Do you recycle your texts ?
    By Tommaso Dorigo | October 1st 2012 09:42 AM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

    View Tommaso's Profile
    As my twenty three affectionate readers will probably remember, I enjoyed a very pleasant week in Kolymbari (Crete) last June, attending the first International Conference of Frontier Physics. Now, after you attend a conference and give there a presentation, you are supposed to produce a writeup of your talk for the proceedings book. So while October arrives unannounced with critically important errands to attend to, I find myself in the need to produce a 12-page document describing the most recent and important results of the CMS experiment. 

    The deadline? September 20th. Yes, I am past it, but I have been able to negotiate an extension... Which only increases the pressure. In retrospect, it would have been wiser to let the deadline pass and forget about it. But I just can't bring myself to join the reproachable set of professional conference-goers who take the good stuff and omit doing their homework: I simply hate browsing proceedings books with empty front-pages in place of a contribution.

    So I am bound to write my piece. Hence my question, to the subset of you who are in the business: do you ever recycle parts of your own articles ?

    The question, if you are no scientist, might arise harsh feelings. I can see people frowning: scientific papers should contain original material, so what is this clown talking about ? Does he have no shame ? Ok, ok, let me explain. First of all: for sure some parts of a paper on the results of a particle physics experiment are routinely recycled even by the experiments themselves: the description of the experimental apparata, for instance. But here I am talking of chunks of text describing analyses and results which were new in April - when I wrote my last Proceedings paper, for the 50th Bormio conference on Nuclear Physics - and are still interesting enough now to make it into my summary, maybe with a different slant and a projection to a future which is better known now (because e.g. of the knowledge of how much data has been taken now, or recent theoretical developments). Further, some of the analyses were redone by changing little of the methodology, so it makes sense to re-use parts of the explanations I gave in the earlier paper.

    In the end I feel I am not doing anything bad -and my papers are usually well-written, at least. Also, one should not forget that even proceedings papers are screened by my experiment, so I certainly can't write a sloppy article and hope it gets published anyways. What would be the purpose of that, anyway ? I certainly do not need one more publication for my career (before you try arguing otherwise, consider: I have signed over 700 scientific publications, so one more or one less is really background noise).

    So, despite the fact that I value everybody's opinion here, I am more interested in hearing the opinion of those of you who routinely write proceedings papers. Did you miss deadlines and got the empty title page ever ? Do you recycle text routinely or avoid doing it altogether ? Thanks!


    unless there is something new in a proceeding paper which is not part of a previous publication, proceedings are a huge waste of money, paper and time. you call it homework, but it really is busy work which prevents us from doing science rather than writing summaries or short versions of our papers. but so is commenting on blogs... ;)

    There are always a need for perspective arising over use of older information to trend where thought perspective has been transformed with regard to new issues. The relevance of those issues may not have appeared at the opportune time, but may find its meaning correlating and coming together later with greater significance. Like I told you so?:)

    Gold panning means sifting through your thoughts at the time for the gold nuggets.


    your 700+ signed publications are just reflecting the fact that you belong to a large scientific collaboration, nothing more.
    You don't have to write (even read!) the papers you sign. So, at least in proceeding (where their content is essentially a cut&past of some (to-be-)published work), I think experimental physicists should try doing some effort to be original or constructive..

    I agree with Anonymous that proceedings are, for the most part, a waste of resources. Especially since experimental collaborations like CMS or ATLAS have their own conference notes anyway. Sometimes, proceedings do have the advantage that the authors are forced to summarize their work in a few pages, so reading proceedings makes it easier to get the main ideas fast. About recycling material: When I browse the arXiv and see one of the "text overlap with ..." comments, I usually skip the paper, even if the text overlap is with a paper by the same authors.

    Ciao Tommaso,
    I recycle a bit if there is nothing new. Not a bad thing to do.
    Besides that, 50% of the conferences are an unuseful waste of time and money.
    The same for the proceedings: 50% or more are simply garbage and a treat to the Amazon Forest...

    Stammi bene.

    Here are my personal observations, take them, or leave them as you please:

    IMHO recycling is OK, if
    * the audience differs enough, so there is a lot of people who will be reached additionally, or

    * the cloned information is interesting on itself. Sometimes I needed a special piece of information, which I knew the author of, but could not remember the exact source to cite. It was much easier to find a "copy" than genuine text written only in one single paper.

    * the recycled piece is used to help other interesting things get published, for example to add (already) well written explanations etc.



    Once upon a time I was the editor of the proceedings of a conference.
    Sending reminders to the late contributors has been one of the most unpleasant experiences in my scientific career.
    But at least I learned how I looked foolish every time that I wrote proceedings, because I always respected the deadline. (The only cases in my career when I was late, happened after that illuminating experience.)

    In that occasion I made some interesting observations, despite the limited statistics of the sample (~50 contributors) (*), in particular about a striking correlation between academic rank and Delta T (= time of submission - time of the deadline).
    Delta T had a huge skewness towards positive values, mostly driven by the sub-category of submitters with the "Prof." title (and I'm even excluding those with infinite value, i.e. who never submitted in the end), while the sub-category of grad students peaked around 0.
    Several grad students submitted their proceedings during the night before the deadline, others begged me to grace them with one or few more days to complete their draft. Grace that I always conceded, despite my original plan to be tough with the deadlines, also because in the meantime I noticed also another interesting correlation with academic rank: postdocs and professors almost never warned that they were going to be late, and when they did, it was with concise messages like "I am busy, I'll send it next month" (**). So, any desperate mail by a shy grad student who humbly admitted to be just terrible in planning and promised to never be so unorganized again, was just refreshing in the comparison.

    (*) Although, if I were a psychologist, probably I would consider 50 cases, divided in 3 categories (grad students, postdocs, profs), sufficient statistics to publish a paper on that.

    (**) Which I find particularly offensive towards the editor - who is usually at least as busy as them, having *also* to care for collecting and editing those proceedings in addition to her/his usual research work.

    Bottom line: the fact that on the 1st of October you *start* writing a 12-pages document that was due on the 20th of September is something for which you would deserve a punishment, but on the other hand the fact that at least you bothered to warn the editors puts you in the better part of the distribution of people with your academic rank.

    Hi Andrea,

    thanks for sharing your interesting experience! I am pleased to see that I belong to a minority that keeps deadlines. That is, I mostly do - this time was an exception for me, hence my very corteous request to the organizers.

    It is true that I started on October 1st, but I am a quick to write papers! It is already ready for submission ;-)

    Hi Tommaso,

    you make me feel really bad about this one!!!
    In retrospect, I shouldn't be procrastinating surfing the blogs. Not much there at the time, anyway.
    The truth is, proceedings refer largely to previous publications and there's no problem with a substantial overlap, as long as its well summarized. The urge to do the homework isn't there either :(. This time I missed the deadline approaching mails!

    Something to bear in mind: the arXiv now has a very nasty automatic device which picks up ``substantial'' overlaps with other arxiv papers, and then broadcasts your crime for all the world to see. Very embarrassing even if it is your own work that is being recycled. No, this has never happened to me, because I take great care to insert small perturbations all over the place when I have to repeat something :-)

    But I would not be too embarassed to be shown to quote myself ! Anyway thanks. I think I do not need to submit to the arxiv anyway (the earlier proceedings is there). In any case, my new proceedings is now ready, it is 13 pages long - the earlier one was 30 - and it discusses new results except one which I thought was still interesting to include. Not a big sin.

    @Gabibbo.. LOL, are you serious?? I am about to submit a paper that is almost identical to a previous proceeding of mine (the latter is already arXived). I cannot insert perturbations, because the the paper is already published as is. I wonder how arXiv will notify this crime to the world? Will it sent an e-mail to all registered users??

    Tom, I am afraid it is no joke. Your crime will be announced on the same page where your paper appears, simultaneously. The idea is partly to stop plagiarism, which is ok, and partly to stop people from recycling material from their old papers, which is a direct attack on the lifestyles of full Professors......