this was not the case. I waited until December 2 to compose a reply to Bevan. If I had hoped that delaying my response would have tempered my annoyance, I was mistaken and my email was rather sharp:
‘Thanks for sending on the published paper and the acknowledgement that you found my work useful. Obviously, not useful enough to deserve an actual citation in the published text. Instead, acknowledgement is relegated to a .md file in sub-folder of a separate download ... and you don't even bother to get the title right!
I can't stop you from making use of my work, but unless you're going to give appropriate credit, I'd be grateful if you didn't email me to rub my nose in it.’
Bevan responded on December 4 to say that he hadn’t intended to cause offence and that he had acted to correct the mis-naming issue. He then added that he had a forthcoming paper that did cite my work in the main text. If he imagined that this response was sufficient to placate me, I’m afraid he misjudged it rather spectacularly. I replied to him the same day:
‘I accept that you did not intend to offend. However, you did take my work and use it without proper acknowledgement. The fact that you've decided to do the right thing in a future paper does not excuse the fact that what you have done here is wrong. If my work was good enough for you to base part of your main text on, it was good enough to be credited there too. Burying acknowledgement in an unusual file format, inside a zipped download, where the vast amount of readers will never see it, is not genuine acknowledgement and can never be. As far as I am concerned, you have, in every real respect, plagiarised my work - I can put it no clearer than than (sic. recte: this). Your previous email gives no indication that you accept or understand this, or that you intend to act in a more responsible manner in the future.
Please don't think that I'm being unreasonable. I merely want the fact that my work was used and found to be useful to be acknowledged in an appropriate way - the same as any other author or researcher has a right to. If you and your co-authors have a means of making this right, I'm willing to hear you out and keep this as a matter between ourselves.’
A day later (December 5) Bevan responded to reiterate his belief that my work – and the other similar data sources – had been given the correct level of credit by being placed in the DLC. The final line of his email stated:
‘However, I'm concerned that you don’t feel sufficiently acknowledged and I sincerely hope we can resolve this matter to your satisfaction - I could add your name to the data archive if you wish?’
My feeling about this offer now remains as it was then – just a sop with no genuine meaning to Bevan or use to me. Although I had contributed to the material that went into the DLC, I had not been its creator and deserved no credit as such. It would be as ridiculous as me insisting that I be credited as a co-author because the same work had been used in the project that resulted in the PNAS paper. I also felt that this offer to add my name as co-author of the DLC was merely a disingenuous ruse to both deflect from his actions and encourage me to leave the issue. My response (on the same day) reads in full:
‘It's clear that you don't feel that you have acted incorrectly and there is no inking from you that you won't act in the same manner in the future. The fact that you have failed to give correct acknowledgement to other sources is no justification. If anything, it is merely an indication that you take a similarly caviller attitude to the work of many, not just me.
It is also clear that we should not continue this correspondence any further. In the coming days I will be writing to your institution, & those of your co-authors, asking for an investigation into this matter. I will also be taking the matter up directly with the publishers of the journal. Whatever the outcome, I would hope that in future you think more carefully before effectively plagiarising the work of another person.’
I have not had contact with Bevan since that time.
This is where I took a deep breath and asked myself if I really wanted to continue on this path. My feeling was that I should just get over it and move on – Bevan was clearly unethical, but I’m not The Plagiarist Whisperer. What should I do about it? I told myself all this – several times! But I kept coming back to Bevan’s apparently solid and unshakable belief that he’d not done anything wrong. If he was prepared to do this to me and my work, he would clearly have no compunction about doing the same to others. It came down to this: If I wasn’t prepared to take a stand over this massive breach of ethics and common academic decency, how could I expect others not to do the same?
That is why, on December 7, I wrote to the editorial board of PNAS as well as Prof Fullbrook at UCL and Prof Anderson at Plymouth University to register my complaint of plagiarism against Bevan and his co-authors. I gave the outline of my dealings with Bevan largely as I’ve represented them above, along with screenshots of our various emails as evidence of the same. Over the days of December 11 and 12 I received replies from all three to acknowledge receipt of my email and each promising that they would initiate investigations into my complaints. This was the last I heard from any of these three individuals or institutions for almost three months.
By March 5 2018 my patience had finally run out and I wrote again to the three institutions. My email, in part, reads:
‘I believe that I have been more than reasonable, both in terms of timescale and giving you the opportunity to investigate this matter in private. Unfortunately, my patience with you and your ability to conclude this issue in a timely and transparent manner is exhausted. I feel that I now have no option than to issue the following ultimatum: Unless I hear from all three of you by end of day on Friday (March 9) with concrete details of both the sanctions to be taken against all of these individuals and the restitution you plan to offer me, I intend to make the details of this case (along with your inaction) public. I will offer no further details at this time, but to say that my goal is to ensure that Prof Bevan and his co-authors are never again in a position to plagiarise the work of others. I will also strive to ensure that the names of your institutions and journal are prominently featured and recognised as condoning and protecting plagiarists.’
The UCL Response
On March 6 I received an email from Rachel Port, the Governance Officer (and Research Governance Co-ordinator), at UCL to indicate that my complaint ‘is currently being considered under our procedure. We will be in touch shortly to inform you of the outcome.’
I responded the same day:
‘I will remind you again of the terms of my ultimatum - you have until close of business on Friday March 9th to conclude your investigation in a satisfactory manner. If I have not heard from you by that time, with both details of the sanctions to be taken against those I have accused and the recompense you intend to offer me, I am resolved to make the matter public. Three months is more than sufficient to have investigated this matter and I will offer you no further extension.
Your email to send me UCL's process document for academic misconduct and reassure me that my complaint has not been forgotten is reassuring, but far too late in coming.’
Later the same day I received a further response, this time from Wendy Appleby, Registrar and Head of Student and Registry Services, at UCL. The full text of her email reads:
‘I do understand your concern to see this matter resolved, however, Professor Bevan has been away from UCL and we have not been able to meet with him as yet. As you may be aware, there is a protracted industrial action going on in universities at present and it may be that will also cause delay. In order to speed up the resolution of this case, you mention recompense to yourself; please could you let me know what you would consider to be satisfactory recompense? Eg greater prominence and citation of your catalogue?’
I’m sorry to say that a wait of three months can have an effect on a person. In my case it was to strip me of any willingness to compromise, give concessions, or stifle the flow of irreverent sarcasm. My response of the same day (March 6), was many things. Overflowing with diplomacy was not one of them:
‘I have waited patiently for three months without word from your organisation. I am sure that in that time you could have made arrangements for Prof Bevan to be interviewed. He was certainly able to reply to emails from me right up until I decided I had to make a formal complaint against him and his co-authors. I genuinely doubt that he was suddenly overcome by a nasty case of the vapours last December and has been unable to rouse himself since. Quite apart from the fact that the ongoing industrial action against your organisation is none of my concern, it has only resulted in strike action in the last couple of weeks and should not have hindered your investigation before that point. As for recompense, I would have originally accepted a public apology, but it is far too late for that now. Prof Bevan and his co-authors have behaved utterly unethically and UCL's management of my complaint against them has been, at best, shoddy. I'm afraid that you will have to do quite a bit better than a cheap offer of the fair citation my work was already due. I suggest that you redouble your efforts to contact the missing Prof and his co-authors as the deadline of end of day Friday March 9th still stands.’
Then all was silence … nothing! I wondered what would happen. Clearly, they had not made any progress in three months, so a deadline giving them only a couple of days was, obviously, unachievable. Wasn’t it? Well, you can only imagine my surprise when, on March 8, I received an email from Rachel Port presenting the results of UCL’s findings. UCL’s remarkably narrowly definition of plagiarism hinges on the ‘deliberate representation of another person’s thoughts, words, artefacts or software, or any combination of these as though they were the researcher’s own’. As their procedure takes no account of the act of placing a citation so far removed from the paper it relates to as to be almost invisible, my allegation of plagiarism was not upheld. Even though my work (and that of several others) was referenced so obscurely as to be invisible to all but the most dedicated readers, it was, in their estimation, equivalent to having been cited in the main text, like any other work. Although I had not been contacted by the journal at that time, she noted that the PNAS investigation had recommended that the authors ‘make a correction to the journal paper to give your database greater prominence of citation and that an apology sit alongside this’. It is genuinely intriguing that Port’s cognitive dissonance allowed the understanding that no wrong had been committed to sit smoothly alongside the acknowledgment that my work had been treated in such an unfair manner as to necessitate changes to the original paper and that an apology be offered. This was merely a minor whimsy when compared to the double-think required to write the following with a straight face: ‘Furthermore, the researchers have explained that their research process involved combining a number of datasets in a unique way to provide the basis for their analysis and conclusion; furthermore they have provided you with contributions to your database.’ Because that’s all right then … apparently …
If I’m genuinely honest with myself, I must admit to the nagging doubt that I’d ever receive a fair hearing from UCL, or any of the institutions involved. At this point I’d lost and I knew it. All that was left was to treat them with the sarcasm and contempt they deserved. Yes, it was petty, but it was deliciously fun to write:
‘Thank you for your letter. It makes interesting reading. We appear to have gone from a situation, two days previously, where Prof Bevan was missing, presumed lost, and no contact could be made with him to where he has miraculously appeared to give his side of the story. Not only that, but the industrial action that was preventing this investigation moving forward has also magically disappeared. Lo and behold, you’ve beaten impossible odds and delivered a result! Forgive me if I am unable to take you seriously.
However, I will address the various points you raise. Regarding the actions of PNAS, if they have recommended the authors give my work the citation it is due – in the actual paper and not secreted away inside a file in an unusual format, within a sub-folder, of a separate download – as well as an apology, I’m afraid that this has not been communicated to me, nor (as far as I am able to detect) have any changes been made to the paper.
It is indeed true that some research has been passed back to me for inclusion in future updates of the resource. However, there is no implication that this entitles any of the researchers to some form ownership of the resource or that this exempts them from citing the work in an appropriate manner. For example, I doubt that any one of the authors would argue that they did not need to reference another work they drew on, because that had some part in its creation. I do note that all of the authors manage to cite their own works in the references section, implying that they clearly understand the need to explicitly state the sources of their data, even if they had a part in their creation. If this is not what you meant me to draw from your statement, your inclusion of it here can only be seen as disingenuous and distracting.
I am also grateful for the clarification that ‘their research process involved combining a number of data sets in a unique way to provide the basis for their analysis and conclusion’. Am I to take it that unless my research was the only data source they used, I was not entitled to acknowledgement? Or could it be that the novelty of the approach exempted them from crediting their sources? Or is it that they have a poor understanding of the definition of what research actually is? Do they believe that ‘combining a number of data sets in a unique way to provide the basis for their analysis and conclusion’ is somehow unusual and excuses them from clearly identifying where their data came from? Perhaps someone could have a word with them? Otherwise, I would suggest that they are attempting to obfuscate the matter and should be embarrassed at such a childish ploy.
I am glad that the Registrar intends to recommend that they issue the apology PNAS apparently suggested. I will expect it to fully and clearly admit wrongdoing and not be some adventure in corporate double-speak non-apology. Anything less will not be acceptable. Unfortunately, as it is not here – and you do not present me with any indication of when it might arrive – I cannot accept it and I cannot consider this matter closed. Further, I wholly reject your conclusion that this is not a matter of plagiarism. Perhaps there was no intent to deceive, but placing acknowledgement in a location so obscure that only the tiniest minority of readers will ever discover it must amount to the same thing. It is clear from my correspondence with Prof Bevan that he did not rank my work highly enough to deserve mention in an appropriate place. In doing so the authors have robbed me of the rightful recognition that my work made a contribution to theirs. This may not be plagiarism by your own narrowly-defined term, but argue otherwise is merely a discreditable exercise in semantics.’
Once again, all went quiet and when a reply did arrive (March 12) from Wendy Appleby it was to inform me of the correction that Bevan has agreed to undertake:
‘After consulting with the editors, we suggest that you publish a correction in which you acknowledge the data sources used in a table in the Supporting Information so the information is more readily available to readers.
A correction might take the following form:
The authors note that the acknowledgments should be updated as follows: “We thank the very considerable number of people and projects who took the original radiocarbon samples or collected the resulting published dates from secondary literature [see discovery.ucl.ac.uk/10025178/ (DOI: 10.14324/000.ds.10025178) and Table S2 for detailed credits] and Enrico Crema, Mark Thomas, and Adrian Timpson for insightful discussion on methodology. Research by D.F. and C.S. was supported by European Research Council Grant 323842 on “Comparative Pathways to Agriculture.”” The Supporting Information has been updated with a complete list of data sources in Table S2.
We apologize for the oversight.
We would then add a table listing all of the data sources from the Read Me file to the Supporting Information.
I now consider the matter closed.’
My take on this was that they were point-blank refusing to make any change to the actual paper, and only giving my work (and that of the others who contributed data) a miniscule rise in prominence, still relegated to the DLC. I regarded this as insufficient and was not shy in explaining this to Appleby (also March 12):
‘Please feel free to make the amendments to the downloadable content associated with the journal article and consider this matter closed. However, I believe I was quite clear that the citation and the apology would have to be in the actual paper and not the DLC. As the paper stands, even with the additions you propose, the vast majority of readers will never see where the data was derived from and will continue with the misconception that Prof Bevan and his co-authors collected it themselves.
It is for this reason that the ban imposed on Bevan et al. from using my research in future will stand and I will continue to publicly shame him and his co-authors as plagiarists [http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/update-to-catalogue-of-radiocarbon.html].
As I stated previously, over the next several weeks and months I will be making contact with various publishing concerns and grant-awarding bodies to inform them of both Bevan’s plagiarism and your actions in shielding him. At the very least, I can hope that they, and the public at large, will be appraised of his character and what passes for professional behaviour at both UCL and Plymouth University.
Should you at any time wish to approach me with a more reasonable position, I can be relied upon to hear you out.’
At the time of writing, this is the last communication I’ve had with Appleby, or anyone at UCL.
The Plymouth University Response
While this semi-frenetic correspondence was going on with UCL, I’d not really heard anything from Plymouth. Indeed, Rachel Port’s comments that UCL would be informing Plymouth of their findings rather led me to suspect that the two institutions had decided to combine their investigations. That is why I was rather surprised when an email from Mark Anderson appeared on deadline day, March 9. Having seen how UCL went all-out to shield their staff members, I would have been dreadfully naïve to think that the Plymouth University response would be different in any meaningful way. He explained that, when judged by the contents of Plymouth’s Research Ethics Policy, Fyfe was blameless because although he held joint responsibility as a co-author of the paper, he didn’t actually have anything to do with the radiocarbon dates, so he was in no way culpable. Anderson also states that citation within the DLC, no matter how obscure, was sufficient for my work and rejects my claim of plagiarism.
I took most of the weekend off before replying on March 11. My response reiterated the ban on university personnel using this datasource in future and my commitment to shining a light on the nefarious practices condoned by both them and UCL. The rest of the reply is as follows:
‘Thank you for your recent email and for looking into this matter. Thank you also for introducing me to Schrödinger’s Academic who is simultaneously not accountable for how the research project was conducted while still holding joint responsibility with his co-authors. I am also intrigued by the ‘University Research Ethics Policy’ you mention and would dearly love to see a copy. I wonder if it uses as narrow a definition of plagiarism as that utilised by UCL? Either way, it would appear to offer a much more lenient version of the offence than that, to judge from your website, is routinely applied to your own students. Your characterisation of where my work is ‘acknowledged’ takes no account of the additional effort required to find it in comparison with merely looking at the references section as well as the vanishingly small number who will go beyond the paper to search within subfolders of the downloadable content. I would reiterate that the actions of Prof Fyfe as a co-author are not acceptable, and neither are yours in attempting to shield him. While neither you nor UCL can be convinced to act in a fair manner, the PNAS journal have acknowledged that wrongdoing has occurred and directed that changes be made to the published work.’
I have no response of any kind from Anderson or anyone else at Plymouth University since. I also have not received a copy of their ‘University Research Ethics Policy’.
The PNAS Response
The final strand in this woven correspondence was from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), the publishing journal. On March 8 I received a response from Etta Kavanagh, Editorial Manager, to say:
‘We apologize for the delay in dealing with this matter. Our editors have determined that a publishing a correction to the acknowledgments listing all of the data sources is appropriate. We are forwarding the correction to the printer for processing now, and we will let you know when it has been published.’
My response of March 9, reads in part:
‘Thank you so much for your response and the acknowledgment that this issue was not dealt with in an appropriate timeframe. I am delighted that the Editors have acknowledged that misconduct has taken place and have moved to see it corrected. I look forward to seeing the modified version of the paper in due course, and would be grateful for an indication of when this is expected to be available. While I had initially asked for the paper to be withdrawn, I will be satisfied with an emended version that gives appropriate recognition to the research that informed it and made it possible. In my correspondence with University College London I was given to understand that an apology would also be published by PNAS. You do not mention this and I would be grateful if you could confirm when this too will be available.’
I received a response on the same day from Ms Kavanagh to note that: ‘We are working to finalize the correction, and we will let you know when it has been published.’
At the time of writing, I have not received any further communication from Kavanagh, nor anyone representing the PNAS journal.
So there we have it. I attempted to take a stand to protest that my work (and that of others too) had received insufficient recognition for the part it played in this project and its subsequent publication. Nowhere did I ask for more recognition that it deserved. I didn’t want the reference highlighted with a gold-embossed edging, or anything of the kind. I merely wanted what is rightfully mine – when use is made of my work that it is properly credited in the references section along with all of the other works that informed that publication. Hiding that acknowledgment away inside a relatively rare file type, in a sub-folder of externally-held downloadable content is in no was sufficient and any pretence by UCL and Plymouth University cannot make it so. Shame on Bevan and his co-authors, and shame on those at the two universities (Appleby, Port, & Anderson) who have willingly subverted all principles of academic fairness and decency to protect their corrupt staff. Only PNAS had sufficient backbone to acknowledge that there was wrongdoing by the Gang of Six. Unfortunately, that amount of backbone didn’t extend to offering anything above slightly better representation within the DLC.
No matter how I look at this, it is not a win. It is not a win for me personally and it is certainly not a win for anyone considering whether or not they should trust their university’s disciplinary structure to hold senior academics to account for plagiarism or similar unethical conduct. And this is the thing I’ve learned from this experience – I’ve had so much contact from academics at various career positions who have told me stories of how their work was taken and used without due recognition or acknowledgment. Many of these individuals self-censored and chose not to pursue the issue for fear that it would mark them out as trouble makers, or in other ways harm their careers. Of those that did pursue the matter, only a minority had positive outcomes. For the most part, their experiences mirrored my own – the default setting of the university will be to protect its senior academics from any criticism over concerns of fairness and what is right. With such protections in place, how can these individuals feel anything but emboldened to go forth and plagiarise to their heart’s content, knowing that they will be shielded from the consequences of their actions?
Having gone through this process, how can I advocate that others should do similar when their work is plagiarised? I want to say that it is worth it and the guilty will be punished and goodness will prevail, but that is just not the case. All I can say is that, at least now the world knows the actions of Bevan and his co-authors (Sue Colledge, Dorian Fuller, Ralph Fyfe, Stephen Shennan, and Chris Stevens) and can judge matters for themselves. The world will know too the nature of those who defend and shield such people (Wendy Appleby, Rachel Port, & Mark Anderson) and may judge the integrity of both UCL and Plymouth University accordingly.
I think it is a natural, human response to want to put traumatic experiences behind you, get over it and move on. For myself, I didn’t really feel that there was much more I could do. I went on holiday with my family to California, had a great time and tried to forget all about it. I tried. I really did. But I just couldn’t escape the niggling voice in the back of my head that kept reminding me that the Gang of Six have gotten away with plagiarising my work and that of several others and have faced no consequences for it. I also felt that I owed it to all those colleagues and friends on social media that stood behind me and gave me much needed emotional support when I needed it most to continue to tell this story. But, most of all, I felt that I owed it to those who have been similarly deprived of the acknowledgment due to their work to continue to stand up and tell the truth. As Frank Turner sings in Photosynthesis: ‘And I won't sit down / And I won't shut up’. That is why I felt it necessary to once again take up the cudgels and fight. In writing this post, I was forced to revisit the PNAS website to check a detail or two. This was not something I particularly wanted to do as seeing the published paper still brings me feelings of anger, pain, and shame. I was, however, somewhat surprised to discover that, although no one bothered to inform me (as they had undertaken to do), changes had been made to the paper. There is now a notice to say:
‘This article has a correction. Please see: Correction for Bevan et al., Holocene fluctuations in human population demonstrate repeated links to food production and climate’
And when one journeys to the PDF version, the first page one is greeted with is that very correction! I don’t know what happened here. Did the various parties retreat and reconsider their pathetic offer to place a marginally more prominent acknowledgment in the DLC? Did it somehow dawn on them, like Saul on his way to Damascus, that they needed to do better? Or was there some other power in play, of which I know nothing? Certainly, no one consulted me. The introductory note reads:
‘The authors note that the Acknowledgments section appeared incorrectly. The authors apologize for the oversight. The full corrected Acknowledgments section is as follows.’
All they will admit to is that the Acknowledgements ‘appeared incorrectly’ and was an ‘oversight’. I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with ‘follox’. The original Acknowledgments was all of 65 words long. This new version weighs in at a massive 545 words. That’s a 738% increase! It is many things, but an ‘oversight’ is not one of them. As well as thanking an expanded number of people, omitted from the original version, this corrected version clearly sets out the 18 major sources (my own work included) that the Gang of Six plagiarised by attempting to hide and minimise due recognition. Think about it - this is not just a single case of plagiarism against one researcher - this is evidence of 18 separate counts of plagiarism against a whole host of researchers. By my rough count, there are 26 separate named individuals in this list. Say it slowly, so it sinks in: 18 separate counts of plagiarism against 26 researchers. We can but wonder how many more such instances lurk, unrecognised in Bevan's body of published work, as well as those of his co-authors? We can also but wonder WTActualF does it take for someone to get fired from one of these institutions?
I am willing to forgive the fact that they still manged to get both my name and that of the resource wrong. In the grand scheme of things, they’re close enough - or at least close enough that I've given up caring. However, their characterisation of this Correction as the rectification of an ‘oversight’ for acknowledgements that ‘appeared incorrectly’ I will not forgive and do not accept. The original acknowledgements were published as they wanted and intended them to appear. As Bevan himself admitted in his original correspondence, there was no oversight – my work and that of others was deliberately relegated to a secondary and obscure position, because that is the place they believed it deserved to be. This Correction, though late and forcibly extracted, merely attempts to put a smiling face on their act of plagiarism and pretend that no deliberate wrongdoing occurred. It is a shameful lie and I will not be party to it.
I genuinely doubt that, after all this process, I’m going to get a better, more honest Correction to their paper, so I think – whether I accept it or not – we’re stuck with it. Nonetheless, I hope that anyone reading this will have a better understanding of the type of people the authors and their supporters are. From this, they may be able to make more informed judgements about how much confidence can be placed either in their published works, or in them as people.
The title of this post takes its inspiration from the Academy Award winning movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I have no hesitation in recommending the movie to all, but especially to the Gang of Six. If they’re not able to tear themselves away from whatever it is they do all day for the full 115 minutes, I would recommend this scene between Mildred & Father Montgomery as choice viewing.
What does the ‘M’ in ‘Robert M Chapple’ stand for? Simple! It stands for: ‘Cite your sources, you bloody plagiarist’.