Vanity, but not in vain

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It has been a little while (okay, a long while) since I last posted here.  I am far from the only person who has had a difficult last few years, of course, but still.  I hope my personal situation is easing now and that I can fully get back into the swing of things.

I did start several blog posts during my long “sabbatical” and I may get round to completing them if they still seem relevant. What has sparked my interest now is, in a way, very personal, and conceited fool that I am, I can not resist sharing.

Many readers of this blog have accounts with platforms for sharing academic research and articles such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate, to access academic papers, contribute informally to the body of knowledge and making themselves known to the community. Among other things, such services send notifications of articles within subscribers’ stated fields of interest, alert subscribers to articles which cite their own work, and so on. Subscribers can search for and read articles online; they can often download copies of these articles.  Sometimes authors may not wish their articles and papers to be openly available, but those interested may be able to send a personal message to such authors requesting copies of the sought-for paper.

Researchers at any level can open accounts through their institutions or companies and sometimes independently. Some platforms ask that new subscribers prove their interest or credentials by uploading at least one paper written by the applicant (though this is sometimes abused by some who choose to upload someone else’s work, in which case probably without permission and possibly breaching copyright).  As so often with social media, there is often free access with limited features and a pay-for membership with advanced features and tools.

As noted, one useful feature of these platforms is notification when articles are found which cite work written by the subscriber.  Knowing someone else has cited your work can enable you, the original writer, to read and possibly make contact with someone else working in the same field.

So it was puzzling to find this message in my inbox a few weeks ago:

John, we found a recent chapter that cited you:

Timely Telling Tweets: Using Social Media Data to Tell the Stories of Window Sex Workers in Amsterdam Facing Major Changes to Their Working Conditions.

Puzzlement indeed.  What work of mine might have been cited in this paper?  I soon found out, I just had to scroll down in the email.  it was the article  “Has Turnitin.com got it all wrapped up?”  (The article I submitted was in fact called “Trust or Trussed?  Has Turnitin.com got it all wrapped up?” but Teacher Librarian decided that was too long a title and shortened it.)

What use, I wondered, did an article on sex workers in Amsterdam have for my article on the text-matching company Turnitin.com?

The article is not immediately available on the Researchgate page. and those interested are invited to contact the author.

The ResearchGate page does note that the chapter is in the book Sex Work, Labour and Relations, New Directions and Reflections.  The page provides the abstract (but not the full-text) and also includes a list of (12) references.

And yes indeed, there in the list of references is my article.

Reading the abstract more closely, I realised that this chapter focuses not on sex work per se but on the effectiveness and the challenges of using Twitter posts as a means of gathering data – it is about the research methodology as against (or is it as much as?) what was found out.  The abstract includes the sentence

Focussing on practical challenges of using tweets highlighting academic shortcomings in adherence to confidentiality and ethical pathways when submitting research to plagiarism software.

Consideration of “plagiarism software” might explain inclusion of my 2003 article, although it appears to be the only reference in the list of references to published work on plagiarism or plagiarism software.

The title line on the ResearchGate page includes a DOI link to the publisher’s page on SpringerLink – and this proved worth following up.  The chapter is still behind a pay-wall (UK£19.95 for the chapter or UK£79.50 for the eBook, UK£99.99 for the full hardback book), but the SpringerLink page did make me sit up.

The Researchgate page lists only 12 references but the SpringerLink page lists more, 50 in all.  This is useful to know.  At a quick count, in the list on the SpringerLink page there are

    • 20 references to items discussing sex work
    • 26 references to items discussing social media and/or research methodologies
    • 2 references to online translation tools
    • 1 reference to a work on APA style and referencing
    • 1 reference to a work on plagiarism software (my article on Turnitin).

I am still no wiser as to why or how my work has been used; indeed, I wrote to the author using the ResearchGate request facility asking for a copy of the text – but I have had no response, I am none the wiser.

But I am wiser in what I learn from this, the difference between the ResearchGate list of References and that used in the actual article is worth iterating.  I wonder if the Researchgate list includes only writers whose work is included in the Researchgate database?  As so often for the serious researcher, it pays to go to the original.

We are reminded that academic writers do not compile lists of references solely as a matter of academic honesty; indeed, academic honesty is a comparatively minor aspect of a reference list – we assume honesty.  More important are the assistance that the writer gives the reader in understanding the sources used to inform the writing and the assistance which enables the reader to find and follow-up the sources used – backward citation searching is the technical term.  When as here the list of references is available online, this last factor is enhanced by the hyperlinked URLs or DOIs which lead to the webpages or repository where the referenced article may be accessed (although again often password or pay-wall protected).

Even when stymied by a pay-wall, interested researchers may gain much from understanding and following up sources used which are openly available, especially those on the same topic.  In this case, anyone interested in the working conditions of sex workers will find works which could be of interest, anyone interested in the use of social media (and especially Twitter) will find works which could be of interest.  And without seeing the article, it has to be said that anyone interested in plagiarism and plagiarism is less likely to find much of interest, apart from my somewhat dated article, written for a less scholarly audience – better perhaps to look elsewhere.

Just as an extension of this, when stymied by a pay-wall, aware researchers may gain much from reading what others have said about the inaccessible article, perhaps in reviews of the work (perhaps in professional magazines and journals), and also how the article has been used in later works in the same field. It can be worthwhile using Cited by features when they are available, as on Google Scholar. (Is this “forward citation searching”?)

My fit of vanity has not been in vain!  At the least, it has led to this discovery that the list of references available on ResearchGate (and perhaps on other, similar services) may be incomplete; if wanting to conduct a review of the literature or a backward citation search, it is worth (as always) checking the original publication for perhaps more complete information.

And, for better or for worse, it has got me writing and posting again. I hope to be writing more frequently than of late. We shall see.

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