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The Uni-Files

A candid look at EFL life and lessons from a university teacher's perspective.

December 07, 2010

Double Dipping- Divergence Duty or Dubious Duplication?

OK, you are probably now asking yourself two questions:, 1. What is 'double dipping'? and 2. How many 'D' words can one alliterate in a title without it crossing over from clever to cornball ?(answer: 6). Anyway, double dipping refers to the practice of academics doing the same (or a very similar) presentation twice (or more).

You can find an interesting summary and discussion on the practice here. I encourage readers to read the follow-up comments at the bottom of that article as well.

Is double dipping dubious? The arguments against it are based primarily on the notion that it is a type of CV padding, a sleight-of-hand used to pile up the 'presentations' category. Other arguments I've heard are based upon the rather old-fashioned notion that at a conference you literally 'read your paper'- that is, you do some research, you write a paper based on that research, you read it at a conference, and finally you publish the paper in the conference proceedings. In fact, the linked article above even uses the telltale term 'conference papers' in its title.

Some also argue that if it is OK for a teacher or academic to double dip a presentation, then it must be OK for a student to hand in the same paper twice. Now, I don't think anyone would doubt that double dipping a paper, either as a student or as a researcher, is unethical. Self-plagiarism is just that. But papers and presentations are as similar as apples and peanut butter. For one thing, if you write a paper once but hand it in twice you have made no effort beyond that of writing the initial paper, whereas a presentation requires a full effort each time. After all, there is a big dynamic, energy-based difference between 'doing a presentation' and merely photocopying a paper, Moreover, a paper archived is (normally) accessible to any reader who seeks it. A presentation isn't.

Doing a similar presentation twice (or more) is actually more akin to teaching the same classroom lesson twice- to different classes. Would anyone have a problem with that?

Regardless, the fact is that back in the days when there were fewer conferences and travel was more difficult and the idea of 'presentation' was not quite what it is now, and the avoidance of double dipping made better sense.

But times have changed. It's actually very hard to find people who don't double dip to some extent in the academic world and there are actually numerous sound, educational reasons for doing so. In fact, can anyone imagine such ESL/EFL luminaries as David Nunan, Chris Candlin, Michael McCarthy, Paul Nation or Henry Widdowson actually NOT doing essentially the same presentation twice or more? In almost any academic endeavor you will see that academics and researchers go over the same presentation themes several times before embarking on new horizons. Many make only the slightest adjustments even after several years of variation on the same research.

Moreover, you may well be invited to do a certain presentation elsewhere because someone saw your presentation and felt that it would be beneficial for a new, different audience. And this is key- the audience is always changing for a presentation. They are seeing it for the first time. If, at your initial presentation, you've only presented to 15 or 20 people- that is the entirety of your audience- not exactly bang for your research buck. Reaching a wider audience for your research therefore seems to me to be a pretty good justification for double dipping, especially when distances are wide but research-funded travel is more realizable. Some smaller conferences actually appeal for presenters, and if these minor conferences also happen to be held in remote locales- away from the larger conference venues- it holds great benefit for the local organizers, the local academic organizations, and the local audience (both educationally and financially).

In fields of greater import than EFL the dissemination of good research to a wider audience is almost a duty. If someone has successfully found a complete cure for cancer you don't want the audience to be limited to 10 people at a community center in Missoula.

Of course if you just go through the motions and do the exact same presentation each time you are simply being sloppy and lazy, no question. You owe it to your new audience to tailor your presentation according to audience type, size and setting. You also tweak it simply to make it a better presentation- learning from the bits that didn't go so well before.

Imagine being a musician travelling from town to town. Of course you will perform many of your hit songs because that is what the audience wants to see. But you will also (or at least should) vary the performance according to audience size and setting, and even according to the live dynamics of the actual performance. You'll add and subtract songs and your stage presence and performance will change. This makes perfect sense. No one expects a completely new show each and every time. Of course, riffing off the same old hits for several years without any change in content or direction might eventually place your wares in the has-been 99-cent used CD bin. Academics who mine the same barren shaft for more than a few years likely fall into the same category.

Another argument in favour of double dipping is that since there are several conferences these days, which serve not only as stages for presentations but also as opportunities to network, fraternize, engage in symposia, and attend other presentations for your own edification, If you had to undertake entirely new research for each such conference the quality of the research would almost certainly be superficial. You simply can't undertake totally fresh, new research three times a year (or more) yet the experience of partaking in three conferences a year would be considered a near-necessity for anyone involved in academia.

Then there is the CV padding canard. The fact is that presentations count for very, very little in terms of CV weight. Presentations are viewed more as experiences with personal networking value- good for the researcher's self-development- but not as academic achievements of great weight. Publications hold several times the weight- as do, albeit to a lesser degree- roles in academic societies, adjunct teaching invitations, citations, editing/review positions, social roles/functions connected to one's university position and so on. Presentation numbers don't figure much into contract renewals at all.

Of course there are some steps one can take to minimize any negative impact of double dipping. Aside from the above-mentioned common sense tweaking and adjusting, you can always make mention to the audience that you are making a presentation similar to that which you have done elsewhere (lest you inadvertently cause someone sit through it all again), as well as letting conference organizers know (and approve) of the situation in advance.

Lastly, having been an audience member for numerous double dipped presentations in the past, excellent presentations that I have often benefited greatly from, I can vouch from personal experience that the practice offers far more benefits than demerits. If anything, dounble dipping- within reason of course- should probably even be encouraged.

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I think the notion of intent is important here. Why would someone choose to double-dip their presentation? I can think of a few reasons:

1. The researcher is very proud/excited about their work and thinks that a lot of people would benefit by hearing it. I see nothing wrong with this. The intent is to disseminate information and educate as many people who are willing to listen.

2. The researcher wants to improve/refine the presentation. We all have bad days. We all get nervous. Maybe I'm disappointed in how I delivered my presenation last month and I want to give it another try. What's wrong with that?

3. The researcher wants to pad their CV. Obviously a bad reason to double-dip.

4. The researcher cannot come up with anything original so just decides to re-hash the same stuff over and over just to make it look as though s/he is super-presenter of the year. Again, not a real good reason to trot out the same old song and dance.

There are certainly more reasons why someone would choose to double dip. My point is that we all need to be honest with ourselves and examine why we are presenting material twice. If the intentions are truly good then I don't think there is anything wrong with it.

I didn't even know this was controversial. Of course you are going to do the same presentation (or a variation of it) to different audiences (assuming it was any good in the first place).

I present 10+ times a year, on topics that I have something to say about, so there is no way I am going to be able to come up with completely new content each time.

I don't really think people expect that either. As long as your title and summary are accurate so the audience knows what to expect, I don't see a problem.

I think it also depends on the type of presentation you're doing. Some of the presentations being done at English teacher conferences in Japan are not actually based on research per se, but rather just provide some new ideas for activities in the classroom. I sometimes see presenations titles such as "10 Fun Activities for Junior High Students" or whatever. I would suspect that these can be repeated without raising any eyebrows.

But presentations which are "research papers" were, back in the day, supposed to be only presented once. Still, I don't really get why it's a problem to even double dip on these kinds of presentations as long as it is not for reasons such as padding your CV or puffing out your chest to show everyone how "academic" you are.

I think it is also worth considering that many smaller conferences (and these days there are indeed many) have no direct connection to any journal or published proceedings (unlike in the days of yore). Thus, almost any presentation made at such a conference is going to be an offshoot of what someone has presented (and published) elsewhere.

A more radical idea is to get rid of presentations at conferences. There are plenty of other ways nowadays to present content, and archive it. Why not spend the time networking (and answering questions about your presentations) much like a "poster session"? Here is a take on this situation by a guy that presents a lot (in educational technology).

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