Authorship in Elsevier Book Causes Questions

(Note: This is not a part of my AI writing experiments as some of my posts are. I will always note when I use AI on this blog.)

A post on Retraction Watch details an incident where Ina Vandebroek, the author of a book chapter “Ethical aspects of working with local communities and their biological resources,” in the 2017 edition of Pharmacognosy: Fundamentals, Applications and Strategies discovered the 2023 edition had the exact same chapter content from the 2017 edition (which she wrote) in the 2023 edition which she had declined to write or participate on. She stated the only differences are 2 additional sentences and the chapter listed different author.

Apparently, all you need to do be a chapter author in this Elsevier textbook is to add 2 sentences to what was written in the previous edition’s chapter for the new edition. Unfortunately, Elsevier’s contributor’s (author) agreement basically says that you if you publish a chapter in one of their books they may use all or any of the content for future editions.

While I understand Elsevier’s spirit of the contributor’s agreement, especially when you are talking about textbook chapters in book editions, this situation illustrates some concerns for authors, as it seems no meaningful new content was added and the original 2017 author’s words remained unchanged in any substantial way. So who is the real author, Vandebroek or the 2023 chapter author? Vandebroek sent a cease and desist letter claiming the book contains plagiarized material.

Readers also should have concerns as to what actually is written by the listed author and what was copy pasted from the previous edition? Vandebroek said that the entire chapter is exactly the same as what she wrote for the 2017 edition with the exception of 2 additional sentences. As I mentioned I don’t have either edition and I can’t find the references listed for that chapter in either the 2017 or 2023 edition online to compare to see if they are the same.

If references aren’t the same, and newer source material was referenced then how did the 2023 author do that while still using 2017 content? If the references are the same, then the 2023 author basically copy pasted the chapter and wrote 2 new sentences (as Vandebroek claims). Both of these situations are bad. You either have the “latest edition” of textbook that doesn’t have the latest information or a textbook that has fundamental flaws regarding writing research and references.

Unfortunately, it appears Vandebroek’s chapter is not the only chapter in this textbook where there are concerns with authorship. Retraction Watch details concerns regarding same 2023 author for Vandebroek’s chapter as being the sole author of 2 other chapters in that book, and other concerns regarding new authors for chapters attributed to different authors in the previous edition. Retraction Watch just mentions the author concerns. They did not go into any details as to whether those chapters had the same similarity problems as Vandebroek’s chapter.

It would be interesting if someone would look at the references for Vandebroek’s chapter in both the 2017 and 2023 editions to see whether they are the same. It would be also interesting to see if the other chapters of concern referenced by Retraction Watch suffered from the same cut and paste concerns as Vandebroek’ chapter has. IF you have both editions and have some spare time on your hands and want to report out on this, go for it, I would be interested in knowing.

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