Monday, February 28, 2011

I'll Try to Be Gentle...

This morning, I was checking out Fangraphs fantasy and ran across an article discussing Fantasy value over replacement conepts by Zach Sanders. It was quite a familiar post, and I swore I had seen it before almost in its exact form. I love Fangraphs. Love, love it.

But I think someone had to call foul on this one (and Eriq did). Certainly it could be a coincidence, but this isn't the first time I've seen ideas from FBJ almost literally copied and pasted at other sites without attribution (Eriq and I have talked about this before). The Hardball Times posted an article regarding xADP about a week after we mentioned a forthcoming article at FBJ that would investigate this issue (with the same name). There have been other instances I won't mention, and of course it all could simply be honest independent thinking at the same time. After all, all of us baseball stat and fantasy nerds are usually thinking along the same lines.

Yes, certainly there are coincidences. And certainly I'm flattered when someone uses my work here at POS (yeah, didn't think out my acronym very well) and FBJ and give attribution for it. In fact, whenever I see a link back to me, I try and thank the person for doing so either in comments or through email. Ricky Zanker beat me to the punch about doing some R tutorial series for sabermetrics about a week after I mentioned it here. BUT, he also has consistently referred back to my site (and I to his). Similar work in these areas is greatly complementary, and I welcome it! So here is an open thank you to: Dave Allen, Gas House Graphs, Harry Pavlidis, Bay City Ball, J-Doug, Jason Rosenberg and anyone else who has referenced the fun I have here at my site.

But these fantasy posts are particularly egregious. There needs to be at least some due diligence in attribution of ideas or--if it really is original and independently thought up work--a search for similar studies across the internet.

The editors at these sites need to be much more careful. I'm all for free press and free information being sent in seconds across the interwebs. But correct attribution IS an issue I worry about at times. Whether or not it's more apparent on the web than in print is another question (and a tough one to answer). In fact, I've had suspicions about academic articles that come eerily close to some preliminary sharing on my blog of cool stuff I'm working on. I no longer share any academic work here...

So let's all just do our due diligence on this one, okay?

Addendum: I got a thoughtful email from Zach Sanders (who wrote the Fangraphs article) and I appreciate his attempt to reach out about the issue in this post. I would like to state that I have no intention of specifically pointing fingers at anyone, but to bring attention to an issue that can arise in a world of blogging, journalistic writing, and analysis of similar topics. Below is Zach's email to me (posted with his permission):

> Brian and Eriq,

> Someone pointed me to the articles on Prince of Slides and Fantasy
> Baseball Junkie that mention my post today on FanGraphs.
> I would like to state that I did not know of your article before
> hand, and certainly would never copy another writer's work. I take
> any accusations of this very seriously, so I thought it was
> important to reach out to you and touch base.
> If you have any questions, let me know.


>Thanks for understanding, and I completely get that you weren't trying to attack me. This is a >very sensitive issue, especially around the blossoming semi-anonymous internet writing world, >and with your past experience I can sympathize with your thoughts.
>Feel free to use my email as an addendum to the post.
>-Zach Sanders"

I enjoy Zach's fantasy pieces and love Fangraphs. I only mean this post to raise awareness as to being sure to research everything you can. I was not, and am not, accusing anyone of copying anything. I appreciate that Zach has been polite and gracious with our communication.


  1. Thanks for raising an important point, Millsy. It's really easy to avoid copying or replicating work done in the blogosphere, what with the Google and whatnot. Moreover, I never post any analysis without being reasonably sure that I'm not reproducing something done before me.

    Thanks for sharing with us all the fun you have here.

  2. Thank you for the support, J-Doug. This issue is always touchy and the last thing I want to do is wrongly accuse anyone of anything, hurt anyone's reputation, or offend anyone at a personal or professional level.

    I was a bit worried that I would get some lashings from some for posting this, but I honestly just wanted to raise the point of due diligence in searching. I respect all of those who are out there working hard to provide interesting content to us all, including Zach.

    Even trickier will be when I cite blogs for any academic work I do. Not sure the academics are fully in support of doing such a thing just yet, which is a shame IMHO.

  3. I think I'm of a slightly different mindset when it comes to duplication of work, which is essentially what this amounts to. Plagiarism is one thing, but with the internet being such a big place, it can be difficult to dig up work that has been done before, especially with the way content "rolls" off blogs.

    So if you were to search around a little, not find anything, do your research, and write up your piece, only to find that it was done before, I don't think that's such a big deal. When alerted to the fact, I think it'd be nice to supply a link to the similar piece as an addendum to your not so original article.

    I know in this case Zach had worked on this particular project for at least a year before writing up his methodology and even if he was aware that he was "scooped" so to speak (which he wasn't and neither myself nor any of the FanGraphs editors were either), is he ethically required to point out other work similar to his? It's definitely a nice thing to do and I would certainly encourage it. But should it be frowned upon if he doesn't?

    I think from a bloggers standpoint you don't really want to unknowingly duplicate other peoples work because it will just come off as yesterday's news or plagiarism. But from an purely ethical standpoint, what is there to attribute/cite if everything you did came out of your own head?

    Anyway, I think this is an interesting subject and I don't want this to come off as a flippant response. I'm just uncertain that there's an ethical violation in cases like these.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, and I do not find your response flippant in any way whatsoever. I appreciate the comments.

    I think your thoughts are perfectly reasonable, and I agree it can be a difficult situation. Like I said, smart people thinking about similar problems often think about them in similar ways. The main thing that stuck out was the almost identical wording, not that they were necessarily similar topics.

    You may be right about there not being an ethical violation, but I also don't think any of the talented writers at Fangraphs want to write something only to find there is another article out there so closely worded to it. My post here was simply to bring awareness to the issue, rather than accuse any specific writer of anything.

    If everything truly did come out of your own head (which I believe wholeheartedly that this was the case in the situation listed above), there is some gray area as to citing. From the standpoint of blogging in the web atmosphere, I certainly would not claim to be the ethics police on the issue. But would certainly find it productive for all of those involved to do have a discussion about it.

    To reiterate, I'm not accusing anyone of a breach of ethics. I'm simply warning that being careful is a good idea.