Intellectual Appropriation, Attribution Of Credit & Privilege (UPDATED)

April 13, 2008

UPDATE: Feminist blog Feministing has pledged to do exactly the kind of reasonable investigation of prior work in an area of inquiry before posting on it that I have suggested is required by academic norms of scholarship:

We’re actually going to take this opportunity to pledge to do better. With every post we write, we’ll do a search to see if another feminist blogger has covered the issue.

This is a busy, high-traffic, blog with multiple posts per day, and they have decided that they can afford to devote the time and effort to this.

UPDATE 2: For more on this topic, see this new post.


There is a big huge fucking dust-up going on right now in the feminist blogosphere that involves accusations that Amanda Marcotte, a prominent white feminist blogger, appropriated without attribution ideas developed as a long-standing project of women-of-color (“WOC”) feminist scholars, activists, and bloggers, including most prominently in this dustup blogger BrownFemiPower (“BFP”). My point here is not to take sides in that dispute, and so I am not linking to the more polemical blog posts that relate to it. My reason for addressing the issue is that it reveals a really important self-regulating feature of traditional intellectual discourse in academia that I think bloggers could stand to learn a few things from.

What I intend to do here is to first address this issue of appropriation of ideas and attribution of credit in isolation from the unique overlay of privilege that has, for sure, made the Marcotte/BFP situation so heated. I’ll then say a few words about privilege, although not so much in the context of racial privilege among feminist scholars, activists, and bloggers, and more in the context of male privilege and the participation of men in arguments among feminists.

As a starting point for discussion, I’ll take this post by Holly at Feministe, as it lays out the outlines of the dispute, and the comments contain some really well-thought-out and eloquent shit that gets to the nub of how academics think about intellectual appropriation and attribution of credit. The comments also contain what to me smells like really distasteful male privileged shit that sheds some light by analogy on what I think has WOC feminist bloggers so fucking pissed off about what has happened. All quotes below are from the comments to Holly’s post.

First, a very schematic summary of the facts, as I understand them based on what other people have said about them. I have not investigated the facts independently, because my point is not to adjudicate or analyze the substance of the dispute, but rather to use the dispute itself as a context for making some general observations.

Marcotte recently published a post about immigration as a feminist issue. Some WOC bloggers were disturbed by the fact that she did not link to or otherwise cite what they considered to be a deep long-standing body of work in this area of analysis developed by WOC scholars, activists, and bloggers themselves, including as a prominent worker in this field BFP. There were apparently accusations of direct plaigiarism and intellectual appropriation of particular works by WOC scholars, activists, and bloggers, including blog posts and conference presentations.

Marcotte, not surprisingly feeling under attack, defended herself with an argument that provides the conceptual nub of what interests me so much about this dispute. Boiled down, her argument is that she never was exposed to the content that she is accused of appropriating, that she developed her ideas completely independently on her own, and therefore it it illegitimate to accuse her of any malfeasance of any kind.

In other words, Marcotte’s claim is that her ignorance of prior existing work in this area is a complete defense to claims of intellectual appropriation and failure of attribution, and completely absolves her of any responsibility to acknowledge the existence of any such prior existing work or its relationship to her own. In fact, she went so far as to assert in the comments to Holly’s post that would adopt a policy going forwards of “intentional ignorance” in order to absolve herself of having to deal with the possible existence of prior work in this area:

I make a point of linking anyone that I think made the argument I’m making and borrowing. I’ve linked BFP in the past, but won’t in the future, of course, because she’s not on my reading list anymore. After all, I don’t want to be accused of being unduly influenced by her, so best to play it safe by not reading her anymore.

Holly’s response to this comment brings us very close, but not all the way there yet, to the ethic of intellectual attribution in academia, and how Marcotte’s position is completely at odds with that ethic:

Too bad that doesn’t get you off the hook either. You could still be influenced — ideas are like horrible viruses these days, remember? If I tell you about a theory of Michel Foucault’s, even without mentioning his name, and then you go on and talk about this theory, even if you attribute me… you’ve still been influenced by Foucault. Someone could come along and say, uh you know that was Foucault’s idea, right? And then someone would send you a link and you’d be like… ohhhh they’re right. Damn that Holly. And at that point, quite honestly I think the thing to do would be to say, if asked, that yes Foucault published that idea first, or published that idea too, deserves credit for it, whatever.

So Holly is saying, and rightly so, that even if you haven’t read a particular work, you may nevertheless have been exposed to that work indirectly through other works or discussions, and thus still incur an obligation to address that work and its relationship to your own. As we will see, this is true, but doesn’t go far enough to encompass the true obligations of intellectual attribution in academia. To illustrate this, here is an anecdote from my own academic career.

My major scientific discovery as a post-doc was based on a very interdisciplinary methodological approach that I developed as a collaboration between the labs of two mentors, each an expert in one of two very distinct disciplines. And based on application of this novel methodology to a particular experimental system, we stumbled totally by fucking accident into a conceptual area that we immediately recognized as quite important.

Unfortunately, because of the novelty of this combination of two quite different disciplines and the fact that we were essentially just accidentally stumbling around, neither I nor either of my two mentor/collaborators were aware of work that had been done about 15 years earlier that, while methodologically quite different, actually provided an important conceptual and intellectual context for what we did.

Well, we published our work, and only found out about the prior related work when a scientist who was writing an analytical perspective piece about our paper called me on the phone to discuss his interpretations with me. During this discussion, he described to me the 15-year-old work that we had failed to cite in our own paper. I was horrified that we had missed this. (And yeah, the peer reviewers of our paper totally fucked up, too!)

My reaction was to immediately write a letter to the author of that older work, a senior figure in one of the subfields in which I operate, explaining the situation and apologizing for not citing it. He was very gracious, and we ended up becoming quite friendly. Later, he ended up writing me very favorable letters of recommendation for certain grant awards that I successfully obtained, as well as informally advocating for my career in significant ways.

One point of that anecdote is that, even though we were totally unaware of this earlier work, and weren’t even indirectly influenced by it in the way that Holly described since we literally just unintentionally stumbled into the area, we still had a clear unambiguous obligation to acknowledge that earlier work and its relationship to our own. Ignorance, absence or influence, and good intentions are simply not an excuse.

And this obligation to relate one’s work to existing work does not disappear once you publish. Academics have a continued obligation to rectify matters if an this obligation is not met, no matter how innocently. Janet Stemwedel, brilliant and cogent as always, makes this point very effectively:

The resistance to acknowledging another scientist’s work or contribution to the field once you’re aware of it is not tantamount to scientific misconduct, but it shows a lack of grace and a short-sightedness about what might contribute to a healthy scientific community.

Regardless of the merits of accusations of intentional or accidental plaigiarism or appropriation, and regardless of whether Marcotte was aware of or indirectly influenced by the work of WOC scholars, activists, or bloggers, if the standards applied in academia are to be applied to bloggers, then she is affirmatively obligated to explicitly acknowledge the existence of prior work and its relationship to her own when she becomes aware of it.

Furthermore, academics have an affirmative obligation to make a good faith effort to become aware of prior work that is possibly relevant to their own. Willful maintenance of ignorance is considered at best sloppy and at worst despicable. In my opinion, bloggers–to the extent that they wish to be considered legitimate contributors to intellectual discourse–also incur these two obligations.

So now, finally we can get to issues of privilege. When I, a punk-ass post-doc toiling in fucking obscurity, became aware of the fact that I had failed to become aware of and appropriately acknowledge the prior work of a well-recognized powerful scientist, I was fucking scared shitless. And I did everything I could to rectify the situation.

This is, of course, the exact opposite of the Marcotte/BFP situation, where it is someone with relative privilege who has failed to acknowledge the work of the relatively unprivileged. This is eloquently encapsulated by commenter Violet:

The thing that’s fucked up is that she did that without any reference to the work that is currently being done, nor to the bloggers and activists who are doing it… and nobody seemed to notice. She didn’t notice, Alternet didn’t notice, nobody in the admittedly-short chain said, “hey, maybe we should talk a little bit about the work and theory that’s being done in this area right now.”

They didn’t have to. They don’t have to worry about things like that. They have that privilege.

That’s what’s fucked up.

And all concerns about recognition and supporting a plurality of voices aside, it seems like the article would just be stronger for referencing real work being done by women right now.

Naked self-interest ensures that the unprivileged will do everything they can to make sure they don’t fail to appropriately acknowledge the work of the privileged. So what ensures that the privileged do what they can to appropriately acknowledge the work of the unprivileged? Well, nothing really, except for a desire that all voices get heard, a desire that the privileged and unprivileged work together towards a common enterprise, and the willingness of the privileged to take responsibility for their privileged position.

Holly expresses this very, very clearly:

It is the responsibility of people who have a wider audience, more legitimacy, more privilege (and despite what Hugo said upthread, I’m afraid privilege is not imaginary) to hear and address the concerns and grievances and accusations of people with less. Until we live in a truly equal society, some of us are going to have to deal with that. While people’s lives are still being bulldozed by racism, some of those things you have to hear are going to be angry — very angry. I don’t think that legitimizes any and everything that might be said, there are definitely lines that get crossed that make communication harder, inflict hurt, are unproductive except for venting. But still — I think that’s the point of view it’s vital to listen from.

OK. One final point about male privilege and the role of men vis a vis feminism. This partial excerpt of a comment to Holly’s post was written by a dude named Hugo:

I write all this not to distract from the conversation at hand. The point is, the meta-conversation between white feminists and RWOC bloggers (acknowledging that those categories create a bit of a false dichotomy) has produced a lot of pain — and a lot of growth — for a lot of us this past year. That conversation works best, however, when we move away from the personal attacks of the sort that have been thrown, primarily in one direction, this week.

I am not a woman, so there is, of course, no way for me to know how women would react to this kind of comment by a dude. But this made my jaw almost hit the floor. I sort of imagine that if I were a woman, my reaction would be “Us!? What the fuck are you talking about, dude!?” And it kind of surprises me that in the comments to Holly’s post, no one said, “Yo, dude. This particular argument is about and between women; mind your own fucking business.”

I have always assumed that women would find it really fucking annoying if I were to ever tell them what is feminist or not, or to use the pronouns “us” and “we” in reference to feminists. And I certainly never refer to myself as a feminist, as I don’t think it is for me to say if I am a feminist or not; it is for women to judge.

What I do is try to treat women like human beings, and tell other men what I think they can do to try to treat women like human beings. You gotta be fucking nuts to wade the fuck in there as a man and start taking sides in an argument between a white female blogger and WOC bloggers over how to further their respective common and distinct goals. Seriously.

I get that I am viewing Hugo’s remark as a privileged male, so I could be missing something important. Am I getting this wrong?

48 Responses to “Intellectual Appropriation, Attribution Of Credit & Privilege (UPDATED)”

  1. ilyka Says:

    I get that I am viewing Hugo’s remark as a privileged male, so I could be missing something important. Am I getting this wrong?

    Speaking solely for myself, on the contrary, you got a whole bunch of that right.

    1. While I don’t always or even usually resent “we” or “us” when used by a male pro-feminist, I have come to resent the use of those terms by Hugo, who seems to use them most when he wants to tell “us” how to act and what to do.

    2. I’ve been DYING to say that this is none of his business, but (a) he doesn’t listen anyway and (b) I wasn’t sure Holly’s thread was the place to say it, given how much I respected what she was trying to do with that post.

    3. “You gotta be fucking nuts to wade the fuck in there as a man and start taking sides in an argument between a white female blogger and WOC bloggers over how to further their respective common and distinct goals.” Normally I’d agree with you here, but in this case, no mental illness required: All Hugo has to be is beholden to his own massive and crippling entitlement. He’s entitled to wade into these disputes because he has such good ideas about how to resolve them, and it’s only right to share! Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, etc.

    This was a really good post and I don’t mean to cruise right by the substance of it to bash on Hugo, but I wanted you to know that your supposition of how a woman would react to his shenanigans in that thread was, for this woman at least, right on target.

  2. Katie Says:

    Loved Every Single Word.

    First, I love personal anecdotes! And I so rarely get them from you. So thinking of PP as a post-doc who 1) made a super-cool discovery and 2) acted in a way that was both ethical and respectful with an intensity I’ve come to respect and admire is completely lovely. Very, very, very well done. Knowledge and respect for the literature and what went into producing it is an invaluable concept.

    Second, having read Holly’s post and some of the comments and links just a bit this morning, I hesitate to wade too far into a situation I may not fully understand. Regardless of intentions, there seem to be a number of very bright, motivated and effective women who have been offended. Taking a public stand on any issue sometimes that amounts of admitting you missed something, backtracking to acknowledge the proper people, and making sure you don’t make the mistake again. The whole thing strikes me as tremendously unfortunate, even more so when I think that it could have been corrected.

    Which brings me to my third point. I love the idea that you value minimizing the damage from errors and correcting yourself when mistakes do happen. That those values worked out so well for you in terms of building your career makes for a compelling post.

  3. PalMD Says:

    Just a small point of media…the blogosphere is especially conducive to citing other folks. Citing papers can be done in the usual fashion, but you can also just link to other relevant blogs, which is polite, and in the new media, this is a wonderful way to acknowledge possible intellectual predecessors.

    It sounds obvious to bloggers, perhaps, but it can go a long way to allieviating potential problems.

  4. Cherish Says:

    I agree with you that ignorance of previous work is not an excuse for not citing it. Well said.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t jump on Hugo so quick. He’s very much a feminist blogger (whom I very much enjoy reading) who is well aware of his position of privilege as a white male. I wouldn’t make assumptions that just because someone is a male doesn’t mean he isn’t feminist or has no authority to speak on the subject. (Ya know…that sort of assumption might be a bit sexist.) Men can be feminist as much as women…and in fact, if feminist values (i.e. that women aren’t just carpets for men to walk all over) are to be accepted by society as a whole, it’s pretty critical for men to take on the title “feminist” as well.

  5. Mad Hatter Says:

    “Yo, dude. This particular argument is about and between women; mind your own fucking business.”

    Disclaimer: I don’t know any more about this dispute than what is in this post. I also haven’t read the full comment thread you refer to here, so I’m commenting on the issue of men participating in feminist discussions in general.

    I don’t think that telling men to mind their own fucking business in these discussions is the right way to go. I agree with Cherish above that just because someone has a Y chromosome doesn’t mean they don’t have anything of value to add to a conversation on feminism. Obviously, I don’t think men should be telling women what is or is not feminist. From the excerpt you cited, it doesn’t appear to me that that is what Hugo was trying to do.

    More importantly, there have been recent discussions by a number of bloggers (yourself included, I think) about men’s responsibilities to stand up for women’s rights and gender equity in the workplace, a notion I wholeheartedly applaud. Don’t those responsibilities come with the right to participate in the discussion?

    Gender issues are discussed fairly often among the women I work with. Most of the men stay far, far away, but occasionally one or two will join in. Some of these discussions have become heated (one in particular still makes my blood pressure rise every time I think about it), but I still think that men who are interested enough to discuss feminism with women are a hell of an improvement over the ones who contribute to the problem, deny there is a problem, or are completely indifferent to the problem.

  6. Nita Says:

    I think this will create a silo mentality in which those pulled into this will be less likely to seek out varied opinions. If the response is going to be, “You stole my idea because you read my blog in the past and I know that because you commented and/or linked to me back then” when the general body of work is in the public domain and discourse, what incentive is there for bloggers to look for additional opinions on current affairs?

    Especially if the person has aspirations of becoming a journalist. Best to self-limit to avoid further such charges, stick with organizations that are well-known and that won’t make unsubstantiated claims to ideas, stay away from more radical groups because citing them as reference material could be twisted into support for highly controversial ideas contained therein, and generally work within the context of fact, perhaps with quotes of opinion from people you gain permission to name.

    People seem to have forgotten that this could easily go the other way. Credit is given for an idea, someone with prior due claim to such credit reads that, and an unintended consequence follows. Or, credit is given to one source and that source gets thrown in with some conclusion that is in dispute.

    If the subject were “bloggers writing about ” and the omission was made, there might be a legitimate complaint. It doesn’t sound like this fits the bill.

  7. Terra Says:

    I don’t think any attribution is needed.

    To make a programming analogy. There are quick and dirty prototyping languages and there are heavy duty languages that you actually use when you want to create something large.

    Blogs are generally the former. Academia is the latter. Some blogs will want to become heavy duty (with all the extra necessary drains on resources that could be used putting out more writing). But some wont.

    So it isn’t a question of whether or not blogs should do something. The question is what type of blog do you want to be?

  8. larue Says:

    I’m pretty sure I said this elsewhere.


    The Penis don’t tell the Vagina what to do.
    The Vagina don’t tell the Penis what to do.

    If they want to get to gether, and can’t figger out how to do so, Stop!

    And NEITHER one has the right, or the knowing, to tell each other what’s right or wrong.

    Or what feels good, to climax.


    What foolery, concealed behind pseudo liberal sex, that’s so suppressed.

    What foolery, indeed.


  9. PhysioProf Says:

    So it isn’t a question of whether or not blogs should do something. The question is what type of blog do you want to be?

    This is absolutely correct. But if you choose to be the kind of blog that ignores the pre-existing intellectual landscape before posting on a topic, you should be neither surprised nor indignant when those whose work has been ignored accuse you of intellectual opprobrium.

  10. Veronica Says:

    Thank you! I love that you took the academic lens and placed it over the blogosphere in general. Many of us, myself included, do take a step away from general blogging and into journalism and yes, even academic speak. We need to hold ourselves to that same level, esp when writing for blogs like Alternet.

  11. I think you’re really on the money here. I agree with your (or what i see as being your) basic point, that one is absolutely obliged to to acknowledge the work that has come before us. But the assumption here is that the blogger in question, Amanda, thinks of herself, or markets herself, as an academic or an influential academic voice. (I haven’t read her post, so I don’t know.) I think it is a cop-out to say that someone who doesn’t act like an academic or has not had academic training is exempt from academic standards in their writing, but it is entirely possible that they have never been explicitly exposed to the academic method.
    Which then brings me to blogs: To how high an academic standard can blogs be held? The fact is that one reads blogs because one find a hook one likes. Then, if on that blog, there is a post about something that may be scientific, or an intellectual argument, then one reads it, appreciates it or not, and moves on. How often does one really question the rigor or comprehensiveness of the thinking and reading behind it? And is that the appropriate approach? After all, there is no peer review, no abstract standard for how accurate a blog post has to be is there? The necessity for academic rigor is something that academic readers require, so how many of us are there? What percentage of the readership do we constitute?
    I think the larger issue is the general use of the internet as a source for reliable information-which it is, as long as you have a sufficient bullshit detector. If not, and you have not acquired one through your training, then what can one really expect?

    This is something that concerns me a lot, because I do write science-for-laypeople stuff, adn my general policy is to mention only the one main paper I read because I don’t want the piece to sound like an academic document. But I do this on my blog, I would never ever not cite something in my work. I don’t if that is ok.

  12. DrugMonkey Says:

    I’m not so committed as you are on the due-diligence in advance sort of thing. “ruins the blogginess” was a phrase Dr. Free-Ride coined (?) that really speaks to me. anything that seriously raises the “quality” bar pushes conversational blogging into the land of that stupid “peer review blogging” stamp of approval as far as I am concerned.

    Correcting oneself after the fact however? Absolutely obligatory. Right there with you on this part. One can say “I came up with this independently to the best of my knowledge” if one absolutely must to stroke one’s ego. but to fail to acknowledge that someone else came up with it before you? This is just basic intellectual honesty, even on a blog. I think we can refer to general community standards, not just “academic” ones on this issue.

  13. DrugMonkey Says:

    oh, and way to stay “above the fray” on the gender/WOC issue, PP! I’m (Un)certain you’ve been learning from some real pros!

  14. KSGUY Says:

    hello phsyo, boy do I feel like the simpleton. While I have not traveled the halls of academia that you or your readers have. I have thoughts and it is disturbing to me that if you write something and it inspires those thoughts does that mean that then I should imediatly research it and find if one has had similar thoughts? Again I feel simple. But to me reading your post and the links that it sighted it sounds like much ado about egotism. I will not profess to know what it feels like to be a women or of color or both but I do consider myself a part of the human condition. If I am considered simple by you then that is fine because I know who I am and what my life experiences have taught me. I’m not putting words in your mouth or assuming thats what you think it’s just an example. My point is that as a participant in life find it hard comprehend when people point out in three paragraghs and allot of words that honesty is the best policy or that to be humble is to be helpful. That we all bleed red seems to get lost allot. Anyway thanks for many thoughts that you have provided.

    Busteds brother

  15. Nan Says:

    “if you choose to be the kind of blog that ignores the pre-existing intellectual landscape before posting on a topic, you should be neither surprised nor indignant when those whose work has been ignored accuse you of intellectual opprobrium.”

    Oh, but you’re forgetting the ego factor. After a person has been blogging for awhile and has been told repeatedly that he or she is the coolest thing since the proverbial sliced bread, that blogger often does not react well to criticism and/or dissenting opinions. If you’ve got a whole lot of people saying, gee, you’re so wonderful, what an incredible exercise in intellectual acuity, you’ve phrased it so well, you truly are the reincarnation of [insert iconic figure here], and then someone comes along to piss in the soup by pointing out that your deathless prose or killer theory isn’t particularly original — you’ve just rehashed what has been said a gazillion times before, but for various reasons you didn’t know that — you can react in one of two ways: the adult way, as pointed out above (you grovel, acknowledge you managed to stumble across something other people had said before, and concede that the intellectual universe is large enough that truly original ideas are few and far between), or you revert to your inner six-year-old, whine a lot, and label anyone and everyone who contradicts you in the future as a troll who should be ignored by your and your acolytes. In short, you build a silo lined with mirrors — and that unfortunately appears to be the option some bloggers prefer. Despite claims otherwise, they don’t want actual discussions and debates, they want echo chambers.

  16. Rob Says:

    Thank you for a very rich post. Lots and lots of thoughts sparked. [Though, I really came for the invective, which I had recently been telling my father about: he’s an old-fashioned sort, with one claim to fame being that he had been able to make grown men—soldiers—faint, in his Army days, merely by cussing them out. Oh well, I’m confident that there will be more demented wackaloons in future spotlights.]

    The first comment I have on the post’s content is this. You said “And I certainly never refer to myself as a feminist, as I don’t think it is for me to say if I am a feminist or not; it is for women to judge.”

    I agree with Cherish on this, and would go further and say that it’s important for you to be “out” as a feminist, and declare it. It’s pretty clear that you are. So am I. [Recently, for example, my colleague and I submitted a paper to Atlantis on our experiences in trying to make a warmer environment for women in our Departments (Philosophy and Applied Math). Of course there are other examples, though equally of course I do not claim to be perfect.]

    This is a recent declaration for me (like, last week), although I have held my feminist views for many years, and I expect that the declaration will cause only ‘cocked eyebrows’ that I’d never declared it before. Up until the declaration I had held a similar view to the one you expressed, but the post
    caused me to change my mind.

    So I would suggest you consider such a declaration. It wouldn’t need to imply you’re a *perfect* feminist, of course. Or indeed a feminist of any particular stripe.

    And after this post of yours (and your highly laudable remarks on FSP and your post on women blogging and anonymous blogging) I don’t see that many people would do more than cock an eyebrow, and that only at the lateness of the declaration.

  17. outfox Says:

    Very interesting post.

    I think the post in question let a man being obnoxious go, because the contentions were about race and intellectual property, not sexism.

    Were it a thread on reproductive choice, then all parties might have rallied around a concern about patriarchal voice.

    But all the other parties were feminists, and this is about long standing conflicts between women centering around racism. So investment in actually making progress on that topic perhaps prevented his macho derailing tactics from taking hold.

  18. Sudy Says:

    Provocative post, thanks.

    Personally, I think if you have an investment in the engagement of womyn and equality, you should dive in the dialogue, regardless of gender.

    Whether you know what is going on…now THAT’S a different story.

    Thanks again.

  19. littlem Says:

    Interesting post. Cussin’ included. (I think you might enjoy Kate Harding. Profanitists Unite, and all.)

    Given the fact that

    1) All the strict academics that I’ve read that have weighed in on this post appear to have competing definitions of what “is” is — ahem, I mean, what “plagiarism” is; and

    2) my private opinion is that this would never have happened had the authors of the appropriated idea frames not been Of Color (I assume privilege in “mainstream” persons absent a conscious and demonstrable effort to self-correct, notably absent in the article author at issue here);

    I will point out for what is probably the eleventy-twelfth time on this issue that

    the textbook definition of “infringement” — whether intentional or negligent, which is another yet another component of the issue (the famous “but I didn’t mean it” defense — under no less than Title 17 U.S.C. is NOT “word for word copying”, or any other intepretation of how “plagiarism” is being defined.

    It is comprised of “access” and “substantial similarity” to the work in question. The arguments are then what constitutes said access and similarity.

    I’m linking you to Professor Hugo. It’ll be interesting to witness the dynamics of another man discussing issue, in the context of how loud your comparative voice turns out to be.

    Thank you for your post.

  20. littlem Says:

    OTOH, moderation has been enabled, so the link may not make it into the thread.

    But I wanted you to know I tried. 😀

    At least the moderator might read it.

  21. […] read: Team Rainbow and PhysioProf (thanks to magniloquence for the […]

  22. skippy Says:

    damn you physioprof, i said that all before and you didn’t acknowledge me!

    seriously, tho, i agree 1000%. i myself have stumbled into that situation, and the big problem to absolve amanda is that blogging is the easiest way to retro-actively acknowledge previous work. to wit:

    addendum: my good buddy [insert name of blogger who pointed out you stole someone’s idea] reminds me that [insert name of blogger whose idea you stole] has been doing a lot of work on this over at [insert link to blog whose work you stole].

    i’ve done that dozens of times. it takes very little effort and time; the only large problem is the amount of ego you are willing to lose in front of your audience.

  23. Ian Welsh Says:

    Most bloggers are not academics, and most bloggers who are academics do not have their blog as part of their academic work. Therefore most of us don’t feel that we need to acknowledge prior work we don’t know about, nor do we feel any need to do extensive research to find out if such work exists. Not happening — when I was in charge of the front page of the Agonist I was writing 2 or three articles a day, generally each of them of many hundred words. No time for such checking, it just ain’t happening and the people who think that people who blog for a living have time for that don’t have a realistic view of what blogging is for that subset of bloggers.

    If we know someone has written about something in the past, sure, link to it. If we don’t, know, I’m not taking days to research it on the off chance that someone else has. I’m not taking hours. I’m not taking more than a google search, at the very most.

    Blog posts are not academic papers. You don’t write one every few months. This is far closer to writing for a daily newspaper, minus the editorial support and fact checkers.

    Now, as Skippy says, if someone wants to write “I said that before” I’m usually willing to link to it and say so. And if someone points out a big blooper, if I agree that it’s a blooper (and sometimes I don’t) I’m more than willing to admit it, including modifying the post with a note to say why I modified it.

    If, however, someone assumes bad faith on the blogger’s part, then probably the blogger won’t react so well. This is human nature.

    Finally, I really don’t much care who said it first and it’s a damn good thing or I’d be outraged by the people who haven’t linked to me over the years when I know they read me and their posts look awfully familiar. But I don’t consider it a mortal sin, I consider it a faux pas — rudeness at worst. Especially since, in truth, most ideas it is impossible to trace back who said it, or thought it, first.

  24. drugmonkey Says:

    Shorter Ian Welsh: Big Swinging Dick bloggers don’t have time to credit others’ ideas which they have appropriated so as to “make their living”.

  25. whatsername Says:

    Great stuff here.

  26. Susan Says:

    It’s interesting how different this issue is perceived in the art world, where appropriation and/or building on someone else’s work is much more accepted. [As in “Genius is knowing who to steal from” and “I only steal from the best.”] It’s just expected, and has been forever– Brahms, when confronted with the similarities in one of his symphonies to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, famously said, “Any ass can see that!”

    I really enjoyed this article from last year on the phenomena called cryptomnesia, The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism by Jonathan Lethem:

  27. LeggoMyMeggo Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I’ve been thinking about the male feminist thing, and I’ve come down to the fact that it mirrors how I feel, as a White person, about doing anti-racist work: it is incredibly important for me to publicly declare myself an anti-racist, mostly for the modeling and inspiration to my White peers. However, it is not for me to jump into the movement and take over, yelling, “Come on, guys! I’m an anti-racist with the best ideas ever, so follow me!” Instead, I need to seek out the places where POC are organizing and agitating for change, and see how I can be *supportively* helpful.

    Many years ago, I read something (was it about South End Press? Maybe Kitchen Table Press?) in which a White woman talked about exactly this: that she wanted to swoop in and direct the POC already there, using her advanced degree and publishing experience, and instead was told that they really needed someone to make copies. And so she made copies.

    For me, men are whole-heartedly welcome in this movement, and I am all about men identifying as feminists. That said, I expect them to be in a supportive role, and not telling female feminists what to do or think. I expect them to work as advocates of the feminist movement within their male peer groups and communities, where their voices are much more easily heard than mine.

    (So from my perspective, PhysioProf, you are doing a fabulous job, and I’m so glad that you are here!)

  28. […] PhysioProf, who, like 10 days ago, wrote an excellent (and strangely light-on-the-expletives) post “Intellectual Appropriation, Attribution of Credit, and Privilege.” In his essay PP outlines the basic cornerstones of fair play in scholarship, what he considers a […]

  29. RandomObserver Says:

    PhysioProf why didn’t you link to anyone in your post “Mike Mukasey Makes Chuck Schumer Look Like A Fucking Idiot”? Do you think you are the first person to write about that topic?

    You couldn’t have thrown in a link to Glenn Greenwald or emptywheel or ThinkProgress? You link to FDL in your blogroll, so surely you must be aware that emptywheel has written on similar issues.

    Your own blog is full of appropriated material. Standards: they’re only for other people.

  30. PhysioProf Says:

    I performed a reasonable search before I posted on that topic, and did not find any blog posts that specifically made the connection between Mukasey’s post-confirmation perfidy and Schumer’s personal vouching for him in the context of confirmation, or that have posted excerpts from Schumer’s form letter to his constituents on the subject of the confirmation.

    If you have links to any such posts, I am eager to update my post with them.

  31. RandomObserver Says:

    That’s a clever dodge. You appropriated other people’s work but because those other people didn’t use the exact same format and differed on some specifics you’re in the clear.

    When I put “schumer mukasey letter to constituents” into google I see plenty of people making the point you did, that Schumer vouched for Mukasey then then was made to look like a fool. Hell before Mukasey was even confirmed (which I supposes makes it TOTALLY DIFFERENT!) the NYT ran an op-ed on the subject.

    “Huge numbers of competent experts have been shitcanned, and replaced by ignorant fucking douchehounds trained at wackaloon right-wing theocratic brainwashing facilities like “Regent University” and “Liberty University”.

    The Federal beauracracy is now absolutely riddled with bottom-feeding Republican hackfucks, and not only are they incompetent, but they are vicious and hateful, and they won’t be easily rooted out…”

    You think that’s an original point?

    You have Sadly,No! and FDL in your blogroll and you read Glenn Greenwald. This strains credulity past the breaking point. That entire rant is almost directly lifted from Bill Maher among others.

    How do you even know that these people come from Regent University? Did you do the research yourself? Did it come to you in a dream? That’s factual information with no citation and I’ve seen very similar rants all over the place on websites you blogroll.

    The notion that the Bush Administration has replaced good workers with political hacks from Chistian universities is not new, sorry.

  32. RandomObserver Says:

    Hell if I just google “Regent University” Paul Krugman making the same point in April 2007 is on the first page.

    Steal much?

  33. RandomObserver Says:

    Google “Regent University.” Paul Krugman making the same points you made is on the first page, from April 2007. And I just read Bill Maher’s piece in Salon again, “Say it loud: I’m elite and proud!”, pretty close to a direct transcription on your part. (Comics hate it when people steal their material, double points off)

  34. bikemonkey Says:

    hey random, the chance to score points off the PP is too schweeet for words. How’sa bout you put some links in your claims so we can all play????

  35. RandomObserver Says:

    I tried, I couldn’t. (I assumed posts with links were moderated out.)

    But I did give the exact title of the Bill Maher article — it’s not hard to find — and I explained exactly how to find the Krugman piece.

    I don’t honestly think PhysioProf has done anything wrong other than advocate a standard that few if any (including himself) adhere to. Kind of silly to beat one person up for something everyone, including the beater, does on a regular basis.

  36. Bijan Parsia Says:

    I very much agree with the analysis of the academic’s duties here and do think they are relevant (in general). One thing to remember is that *good faith* is critical: One shouldn’t let the idea of better than due diligence prevent one from doing work (or posting), but if one makes an attribution mistake it helps to apologize and try to rectify (as you did in your case).

    Furthermore, there are other virtues in play too: solidarity and resisting privilege. Assume the most innocent of intent and situation on X’s part…the reaction I would like to have to finding out that I failed to draw attention to BFPs awesome work is *sadness* at having missed a really amazing opportunity, or rather a set of opportunities. There was the opportunity to work against the general neglect and unawareness of her work (both for her and for her future readers). There was the opportunity to build trust with WOC both on behalf of feminism and on behalf of myself. The was the opportunity to show and experience real solidarity. There was the opportunity to reduce the injustice of my privilege.

    So, while I’d much rather never make such errors, I certainly don’t expect not to. But I try to train myself so that my subsequent reaction makes things better rather than worse. This isn’t easy (and I’m in a very very privileged position) but so is being forgiving of me when I don’t have a decent reaction.

    Being an ally is not trivial or easy. No one demands perfection or even “mere” superhuman effort. But respect and acknowledgment are the minimum we owe each others; care and interest (given the minimum) are usually valued; joy and love are possible if the minimum requirements of mutuality are met.

    Of course, respect merely for the sake of reward isn’t respect at all. So, things like love and interest are not things we’re owed because we give respect. One burden of being privileged (and trying to act as an ally and in good faith) is that you might not be as happy, or loved, or cared for as you might otherwise be (or would like to be). But that’s a relatively minor burden compared to being oppressed. Solidarity can mean *loss* (of privilege, or other things). The compensating gain you can demand is only of yourself: satisfaction at trying to do the right thing.

  37. giandujakiss Says:

    Hi there. Stumbling across this post belatedly while following links pertaining to the dispute.

    I found what you had to say really fascinating about the ethics of academia. (I’m not an academic and I don’t know about ethical standards in the field). What occurred to me is that you’re describing the difference between the patent model and the copyright model. In intellectual property law, patents are awarded based on first-to-create; copyright is awarded based on originality. So if two people think of the same thing independently, both may copyright it; if two people invent the same thing, however, only the first one is awarded the patent.

    It seems reasonable to me that, in academia, it has been determined that given the nature of research and the way different people’s work interacts with each other, a patent model of “ownership” (i.e., credit) is more conducive to creating a healthy scientific community.

  38. PhysioProf Says:


    Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. Sorry it took so long to appear; it was caught in WordPress’s spam filter for reasons I can’t fathom.

    One thing to remember is that *good faith* is critical: One shouldn’t let the idea of better than due diligence prevent one from doing work (or posting), but if one makes an attribution mistake it helps to apologize and try to rectify (as you did in your case).

    This is absolutely right, and is exactly why RandomObserver’s “gotcha” game is a complete load of fucking horseshit. It is trivial to go around intentionally looking for “failures of attribution” and find them. When failures manifest themselves through the natural process of good-faith intellectual dialogue–as they did in the anecdote I related in my post–then courtesy and honesty demand acknowledgment. Bullshit rhetorical gotcha games like RandomOberserver’s do not.

  39. […] 27, 2008 Commenter Bijan Parsia made an important point in our discussion of intellectual appropriation and attribution about the role of good faith all of […]

  40. […] PhysioProf: “Intellectual Appropriation, Attribution of Credit, and Privilege” […]

  41. […] for the comments – some real All-Stars were pulling out their best) A Slant Truth – For My Peeps PhysioProf – Intellectual Appropriation, Attribution of Credit & Privilege Aaminah Hernández- Why I Am Not A Feminist or My Anti-Feminist […]

  42. eustatic Says:

    I liked this post enough to steal the ideas.

    Just kidding. Thanks for the story and the discussion. The post outlines well differences between the behavior of Authors (dead or not) and that of Scholars.

    Academics are both, so have incentive to make every attempt at crossing t‘s and dotting i‘s –how obsolete a metaphor– to attribute as Authors, so that their work as Scholars is less arduous.

    Don’t believe academia is all peaches and cream, though. I have my own concerns about work ecologists did in Network Theory a couple decades back that somehow got buried when the genomics/proteonomics people (genomicists?) came around to it.

  43. […] Dear white feminists, quit goddamn fucking up (the blog); * amanda marcote @ kgb bar in manhattan * physioprof 4/13, and update, 4/27 – link via […]

  44. […] where I left a comment, links to PhysioProf on […]

  45. I really like your post, and I am going to link to it in my blog today.

  46. […] of Appropriation and Race Grandpa Dinosaur – The Person You Protect A Slant Truth – For My Peeps PhysioProf – Intellectual Appropriation, Attribution of Credit & Privilege Sudy: Apparently, Feminists Need Acting […]

  47. […] Dear white feminists, quit goddamn fucking up (the blog); * amanda marcote @ kgb bar in manhattan * physioprof 4/13, and update, 4/27 – link via twisty. physioprof says: [E]ven though we were totally unaware of this […]

  48. Focke Says:

    Hmm it appears as if your blog ingested the initial comment (it has been incredibly long) and so i guess I’ll merely conclude just what I needed written along with state, I’m extensively taking pleasure in your site.

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