Mark Goodacre’s post alleging that John Drane’s New Testament textbook included “unacknowledged use” of Goodacre’s website has produced a few reactions, even from Drane himself. Yet, I am quite disappointed with many of them for several reasons. Most fundamentally, the conversation that resulted shows that we need to have a renewed conversation within the academy on what plagiarism is and how it factors into various genres of writing.
A couple of points: a) I wouldn’t see this as plagiarism, since the wording is not directly copied [I would regard it as inadequate attribution, perhaps exacerbated by early problems in using and referencing web pages]…
This is quite a disconcerting statement because it reveals that Head doesn’t understand plagiarism at all. He seems to link plagiarism with “directly cop[ying]” words. However, Head’s own institution contains this statement in a list of examples illustrating what plagiarism constitutes:
paraphrasing another person’s work by changing some of the words, or the order of the words, without due acknowledgement of the source; [emphasis original]
But Head isn’t alone in this kind of thinking. Several other academics indicated this type of misunderstanding in their discussions with me about Goodacre’s post.
Second, Drane’s own comments on Goodacre’s post were even more disappointing. As Drane was trying to explain this situation he said:
In the nature of things, this sort of introductory text is going to be like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up all sorts of stuff in the effort to give a general overview of diverse opinions on things, with the emphasis on the diversity rather than on who says what. Right back to the first edition, this book (and its companions) has never had footnotes because it was never intended to be that sort of book, nor apart from historic trendsetters are any individuals generally mentioned by name in the text. Within the space and budget constraints the best that I could persuade the publishers to include was the booklist at the end – which is also far from comprehensive, even random.
I think this is quite ridiculous. I don’t know of any academic publisher that would go to an author and tell them, “Sorry, but we’re not going to let you properly document your sources.” Almost every publisher will, however, tell an author how many pages they have to work with and then it is up to the author to decide how to fill them. Now, a publisher may control the format of the book which might exclude footnotes but in that case I don’t know of any academic publisher who would refuse to do what every reputable commercial non-fiction publisher does and that is to have a list of notes at the back of the book one of which could have stated something like: “Pages 177-78 were summarized and adapted from …” It is not “in the nature of things” to plagiarize, there are established procedures for avoiding it that every author is expected to abide by and every publisher is willing to go along with.
However, the most troubling thing to me about this whole mess is that Drane, along with many other scholars I’ve read or spoken with, seem to think it is okay to not properly document where ideas came from–and therefore plagiarize (if you disagree with this definition, see Cambridge University’s examples of plagiarism)–when it comes to introductory textbooks because, well, it’s just “in the nature of things” to be sloppy and plagiarize in an intro textbook. Yet, I would imagine that if a student submitted a paper in which they employed practices like this that Drane would fail them. In fact, according to the University of Durham’s own guidelines (Drane has taught there) undocumented “close paraphrasing” is grounds for possible expulsion.
So, why should scholars tolerate a textbook that is intended for introductory students which fails to live up to the standards that we set for the students themselves? Furthermore, why should this be tolerated when the author digs in his heels when confronted with this issue and sloughs it off as no big deal? This situation now models for intro students the fact that properly documenting sources and ideas doesn’t matter. So, how can instructors then reprimand students–and thereby act in accordance with their institutional policies–when they have modeled a completely different set of ethics and standards through adopting a textbook that plays by a different set of rules?
We have recently seen a case in which journalist Jonah Lehrer made up quotes from at least one subject that he wrote about. In response his publisher has recalled the book and is issuing refunds for anyone who bought it. I think Fortress Press might want to get a handle on this issue because for the academic world stealing other scholars’ ideas–even in introductory textbooks–is an equivalent offense as making up quotes within the world of journalism.
And yet, for all his mistakes Lehrer did come clean and, through his publisher, categorically apologized. He didn’t dig in his heels and act like it was no big deal because his quotes sounded like something Bob Dylan would have said and that his book was published by a commercial press and everyone expects some creative license and embellishment for popular books. If only we could hear this kind response from Drane and Fortress.