Creditmongering or legitimate gripe?

Kevin Drum has a nice post up about “creditmongering”, or going overboard about concern for being the first to publish a fact:

Spare me. If you report out a big story that no one else was working on, then credit is due when others follow up your trail. But guess what? If you report a simple fact and happen to get it two hours before the rest of the world, no one cares. Journalists continue to be unhealthily obsessed by whether they reported a piece of news 15 minutes before every other news outlet in the world, but no one else is. And that’s doubly true when it’s a minor piece of commodity news. Does Siegler seriously think that everyone who reports on the Chomp acquisition for the next month should give him mad props for being the first by a couple of hours? Get over yourself.

I’m sympathetic to his argument. I don’t think that if you get up first and post that it’s sunny out, then anyone who then comments on the weather is obligated to cite you for the rest of the day. But that’s because (1) everyone can see that it’s sunny out and (2) the weather is a commonly discussed topic.

The same applies even in the world of academic blogging. When I’m the first to write about an important paper, I don’t expect that every blog post that comments on it will cite me. I didn’t write the primary document. The authors of that deserve the credit. They should be the first source cited, and the facts and the results of their work are theirs.

But, and this is a big “but”, if it’s not a study that you would have found on your own without me, then I think you should throw me a link. As an academic blogger, this is not my real “job”. So when you take my sweat equity, and don’t link to it, you tick me off. Period. When I write about a game-changing study in the NEJM or JAMA that I expect every health policy writer in the world has received a press release on, I accept that you don’t need me at all. When I write a post on a study from the Journal of Minutae and Obscurity, though, and later in the day you happen to post on it? I’m suspicious. We need those links. They’re how we build readership and grow.

Moreover, when I spend a fair amount of time making a reasoned argument in the morning that is deep in the weeds of theory nuanced by my particular set of skills, and then someone without those skills somehow manages to restate all of it in shorthand later in the afternoon using the same sources I did – then I’m closer to angry.

We in the academic world are very protective of ideas. They are our currency. So I’m a little disappointed that Kevin said this:

Ideas don’t belong to anyone, and readers don’t much care where the inspiration for a story came from. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.

Readers may not care where the inspiration came from, but ideas and arguments do belong to people, at least initially. They should be cited. If I come up with a theory of why something is the way it is, and I explain it clearly and carefully, then someone else taking my work and presenting it as their own thinking and reasoning is plagiarism. We should be able to recognize that and be unhappy about it.

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