The Community of Research: Frontiers of Plagiarism in Academia

For the attention of

Dear Sir/Madam

We are writing to you about a recent article by Loretta Lees, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leicester, and Philip Hubbard, Professor of Urban Studies at King’s College London, titled ‘The Right to Community: Legal geographies of resistance on London’s gentrification frontiers’, which was published in March 2018 in Volume 22, Issue 1 of the journal City. It is our contention that this article has breached the RCUK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct by failing to reference source material and precedents for its analysis and, more seriously, lifting passages of text verbatim from our own published research without acknowledgement or citation. We believe this warrants a charge of plagiarism, which the RCUK defines as ‘the misappropriation or use of others’ ideas, intellectual property or work (written or otherwise), without acknowledgement or permission’. We wish to bring this charge to your collective attentions as the publishers of this article, the funders of the ESRC grant that supports its research, the co-ordinator of the research portfolios to which it belongs, and the respective employers of its authors.

Architects for Social Housing (ASH) is a Community Interest Company founded in March 2015 that works in the field of both architectural design, research and written analysis. Over the past 3 years ASH has delivered more than 40 presentations to academic institutions, including to the Bartlett School of Architecture, the Architectural Association, De Montfort University, Birkbeck College, the University of Westminster, the Cass School of Architecture, the London Metropolitan University, the University of Sheffield, the Braunschweig University of Technology, Goldsmiths College, the Royal College of Art and the Chelsea College of Art, as well as at the Royal Academy, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Barbican Centre, the Serpentine Gallery, the Centre for Alternative Technology and the Architectural League of New York. Since we launched it in September 2015, the ASH blog has published over 150 articles that have been visited 167,000 times by over 93,000 people in 177 countries. One of those readers is Professor Loretta Lees, who knows the work of ASH well, and with whom we have shared speaker platforms on several occasions, including at the University of East London conference ‘London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms’, which both Professor Lees and ourselves spoke at on 24 April 2016; the Cambridge House conference ‘Can we afford to lose social housing?’, which Professor Lees co-organised on 29 April, 2016; and at the London Assembly meeting ‘London Estates’, which Professor Lees chaired on 10 February, 2017, and at which ASH’s design work was exhibited.

The familiarity of Professor Lees with our work, therefore, is not in question. Indeed, in their article Professors Lees and Hubbard quote from and cite our article ‘The London Clearances’, which we first published on the ASH blog on 27 October, 2015, and which was subsequently published in the journal City, Volume 20, Number 2, in April 2016. Indeed, since their article on ‘The Right to Community’ has appeared in the same journal, and the title of its first section is ‘The London clearances’, it would be hard of the authors not to cite the publication of our article in City. But that’s where their acknowledgment ends, and our complaint begins.

1. Plagiarism

What is also not in question is the source of the authors’ statement in footnote 5 to the following section of their article, ‘The Legalities of Displacement: compulsory purchase orders in London’, which reads:

‘The term ‘brownfield estate’ was first used in a report by estate agents Savills in April 2014 under the title Regeneration and Intensification of Housing Supply on Local Authority Housing Estates in London. In January 2016, Savills submitted their research report to the Cabinet Office, Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents. In it they estimate that London has around 8,500 hectares of land currently occupied by local authority estates, and containing around 660,000 households. Of these, they recommend that 1,750 hectares be regenerated according to what they call their “Complete Streets” model.’

On 24 March, 2016, two years before, ASH had published on its blog an article titled ‘The Doomsday Book: Mapping London’s Housing Crisis’, in which we wrote about the same Savills reports at length, and which has been visited over 800 times on our blog. Now, Lees and Hubbard are, of course, free to return to this material and produce their own analysis. However, what they write in this footnote has quite clearly been taken from our article, which reads:

‘Brownfield land is a term used in planning to describe former industrial or commercial land that has fallen into disuse and requires cleaning up before redevelopment. However, in a research proposal published by Savills in April 2014 under the title Regeneration and Intensification of Housing Supply on Local Authority Housing Estates in London, this term was conflated with existing council estates in a new composite term, “brownfield estates”.’

‘In January 2016, Savills submitted their research report to the Cabinet Office, Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents. In it they estimate that London has around 8,500 hectares of land currently occupied by local authority estates, and containing around 660,000 households. Of these, they recommend that 1,750 hectares be regenerated according to what they call their Complete Streets” model.’

As can be seen, the second half of their footnote is lifted verbatim from our text, and yet no reference is made to this fact, no mention of ASH’s analysis is made, and no citation to our blog is included in their article. Under Section 3 of the RCUK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct, we believe this constitutes ‘unacceptable research conduct’.

2. Influence

What is in question, however, is how much the argument in the next section of Lees and Hubbard’s article, titled ‘The Aylesbury Estate CPO Public Inquiry: a winning precedent?’, owes to our own article, ‘Financial Compensation for Human Rights: The Aylesbury Estate’, which we published on the ASH blog on 17 September, 2016, the day after the decision by the Secretary of State it analyses was made, and which has since been visited over 560 times. Of course, once again, Lees and Hubbard are free to return to this material and make their own analysis. What we are questioning is the parallels between the course of their analysis and our own, and whether they are not under some obligation to acknowledge the influence of our article on their own or – if they deny that influence – the community of research to which they belong. There is ample evidence of that community in the 17 footnotes and 81 references included in their article, almost all of them to academic journals and books. What we wish to question is why none of them is to the ASH article and the blog on which it was published.

But what are our reasons for arguing that our article should be cited? To answer that, let’s look closely at the parallels between the two texts in terms of their focus, the development of their argument and its phrasing. Having reviewed the conditions that have to be met by a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) in the previous section, Professors Lees and Hubbard apply these to the particular instance of the CPO issued against leaseholders on the Aylesbury estate in Camberwell, South London, by Southwark council as part of its plans to demolish and redevelop the estate. This received considerable coverage in the press when the Secretary of State for Homes and Communities, Sajid Javid, accepted the Government Inspector’s recommendation not to confirm the order in response to the objections made by the Aylesbury Leaseholder’s Action Group at the Public Inquiry.

In our article we began by listing the objections to the CPO raised by leaseholders as follows:

  • ‘That social housing will not be provided on the new development;
  • ‘That Southwark Council’s redevelopment plans are unviable;
  • ‘That the refurbishment of the estate was not considered as an alternative to demolition and redevelopment;
  • ‘That the scheme will not benefit the wider area.’

In the opening paragraph of this section in their article Lees and Hubbard write:

‘Several additional objections were made at the inquiry. These related to the failure of the scheme to ensure that social rented housing would be provided; the deliverability of the scheme; the failure to explore refurbishment as an alternative to demolition; the lack of guarantees that the scheme would promote the social well-being of the area.’

We then went on to list the actual reasons the Secretary of State gave for refusing the CPO are listed in the letter under the following paragraphs, which were that:

  • ‘It will have considerable economic, social and environmental dis-benefits in terms of consequences for those leaseholders remaining on the Order land.
  • ‘The deficiencies of the scheme include the number of dwellings that fail to meet the Council’s adopted standards for sunlight and daylight, and the extent of overshadowing to the proposed amenity areas.
  • ‘The Council has not taken reasonable steps to acquire land interests by agreement.’
  • ‘The interference with residents’ (in particular leaseholders’) Article 8 rights is not demonstrably necessary or proportionate, taking into account the likelihood that if the scheme is approved, it will probably force many of those concerned to move from this area.
  • ‘The interference with residents’ peaceful enjoyment of their property was not necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest, and accordingly that the interference with Article 1 of the First Protocol was not proportionate.’

Lees and Hubbard write:

‘The key reasons given by the Secretary of State for his decision were that there had been insufficient negotiation with remaining leaseholders; that Southwark Council had not taken reasonable steps to acquire land interests by agreement; that there would be considerable economic, social and environmental disbenefits for the leaseholders who would remain on the land; that interference with the human rights of those with an interest in the relevant land was not sufficiently justified; and overall, that the test for a “compelling case in the public interest” had not been met (as required by CPO policy guidance).’

To clarify the reasons relating to leaseholders’ human rights, we quoted from and cited Article 8 (‘the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’) and Protocol 1 (‘everyone is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions’) of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 from which the ‘Public Sector Equality Duty’ arises:

‘This consideration – which goes on to make particular reference to the age and ethnicity of the leaseholders and the disproportionate negative effects the Compulsory Purchase Order will have on elderly residents unable to stay in the area, children forced into new schools, and residents from black and ethnic minorities separated from their cultural communities – makes up by far the largest section of the letter, and has the most potential for all residents’ rights.’

Lees and Hubbard write:

‘This decision stressed the importance of addressing human rights when individuals are affected by a CPO (i.e. Article 8 of the ECHR right to respect ‘private and family life’). It also highlighted the increasing importance of Public Sector Equality Duty in England and Wales given the suggestion in the ruling that black and ethnic minority residents would be ‘disproportionately affected’ by the CPO, and that it would have a negative impact on their ability to retain their cultural ties. Issues such as the ‘dislocation from family life’ and the potential to harm the education of affected children were also identified in the decision letter, indicating a much wider approach to assessing the impacts of a CPO than had been the case previously.’

We concluded our article by considering the wider implications of the Secretary of State’s decision, which we clarified as follows:

‘The power of leaseholders over their homes has been greatly increased, which definitely makes this decision a victory for those fighting the demolition of their homes. . . . This is, perhaps, where the real victory lies in this decision by the Secretary of State: not in the property rights of leaseholders, but in the potential for articulating the human rights of all residents whose homes are threatened by estate demolition schemes.’

Lees and Hubbard write:

‘The CPO decision was significant and it has raised Aylesbury residents’ (and residents on other council estates across London) expectations that they might be able to remain in their homes. The decision fell short of stating that there is an absolute ‘right to a community’ but its implications will clearly be a significant factor in future CPO decisions in London.’

In order to realise these implications we proposed:

‘There is an argument to be made that the negative effects of being moved away from community support networks are just as applicable to tenants, and that simply re-housing them elsewhere doesn’t mitigate those effects.’

Lees and Hubbard write:

‘The Aylesbury decision suggests a potential shift, and an expanded notion of the right to housing being accepted: it implies it is not simply enough for people to be rehoused, but that they need to be rehoused in a suitable environment where they can rebuild a sense of community.’

To which conclusions we added the caveat:

‘But we should be clear about exactly what that victory is based on, which is the property rights of leaseholders, not what some of us mistakenly understand by human rights.’

While in the conclusion to their own article Lees and Hubbard write:

‘There needs to be more care and attention paid to the different ways in which the jurisdictional context shapes opportunities for claims-making in courts and for much tighter use of the term ‘rights’—which is often used too loosely by geographers (and perhaps by activists also).’

One last time, Lees and Hubbard are free to cover this material themselves; but we find it extremely odd that, while it is more than likely that Professor Lees, at least, was one of the more than 500 readers of our article, they have not cited it in their article covering exactly the same ground, in the same order, and from the same perspective. In the excitement that followed the Secretary of State’s decision a lot was written and published that was inaccurate both factually and in the assumptions about its implications, and one of the reasons ASH published our article so quickly, appearing the day after the decision was made, was to clarify what was and wasn’t being said. For this reason it was comparatively widely read for a blog article about such a technical subject. When we published the link to our article in Twitter it was re-tweeted by the housing network Just Space, who generously wrote: ‘This commentary by ASH on the Aylesbury Estate victory is the most careful and useful one so far’. We have little doubt, therefore, that Professor Lees, who is a long-time collaborator with Just Space, read our article. But whether or not her and Hubbard’s analysis drew on ours – as these quotations suggest it did – we believe it is incumbent upon them, as a member of the community of research that includes but is not limited to academics, to acknowledge an article that, published two years before their own, produced the same analysis and drew the same conclusions. It is certainly required of them to cite the ASH article from which they lifted verbatim their footnote summarising the various Savills’ reports.

3. Acknowledgement

As part of their membership of Urban Transformations, an academic network based at the University of Oxford, Professors Lees and Hubbard are in receipt of an Economic and Social Research Council grant worth £615,340, which they have been awarded for a research project titled ‘Gentrification, displacement and the impacts of council estate renewal in twenty first century London’. Lees is the Principal Investigator on this project, and one of her partners is Just Space. Professor Lees has several times suggested that ASH combine our research – and particularly that contained in our article ‘Mapping London’s Estate Regeneration Programme’, which we published on 10 September, 2017 – with her team. Having previously had our research similarly used without citation to our blog or reference to us by Anna Minton, Reader in Architecture at the University of East London and contributing editor for City, in her book Big Capital: Who is London For?, and in the absence of any offer from Professor Lees to donate towards our research out of their ESRC grant, we refused.

We’re happy when academics use ASH’s research. That’s what it’s there for, and why we make it freely available on our blog, rather than hiding it behind a paywall. The purpose of the ASH blog is to disseminate the knowledge our work produces, and the more people use it the more influence it has. But ASH is an unfunded organisation that receives very little in either personal donations, professional fees or public grants. Our ability to exist relies partly on proving to academic institutions that our work has had demonstrable impact on housing debates, partly in winning public grants, and partly in finding paid design work with council estates, housing associations, tenant management organisations, housing co-operatives and community land trusts. The same applies to whether we are invited to speak at academic conferences, council scrutiny meetings and with other organisations influencing housing policy. And as a Senior University Lecturer, Geraldine Dening, the Co-Director of ASH, will be including our research in her submission to the Research Excellence Framework 2020. Every time we’re written out of the academic debate by published authors and academics like Loretta Lees and Phil Hubbard we lose another chance both to make our work better known and to build the financial capability to continue doing it. ASH is always scrupulous about acknowledging, referencing and citing our sources – not out of conformity to academic procedure, but in a spirit of mutual generosity and the recognition that research is a collective endeavour, not the work of individual authors competing for tenured posts and government grants. For academics to pass our research off as their own without acknowledgement, and then getting paid for doing so, is professionally dishonest at best.

The first thing we are calling on Professors Lees and Hubbard to do, therefore, is to identify the source of the quotation in footnote 5 as Architects for Social Housing, with a reference to the article ‘The Doomsday Book: Mapping London’s Housing Estates’ and a citation to the Uniform Resource Locator (URL).

In addition, should they choose to recognise its influence on their study, or at least to acknowledge its precedence in the articles on the Secretary of State’s initial decision on the Aylesbury estate, we would appreciate an equivalent reference to the name of our organisation and the article ‘Financial Compensation for Human Rights: The Aylesbury Estate’, again with a citation to the URL.

Finally, should the Economic and Social Research Council, City journal, the University of Leicester or King’s College London wish to offer some reparation to ASH, whether in the form of a financial donation towards our research or an offer to publish it, we would welcome such a gesture of goodwill.

As indicated, this is not the first time ASH’s work, whether written or design, has been used or referenced without acknowledgement or citation, not only in Anna Minton’s Big Capital, but more recently in John Boughton’s Municipal Dreams. We’re pretty fed up with this, and have decided, as a point of policy, to expose each instance this happens publically. We will therefore be publishing this letter on the ASH blog, as we will the replies we look forward to receiving.

Yours sincerely

Simon Elmer
Co-Founder and Director
Architects for Social Housing

Geraldine Dening
Co-Founder and Director
Architects for Social Housing

Postscript: 13 June, 2018

Dear Sir/Madam

We are following up on our previous e-mail to you dated 15 May, 2018, when we informed you of our charges of plagiarism and the failure to acknowledge our work in the article, ‘The Right to Community: Legal geographies of resistance on London’s gentrification frontiers’ by Professors Philip Hubbard and Loretta Lees.

On the 17 May we received an e-mail from Professor Hubbard saying he is ‘unable to explain’ why an entire paragraph (not the ‘2 sentences’ he says) from an ASH article on a Savills report on estate regeneration was quoted verbatim and without attribution in footnote 5 of the article by himself and Professor Loretta Lees. Professor Hubbard variously calls this an ‘error’, an ‘oversight’ and a ‘coincidence’ that he ‘cannot explain’. In his defence he produces what he calls a ‘similar’ text from the report by Savills that bears no relation to the one we wrote and which he copied verbatim.

We note Professor Hubbard’s apologies, and his written attempts to have the quote from our article indicated as such in the hard issue of their article. However, we have had no further communication from either Professor Hubbard or the editors of City whether this has been done. We note, however, that the online version of their article has not been altered.

Professor Hubbard also ‘refutes’ our contention that their paper was influenced by our article on the Aylesbury estate, though he does not explain why their own article so closely follows ours in argument and phrasing. He clarifies, however, that the portion of their article that discusses the Aylesbury estate was written by Professor Lees. We have received no communication from her.

We also note that Professor Hubbard asserts that ‘neither of [them] ever read’ what he rather dismissively calls our ‘blog entry’. It’s not clear whether he is referring to either our article on the Savills report or the article on the Aylesbury estate, or to both. In our previous letter to you we have laid out in considerable detail why this is unlikely to be the case, certainly of Professor Lees. Hard as it may be for Professor Hubbard to ‘explain’ why an entire paragraph from our article is quoted verbatim in his, the far more likely explanation, we believe, is that he has read it.

Since we published our letter to you on the ASH blog we have received numerous communications from the many academics who follow and support our work. They have urged us to pursue this claim, and have cited other examples within academia of plagiarism and the use without acknowledgement of other researcher’s work.

On the 21 May we also received a brief e-mail from Professor Michael Keith, saying that he needed to clarify his locus in the issue before replying.

Since then we have received no further communication.

We write to you now, therefore, to request further information about what, if any, proceedings are being pursued. We also inquire whether the hard issue of the relevant article has been amended to acknowledge the work of ASH, and if so to what extent. And we write to ask why the online version of the article still hasn’t been amended to correct the unattributed quotation of our work four weeks after we informed you of this matter.

I should mention that we have been urged to share our original letter to you with other academics and geographers. We want to assure you that we have no wish to damage the reputations of Professors Hubbard and Lees, nor have we any intention of doing so. What we want, as we laid out clearly in our first letter to you, is the due recognition of our work by those who use it.

We look forward to hearing how you will bring this about in the near future.

Yours sincerely

Simon Elmer and Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the vast majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work, you can make a donation through PayPal:

2 thoughts on “The Community of Research: Frontiers of Plagiarism in Academia

  1. I’m really pleased you are calling this out as at leat one person you mention above has serious form for this kind of intellectual theft. And, more broadly, the fact that social science researchers are so often unwilling to acknowledge the existence of anything outside their discipline, even when it has influenced their work to a huge degree is galling and a widespread problem that needs addressing.


  2. Academics are understandably reluctant to call plagiarism out in case they get a reputation as troublemakers that will damage their career; but as I wrote above, we’ve received a number of messages in support of this article, some of which I’ll copy in here without divulging the names of the people who wrote them:

    ‘I would bring this to the attention of the publisher and grant funders. It’s academic misconduct plain and simple. They need to be publicly called on this.’

    ‘Absolutely agree. There is an awful lot of politics and dishonesty in academic referencing, sadly, often involving big names in urban theory at the expense of studies which provide essential empirical material. When I write my chapter on maintenance for my [name of book deleted], ASH will be referenced.’

    ‘Well done. We’ve started a housing research group in Brighton and I’m making sure that everyone involved knows about this and that they are blacklisted from invites or participation until acknowledgement is made of the lifted material (and of ASH’s contribution).’

    ‘Well done. I wish I’d had the profile and cash to risk being counter-sued doing this when I set out in Television. Plagiarism and intellectual theft are rife across most industries and, yes – nearly always involve stealing from the poorer and less well connected to benefit the wealthy.’

    ‘I read your piece on Professors Lees and Hubbard and thought it would be great to get this message to the wider discipline of geography as they are both geographers. If you join this mailing list (link below) and post the commentary on there – it is full of critical geographers and would spark a very interesting debate.’

    ‘How can Professor Hubbard know what someone else has read? What a weird excuse. How about “sorry, clearly I’ve made a big mistake and mixed up my sources, I’ll immediately publish a correction and see whether I can get the online version amended.”’

    ‘Please keep going. This is important.’

    Liked by 1 person

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