Medical ethicist: “I now understand that I should not have been re-using material”

Ezio Di Nucci

A researcher in medical ethics has retracted two papers within the last two years after admitting to reusing material from previous publications.

Ezio Di Nucci, based at the University of Copenhagen, claims he “had misunderstood the relevant practices.”

The first retraction, issued in 2017 by the Journal of Value Inquiry, notes the paper “constituted the third verbatim publication of the same text.” The paper “Strategic Bombing, Causal Beliefs, and Double Effect” has only been cited once since it was published in 2016, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

After that retraction, Di Nucci told us he requested the retraction of a second 2016 article, published by Minds and Machines. The retraction notice for “Habits, Priming and the Explanation of Mindless Action” — which has not yet been indexed — states that “the author misunderstood the practice of re-using one’s own material and apologizes for any inconvenience caused.”

Di Nucci told us:

Let me make clear that those were not duplicates: the arguments had been sharpened and I thought it beneficial to have them in print in these improved versions; as it was all my own words and arguments anyway, I mistakenly did not think much of the textual similarities.

I would like to emphasize that I duly reference the books in both articles, so that I was not trying to hide the connection: I was completely unaware that there was a problem in the first place in what I was doing.

It has now become clear to me that, even though I was making a different – stronger – argument and referencing the books, the problem was the textual similarities between book and article. At the time – this is a few years back – I was not aware that this was an issue, but I have now learned that this is not acceptable within current professional practices.

A private warning?

We learned of the retractions from Michael Dougherty, a researcher in philosophy at Ohio Dominican University who frequently sleuths out plagiarism (and has spoken to us about why this form of misconduct is such a problem in his field). Dougherty forwarded us correspondence with one of the editors of another journal that published a 2015 paper by Di Nucci which Dougherty claims also includes duplicated material.

Although some researchers argue that some amount of text recycling is acceptable, many papers are retracted after journals determine the overlap is too great — a problem that can lead to a copyright violation, perhaps, or an inflated amount of literature on the topic.

In the March 19 email, Henk ten Have, co-editor of Medicine, Health care and Philosophy, told Dougherty that, according to the Research Integrity Adviser for Springer, which publishes the journal,

the author has violated the author instructions and that the publication in our journal is redundant. At the same time it is not like a regular publication in a journal so that retraction of this publications is a too strong sanction being the nuclear option that we can follow. I will contact the author and make clear that we seriously warn him, especially since his behavior is repetitive.

We contacted ten Have to clarify why the journal chose a private warning instead of a public notice, but haven’t heard back.

Di Nucci told us:

The Editor got in touch about this article earlier this year. I explained that the previous version posted online should not be considered a publication and that I certainly did not consider it one myself, so that it was never listed on publication lists, profiles, etc. The Editor then informed me that they had decided not to retract my article.

The paper in question, “Broadening the Future of Value Account of the Wrongness of Killing,” has not been cited.

Di Nucci added:

I now understand that I should not have been re-using material from my books and I will not make those mistakes again in the future. This process has allowed me to learn a lot about relevant and current acceptable practices and I believe that I have taken the necessary steps to correct my error and improve my practices.

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