In 1676, Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to Robert Hooke that, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Many attribute this concept to 12th century theologian John of Salisbury. King Solomon also shared wisdom on novelty in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that we now paraphrase as there is nothing new under the sun. While many of us see a rapidly evolving technical world, this world and its technology are based upon several thousands of years of previous scientific innovation. It is our charge as authors not only to build upon this previous work but also to properly acknowledge those who preceded us.
This From the Editor column is inspired in part by two recent gaffes in the mainstream media, one by the spouse (or actually the writer for the spouse) of a U.S. presidential candidate, and the other by the president of Mexico. When the recent national political convention speech by Melania Trump was compared to the 2008 national political convention speech by Michelle Obama, the company that makes Turnitin software used by many universities found that one of the 16-word matches had less than one chance in one trillion that such a match could be purely a matter of coincidence (Turnitin.com, 2016). Earlier this year, online news site Aristegui Noticias in Mexico examined the 25-year-old law-school thesis of President Enrique Peña Nieto and found 20 paragraphs taken from a book written by former President Miguel de la Madrid.
Such concern about originality is not limited to political circles. Older readers who retain some of their long hair and still cherish their vinyl copies of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” were likely pleased to learn earlier this year that a jury rejected a copyright-infringement claim that the band had lifted the song from another artist and issued it as their own. Indeed, several music scholars think these iconic chords were borrowed, if not inspired, by earlier Renaissance arrangements. Going back a little further in rock-’n’-roll copyright litigation to 1982, former Beatle George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was found to be suspiciously similar to the Chiffons’ 1963 tune “He’s So Fine.” After losing the suit, Harrison’s company addressed the matter by buying the copyright owner, Bright Tunes Music Corp.
Few of the callous voters in the United States actually think that either Melania Trump or Michelle Obama wrote their own speeches for their husbands’ presidential nominating conventions. Furthermore, the speech of a spouse almost always covers the same well-worn material, so true originality is difficult. Harrison admitted to hearing the tune “He’s So Fine” and unconsciously using the same melody in his own new song. As author-scientists, we are faced with the same challenge — how to properly summarize and cite previous work on which we build while letting the reader know that our work is original.
The Interpretation review process
Most authors have served as reviewers and are familiar with the scientific-journal review process. For Interpretation, a paper is uploaded to the online peer-review website, https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/interpretation. At this early point, the SEG staff conducts several stage-gate assessments including the language of the article (Is it written in English?), the length of the article (Is it excessively long?), and originality. The SEG staff currently uses an originality software package called Similarity Check by Crossref, powered by iThenticate (details at http://crossref.org/crosscheck/#), and developed by Turnitin. If the originality report comes back with less than 20% overlap with previously published material or no more than 5% from a single source, the paper goes forward in the review process. If the originality report exceeds those thresholds, the paper goes to the Editor-in-Chief to make the decision as to whether to proceed with the review process or to reject the paper. Figure 1 shows a recent paper that exceeded the 20% threshold but was allowed to continue through the review process. No single paper accounted for more than 1% of the total, and the paper was sent into the review process. Figure 2 shows a more egregious infraction in which large parts of the paper were directly taken from other authors and from various websites without proper citation. This paper was rejected and sent back to the author without review.
After initial screening, the paper is assigned to the Assistant Editor of the appropriate special section who in turn assigns it to an Associate Editor. The Associate Editor invites three or more reviewers to review the submission. After receiving reviews, the Associate Editor adds an additional review and sends it back to the Assistant Editor for recommendation. The Editor-in-Chief rarely overrides the recommendation of the Assistant Editor (who is an expert in that topic) but commonly adds feedback on the format of figures, equations, and references and provides careful scrutiny of the abstract and conclusions. Papers submitted to the general Technical Papers section pass through the Deputy Editor-in-Chief rather than through an Assistant Editor.
Figure 3 shows the summary table for a review of a paper that needs moderate revision. Note on line 6 that the authors have not adequately referenced their work to other publications. Most papers build upon or extend previous contributions made by others. In contrast, some papers refute previously accepted best practices with a new work flow or interpretation framework. Ignoring such previous work is unacceptable and suggests that the author is either unaware of the literature in general or does not have access to related work in other fields such as bioimaging and artificial intelligence, which in both cases reflects poorly on the author. It is common for reviewers to suggest citing specific articles; because the reviewers are selected based on having knowledge in the field, they sometimes suggest articles they have authored themselves. In most cases, authors can improve their papers by including these citations in their revised manuscripts.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines copyright as “the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (as a literary, musical, or artistic work).” When you publish a paper in the AAPG Bulletin, Geophysics, Interpretation, or almost any other scientific journal, you and coauthors in most cases sign over ownership to the publisher. Other authors who wish to use such material must in general obtain permission from the publisher. Most publishers extend fair-use provisions of copyright law with policies that specify how much of their copyrighted material they view as being subject to fair use and that may be reused in other works royalty free. Fair-use is most commonly expressed as certain numbers of figures and tables from a single paper, from a book, or from a volume (usually a year) of a journal’s publication. For modest amounts of content, the primary requirement is standard caption and reference-list citation of the source, the latter ideally including a link to the source. Each publisher and each journal may have its own policy, so it is up to the author to check with the publisher of content intended to be republished in a new article.
Most publishers post their permissions policies online, and sometimes these posts indicate that if the scope of material requested for reuse is within specified limits, no formal written permission from the publisher is required. For use of material published by AAPG, consult http://www.aapg.org/publications/journals/bulletin/guidelines/permission-copyright; for material published by SEG, consult http://seg.org/Publications/Policies-and-Permissions/Permissions.
There are some differences between the policies. For Interpretation, copublished by SEG and AAPG with copyright shared by the organizations, SEG policies apply because SEG is the operator of the journal. Obtaining permission from SEG or AAPG for material to be published in Interpretation that previously was published by either of the organizations is not necessary, although proper citation is essential. Whether publishing in AAPG or SEG journals or through other publications, it is good practice — although not legally required — to request permission from the original author (who in most cases no longer owns the work), especially when using more than one figure. Most authors are flattered by the request. Some journals may require permission from the original authors as well as the publisher of the material.
Reuse of previous material not published in a peer-review journal
AAPG and SEG encourage rapid dissemination of technical advances through workshops, regional and international meetings, expanded abstracts, and in the case of AAPG, the AAPG Explorer and Search and Discovery. In general, these papers have not gone through a rigorous peer-review process. For SEG and URTeC expanded abstracts, the papers go through limited review processes, using point systems to assess originality, commercialism, clarity, and perceived interest to the conference attendees. This type of abstract review process provides neither opportunity for the reviewers to provide the authors constructive feedback on their contribution nor for the authors to address any shortcomings. Because Interpretation is jointly published by AAPG and SEG, the clearance process to build on this material is automatic. Text and figures from papers previously published as SEG Expanded Abstracts or as Search and Discovery articles need only state on the cover page that this material was presented previously in one of these formats. Expanded Abstracts are limited to four pages, while the average Interpretation paper is about 12 pages. The expectation is that the authors will expand upon their previously published abstracts, either with additional details, scientific argument, additional applications, and feedback they may have received from their previous presentation. In cases of journal articles with ideas and content first expressed in a meeting paper, an overlap of up to 50% with the original work is acceptable to continue through the review process.
Expansion of meeting papers from other societies and publishers for publication in Interpretation requires permission of the original publishers. Often, the original publisher of a meeting paper reserves first right of refusal to publish an expansion of the meeting paper. This right of first refusal is, in fact, a policy of SEG. However, authors who think their expanded work is best suited for another publisher’s journal usually can gain permission of the original publisher if they provide good reason based on journal focus and audience.
Students usually are able to condense their theses and dissertations for journal publication, even if the original work already has been published in their university’s institutional repository. Students often publish key portions of their research in journals and usually have automatic or easily acquired permission of journal publishers to republish this work within their theses or dissertations. Proper attribution of sources and copyright status is essential.
Open-access material published with an open license, whether peer reviewed or not, can be reused in derivative works, including Interpretation articles. There are many open licenses, although common among most is the requirement that derivative works credit the source. Indeed, journal articles themselves, including those published in Interpretation, may be expansions of research funded by agencies that require researchers to publish on an open-access basis. Interpretation is among many journals that allow authors or their employers or institutions or agencies supporting their research to pay a fee to have their work published free of access controls and to be made available to others for reuse in part or in whole royalty free and with few restrictions. Systems designed to provide funding information and make it easily discoverable in a standard manner have emerged in recent years; among these is Funding Data by Crossref. A related mechanism through which SEG is planning to disseminate funding information is the CrossMark version-of-record system that is in use in the SEG Digital Library presentation of Interpretation.
Regardless of copyright and whether a source is a peer-review journal, acknowledgment of the origin of concepts and discoveries of others on which one’s work builds is essential. Indeed, it is an author’s responsibility to provide as thorough a background to her or his presented work as is reasonably possible. This responsibility is stressed in ethical guidelines provided by several scholarly publishers, including SEG, which in its Ethical Guidelines for SEG Publications (SEG, 2010) states, “Correct attribution is essential because it encourages creativity and because it informs the community of when, where, and sometimes how original ideas entered the scientific dialog. Authors should properly cite works by others of the original hypotheses, ideas, and/or data upon which their manuscripts rely and work essential to an understanding of the present work. Except in a review, citation of work that will not be referred to in the manuscript should be minimized. Authors are obligated to perform literature searches to find, and then cite, the original publications that describe closely related work. Plagiarism is never acceptable.”
Interpretation follows The Chicago Manual of Style. Citations in text and captions appear in parentheses, usually starting with the author(s)’s surname followed by a comma, followed by the year of publication. With few exceptions, citations in text and captions should be supported by complete entries in the references list.
The format for references varies according to the type of source publication. Examples of each are provided in Interpretation Instructions to Authors (Interpretation, 2016). Most aspects of these instructions for reference formatting are straightforward. A few aspects of references merit special mention, as they often are overlooked or misapplied. One is that it is important to provide the DOI for the cited article in URL form, with the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) appended to “http://dx.doi.org/…” to create a permanent means of retrieving the cited source. A Permalink, as this is often called, also enables the reader to reach the cited source with one or two clicks. Another often-misunderstood point is that personal communication should be cited in the text only, i.e., not also in the reference list, even if the matter cited is in an article submitted for publication somewhere but is not yet published. Essential to remember is that any source placed into a reference list must be cited in the text or in a figure caption.
Examples of proper citation
In this section, we provide a short list of examples to help with citing other people’s work. We’ll use two papers written by the first author’s former colleague and mentor, Bob Sheriff, to be more concrete.
If someone says something particularly well, or, alternatively, if that person is an acknowledged authority who adds gravitas to your paper, such as Isaac Newton or Bob Sheriff, simply repeat their statement in quotation marks. Example:
In his review of the history of the seismic reflection method, Sheriff (1988) states that “By 1952, photographic or analog magnetic tape methods made (seismic) record sections easier to obtain, but it wasn’t until 1956 that record sections became extensively used.”
There are multiple ways to lead into a quote. Depending on the context, one might write “Sheriff (1988) finds …,” “Sheriff (1988) summarizes …,” “Sheriff (1988) proposes …,” “Sheriff (1988) hypothesizes …,” “Sheriff (1988) suggests …,” or “Sheriff (1988) determines …” among other lead-in phrases.
Most readers find an overuse of quotations annoying. For this reason, most papers paraphrase the key findings of previous work. In the example above, one might write:
Sheriff (1988) reports that while multitrace seismic records were first introduced in 1952, it wasn’t until 1956 that photographic or analog magnetic tape records began to be used routinely.
Quoting full paragraphs
In this example, I take a quote from Sheriff’s (1980) article on the seismic-reflection method in which Sheriff states:
The first suggestion I could find for the seismic reflection method was by J. A. Udden in the 1920 Bulletin of the AAPG. He wrote:
...It ought to be possible, with present refinements in physical apparatus and their use, to construct an instrument that would record the reflections of earth waves started at the surface, as they encounter such a well-marked plane of difference in hardness and elasticity as that separating the Bend and Ellenberger formations (in north-central Texas) ... A seismic wave might be started at the surface of the Earth, and a record of the emerged reflection of this wave...might be registered on an instrument placed at some distance from the point of explosion...It ought to be possible to notice the point at which the first reflection from the Ellenberger appears...With a map of the surface of the Ellenberger, it seems to me that millions of dollars worth of drilling could be eliminated.
This example has the oddity of presenting a quote within a quote. Although unusual, quoting and citing both Sheriff and Udden is valuable because Sheriff reveals his finding that Udden’s work is the earliest instance he could find of a suggestion of the seismic reflection method. The quote from Udden (1920) is still interesting today because the Barnett Shale resource plays sit unconformably atop the diagenetically altered Ellenburger (today’s preferred spelling) Group in most of the Fort Worth Basin. Avoiding through-going faults and collapse features in the Ellenburger is critical to placing horizontal wells.
Equations and definitions
For reasons of clarity, direct reuse of equations is allowed without quotations. We encourage authors to use the same equations, variable definition, and notation as previous authors; however, if two references use two different notations, the author needs to choose the one they think best. In this case, one or in some cases two or three paragraphs may be directly copied from others’ work.
Here is an example:
Following Sheriff (1980), we define the Fresnel zone to be (1)where is the reflector depth, is the wavelength, and is the radius of the first Fresnel zone. Sheriff then solves for , giving (2)where the term is usually small enough to be neglected.
Like equations, it is sometimes necessary to define several lines that construct a definition, which may range from that of a geologic formation or of a specific rock property. In this case one might state:
Sheriff (1977) defines stratigraphy as “the study of rock strata, their original succession and age relations, their lithologic composition, physical, chemical, and biological properties, distribution, and other characteristics, and their interpretation in terms of environment or mode of origin and geologic history. Rocks may be classified in various ways. Principles of stratigraphy include (1) principle of superposition (lower layers are older than upper layers), (2) principle of original horizontality (stratified rocks are originally deposited nearly horizontally), and (3) principle of lateral continuity (a stratified rock body originally extended laterally until it terminated at the edge of a basin, thinned to zero thickness, or changed character into another deposit).”
It is common to use one or two figures from previous publications to define a geologic basin, stratigraphic column, or geophysical measurement concept. Sheriff (1980) uses such a figure shown as our Figure 4, which he excerpted from an earlier 1952 paper by Hagedoorn. If the figure comes from an SEG publication, the referenced paper need only be noted in the figure caption and then provided in the list of references. If we had included a figure from Udden (1920), AAPG requires the inclusion of the additional phrase “AAPG ©1920, reprinted by permission of the AAPG whose permission is required for further use.” Most publishers, however, do not require copyright notices to be published adjacent to their republished figures, and instead require only standard citation of sources. If figures come from other journals or books, authors must first obtain permission to use them and reference them according to the original publication’s policies, as described earlier.
If an author makes significant changes to a figure published previously and is republishing it in a new paper, a proper citation in the text would involve using “after,” e.g., “(after Robinson and Treitel, 1981).”
Instructions to authors (Interpretation, 2016) includes this example for proper citation of a data set. O’Brien, M., 1994, 1994 Amoco statics test. Data set accessed 20 May 2004 at http://software.seg.org/datasets/2D/Statics_1994/.
There remain several challenges to avoiding the problems encountered by Melania Trump and Led Zeppelin, particularly for younger, less-experienced authors and authors for whom English is a second language. It is simply difficult for most of us to state something as simply and directly as Bob Sheriff did. At age 65, the first author attempts to write a summary of important papers on the back side of recycled computer paper. These are collected and used when he writes his paper. Younger or more tech-savvy authors might wish to use commercial packages such as EndNote or Reference Manager to summarize papers of interest. Then, when you write your paper, you refer to your own summary rather than the exact words of the paper referenced.
As Led Zeppelin suggest, the way to writing a truly heavenly scientific paper — with important sources identified and cited — requires multiple stair steps.
Step 1) Review the literature.
Step 2) Summarize key papers in your own words using a yellow notepad or a digital referencing application.
Step 3) Paraphrase whenever possible, but use quotes when trying to add authority to your statement; quotations longer than one sentence should be indented as a paragraph.
Step 4) Avoid overcitation of your own work; many reviewers interpret this to be self-aggrandizing and assume you haven’t read the literature at large.
Step 5) Check that all cited material except personal communications is included in the references section, including citations that occur only in figure captions.
Step 6) If using figures from other publications, determine what the original publisher requires you to do in order to reuse the figures in your paper with permission — often described on the publishers’ Web site — and follow all instructions.
Step 7) Ask a colleague to review your paper to ensure that key references are not missing.
Step 8) During the review process, add or replace references that reviewers identify as being more appropriate.
Step 9) Enter the pearly gates of heaven with a published paper
Tad Ulyrch (2007) provides our conclusion “Always, always, acknowledge the work of those on whose ideas your work is based… Referring to those whose inspiration inspired you will only bring you accolades and freedom from guilt.”