Don’t be a BAW – badly-behaved academic writer



I was recently asked to talk to doctoral researchers about bad academic behaviour. Not in general, but bad behaviour specifically in relation to writing for publication. I came up with the following list.

The Badly-behaved Academic Writer, or BAW for short –

(1) has a hissy fit (that is, writes a hasty angry email to the editor) when they get their not-as-good-as-they-wanted reviews back from the journal. Oh dear. Tantrums with the journal editor go nowhere and just get the BAW a bad name.

(2) presents a sloppy analysis. The BAW hasn’t checked their sums or their analysis carefully enough. Any reader who either rechecks their original data – or perhaps even the workings in the paper – will find mistakes. A reputational risk.

(3) much worse – tells lies. if the BAW has engaged in deliberate falsification, then it’s seriously serious. The BAW risks being banned from the particular journal and possibly others, having action taken against them by their employing university and suffering irreparable reputational damage. But we do all know that making up your data and results is very naughty, don’t we.

(4) misquotes. The BAW attributes something to the wrong person, or muddles up what was actually said – usually in order to support the point they are trying to make. BAWs sometimes get caught doing this and then have to apologise or make a public correction.

(5) cherry-picks something convenient out of a longer argument, but in so doing, distorts what the original argument was saying. If a reviewer picks this up they may well come to a very negative judgment about all of the BAW’s work.

(6) rips off other people’s work without acknowledgement. Enough said. It’s our old friend plagiarism. Bad, bad BAW – they could get sacked for this.

Sneaky BAWs who, for instance, take something they heard at a conference and incorporate it as their own work may not get caught – but they accrue bad karma and the permanent hatred of the innocent conference presenter and everyone they tell. And you never know how that will end up.

(7) breaks copyright rules – takes other people’s work without permission, where permissions are necessary. This is a potential nightmare if the journal editor doesn’t pick this up. It can lead to legal action, pulped copies etc.

(8) self-plagiarises – takes material that is already published and over which the BAW has no copyright and reuses it. Journal articles are not the place to practice re-mixing skills.

Self-plagiarism is also a problem for journal editors who generally like to have original material in their journal – not a lazy BAW rehash of something that has appeared elsewhere. Self plagiarism is sometimes hard to define so its best to check the journal rules and editor’s policies.

(9) sends the paper off even though they know there are multiple things wrong with it. The BAW “just wants some feedback about where to go next with it”. Reviewers are not supervisors or mentors. The BAW is exploiting the time and goodwill of busy colleagues who review. The BAW owes reviewers – who review out of commitment to the academic community – their best, not second best, work.

(10) sends the paper to several journals at once. See above – this is an unecessary duplication of academic reviewer time, it’s greedy BAW over-consumption of the increasingly scarce resource of academic reviewing.

Having a paper in review in more than one place is also a potential nightmare if the BAW is accepted in more than one journal. Production schedules for journals are at stake.

(11) adds their name as an author to a paper when they haven’t done anything. The general rule of authoring thumb is that you ought to have made some kind of contribution to the project and/or the paper – had the idea for the project/paper, got the funding, done the work, written some of the paper itself. It’s an exploitative BAW who just puts their name on everything regardless.

(12) leaves the names of people who contributed to the paper off the list of authors. This is essentially stealing someone’s work. It’s pretty reprehensible BAW behaviour and there are lots of stories about this happening. It’s not a sackable offence, but maybe it ought to become one.

(13) puts their name first on everything even if they only did a bit of work on the paper. This is a sign of a self-promoting BAW using their power over less senior colleagues.

(14) uses gift authoring. This is when BAW1 asks BAW2 to put their name on a paper even though they haven’t had anything to do with either the project or the paper. BAW 1 is hoping that BAW2 ‘s name will mean that the paper gets allotted to particular reviewers, and/or that it will be enough to get them read, once they get through the reviewing process.

(15) does not acknowledge funding sources. This might simply be neglecting a “thanks to” or a recognition of public funding, but it might also be about transparency, being open about the ways in which the project could be biased.

Now this isn’t a complete list of BAW behaviours, but it’s a start. For more bad practices and more information, because some of these are trickier and fuzzier than this list suggests, here are a few helpful resources:

US Academy of Management FAQs

COPE – Committee on Publication Ethics

Best practice guide on publication ethics from the International Journal of Clinical Practice

The Royal Society publishing policy and ethics

Vancouver Protocol

Benson, Philippa A and Silver, Susan 2013 What editors want: An author’s guide to scientific journal publishing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Melonie Fullick’s analysis of academic fraud and why it happens.