Open Source Economics and Plagiawriting

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has a post discussing Plagiarism in economics. He notes a relatively high incidence of plagiarism and a support by journal editors for a professional code of ethics for economists. He goes on to cite his personal experience…

In each case the plagiarist took an unpublished paper and improved upon my original idea. In neither case did the plagiarist gain anything concrete from the action, nor have I suffered any real net harm. I am not convinced that the welfare consequences of economic plagiarism are very large, but arguably there is an ethical case for devoting more attention to the phenomenon.

Hopefully you can forgive what’s a fairly disjointed quick take on this. My immediate thoughts were that obviously there should have been attribution but aside from that if there are any welfare consequences to taking an unpublished idea, improving upon it and making it public they are positive. In software it’s called Open Source and it’s given us things like, well, this blog which runs WordPress on a Linux platform. WordPress itself runs on mySQL and PHP. There’s movement afoot to have Open Source Medicine, which frankly given the huge cost of regulatory approvals for new drugs doesn’t make half the sense of Open Source Economics. The only thing really separating the sort of plagia-writing he’s talking about from being something positive is that there needs to be attribution. Perhaps the lack of attribution was because of vanity or perhaps it was lack of permission. With the first, there’s really no cure other than ostracism. For the second, rather than adopt a Code of Ethics that determined plagiarists would likely ignore, individual economists might consider Creative Commons licensing for their unpublished works to at least eliminate that problem.

(Determined plagiarist. What an odd concept. Someone with a real drive for laziness.)