Source: Elin Larrson
Is it acceptable to cite in your research a book you intend to publish – even if it never sees the light of day?
That is the question that confronted Queen’s University Belfast earlier this year when an internal inquiry found that a book cited by one of its most senior figures in a major report did not exist.
The report, The Effects of the Selective System of Secondary Education in Northern Ireland, was written in 2000 for the province’s Department of Education by Tony Gallagher, pro vice-chancellor and professor of education at Queen’s, and Alan Smith, Unesco chair in pluralism, human rights and democracy at the University of Ulster.
Professor Gallagher had been tipped to become Queen’s new vice-chancellor before Patrick Johnston, dean of its School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, was appointed earlier this month.
The report contains four references to a discussion paper authored by Professor Gallagher, “Grouping Pupils by Ability”, supposedly contained in a book he co-edited with Professor Smith, published in 2000 and titled Educational and Legal Aspects of Selection in Schools. However, Robert McCartney, a retired QC and former MP, argued that neither the book nor the paper existed.
Mr McCartney, a staunch supporter of selective education, told Times Higher Education that the report supplied a major part of the evidence used to justify the abolition of the 11-plus examination system in Northern Ireland in 2008.
He said he first questioned the book’s existence in a newspaper article in 2006 but Queen’s only opened an inquiry earlier this year after he complained to the Russell Group, of which the university is a member.
Sir Peter Gregson, Queen’s vice-chancellor until last July, wrote a letter to Mr McCartney setting out the inquiry’s conclusions. He said that the academics’ research for the report had enabled three additional reports to be generated, which they had intended to turn into the cited book. Two had been published in other forms, and the third – the cited discussion paper – “has always been available from the authors upon request”.
Sir Peter recognised that the references to the book were “inappropriate” in the absence of “the qualifier ‘in preparation’” and said he had “formally addressed this matter with Professor Gallagher”.
Mr McCartney wrote to Queen’s: “When a book has been completed and accepted for publication it is permissible after the book’s citation to add the qualification ‘at press’. This is completely different from suggesting that a book is in ‘preparation’, an addendum for which there is no known or accepted precedent in academic circles.”