Saturday, March 1, 2014

Many cabinets, like many scholarly books, are compendia of wonderful things.  The Cabinet of Plagiarism is quite the opposite.  It is a collection of scholarly books that make us ask, "Has Our Profession At Long Last No Shame?"  Do you have a book that has shocked you with its brazen lifting of the work of others? Contact this blog and if it is truly (un)worthy, we will find a place for it on our shelves. Our first display, with four shelves devoted to it, is Matthew C. Whitaker's Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama (Nebraska, 2014). He is a Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University and the Director of ASU's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD).  His book, never reviewed and just published in January, won the  "Bayard Rustin Book Award," an honor created this very year by the CSRD's sister institution, the Tufts Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.  And now, you are ready to enter the Cabinet.
Plagiarism Cartoon by Kate Sheridan (1)
Kate Sheridan, 2012

Exhibit A -- Old School Theft

Nothing fancy here.  Here's one case in which Foundation Professor of History Matthew C. Whitaker's scholarly account of battles over affirmative action, is drawn virtually word for word from an online encyclopedia, and another in which his description of the actor Will Smith is lifted from an online entertainment site. (Peace Be Still  is priced at $70 hardcover, $35 paper.  The websites are free.)

Exhibit B -- The Classic Model

Here is a scholarly book about "modern Black America" whose section on Malcolm X is drawn, with a few word changes and an inadequate citation or two, from the online encyclopedia  Jonathan Bailey, writing in, perfectly captures this kind of plagiarism.  Alas, his assumption is that people committing it are students, rather than Foundation Professors.  Here is Bailey's description of this kind of plagiarism -- which is both a crime and a blunder -- followed by some examples from Peace Be Still:
"Where some try to game the technology and tools that detect plagiarism, others try to game the very notion of plagiarism itself. The idea is very simple, many plagiarists feel that they can get away with plagiarism by not plagiarizing. However, rather than citing sources and using quotes correctly, it often means trying to find ways of providing grossly inadequate citation, such as ignoring quote marks and citing incorrect sources.Much of this stems from confusion about exactly what is and is not plagiarism. Many students, in particular, fall into this trap of doing something that they think is adequate to avoid a plagiarism allegation but, in reality, is an unethical shortcut. Often times though, it stems form a desire to gain all of the benefits of committing a plagiarism without risking the repercussions." 
Whitaker examples of this sort, selected from scores of candidates:

Exhibit C -- Repackaging of a Famous Textbook

Peace Be Still: A History of Modern Black America (Nebraska, 2014) is in significant ways simply a subset of the many editions of Hine, Hine, and Harrold's African American Odyssey  (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 5 editions).  Textbooks tend to be for the most part uncited, of course, and to describe similar events. But Peace Be Still in fact does cite  (Professor Whitaker assiduously cites to his own previous publications, for example), just not in a way that even hints at the extent of the book's dependence on African American Odyssey. And its overlap with African American Odyssey goes well beyond a shared need to discuss major events and people.  Professor Whitaker draws, sometimes for pages at a time, his analysis, statistics, primary source quotations, and organization from the earlier work, usually without any attribution at all.  He does not include in his bibliography the most recent editions that he stripmines. And even as Professor Whitaker declares his intention to focus innovatively on culture and the post-2000 era, he is  dependent  for those very subjects on Hine, Hine, and Harrold.  Dr. Darlene Clark Hine is included  in the acknowledgments as one person in long lists of scholars, and the other two authors of African American Odyssey, not at all.    On the shelves of the Cabinet, we can give you only the barest idea of the gloomy thrill reading these two books side by side provides.   Here are three examples with images provided strictly for educational purposes.  The rest, the old-fashioned way. 

Exhibit D -- Standards

The standards for originality and citation are quite clear.  Authors often suggest they should not apply.  Some insist their plagiarism was unintentional, although the American Historical Association clearly states that intention is not a requirement.  Sometimes authors imply they have received permission from other authors to violate plagiarism standards. But personal relationships don't change standards; that's what makes them "standards."   Other authors suggest  that pieces  published entirely under their names were in fact written by graduate students or paid workers. Although they were prepared to benefit from them, they should not be expected to take responsibility for them.   The moral and professional weakness of such a stance is we hope obvious.