Tag Archives: reinventing the wheel

Slightly plagiarised! AIBU?

Here’s the introduction to a paper I wrote in 2008  and following it, the introduction to a paper which came out by some other completely different authors this February. I won’t name them here. The two paragraphs are all but identical!

…In the atmosphere and ocean, ammonia and its protonated form, ammonium (NH4+) are ubiquitous. Naturally and anthropogenically produced NHx (NH3 + NH4+) is transported through the atmosphere and generally occurs in decreasing concentration in air with distance from land. It has been suggested that in preindustrial times the oceans were probably a net source of NHx to the continents [Duce et al., 1991], but this is not the case today. … NHx is produced in surface waters by the biological reduction of nitrate (either directly or via the degradation of biologically synthesized organic nitrogenous material). In solution it is partitioned between ammonium and ammonia according to equilibrium thermodynamics: The proportion of NHx that occurs as NH3 (dependent on pH, temperature and ionic strength of the medium) is available for emission to the atmosphere; the phase partitioning being dependent on the Henry’s Law coefficient. Ammonia is also emitted to the atmosphere by plants and animals in terrestrial environments (both directly and through breakdown of organic nitrogen) by soil microorganisms and by various industrial and agricultural processes, including the direct volatilization of solid ammonium nitrate salts in fertilizer. There is also evidence of a volcanic source of NHx to the atmosphere [Uematsu et al., 2004], and of substantial ammonia emissions from seabird and seal colonies [Blackall et al., 2007Theobald et al., 2006].

In the atmosphere and ocean, NH3 and its ionized form NH+4 are ubiquitous. Naturally and anthropogenically produced NHx (NH3 + NH+4 ) are transported through the atmosphere and generally their concentrations in air decrease as the distance from land increases. It has been suggested that in preindustrial times, the oceans were probably a net source of NHx of the continents (Duce et al., 1991), but this is not the case today (Sutton et al., 1995, 2000). NHx is produced in surface water by the biological reduction of nitrate (either directly or via the degradation of biologically synthesized organic nitrogenous material/agricultural run-off). In a solution, NHx is partitioned between NH+4 and NH3 according to equilibrium thermodynamics: the proportion of NHx that occurs as NH3 (depending on pH, temperature and ionic strength of the medium) is available for emission to the atmosphere (Aneja et al., 2001). NH3 is also emitted to the atmosphere by plants, animals and its environments, by soil micro-organisms and by various industrial and agricultural processes, including the direct volatilization of solid NH4NO3 salts and fertilizers (Sutton et al., 2000; Li et al., 2006; Sharma et al., 2010a, b). There is also evidence of volcanic source of NHx to the atmosphere (Uematsu et al., 2004) and of substantial NH3 emissions from seabird colonies (Blackall et al., 2007; Theobald et al., 2006).

I have mixed feelings about this. It’s no big deal – nobody’s stolen my data (they could, cos it’s mostly online…), or passed off my  paradigm-changing hypothesis as their own (I don’t have one of those, in case you’re wondering!). However, putting together a concise but informative introductory paragraph for that paper would have taken me a good few hours at the time and actually represents the end of a long process of reading and synthesis and understanding of the background literature over the course of my PhD some years back. This was my killer summary of environmental ammonia. I remember being rather pleased with it at the time. Someone else has come along and spent 15 minutes changing the odd word here or there and adding in one or two more up to date references (mine was maybe a bit sparse reference-wise) and there they have it.

But why shouldn’t they? Better that than they waste their time re-doing a job already done. Instead, they augment it with some extra references to bring it a bit more up to date and make it more information-rich. That’s exactly what hypothify/synthify is all about and I’m all for reducing the amount of repeated work (i.e. inefficiency) in research. And imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, of course.

I suppose the reason it feels rough is the complete lack of attribution for the work. They look clever through my hard work. When the name of the game in science is essentially looking clever, then they’ve got one up on me in a competitive environment. Just dropping a reference to my original paper into that paragraph would go along way to making me feel better about it. That’s all they could really do under the current publishing system.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really cross about this, and it’s not going to spoil my day (it’s already been spoiled by grant proposal writing!), I’m just saying. Attribution please!

For future reference, I hereby release the above paragraphs under a creative commons CC-by license, so anybody can use them,  so long as they attribute them properly!