Bruno Frey: More cases of self-plagiarism unveiled

Economist Bruno Frey

Economist Bruno Frey (Image by Hannes Röst, via Wikipedia)

For several month, Bruno Frey (University of Zurich) has had to defend himself against accusations of self-plagiarism. Now, several other dodgy cases have been revealed by a website named “FreyPlag Wiki”. I took a close look at the cases and think most of them are justified.

It was a caustic rant against the scientific publication process written by Bruno Frey, an economist with the University of Zurich. According to Frey, the editors and referees of academic journals force researchers to act like prostitutes.

No editor would dare to print this vitriolic criticism, Frey wrote. “This paper will never be published in a (refereed) economics journal”, was the first sentence of the introduction.

In reality, however, Frey managed to get his rant published twice.

In 2003, the article appeared in “Public Choice” entitled “Publishing as Prostitution”. Two years later, the same piece was printed in the “European Journal of Law and Economics” (EJLE). The title (“Problems with Publishing”) and the introduction was slightly different but the biggest part of the text was word-for-word identical.

[googleapps domain="docs" dir="spreadsheet/pub" query="hl=de&hl=de&key=0AuEtgCUuVBDUdFlVc3ZIR2dsRFd1d29iWndjNVdVSFE&single=true&gid=1&output=html&widget=true" width="500" height="300" /]

(A detailed comparision of the complete content of both papers is available here.)

However, there was no reference to the “Public Choice” article in the EJLE.

The background

Publishing a similar academic article two times without cross-references is an academic no go. This conduct is labeled self plagiarism and violates ethical standards that are generally accepted within the scientific community.

Bruno Frey is one of the most internationally renowned German speaking economists. He tops the Handelsblatt ranking of academic economists with regard to the lifetime achievement.

However, for several months Frey’s scientific conducts has been heavily criticised. Several scholars accused him of self-plagiarism. (Here’s a summary.)

The debate was triggered by a series of articles about the sinking of the Titanic published by Frey as well as his co-authors Benno Torgler and David Savage (both: Queensland University of Technology). In 2010 and 2011, Frey, Torgler and Savage published a series of very similar articles in four different academic journals without cross referencing their work. This was a clear violation of the submission guidelines of the affected journals.

After this case was picked up in economic blogs by Andrew Gelman and an anonymous blogger calling himself “Economic Logician”, several affected journals severely criticised Frey. The “Journal of Economic Behavior and Organisation” told Frey that it won’t publish any of his articles anymore.

 

The “Journal of Economic Perspectives” even took the unusual step and published its communication with Frey in its latest edition.

Among other things, the JEP editor David Autor (MIT) wrote to Frey:

“We view your publication of this substantive material in multiple journals simultaneously as a violation of the spirit of the editorial agreement with American Economic Association that you signed in the winter 2010. (….)

[We] find your conduct in this matter ethically dubious and disrespectful to the American Economic Association, the Journal of Economic Perspectives and the and the JEP ’s readers.”

New evidence collected by internet users on a website called “FreyPlag Wiki” now suggests that the Titanic case by far wasn’t an isolated incident. Apparently, Bruno Frey has repeatedly published very similar articles in different academic journals without citing his other works. Freyplag Wiki lists five suspicious cases. (There is also a link to a backup version of an old Wikipedia entry listing 16 alleged cases. However, I did not have the time to look at them all.)

Over the last days, I took a close look at those papers mentioned on Freyplag Wiki and compared their content meticulously.

From my point of view, three examples lists as “suspicious articles” indeed are very similar to the Titanic case.

One major case (two papers published by Frey and Stephan Meier in 2004 in the American Economic Review and JEBO) probably does not hold the water with regard to self-plagiarism.

However, I had a look at another clear example (papers on World War II)  that has not been added to the list of suspicious publications on the original FreyPlag Wiki. (I wasn’t aware that these papers were already  mentioned in an old Wikipedia entry that is backed up on FreyPlag, though)

Some cases affect Top 5 journals and co-authors that are currently affiliated to leading US faculties. (I discuss every case in detail below.)

For two reasons, the new evidence is potentially explosive.

Firstly, the University of Zurich has started an investigation of Frey’s conduct after my reports here and in Handelsblatt. External experts are having a look at the Titanic case. The names of those experts are secret and I have no clue who was asked. However, I was assured that those researchers were truly independent and not linked to Frey whatsoever.

Secondly, the new examples contradict Bruno Frey’s previous arguments. In an interview with the Zurich daily “20 Minutes” in July, Frey argued that the omission of the cross-references in the Titanic-papers were accidental misfortune. Asked why he did not cite himself, he answered:

“Because I just overlooked it. My two coauthors and I wanted to reach the broadest possible audience. Hence, we published our research on the Titanic in four different journals. While doing this, I lost track. (…) We went through a long production process, and in life, you sometimes just make mistakes.”

Additionally, he and Benno Torger replied to David Autor:

“we well understand your very serious complaint and we both agree that you are right. It was a grave mistake on our part for which we deeply apologize. It should never have happened. This is deplorable.”

However, the new evidence which shows that Frey apparently frequently published the same research findings several times makes his way of reasoning very hard to believe. Additionally, his profuse apologies to the journals affected in the Titanic case appear very shallow, from my point of view.

The most blatant cases of self-plagiarism both affect the “European Journal of Law and Economics” (EJLE). Twice, Frey published papers containing a number of paragraphs that were word-by-word identical to previously published work but lacks any reference to them.

Ironically, Bruno Frey himself is a member of the editorial board of this journal, and the editor-in-chief is one of this former students, the German economics professor Jürgen Backhaus (University of Erfurt) (Here’s his German Wikipedia entry.)

What follows is a detailed discussion of the individual cases.

“Publishing as Prostitution” (Public Choice, 2003) / “Problems with Publishing” (EJLE, 2005)

This is a single authored paper by Bruno Frey. The abstracts in both journals are completely identical.

The first two sentences of the Public Choice paper are slightly different, but starting with the second paragraphs both articles are almost completely identical:

Public Choice:

“The author knows that, normally, he would be lucky if, after something like a year or so, he gets an invitation to resubmit the paper according to the demands exactly spelled out by the two to three referees and the editor(s).”

EJLE:

“The author knows that if he submitted it, he would be lucky if, after something like a year or so, he got an invitation to resubmit the paper according to the demands exactly spelled out by the two to three referees and the editor(s).”

All chapter headlines are identical, as are most of the subsequent paragraphs. The only additional piece of information the EJLE version offers is a graphical description of an argument that Frey only makes verbally in the Public Choice edition. On the other hand, the EJLE version lacks the lengthy conclusion given in Public Choice.

(A detailed comparison of both papers is available here.)

There is no reference to the Public Choice paper in the EJLE version.

“Are Political Economists Selfish and Indoctrinated?” (Economic Inquiry, 2003) / “Selfish and Indoctrinated Economists?” (EJLE, 2005)

This is a joint paper by Bruno Frey and Stephan Meier, who joined Columbia Business School in 2008.

[googleapps domain="docs" dir="spreadsheet/pub" query="hl=de&hl=de&key=0AuEtgCUuVBDUdFlVc3ZIR2dsRFd1d29iWndjNVdVSFE&single=true&gid=5&output=html&widget=true" width="500" height="300" /]

(Full table is available here.) 

There are slight semantic differences between the abstracts of both articles. For example, the first sentence of the abstract Economic Inquiry says:

“Many people believe that economists in general are more selfish than other people and that this greater selfishness is due to economics education. “

The first sentence of the EJLE version states:

“Most professional economists believe that economists in general are more selfish than other people and that this increased selfishness is due to economics education.”

Apart from one additional sentence in the EJLE, the rest of the abstracts are completely identical. One noteworthy difference between both articles is that the EI version is written in American English (“behavior”), while the EJLE versions was transformed into British English (“behaviour”). There are a number of sections that are almost identical in the main text.

However, again, there is no reference to the EI article in the EJLE. Two related articles using similar data and addressing a different but related research question, that were published by Frey and Meier in 2004 in the “American Economic Review” and the “Journal of Economic Behavior” aren’t cited as well.

The submission guidelines of the EJLE clearly prohibit the submission of articles that were previously published elsewhere. They state:

“Submission of a manuscript implies: that the work described has not been published before; that it is not under consideration for publication anywhere else; that its publication has been approved by all co-authors (…) “

The publisher, Germany’s Springer Verlag, told me that they will investigate the incident

“according to our normal processes, which follow COPE guidelines”.

“COPE” stands for the “Committee of Publication Ethics” and is an interdisciplinary forum “for editors and publishers of peer-reviewed journals to discuss all aspects of publication ethics”.

Their procedures regarding “redundant publications” are rather straightforward: redundant articles should be retracted. The COPE “Retraction Guidelines” state (among other things):

“If redundant publication has occurred (i.e. authors have published the same data or article in more than one journal without appropriate justification, permission or crossreferencing) the journal that first published the article may issue a notice of redundant publication but should not retract the article unless the findings are unreliable.

Any journals that subsequently publish a redundant article should retract it and state the reason for the retraction.”

However, when I talked to Jürgen Backhaus on Sunday, the editor-in-chief was strongly backing Bruno Frey. Backhaus argued that Frey is known for his new and unconventional ideas. According to Backhaus, it was necessary to repeat them again and again to get them through to a reluctant audience. Backhaus told me:

“It is well known in the profession that Bruno Frey works like this.”

He said that it was an honour to be able to publish an article by Frey:

“He is an internationally renown academic who is a candidate for the Nobel prize.”

According to Backhaus, publishing an article by Frey enhances the attention for other articles in the journal. I asked him how he would explain to a PhD student that the official submission guidelines of the journals apparently are not applicable to Frey. His answer was:

“Bruno Frey is a trademark. The PhD student still has to build one.”

I was really stunned by these remarks. I emailed those quotes (in German) to Backhaus prior to publication. He confirmed that I quote him correctly. (Translations from German into English were done by me, however.)

(There is a particular irony in the statement by Backhaus, by the way. Frey accused me in his “20 Minutes” interview of exaggerating his academic achievements because I described him as an economic bigshot. Frey: “This exaggeration was necessary for making the article relevant.” Now, Backhaus defends Frey with the argument that he is such a great economist…)

From my personal point of view, this stance is completely unacceptable.

If the EJLE wants to retain any credibility and if Springer takes the COPE guidelines seriously, they won’t have any choice but to officially retract both articles. Additionally, I don’t see how Frey can stay on the editorial board of a journal which submission guidelines he repeatedly has clearly violated.

 “History as Reflected in Capital Markets: The Case of World War II” (The Journal of Economic History, 2000) / “World War II as reflected on capital markets” (Economics Letters, 2000)

These are joint papers by Bruno Frey and Marcel Kucher, who apparently has left academia. This example has not yet been entered to FreyPlag Wiki. I found it accidentally when I had a look at Frey’s publication record.

Both papers discuss exactly the same research question, use the same data and methodology and come to the same conclusion. However, there are no cross-references. The Economics Letters version seems to be a briefer and more concise version of the article published in the “Journal of Economic History”.

Plenty of paragraphs are very similar, as you can see in this table.  Here’s one example:

Journal of Economic History:

“As can be seen in Figure 1, there is a strong downturn in the index of all government bonds traded in Switzerland from late 1933 up to the outbreak of World War II. During the war, the index remained relatively stable at around 40 percent of par. One interesting feature is the peak in mid-1944, just about when Allied forces invaded Normandy.”

Economics Letters:

“Fig. 1 shows a strong downturn in the market index before the outbreak of WWII. During the war, the index remained stable at around 40 percent of par. One interesting feature is the peak in 1944, just about the time when the allied forces invaded Normandy.”

“Economics Letters” is published by Elsevier, which asserts in its ethical guidelines:

 “An author should not in general publish manuscripts describing essentially the same research in more than one journal or primary publication. Submitting the same manuscript to more than one journal concurrently constitutes unethical publishing behavior and is unacceptable. “

The submission guidelines of the “Journal of Economic History” state:

“Articles on economic history and related aspects of history or economics will be considered for publication by the Editors on the understanding that the articles have not previously been published and are not under consideration elsewhere.”

Update: According to an old Wikipedia entry on alleged cases of self-plagiarism by Frey, similar papers were also published 1999 in Empirica (“Asset Prices and History: The Case of Austria”) and in Economics in 2001 (“Wars and Markets: How Bond Values Reflect the Second World War). The entry states that the cross references are also missing.  Please be aware that I did not double-check this claim. I wasn’t aware of this old Wikipeda entry when I compared the papers and wrote the first version of this  post.

“The Old Lady Visits Your Backyard: A Tale of Morals and Markets” (Journal of Political Economy, 1996) / “The Cost of Price Incentives: An Empirical Analysis of Motivation Crowding- Out” (American Ecnomic Review, 1997)

From an American perspective, this is potentially the most interesting case, because it affects two Top 5 journals as well as a co-author who is affiliated with Harvard Business School – Felix Oberholzer-Gee. (Coincidentally, Oberholzer-Gee was involved in another quarrel about a very controversial paper made public by my colleague Norbert Häring a few years ago that also involved Steven Levitt.)

However, this case is more complicated than the previous three examples. Without any question, both articles address a similar research question, apparently use the same data and do not cite each other.

Both papers deal with a problem called “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY): Facilities that are deemed socially necessary or useful but meet strong local resistance in the regions where they are supposed to be build. Examples are high security prisons, power plants or airports. Frey and his co-authors investigate empirically if this resistance can be overcome by monetary compensation.

[googleapps domain="docs" dir="spreadsheet/pub" query="hl=de&hl=de&key=0AuEtgCUuVBDUdFlVc3ZIR2dsRFd1d29iWndjNVdVSFE&single=true&gid=3&output=html&widget=true" width="500" height="300" /]

(The full table is available here.)

At the core of both papers is data collected in 305 in-person interviews in rural Switerland in an area taken into consideration for a nuclear waste facility.

 Freyplag Wiki lists eight sections that are more or less identical in both papers. I double-checked  and can confirm them all.

However, several things are pretty strange. First of all, the JPE paper (published in December 1996 ) lists three authos (Bruno Frey, Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Reiner Eichenberger) while the AER paper only lists Frey and Oberholzer-Gee.

The results of the interviews are exactly similar in both papers. For example, both papers state that 50.8 percent of the of the citizens living in the host community indicated that they would support this siting decision.

(Interestingly, this result is framed differently in both articles. In the JPE it is described as “a bare majority”, while in the AER it is describes more positively as “more than half of the respondents”.)

Additionally, several survey questions are identical in both papers.

For example, the JPE states:

“To test our hypotheses, we repeated the exact same question, asking our respondents whether they were willing to accept the construction of a nuclear waste repository if the Swiss parliament decided to compensate all residents of the host community. The amount offered for the lifetime of the facility was varied from $2,175 per individual and year (N = 117) to $4,350 (N = 102) and $6,525 (N = 86).”

In the AER it reads:

“To test the effect of external compensation, we repeated the exact same question asking our respondents whether they were willing to accept the construction of a nuclear waste repository when the Swiss parliament had decided to compensate all residents of the host community (Question 2, Appendix). The amount offered varied from $2,175 per individual and year (N = 117) to $4,350 (N = 102) and $6,525 (N= 86).”

Strangely enough, however, the survey is described differently in both articles. In the JPE the authors write that the interviews were conducted in June 1993 a in Wolfenschiessen, one of four communities that were under consideration as possible sites. In the AER they claim that the interviews were done in two adjacent communities located in central Switzerland in the Spring of 1993.

Another peculiarity is that the the results of boths papers appear to be contradictory, from my point of view. In the JPE paper (published 10 months earlier) the authors compare the results of their survey (monetary compensation does not resolve the NIMBY problem) with an actual poll in the area that was conducted in 1994.

The region was offered monetary compensation and the project was given a go-ahead by the citizens. The authors develop a theory that tries to explain this observation (that I, frankly, do not fully understand their argument). In the AER paper, however, there is neither a reference to the poll conducted in 1994 nor, as mentioned above, to the JPE paper. Hence, based solely on the survey, this  paper (which was published later) concludes:

“ where public spirit prevails, using price incentives to muster support for the construction of a socially desirable, but locally unwanted, facility comes at a higher price than suggested by standard economic theory because these incentives tend to crowd out civic duty”.

I wrote an email to the current AER editor-in-chief, Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg with Yale University. This is what she replied:

“As you pointed out, the AER papers were published much before I took over. I am not comfortable commenting on cases I did not handle. This is a very serious matter, and there are people’s professional reputations at stake; I wouldn’t want to pass judgment without carefully reading the papers involved first and without having more context regarding the submissions and decisions. (…)

Regarding your question about our submission guidelines, of course publishing an identical paper in a different journal would violate our guidelines.

But the reason I want to be cautious is that there are many cases that may not be black and white. For example, there may by overlap in the phrasing of particular paragraphs and methods used, but it is possible that two papers address different questions or that their analyses differ in other substantive ways.

Or, sometimes, people submit the first version of a model or the first version of an empirical paper that uses incomplete data to a field journal, and the referees write “This paper would be great if you could extend the analysis in this direction, or if you could provide this additional piece of evidence based on additional data…. With this additional information, the paper would be a good match for a top-five journal, but without it, it is ok for a field journal…”

The authors then go ahead, publish this first version in the field journal, and later on they do the additional analysis suggested by the referees and submit to top journals.  In such cases, there may be great overlap between the two submission, but the authors would not be in violation of our submission guidelines; it is up to the editor to determine whether the new submission makes a significant enough contribution relative to the authors’ earlier work for it to be published.

Still, in these cases I would expect authors to cite their own earlier work – if anything, people tend to self-promote and cite themselves excessively  – it is unusual not to have references to one’s own earlier papers that are related.

Update: I just got a response by Orley Ashenfelter, the current president of the American Economic Association who was the editor-in-chief of the AER when the paper by Frey and Oberholzer-Gee was published. This is what he wrote me:

“When I edited the AER the editorial decision making was decentralized (as I’m sure is the case today). That is, papers were assigned by me as the Editor to a Co-editor for handling and a decision.

I do not recall who handled the paper you note, and I have no access to that information now. (It most likely was not me, based on what the subject matter appears to be. ) The archives of the Review become public after some point in time, but I believe this paper does not yet fall in that window. No doubt the current editor could reveal the co-editor’s name should that be within current editorial guidelines.

On the more general issue, this episode raises a very difficult set of questions about the publication process. Needless to say, as an editorial matter I would have found it inappropriate to publish material that was not original.(Highlighted by me)

Indeed, the Review had then (and no doubt has now) a requirement that copyright for the material in the journal was held by the AEA, so dual publication could, in principle, lead to legal action.

As to the specific case you mention, I have not looked closely enough at the papers in question to form a judgment about the extent of overlap, nor do I have the relevant information to respond to your other questions.”

I also tried to get in touch with all three authors of the JPE paper.

The only one who replied was Reiner Eichenberger, a Professor of Economics at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. (I also wrote an email to Stephan Meier, who did not reply as well.)

Eichenberger did neither explain why his name was missing on the AER paper nor pointed out if the survey data used in both articles actually was identical and why the survey was described differently in both papers.

However, he stated that both papers were “not identical at all” but in fact were were addressing very different aspects. He argued:

“Another evidence that the articles are very different is that both of them are cited quite often. However, in the 15 years since their publication nobody ever made the slightest suggestion that they were too similar.”

Additionally, he tried to defend the lack of cross references. According to Eichenberger, I have a wrong understanding of the academic publication process. He argues that both articles were part of a broader research agenda and were written at a rather similar point of time.

“When we submitted the papers at the different journals, some of the other articles were not written at all, some were written but not submitted and some were submitted but not accepted. It is well known that the publication process usually takes two to four years. Hence we did not have any opportunity to cite the other papers. At the point of submission, it was just not known where they were going to be published.”

In my personal point of view, for a number of reasons this is a weak argument.

First of all, prior to the final publication the authors usually get a proof of their article and are able to add final changes. Hence, I find it rather unconvincing that the JPE paper was not cited in the AER paper that came out ten months later.

Additionally, if you want you can also cite working papers in Top 5 publications, as the next expample shows.

 “Social Comparisons and Pro-Social Behavior: Testing “Conditional Cooperation” in a Field Experiment” (AER 2004) / “Pro-social behavior in a natural setting” (JEBO 2004)

These are again joint papers by Frey and Stephan Meier (Columbia Business School), and they are also listed on FreyPlag Wiki in the section “suspicious publication”.

However, I don’t think this example constitutes another example of self-plagiarism. Hence, these papers should be moved to the section “unfounded suspicions”.

As it is already noted in the Wiki, both paper refer to each other. They don’t cite the final publication (probably due to the restrictions pointed out to my by Reiner Eichenberg earlier) but each list a working paper version of the other article.

Additionally, they are not identical. On the one hand side, both papers do address a similar research question and employ similar data. On the other hand, the AER article adds another very important observation gained in a field experiment. As somebody wrote on the FreyPlag:

“This is of course an interesting extension of the JEBO paper.”

Update: In an earlier version of this post, I erroneously wrote that Reiner Eichenberger is at the University of Lausanne. In fact, however, he is at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Apologies!

Update II: In an earlier version I also wrote that I stumbled upon the WW II papers which were not mentioned on FreyPlag Wiki. In fact, I found  them acidentally when I was scrolling through Frey’s literature list. However, I wasn’t aware that this example was already known as well – the WW II incident was mentioned in the old Wikipedia entry that is backed up on FreyPlag Wiki. (I did not have a close look at that list.)  However,  I dont’t want to give the impression that I adron myself with borrowed plumes. Apologies to the guys who compiled the original list on Wikipedia!

32 Comments

Filed under Bruno Frey, General Economics

32 Responses to Bruno Frey: More cases of self-plagiarism unveiled

  1. Napo

    Eichenberger is at the University of Fribourg, not Lausanne

  2. Hans

    Very good Olaf, thank you.
    For those who want to investigate this for themselves it is important to note that many sections are almost identical, but the order has been changed and sometimes synonyms have been used to obscure this. Please see here for an overview (click show content): http://freyplag.wikia.com/wiki/Backup_Wikipedia
    I think it is important to stress the fact that the main table in the papers in AER and JPE (by Frey and Oberholzer-Gee) are completely identical:

    Journal of Political Economy 1996
    Title of main table: “Determinance of acceptance to host a nuclear waste repository, results of a binary logit analysis”
    Titles of columns of main table: “Willingness to accept facility without compensation; Willingness to accept facility with compensation”
    Rows: “Individual risk estimates; negative income impacts; home ownership; support for nuclear energy; acceptance of current procedure; importance of fair procedure; political orientation; income; age; sex”
    American Economic Review 1997 (does not cite other three papers on this topic)
    Title of main table: “DETERMINANTS OF ACCEPTANCE TO HOST A NUCLEAR WASTE REPOSITORY-RESULTS OF A LOGIT ANALYSIS”
    Titles of columns of main table: “Willingness to accept facility without compensation; Willingness to accept facility with compensation”
    Rows: “Individual risk estimates; negative income impacts; home ownership; political orientation; income; age; sex; general support for nuclear technology; quality of current siting procedure”

    • philip

      Sorry, Hans, but this is not correct. The set of control variables differs, the results differ and probably also the samples differ. Just because the dependent variable and a subset of controls are equal does not mean that there can’t be a justification for publishing the results.

      • Hans

        Philip,
        The two main tables of the AER and JPE papers are the same. The coefficients in the two tables differ by 0.01 or 0.02. Please see for yourself:

        http://www.jstor.org/stable/2138940
        Page 1304

        http://www.jstor.org/stable/2951373
        Page 752

        More than 95 percent of the tables is the same. There is no cross citing

      • philip

        @Hans:
        The JPE paper controls for “Importance of fair procedure”, the AER paper does not. Plus, in the last two columns the level of compensation is included in the set of control variables. Just count the number of variables, in the AER there are 10, in the JPE there are 11. I don’t know whether this makes a difference, but the tables are not equal.

    • Hans

      The variable “importance of a fair procedure” was added as a control variable in the JPE, the other ten variables are the same. As I mentioned, this has changed some of the point estimates by about 0.02.

  3. Hans

    Hi Olaf,
    You mention that the wiki only lists five cases and that you have discovered a sixth one about WWII.

    This is unfortunately not true: the wiki lists SIXTEEN CASES of self-plagiarism, including the papers on WWII. These were in fact not only published in the Journal of Economic History and Economics Letters, but also in the Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics, Empirica and Economics.
    http://freyplag.wikia.com/wiki/Backup_Wikipedia#On_Swiss_bonds_and_World_War_II

    To get an idea of the extent of the plagiarism, here is the content list of the Freyplag wiki that can be found at http://freyplag.wikia.com/wiki/Backup_Wikipedia (click show) :

    2.1 Bruno Frey solo
    2.1.1 On awards
    2.1.2 On peer review
    2.2 With Felix Oberholzer-Gee
    2.2.1 On nuclear power plants
    2.3 With Stephan Meier
    2.3.1 On pro-social behavior
    2.3.2 On the selfishness of students in different disciplines
    2.4 With Reiner Eichenberger
    2.4.1 On European and American economists
    2.4.2 On the return of art investment
    2.5 With Katja Rost, Emil Inauen and Margit Osterloh
    2.5.1 On monasteries and internal control mechanisms
    2.6 With Reto Jegen
    2.6.1 Survey paper on the crowding out of intrinsic motivation
    2.7 With Marcel Kuchen
    2.7.1 On Swiss bonds and World War II
    2.8 With Simon Luechinger
    2.8.1 On reducing benefits of terrorism
    2.9 With Alois Stutzer and Simon Luechinger
    2.9.1 On measuring the cost of terrorism
    2.10 With Alois Stutzer
    2.10.1 On the determinants of happiness
    2.11 With Susanne Neckermann
    2.11.1 On awards
    2.12 With Christine Benesch
    2.12.1 On having many TV channels
    2.13 With Matthias Benz
    2.13.1 On self-employment and happiness

    • Hans

      Economica, not Economics

    • Hans, first of all please be careful with regard to the words you use. You accuse Frey of plagiarism which is not based on facts. He copied his own work, not the work of other researcher and hence he conducted SELF-plagiarism. This also violates the scientific ethic code but it is a big difference to outright plagiarism.

      Maybe I’m going to be overly picky, but Freyplag itself currently lists only 5 suspicious cases:
      – Publishing as Prostitution
      – Awards
      – Nuclear Power Plants
      – Pro-Social Behavior
      – Selfishness

      Additionally, there is a link to a back-up version of an old Wikipedia entry. To be honest, I did not have a close look at the entry and was not aware that the WW II papers were mentioned there. I stumbled upon the two papers I discuss while scrolling through Frey’s publication record. However, I’ll re-edit my blog post because I do not want to give the impression that I adorn myself with borrowed plumes.

  4. Hans

    The old wikipedia entry is the source of all information that is currently available. Only part has been copied onto the Freyplag wiki main page. These were cases with big names. I suggest you take a look at the full list, as this includes all information on self-plagiarism (you are right about using this word) by Frey and others.

  5. Klaus

    There is another paper (to the existing four) for the Titanic issue by the three authors (Frey, Torgler, Savage) plus another Co-Author:

    “Auswirkungen von Macht auf das Überlebene in Extremsituationen: Ein Vergleich der Titanic und Lusitania Schiffskatastrophen” in
    Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 63, 2011, S. 237-254

    http://www.uni-koeln.de/kzfss/archiv09-11/ks112inh.htm

    Maybe due to the recent events there is an addendum on the website, which adds two citations:

    http://www.uni-koeln.de/kzfss/materialien/KS-64-2-frey-savage-schmidt-torgler.htm

    Honi soit qui mal y pense! ;-)

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  8. econblog

    Hi Olaf,

    I just don’t get it: What is “unethical” about publishing the same result twice? I. e. what are the ethics such practice is violating? Who developed them? And what is their rationale?

    You write “Publishing a similar academic article two times without cross-references is an academic no go. This conduct is labeled self plagiarism and violates ethical standards that are generally accepted within the scientific community.”

    But what you are referring to are the “submission guidelines” of journal publishers, and the “<>”, “an interdisciplinary forum <>”.

    So you equal “ethics” with the rules dictated by a quasi-cartel of publishers. Obviously, all competitors in a market fare better if they can ensure that none of them enters the market with the very same product. This is the main reason for product differentiation. It is very simple to write down this dilemma game. So publishers would very much like to find a binding agreement which postulates that none of them publishes the same “product” – the same result – as any other. Their trick is to agree on and write down some guidelines and call them “publication ethics”, requiring authors to not submit their paper to different journals at the same time. But there is nothing about “ethics” here, it is all about the money.

    I have not seen a single argument in this discussion so far which could reliably make the case that some basic *research-ethical* principle is violated here, and I would be very interested so see such discussion. Please note that I am not saying that Frey and co-authors did the right thing per se, by not referencing their other publications on the same topic. But until now I do not see any “ethical” issue here. Nobody seems to be hurt by publishing the same result in different outlets, except for the competitors. From a market of ideas perspective, it seems that it was more interesting (for the respective journal) to publish an interesting idea again, even though it was published elsewhere before, than to publish another idea from competing authors. Even if the respective journal was not informed about the other publications, neither editors nor referees seem to have had sufficient incentives to check that.

    In sum, to me, the whole discussion seems to be based on a misunderstanding of where the violated rules come from, a corresponding wrong perception of “ethics”, and a significant dash of hysteria.

    (As a side note: I personally think that you are acting and writing honestly here, but given my above arguments I think that it doesn’t look good that your salary is paid by one of the publishers. It simply means that you are not completely free of incentive problems here. http://www.vhb.de/VHBContent/Portfolio/default_4.aspx )

    • But what you are referring to are the “submission guidelines” of journal publishers, and the “an interdisciplinary forum”.

      So you equal “ethics” with the rules dictated by a quasi-cartel of publishers.

      I’m afraid you’re wrong. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) – the board I describe as “an interdiscipliary forum” – was not founded by the publishers, but by the EDITORS of academic journals. This is how they describe themselves on their website:

      “The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) was established in 1997 by a small group of medical journal editors in the UK but now has over 6000 members worldwide from all academic fields. Membership is open to editors of academic journals and others interested in publication ethics. Several major publishers (including Elsevier, Wiley–Blackwell, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Palgrave Macmillan and Wolters Kluwer) have signed up their journals as COPE members.
      COPE provides advice to editors and publishers on all aspects of publication ethics and, in particular, how to handle cases of research and publication misconduct. It also provides a forum for its members to discuss individual cases (meeting four times a year in the UK and once a year in North America). COPE does not investigate individual cases but encourages editors to ensure that cases are investigated by the appropriate authorities (usually a research institution or employer).
      All COPE members are expected to follow the Code of Conduct for Journal Editors. COPE will investigate complaints that members have not followed the Code.
      COPE also funds research on publication ethics, publishes a quarterly newsletter and organises annual seminars in the UK and the USA. COPE has also created an audit tool for members to measure compliance with its Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors.

      COPE is very clear-cut with regard to “redundant publication” – they should be retracted.

      Retractions are also used to alert readers to cases of redundant publication (i.e. when authors present the same data in several publications), plagiarism, and failure to disclose a major competing interest likely to influence interpretations or recommendations.
      The main purpose of retractions is to correct the literature and ensure its integrity rather than to punish authors who misbehave.

      The other argument is that Frey et al just violated the submission guidelines of the journals. Some of the most important journals like the AER and the JPE are non-profit journals that are being published by academic publishing houses.

      Why are redundant publications bad? You might want to have a look a very interesting email I received from the editor of an academic journal who wanted to stay anonymous.. (I posted it before here , so apologies for any self-plagiarism… .)

      “Dear Olaf

      (…) I’ve also seen examples of the kind of practice you have reported during my own time as an editor. (I edit the [***prestigious economic journal, name removed***], amongst other things.) Sadly, my co-editor colleagues and I come across it all too often. One of us in particular is particular angered by instances of dubious ethical practice.

      Personally, I am concerned by the excess resources used in the review process and how such resource burn is exacerbated by duplicate submissions. I spend 40% of my time on editing work and recognise that others do too.

      In turn, I impose massive burdens on excellent researchers when I ask them to evaluate papers; a proper evaluation can easily be a day or two of work. Each academic paper can sometimes generate a dozen reports, as authors move through different journals as they seek an outlet for their work. Having a single piece of work simultaneously sent to many outlets (the subject of your posts) obviously multiplies this. The wasteful duplication is so demoralising.

      I am sympathetic to the reach-different-audiences aim. But (perhaps sadly) that’s not what economics journals are now about; they also act as accreditation agencies, and that means papers do attract much deeper attention from referees. This accreditation is eased, and with no real loss to authors, by simple open honesty about related work from writers. On the communication front, as an editor, I can still decide whether it is appropriate to publish minor variations based on the desire to reach readers in different disciplines once the right citations are in a paper. I see no reason to hide things.

      Overall, the activities you are highlighting are instances of plain selfishness. It’s such a shame.

      Anyway, this email is simply a private note of thanks (this is not an official message in my capacity as a journal editor) to say “good work” and “thank you” for following this up.

      With my best wishes,
      xxx

      Wrt to your side note: Excuse my French, but this is bollocks. I’ve never had any contact with anyone from the Handelsblatt Fachverlag on that matter whatsoever.

    • Max

      econblog,
      “I have not seen a single argument in this discussion so far which could reliably make the case that some basic *research-ethical* principle is violated here, and I would be very interested so see such discussion. Please note that I am not saying that Frey and co-authors did the right thing per se, by not referencing their other publications on the same topic. But until now I do not see any “ethical” issue here. ”
      It is unethical as Frey earned credit for original work that was not original after all. He did not only publish the same results multiple times, he also deliberately abstained from citing the other work in order to pretend that the article was original. By this he inflated his academic output and took credit that he does not deserve.
      With this practise, he wastes journal space. This is an important point as there are few journals for economists to publish and the publishing record influences your career very significantly. It decides about getting a job or not and about getting tenure or not.

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  12. Ted

    Hi Olaf,
    I was not convinced by your argument that the Frey/Meier paper that appeared simultaneously in JEBO and AER does not constitute self-plagiarism. I am curious about your opinion on this

    You state that they both refer to the working paper version of the other paper. This is not true: they both refer to one single working paper, which was the basis of both other papers: “Frey, B.S., Meier, S., 2003b. Social comparisons and pro-social behavior: testing ‘conditional cooperation’ in a
    field experiment. Working Paper Series. University of Zurich, Zurich.”

    Please see the similarities:
    American Economic Review 2004 (does not cite JEBO 2004)[16], title: “Social Comparisons and Pro-Social Behavior: Testing “Conditional Cooperation” in a Field Experiment”

    Journal of Economic Behavior and Organizations 2004 (does not cite AER 2004)[17], title: “Pro-social behavior in a natural setting”

    1 AER
    “Many important activities, such as charitable giving, voting, and paying taxes, are difficult to explain by the narrow self-interest hypothesis. In a large number of laboratory experiments, the self-interest hypothesis was rejected with respect to contributions to public goods (e.g., John O. Ledyard, 1995).”

    1 JEBO
    “Studies of important activities, such as charitable giving (e.g. Andreoni, 2002; Weisbrod, 1998), voting (e.g. Mueller, 2003), and tax paying (e.g. Slemrod, 1992; Andreoni et al., 1998), have convincingly argued that such actions cannot be explained by relying on the strict self-interest axiom. (…) The self-interest model has been clearly rejected in a great number of laboratory experiments (see Ledyard, 1995; Davis and Holt, 1993 for surveys).”

    2 AER
    “Recent theories on pro-social behavior focus on “conditional cooperation”: people are assumed to be more willing to contribute when others contribute. This behavior may be due to various motivational reasons, such as conformity, social norms, or reciprocity. According to the theory of conditional cooperation, higher contribution rates are observed when information is provided that many others contribute.”

    2 JEBO
    “According to the notion of ‘conditional cooperation’ people contribute to a public good dependent on the behavior of others. An individual dislikes being a ‘sucker’, being the only one who contributes to a public good while the others free-ride. The more a person believes that others cooperate, the greater is the probability that this person contributes too. As stated above, such social comparison can be due to various motivational mechanisms, such as a social norm to behave appropriately.”

    3 AER
    “Only a few laboratory experiments circumvent these problems and explicitly test conditional cooperation (e.g., Urs Fischbacher et al., 2001). These studies conclude that roughly 50 percent of people increase their contribution if others do so as well.”

    3 JEBO
    “In a recent standard public good experiment, for example, it was identified that, according to this definition, roughly 50 percent of the subjects are conditional cooperators, while a third of the subjects act as free riders (Fischbacher et al., 2001). According to this study, the observation that cooperation declines after repetition in public goods games is due to conditional cooperation: people adjust their contribution according to what others do, but give slightly less.”

    4 AER
    “Each semester, every student at the University of Zurich is asked to decide anonymously whether to contribute to two charitable funds”

    4 JEBO
    “Each semester, all the students at the University of Zurich have to decide whether or not they want to contribute to two official Social Funds in addition to the compulsory tuition”

    5 AER
    “They can make a voluntary donation of CHF 7 (about $4.20) to a fund that offers low-interest loans to students in financial difficulty and/or CHF 5 (about $3) to a fund supporting foreign students. They have the further option not to donate to either fund.”

    5 JEBO
    “the students are asked whether they want to give a specific amount of money (CHF 7.-, about US$ 4.20) to a Fund that offers cheap loans to students in financial difficulties and/or a specific amount of money (CHF 5.-, about US$ 3) to a second Fund supporting foreigners who study at the University of Zurich. Without their explicit consent (by marking a box), students do not contribute to any Fund at all.”

    6 AER
    “while experimental research in laboratories leads to many insights about human behavior, it is still unclear exactly how these results can be applied outside of the laboratory. Our field experiment enables this gap to be narrowed, while still controlling for relevant variables.”

    6 JEBO
    “The experimental evidence may teach us a lot about human behavior. However, it remains an open question how best these results can be applied outside the lab. This paper wants to fill this gap by testing behavioral theories in a naturally occurring situation, thus bringing back external validity to the test of pro-social behavior.”

    7 AER
    “We observe that the higher the expectation of the students about the average group behavior, the more likely it is that they contribute. Students expect, on average, 57 percent of their fellow students to contribute to both funds. They underestimate the actual contribution rate of 67 percent. The coefficient of correlation between the expressed expectations and the contribution to at least one fund is 0.34 (p <0.001).”

    7 JEBO
    “The results of our survey show that expectations about others correlate with the individual decision to contribute to the Social Funds. The coefficient of the correlation between the expressed expectation and the contribution to at least one Fund is 0.34. This correlation is quite large and statistically significant at a 99 percent-level (F1,3168 = 415.47,P < 0.01).”

    8 AER
    “A change in expectations from 46 percent to 64 percent corresponds to a change in the probability of contributing by around 5.3 percentage points.”

    8 JEBO
    “An increase of the perceived cooperation of others by 10 percentage points increases the individual probability of contributing by 6 percentage points.”

    • You’re right: both papers refer to the SAME working paper “Social comparisons and pro-social behavior: testing ‘conditional cooperation’ in anfield experiment” by Frey and Meier. I did not realise that, thanks for your pointer.

      For getting the whole picture, one probably should have a look at that working paper as well.
      At least, the AER adds another important round of observations (the field experiment). This means there is a difference to the JEBO paper.

      However, the JEBO paper should have been referenced AND discussed in the text. Remember that the AER submission guidelines state: “All submitted papers must also represent original work, and should fully reference and describe all prior work on the same subject and compare the submitted paper to that work.”

      This is definitely not the case. However, I was cautious not to make false accusations against Frey and his co-authors. Given the fact that there are several cases that are much more strainghtforward and blantant, I decided not to focus on violations of the submission guidelines that appear rather mild. (And that are probably quite common in the profession.)

      • Ted

        I understand Olaf. But I hope the editor of the AER will investigate this case as well. She may want to contact the editor of JEBO to compare the date and content of the initial submissions to both journals.

        I would not be surprised if the extra round of observations was suggested by a referee of the AER version of the paper. This would mean that the initial two versions of the article may have been more alike than the definitive versions.

  13. Pingback: Bruno Frey and his habitual self-plagiarising by the “cloning” of papers « The k2p blog

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  21. science fraud

    Dear Mr Storbeck,
    Thank you so much for your work revealing these cases of self-plagiarism. Since the journals did not take action or at least no such actions were publicly announced except for two of the Titanic publications the RePEc plagiarism committee was contacted. They replied in order to work on this someone has to file a complaint non-anonymously and they guarantee confidentiality. Unfortunately, in spite if great outrage apparently nobody is willing to take the risk of exposure, which reflects terribly on or field. So it was posted at the RePEc blog:
    http://blog.repec.org/2011/02/16/plagiarism-in-economics
    Thank you for your answer. Journalist Olaf Storbeck wrote about the self-plagiarism in the press, so it’s not just an anonymous complaint. You find ample evidence in the google docs document he compiled. The freyplag website covers further cases, now also very obvious ones, unrelated to the previously mentioned authors and including plagiarism not only from their own papers. http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/oekonomie/nachrichten/bruno-frey-neue-eigenplagiate-bringen-zuericher-top-oekonomen-unter-druck/4600708.html

    http://olafstorbeck.blogstrasse2.de/?p=1277 (in English)

    Since you already did a great service to our discipline contributing to the revelation of this and you were always very open about it, even posting your name at the anonymous econjobrumors blog I would like to ask if you would to ask if you would also be willing to file a complaint at RePEc. It would be very helpful if a transparent way could be found to set clear standards and to prevent such cases in the future.