Professor Daniel Bolnick recently wrote a blog post from the publisher's perspective on text recycling in methods sections:\u00a0I can't steal (text) from myself, can I??? (hint: your text might not be yours anymore). Professor Bolnick is the Editor In Chief of The American Naturalist and his interesting post brings up a number of important questions and considerations regarding proper reporting of research methods.\n\u00a0\nBriefly, he describes a case where authors have used the same technique for a new paper and have copy-pasted their methods text from another publication. Professor Bolnick argues that such recycling of text breaks copyright and recommends a number of alternative solutions.\u00a0I strongly disagree with some of his recommendations and am going to respond in detail below.\n\u00a0\n\nChances are, that previously published paper is copyrighted and the copyright probably belongs to the publisher. So, even though you authored a previous methods section, you need to get permission from the publisher of the previous paper (or whoever holds its copyrights), to re-use large chunks of text. So, this isn\u2019t our journal\u2019s arbitrary editorial policy that we can change at a whim. It is our obligation to follow copyright law.\n\n\u00a0\nI am not so sure that copyright applies to method sections. According the the U.S. Copyright Office, recipes are not subject to copyright as they are statements of fact. Cameron Neylon, Professor of Research Communication, is pretty confident that research protocols are not copyrightable.\u00a0I am not a legal scholar, but the above raises the question of whether copyright does in fact apply to the methods sections.\n\u00a0\nBelow, Professor Bolnic offers solutions that do not require copy-pasting methods, and those are the parts I disagree with most strongly.\n\u00a0\n\nFirst, one can subtly rephrase the original text. This is what most of us do when we submit repetitive methods sections; we reorganize sentences, substitute synonyms when possible, and generally make the text a non-exact copy. That\u2019s usually not too hard to do.\u00a0\u00a0\n\n\u00a0\nScience requires precision. Artificially changing method details to avoid detection by anti-plagiarism software leads to errors, confusion, and lack of precision that makes it hard to compare methods and detect changes in procedure. Reproducibility is challenging enough to begin with; we do not need any additional obfuscation.\n\u00a0\n\nSecond, one can actually place the methods section in question in quotes, with attribution to your previous work. That\u2019s atypical in our field (I\u2019ve never ever seen it done). But, it is legal though it will raise eyebrows.\u00a0\n\n\u00a0\nIf you cite the prior paper where the original protocol or method was published, why would reusing the text raise eyebrows? From the Committe on Publication Ethics:\n\u00a0\nUse of similar or identical phrases in methods sections where there are limited ways to describe a common method, however, is not uncommon. In such cases, an element of text recycling is likely to be unavoidable in further publications using the same method. Editors should use their discretion when deciding how much overlap of methods text is acceptable, considering factors such as whether authors have been transparent and stated that the methods have already been described in detail elsewhere and provided a citation.\n\u00a0\nIf you did the work the same way as before, please be precise and describe exactly what you did, with the appropriate text, and a citation to the previous publication as appropriate.\n\u00a0\n\nThird, you can shorten your methods and refer readers to the methods section of the prior paper. This is commonly done, though reviewers (and readers) sometimes get annoyed that not everything is written down in one place. But really, we all implicitly build our methods on the backs of past papers (I don\u2019t, for example, re-derive a proof for an ANOVA or regression, each time I use statistics), so it\u2019s not unreasonable to do this third option.\n\n\u00a0\nUnfortunately, this is commonly done and this is precisely what we are trying to stop with protocols.io. Few things are more frustrating than the endless layers of 'as reported elsewhere'. Here, I'm going to recycle my own text:\n-------------------------\nI don't know about 50 years ago, but there's plenty of evidence that our methods sections today are typically insufficient for reproducing the published work. 'We used a modified version of paper XYZ' and 'contact author for details' are common.\u00a0Key early lesson from the Elizabeth Iorns\/Brian Nosek Cancer Reproducibility project is that the protocols are often missing.\u00a0 (https:\/\/www.vox.com\/science-and-health\/2017\/1\/23\/14324326\/replication-science-is-hard\u00a0\u2026 https:\/\/www.nature.com\/news\/cancer-reproducibility-project-releases-first-results-1.21304\u00a0https:\/\/www.theatlantic.com\/science\/archive\/2017\/01\/what-proportion-of-cancer-studies-are-reliable\/513485\/)\n\nIn his 2015 blog post, Professor Timoth\u00e9e Poisot\u00a0nailed the state of methods sections: https:\/\/medium.com\/@tpoi\/do-the-rest-of-the-fucking-analysis-8fcef22fd991\n\nTerrific post in 2014 by David Crotty Nevermind the Data, Where are the Protocols?\u00a0makes it clear that this is an old and serious problem. (David can be trusted on this - he worked for years on protocols for CSHL Press & is now editorial director for Oxford University Press).\n\u00a0\nThere is a reason why tweets like this resonate.\n\n\u00a0\nThis is the frustrating norm today\n\n\u00a0\nAnd this:\n\nPoor methods sections aren't just an inconvenience; they waste time and money. Missing details delay the progress of science. We have the internet and can do a lot better.\n--------------------------------\n\u00a0\n\u00a0\nI very much hope that no subscription journal or publisher will ever go after a researcher for reusing previously-published text from materials and methods. If they ever do, trying to stop scientists from properly reporting what exactly they did, that would be a rather damning moment for any publisher.