Redundancy in Scientific Publications—Currently no Reuse and Remixing

The scientific knowledge creation process is usually incremental. Once a certain amount of scientific knowledge is gathered, a novel publication is released. Depending on discipline, a full paper, thesis, or book is the most accepted form of publication. Each release is considered to be a self-contained body of text, understandable to fellow-scientists in the field. This makes redundancy in the introduction, material, and methods a necessity. With this come certain legal and ethical implications. The authors are currently in danger of not only being accused of self-plagiarism, but also of copying from fellow scientists. Even if sections are correctly referenced and citations are placed, many scientists reword phrases for fear of being accused of plagiarism and scientific misconduct. Current conventions prevent scientific authors from reusing well-worded introductions or other paragraphs, despite the fact that from a truly scientific point of view, this would be totally acceptable if enough new content and results besides the copied and reused parts is present (Fig. 1). Also, obvious remixing of phrases and content from

Fig. 1 Today's scientific publications are static—meaning finalized versions exist that cannot be changed. Dynamic publication formats have become possible with the Internet. The publication can now evolve with the development of new knowledge. In dynamic publications many parts and texts can be 'reused' (as represented by the parts of the text that keep the color; new additions represent novel scientific knowledge)

Fig. 2 Remixing is the concept of using text and parts of earlier publications to build a novel publication; remixing is currently restricted through legal and scientific cultures, however, remixing may become much more acceptable in the future—remixing has to be distinguished from scientific plagiarism

several sources is currently not accepted (Fig. 2). This results in unnecessary rewording, a greater workload, and potentially sub-optimal phrasing. The same introduction, methodology description, and statements are rewritten over and over again, making it sometimes difficult to identify the truly new contribution to a scientific field (Mietchen et al. 2011). It is important to notice that in many disciplines and scientific cultures, mainly humanities, textual reproduction with precious words and in a literary manner is a considerable feat which is beyond the pure transportation of information. Here, the reusing and remixing of content has to be seen in a different context.

Legal Hurdles to Make Remixing and Reuse Difficult

Most publishers retain the copyright of a publication, which strictly limits the reuse of text, pictures, and media. This banishment of remixing seems outdated in the age of the Internet. Novel copyright concepts such as Creative Commons (CC-BY) (see chapter Creative Commons Licences) will change this and will make reuse and remixing possible.

Technical Hurdles in Reusing Content—''Publisher PDF'' Files are Mimicking Print

Some scientific publications are being reproduced in a way that makes the reuse of articles and parts of articles technically difficult. Sometimes, the PDF version is the only available version of an article. More open formats, such as HTML, XML, LaTeX source code, or word documents are not always released and remain with the publisher. Even the author themself suffers from significant hurdles in accessing the final version of his or her personal publications (cf. Schneider 2011; Wikiversity[1]).

The current publication system is a consequence of a scholarly knowledge dissemination system which developed in times before the Internet when printing and disseminating printed issues of papers were the only means of distributing scientific results. The Internet made it possible to break with the limitations of printed publications and allowed the development of dynamic publication formats.

  • [1] Wikiversity:
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