Credit where credit’s due

This in the NYT, on Selman A. Waksman, sent by Chuckles, shows that the true discoverer or isolator of streptomycin was Albert Schatz, while Waksman took the idea and developed it, patented it, earned thousands in royalties and a Nobel Prize and only acknowledged his “co-inventor” after a lawsuit on him and on Rutgers.

These are dishonest human beings, predators who use their protege’s expertise to line their own pockets. Edison was another – he features heavily in this list of ten inventions wrongly attributed.


In a lesser way, a tale from everyday life, I was once given a residential position and got on well with the incumbent [my supervisor] whom we’ll call Steve. There’s a second guy, a colleague, we’ll call Roger.  Unbeknowns to me, I’d landed the plum residence which Roger had had his eye on, he’d been passed over when the newbie – me – had rocked up.

Roger visited in the first few hours, ostensibly to welcome me but also to persuade me to immediately swap residences with him [before I’d “settled in”] because his was nearer to the lab and just oh so much better for me in his eyes.  Steve got wind of this and Roger backed off.

Later, Roger came to me and asked if I’d introduced a new innovation in the procedures which people had been talking about.  Well yeah, I’d suggested it to Steve, yes.  Yes, it had had my stamp on it, according to Roger.

Appears our Steve had gone for his regular meeting with the boss and whilst not actually saying he’d thought it up, that was the tenor in the way he’d presented the innovation.  In my eyes, that was theft – today they’d call it of intellectual property rights.

He maintained that as he’d modified it a little, it was therefore his idea and so he’d been credited with it.


We have the issue the whole time on multi-author blogs and even between blogs.  Three years ago, a mate came out with the canal boat analogy in politics, where people are like canal boats – first crashing into one bank, then the other, never going down the centre.  I’ve used it many times and credited it about half those times.

Problem was, I’d thought of it long before the day he’d mentioned it – my error was in not saying that I had.  You see where this is going.  Nowadays I write of “that old analogy”, at least not crediting myself.  Now I think about it, I seem to recall his uses a river rather than a canal.

There’s another of his he calls a slide rule and I call a sliding scale. So people might be a certain percentage heterosexual and a certain percentage homosexual – it’s never one or the other. Now that one is just as much my idea – I’ve been thinking that for years – and it might even be your idea too. I always thought of it as a scale from 1 to 10.  However, calling it a “slide rule” makes it my mate’s idea. So I don’t call it a slide rule.

One which really is his is “slowly pushing the pizza off the table”, which is what the government is doing. By pushing us, pushing us, it’s like pushing a pizza to the edge of the table – eventually it falls off and there’s an almighty mess.  I never thought of that one.  For me to use that, I’d have to credit it.

The one about the boy tapping the sailing boat back on course [freewill or not] is mine. The idea is that when the boy holds the boat so it doesn’t go off course and is safe, that is determinism. When he lets it go to sail by itself, that’s free will and yet it’s been designed to sail that way. That’s mine, as I say. But who’s to say you haven’t thought up something similar?

I once stumbled on a South American site which had run the entire text of a post of mine, verbatim, under her own name and not even translated into Portuguese.  Should I have been flattered? Should I have sued? And I’ve known a few women do this too – three I could name straight away and tell you what posts they put up as their own ideas or at least, were happy to let it remain vague whose the idea had been.

About two months ago, I went to the site of someone on my blogroll [doing the blogrounds] and was shocked to see a post on a topic I’d aired a couple of days earlier.  It used none of my wording, to be fair and introduced some new angles but I knew the initial idea was mine because it was unusual and something Higham would be likely to blog on, plus no one else in the sphere was on that topic at that time.  Now, I didn’t mind him using it or even thinking out new angles on it – that’s what blogging is about.  It was the complete lack of mention of the source idea which was the problem.


There’s a different one where there is a topic everyone’s blogging on and I might bring up an angle, only to find that some megablogger has also brought up that angle and is making out it’s his idea. A look at his post and mine shows mine to have preceded his. That’s annoying. Now fair’s fair and he’s probably not even aware of me, nor do I want to go around telling other bloggers something’s my idea because that does not endear oneself.

Yet I do feel there has to be a happy medium, if not a blog netiquette about these things. I do hope I credit people and when I’m not aware they’ve done it too and someone brings that to my attention, I think I do go in and credit whoever it was.

Oversensitive or is it right, as a writer, to be a little peeved by this going on?

3 comments for “Credit where credit’s due

  1. dearieme
    June 17, 2012 at 14:32

    Surely only Yanks could believe that Ford invented the car (they falsely attribute mass production to him too) or Edison the the X-ray. The site is wrong about the practical light bulb, though; not Edison but Swann. Edison had to buy him out.

  2. June 17, 2012 at 15:21

    “Oversensitive or is it right, as a writer, to be a little peeved by this going on?”

    I think you have to be relaxed about it. I wrote a post only a days or so ago based on a fairly obscure news item. I set it to publish at a certain date and time then discovered another blogger had beaten me to it.

    Even though he’d come at it from an entirely different angle, I just deleted my post before it went live as I didn’t think it would look good. I also felt a sense of relief that I’d spotted it in time.

    We’d picked up the item independently, probably because our blogrolls overlap but only I knew that was the case. A pity – I rather liked my version!

  3. June 17, 2012 at 17:37

    We were just discussing it now, this mate in the post and I, and he brought up the point that he scheduled a post, the scheduling didn’t work and some other guy blogged on it in the meantime. That just happens.

    I think the guy who did the one I wrote about just posted for want of anything else about at the time and again – nothing wrong with that. Let’s just say that it was on World Core Curriculum. Just him posting on that is interesting – how many blog on that?

    Now, you yourself, AKH, usually say: “James Higham was on about the WCC” [linked] and so on … This guy we’re talking about though didn’t do that. He passed the whole idea off as his own.

    I agree one needs to be relaxed about it, which is why I never said a word at the time but all the same, one keeps an eye open to see if it’s done again.

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