Did Dr. Krashen Commit Self-Plagiarism?

The other day I was analyzing the brand-new journal Iranian Journal of Language Teaching Research and observed that the journal had attracted submissions from several well-respected Western linguists.

One of them was Dr. Stephen Krashen, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California. He has an article in the first issue of the journal (volume 1, number 1, January, 2013) entitled “Reading and Vocabulary Acquisition: Supporting Evidence and Some Objections.”

Because I normally don’t see contributions from prominent researchers in brand-new Iranian OA journals, I emailed Dr. Krashen to confirm whether the article to the journal really originated from him. To my surprise, he told me he indeed submitted the paper to the journal. I also received a lecture about the “prestige journals” being “predatory in their own ways.”

I always look for plagiarism in the articles of publishers I analyze. I got a hit when I searched in Dr. Krashen’s article in the Iranian journal.

Strangely, the hit lead led to Dr. Krashen’s website and this PDF version of another one of his articles.

What I quickly discovered was that Dr. Krashen had passages of identical and nearly-identical text in two of his articles.

Here is the citation for the earlier article:

Krashen, Stephen D. (2012). “A Short Paper Proposing that we Need to Write Shorter Papers.” Language and Language Teaching 1.2:38-39.

Let’s examine the relevant sections of the two articles. We’ll call the original (earlier) text L1, and we’ll call the self-plagiarized text (from the Iranian journal) L2.     The text in common to both articles is underlined.      [See the full pages here.]


L1: The article by Krashen published in 2012.


L2: The article by Krashen published in 2013.

It’s clear that much of the text in L1 matches the text in L2.

Let’s review the definition of self-plagiarism. According to iThenticate, “Self-Plagiarism is defined as a type of plagiarism in which the writer republishes a work in its entirety or reuses portions of a previously written text while authoring a new work.”

Note that Dr. Krashen did not include a self-citation to his 2012 work in his 2013 paper. He re-used the content without any attribution. Moreover, the original journal bears a copyright statement, so this act may also qualify as a copyright violation. It’s ironic that Krashen’s second article is about scholarly communication, yet he appears to be violating the rules of scholarly discourse by re-using / copying his own work without attribution.

Did Dr. Krashen commit self-plagiarism in the Iranian Journal? It appears he did.

31 Responses to Did Dr. Krashen Commit Self-Plagiarism?

  1. Frank Lu says:

    This is a most despicable practice and should be brought to the attention of both journals as well as to the plagiarizer’s supervisors, two levels up, whenever detected. Such culprits are playing the system, hoping that no one finds out. Frequently, when discovered, these perpetuators go on the offensive.

    I say two levels up since I have been involved in publications ethics for some time. One level up — may get shoved under the carpet.

  2. L. Yan says:

    Jeffery, what software did you use for searching or scanning? Can you post a link? Thanks.

  3. Ashley Hastings says:

    I think we would do well to remember that “self-plagiarism” is a somewhat controversial term, with legitimate questions as to exactly what it means. Clearly, it is a serious violation of ethics to pad one’s resume by publishing the same piece of work multiple times. But Dr. Krashen is far beyond the point in his career where he would have any reason to practice such deception. He is a world-renowned scholar who has contributed far more to his field of education than most of us can ever aspire to. (Furthermore, he is retired from academe and has no supervisors, either one or two levels up!) So what exactly was he trying to do in this instance, and why?

    Dr. Krashen publishes numerous original papers. His recent paper “Reading and Vocabulary Acquisition: Supporting Evidence and Some Objections” begins with about 10 pages on the topic set forth by the title. In these pages, he reviews a number of published studies. His references include 29 sources, two of which are his own previously published work. He is clearly not a degenerate plagiarist.

    Then comes a two-page section, with the heading “AN ADDITIONAL COMMENT.” This section is entirely distinct from the rest of the paper in both content and purpose. It discusses three problems that face researchers in the field of language teaching: the amount of material that must be reviewed, the cost of books and journals, and the length of most papers. In addressing the third point, Dr. Krashen does indeed repeat (with a few changes) about two paragraphs of material from another of his publications, “A Short Paper Proposing that we Need to Write Shorter Papers,” which was devoted solely to the issue of the length of publications. He concludes by recommending that researchers try to write shorter papers and publish more in open-access journals.

    Obviously, when a paper refers to research data, analyses, claims, etc. from other sources, whether quoted or paraphrased, whether by the same author or by others, the rules of citation must be scrupulously followed. Readers need to know the pedigree of every fact and idea that is presented in the context of scholarship. And Dr. Krashen, to the best of my knowledge, is very careful about these things, as a glance at any of his hundreds of publications will indicate.

    However, it appears to me that Dr. Krashen did not consider “AN ADDITIONAL COMMENT” or “A Short Paper Proposing that we Need to Write Shorter Papers” to be part of his own scholarly work per se, as these writings do not address issues of language acquisition and add nothing to his professional reputation. They are more in the nature of editorial opinion and advice, offered as a service to the field. What would be gained in this instance by following the usual rules of citation? Why would a reader need to know whether Dr. Krashen had expressed the same or similar views elsewhere, using the same or similar language? A person doing research on language acquisition has no reason to cite Dr. Krashen’s ideas about the length of papers.

    This is at most a very innocuous example of “self-plagiarism,” in my opinion. And, in view of Dr. Krashen’s well-known generous efforts to encourage and promote research and publication in his field, I would be very surprised if the original journal gives a rat’s ass.

    • David Solomon says:

      Thank you for providing a very thoughtful response that in my view is right on target.

      • Amor Cilla Domenech says:

        I agree. Dr. Krashen has written so much that it would be difficult to change his persopective and thus it is not surprising that some papers may resaamble. Besides, it is great that he also publishes in minor but accessible journals from time to time. In my country we are eliminating the suscriptions to prestigious journals because they are expensive and we should be grateful to big autheors who help underpriviliged researchers.

  4. moom says:

    In my opinion this small amount of overlap between ones own papers is totally acceptable. As long as a paper has significant new results there are likely to be overlaps in review of the literature, introductory material, and some methods. The problem is when basically the same entire paper is published again. Here one point from another paper is repeated. So he could have rephrased it but so what, why bother?

  5. Alberto says:

    Dear Prof. Beall, would you consider the Iranian Journal of Language Teaching Research as a predatory journal? Krashen, Byram, Cook and Kramsch are very prominent scholars, and the journal seems serious to me. Besides, they do not change authors.

    • No, not at this time. If you examine my list, you will not see this journal on it. I hope they can continue to attract high quality papers and keep article processing fees low or free.

  6. naser says:

    Dear Prof. Beall

    This journal is published by a University and the university does not let them ask for any fee.


  7. ruthanne wulf says:

    “The hit LED to”

  8. mirabelle22 says:

    I don’t see what the problem is. This is common practice in the academic world and frankly I don’t see what unethical about it. And it’s obviously no plagiarism as you can’t steal from yourself.

    • Frank Lu says:

      Unfortunately, it IS a common practice but it is also unethical. Google “self plagiarism” and you will find articles in Ithenticate and Turnitin that explains what this means and how we can be trapped exactly by just what you wrote. See this nice article http://doctoralwriting.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/recycling-old-papers-and-self-plagiarism-is-it-a-sin/.

      One of the worst things that I have found in checking resumes is the multiplication of papers that do not necessarily reports on the same ideas (ideas cannot be plagiarized though they can be stolen) but that contains huge chunks of common writing and SAME figures. Shame on the paper reviewers and journal editors for not checking. There is hardly a net contribution to knowledge and the person uses this as a ploy to pad her/his resume. Checking the details in a resume is tedious and thus not always done. With anti-plagiarism software, this process is not so tedious anymore.

      Note that the perpetrators of this practice are everywhere and when asked will dismiss this as harmless. However, I have read papers by “famous” researchers and felt disgusted by the repetitions of words and ideas. It is not harmless since I have wasted time. So, there is a little taint in their fame but it does not matter in the world we live in except to those who expect more, especially those of us who are desperately trying to mentor the next generation of researchers.

      As the cited article asks, how do we practice good scholarship? What can also be serious are the legal, copyright issues since most publishers require that the copyright be transferred to them.


      • Nils says:

        I agree with Frank. Luckily, I have to say, I have participated in hiring committees where some applicants’ multiplication of papers was considered as highly suspicious, and upon closer scrutiny revealed an important degree of self-plagiarism. Those candidates were sorted out immediately. I can only hope this kind of attitude is not exceptional in hiring committees.

  9. Some interesting additional reading material can be found in the ACM plagiarism policy and in particular this article by Collberg & Kobourov in the Communications of the ACM (April 2005). The article, aimed at computer science, provides three anecdotes and a comprehensive classification of different levels of (self-)plagarism. It also discusses some (anonymous) comments from collegues.

  10. Neza says:

    Plagiarism is “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of ANOTHER author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.” Thus “self-plagiarism” is a contradiction in terms, for starters, unless we go the Alice In Wonderland route of arbitrarily re-defining words as we please.
    In any case, the central ethical violation of plagiarism is stealing someone else’s work – how can you steal from yourself. “Double-dipping” may be unethical or in breach of the rules, but it hardly seems equivalent to theft.

    • Who is the “original author” of all the quotes in your comment?

      Self-plagiarism is a serious ethical lapse. Journals always ask authors to warrant that their manuscripts are original work. Would you be happy working at or attending a university where all the professors were self-plagiarists?

    • Frank Lu says:

      The analogy with stealing is not correct. The ethical issue is somewhere else — see the reference above in my previous reply: http://doctoralwriting.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/recycling-old-papers-and-self-plagiarism-is-it-a-sin/.

      Self-plagiarism in its worst form spins the same information with practically identical words, wasting the reader’s time with no net increase in knowledge perhaps benefiting only the author and the subsequent publisher(s). Spinning the same information with different words is almost as bad. There are certain exceptions especially in the sciences. For example, there are not too many ways of writing certain equations and we are all familiar with those ways. There is no plagiarism or self-plagiarism in this case.

      Another exception is when one is writing a review paper. In this case, chunks of writing (hopefully not large chunks) may be quoted verbatim but should be properly attributed.

      One awkward byproduct of self-plagiarism even though the commentator felt that it is not stealing is that the copyright has generally been assigned to the publisher. Publishers usually do not press this issue but legally the work is now theirs. On the other hand, authors of journal articles allow these publishers to make money at their expense!

  11. Nils says:

    I find it rather alarming that some commentators seem not to see any harm in self-plagiarism. So I would like to ask e.g. mirabelle22 and Neza: Have you published multiple papers with the same or significantly overlapping content? If so, did you get away with it? What, in your opinion, is the role of a scientific pubication – making an (even modest) contribution to science or enlarging your list of publications? Just checking…

  12. Ashley Hastings says:

    The term “self-plagiarism” is a bit confusing, because in the minds of many, “plagiarism” refers exclusively to the act of appropriating another person’s work and presenting it as one’s own. I myself prefer terms such as “recycling” or “duplicate publication” as somewhat more descriptive and less confusing. Still, the term “self-plagiarism” seems to have taken hold, so I think we must accept it.

    Whatever we call it, it is obviously unethical to deliberately recyle the same scholarly work in a deceptive manner for the purpose of appearing to be more productive than one truly is. Jeffrey Beall, Frank Lu, and others are absolutely right to excoriate this dishonest practice.

    It is unfortunate that this discussion began with an inappropriate example. As I argued at length in my earlier posting, Dr. Krashen did not practice any form of deliberate deception or gain any dishonest advantage by reusing a small amount of his own non-technical writing in an appended comment on a side issue. His purpose was clearly benign. By highlighting this as an example of self-plagiarism, I believe that Jeffrey Beall has inadvertently clouded the issue. Some readers may conclude that self-plagiarism is no big deal if this is all it amounts to.

    • moom says:

      I’m thinking it is likely that standards are different in the humanities and in social and natural sciences. I read on the Chronicle Fora that it is considered bad to give the same paper at seminars and conferences multiple times. By contrast, in economics it is highly recommended that in order to prepare a paper for journal submission you should present it in as many fora as possible and get comments to improve your paper. Similarly, including introductory material or methods detail in more than one paper is acceptable as long as each journal article also present substantial new results and/or data.

  13. Frank Lu says:

    Ashley, I agree that we seem to have gone off track here.

  14. [...] I would like to send a “thank you” to Beall because he is doing a huge favor to the research community. His database of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers” and the list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access journals” are definitely a resource I will keep an eye on. I personally find very interesting that in his analysis he goes beyond predatory journals and publishers and discusses in his blog about actual people involved in many of these shady publishing platforms (one example and another one). He even keeps an eye on plagiarism cases. [...]

  15. Alex L says:

    In my opinion this example of self-plagiarism is not serious at all as it occurs in the introduction. The introduction for many of my papers are very similar as the purpose of the intro is to set the scene, provide the big picture – which rarely changes. I agree he could have paraphrased. But to be honest who cares. I wish I could just cut and paste my intro’s. What is important is whether what is written in the rest of the paper is novel – not recycling. Which appears to be so. Give the man a break. From what I read in the discussion he is retired. He deserves a medal for still contributing to for free.

    • If you use the same introduction twice, then clearly you have not made any advances. One of the core elements of an introduction is the contributions of the paper. Without new contributions, what is there to write about?

      Of course, re-using individual sentences (describing the big picture, as you say) isn’t that problematic, but it is a clear sign that not a lot of effort went into writing the paper.

      More subjectively stated: the introduction is the part of the paper that will get the most readers — shouldn’t that also be the highest writing quality?

  16. Adrien Luanga Kasanga says:

    In my academic career–much shorter than that of the respectable scholar, Stephen Krashen, I have “borrowed” chunks (including figures and ideas) of my own previously published materials BUT I’ve always felt obliged, in the name of academic honesty and integrity, to properly acknowledge the original source (myself!). This is what we teach our students and we cannot exempt ourselves under the excuse that we are “exceptional” or world-renowned scholars! The problem is not whether or not we should use our own ideas or previous texts. The problem is that we SHOULD, all the times, attribute any such idea or text to the original source, irrespective of who “owns” the original idea. In any case, would it not be beneficial to him and the readership if he cited the original source? I, for one, would have been glad–I’m usually tempted–to find the original source for fuller details. Not to check any authenticity or similarities, but to learn more about any attendant insights. By the way, academic honesty applies to what we may believe to be so famous quotes that they need not referencing. Recently,a reviewer asked me to provide the year of publication and page of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s now famous quote “We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden” which I’d taken from a published academic article. A full day’s search–including of online books published by respected authors–turned no specific bibliographical indications of the original source, but repeats of the quote! As a result, in line with rules and principles of academic integrity, I removed the quotation. Yet, highly respected published (secondary) sources repeat the quote without bibliographical details! Self-plagiarism may be considered less “harmful” than other forms of copying, but it still IS an academic offense. Period.

    • Ashley Hastings says:

      Good for the reviewer! He or she gave you a much-needed lesson on “the rules and principles of academic integrity.” Obviously, you never even thought about checking to see whether the quote was genuine or bogus until the reviewer put you on the spot.

  17. Frank Lu says:

    Great insight regarding famous quotes. I have found that “myths” get perpetrated by word-of-mouth or perhaps what we can call the chain-letter effect. In some instances, I just can’t find the original source and I can only say something like “attributed to so-and-so.”

    I also agree with checking authenticity. This appears to be a common downfall amongst graduate students who fail to check the original sources. I have “doomed” more than one in their defenses, wasting a lot of time. Seems like, nowadays, if it is not available online, it is not worth the time to check. Librarians are still around to help.

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