Male Professor Stole My Idea, Published It as His Own and Then Made It Look Like His Paper Pre-Dated Mine

Posted: June 17, 2018 by jennysaul in failure to cite/notice, old boys network, power dynamics

I have kept this incident to myself for more than 10++ years. Only now dare I speak, as I no longer think the incident will be salient to those who otherwise could easily identify me.

I am now a full professor in the U.S. at a fairly top institution (if there is any meaningful way of measuring that). The event I want to tell you about took place when I was just out of graduate school and had just started a tenure-track job.

It happened at one of the not-so-dreadful APA meetings back then. I was chatting with another junior professor from another university; male junior professor. It quickly dawned on us that we had overlapping AOSs, and the rest of the evening we talked shop. I told the male junior about a new idea which I had already fleshed out in a still-unpublished paper.

Looking back at our chat, I can now see that things were a bit off. I can now see how weirdly excited the bloke was about my idea. It’s hard to describe. There was nothing erotic about it (for once). Yet his keen interest was too keen, too intense, too in-my-face.

A couple of hours later I had promised to send him a copy of my paper.

And so I did. And I quickly forgot all about the meeting and our chat. I received comments on the paper from generous colleagues, and it was accepted for publication in a fairly top journal (if there is any meaningful way of measuring that).

One year later the male junior professor published a paper. I am still in shock. The paper he published was virtually a paraphrase of my article from the year before.

But that wasn’t it. Mistakes happen, right? They sure do. In his paper the male junior professor cited my already-published article as forthcoming, in spite of the fact that it had been out for more than a year at the time. In later work he perpetuated the mistake by citing my article as having appeared in print two years after it actually did —thus making him look like the voice of the idea.

Back then—and then, even more so than now—if a philosopher was bothered citing a contemporary’s paper, the author would usually be a man—and this was so, regardless of how many women had already said the same thing before them.

And so it happened. The male junior person—who soon moved up through the ranks—was publicly credited with my idea. Eventually heaps of people cited his paper. I occasionally get cited for the same idea but with the same typo in the year of publication, which makes my paper look like a footnote to his.

I am sure what I just told you still happens a lot, and it saddens me, not least because there is an easily discoverable fact of the matter in these kinds of cases. Yet what can one do? What could I have done?

What made me think of this incident tonight was that I just spent all evening reading an entry in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on this very topic. I was taken aback when I realized that the male professor from back then was credited with my idea in the encyclopedia entry. My paper wasn’t even cited, let alone discussed.

I could have come forward then. I could still come forward, I could stop hiding. But then what? What would happen?

I am saddened by this too: But honestly I don’t think philosophy is ready for its own hashtag feminist or anti-elite movement. Philosophers are all talk and no show, myself included. We talk and talk and talk about all the injustices we face and then we continue doing as we have always done. Isn’t it incredible that women in Hollywood were able to “pull off” what many of us female philosophers have dreamed of “pulling off” for years?

That is what saddens me most: I don’t think philosophy is ready to break with the male culture of buddy shoulder-padding, buddy-invites and buddy-hires. Philosophers, regardless of gender, aren’t willing to admit that there is a select inner circle who are particularly privileged and who got to where they are because of said privilege, not because of their acumen or intellect, not because they intellectually surpass the rest. One factor that increases the likelihood of being privileged is the Y-factor. It’s not everything. But it gives the guy the head start and protection needed to get away with cheating and riskier “idea heists.”

As I am coming to a close, let me emphasize that privilege and cheating go hand in hand, and that it still is the privileged philosophers and the cheaters who wind up with the golden tickets, the golden eggs, the Everlasting Gobstoppers and a whole lot of Oompa-Loompas.

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