While I’m on the fence regarding the calls for open data* (most recently by PLoSOne), this point by DrugMonkey is something that’s always bothered me (boldface mine):
The second incident has to do with accusations of self-plagiarism based on the sorts of default Methods statements or Introduction and/or Discussion points that get repeated. Look there are only so many ways to say “and thus we prove a new facet of how the PhysioWhimple nucleus controls Bunny Hopping”. Only so many ways to say “The reason BunnyHopping is important is because…”. Only so many ways to say “We used optogenetic techniques to activate the gertzin neurons in the PhysioWhimple nucleus by….”. This one is particularly salient because it works against the current buzz about replication and reproducibility in science. Right? What is a “replication” if not plagiarism? And in this case, not just the way the Methods are described, the reason for doing the study and the interpretation. No, in this case it is plagiarism of the important part. The science. This is why concepts of what is “plagiarism” in science cannot be aligned with concepts of plagiarism in a bit of humanities text.
The whole self-plagarism concept has always bothered me. What it forces scientists to do is, having found an optimal (or just pretty good) way of describing something–especially methods–we are now forced to rewrite it in a crappier version. Even with methods, there are times you don’t want to just write ““We used optogenetic techniques to activate the gertzin neurons in the PhysioWhimple nucleus as described in Humperdink et al. (2010).” One often wants to, at least, summarize the methods, so the reader doesn’t have to search through several papers to replicate the methods–or to justify within the paper the methods that were used.
The point is to efficiently communicate information: we aren’t trying to write prize winning fiction (or even a sucky blog). Cries of self-plagarism get in the way of that.
*The best argument for open data comes from economics: the Reinhart and Rogoff paper that was used to justify austerity. Other economists had tried to obtain the underlying data, and when they finally did (after three years), their conclusions were very flawed. Which cost a lot of non-economists, not Reinhart or Rogoff, their jobs. Oops.