Tag Archives: dishonesty

CRC Press recalls book that plagiarized me

clear and concise communications for scientistsThe book, Clear and Concise Communications for Scientists and Engineers, has been recalled by CRC Press due to plagiarism (of me).  Or at least they said it was going to be recalled: it is still available for purchase at CRC Press a week after their lawyer gave me the news.  But CRC Press / Francis & Taylor / Informa is a massive corporation, so perhaps these things take time.

Anyway, it was nice of CRC to so quickly acknowledge and act on the plagiarism rather than accuse me of plagiarizing them.  They also said they would be happy to give refunds to anyone who had already purchased the book.

My only complaint is that they refused to make a public statement about the recall and the reason.  In my informal research (previous post), most publishers involved in plagiarism cases do tend to make some sort of statement … even if they initially don’t want to.  If CRC wanted to better promote its anti-plagiarism policy to potential authors, making press statements about recalled books would be a wise idea.

Publishers should also get in the habit of running every book through plagiarism-detection software: the sections copy/pasted from my site (Designing conference posters) would have been flagged instantly.  But what publisher these days isn’t doing this?  Taylor & Francis certainly does it.   So the question I have is, why did CRC Press/editor not contact me when those pages were flagged?

By the way, there were a lot of sentences about plagiarism in the book.  None of these sentences was plagiarized from my page on plagiarism.  Now that would be hilarious.

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How publishers deal with plagiarism

Alex Haley's Roots
Image from Wikipedia.

Just because I was curious … here’s how various publishers have dealt with books that contained plagiarism.  Of course, publishers don’t always make public statements about such things, so if you have additions or corrections, please let me know.  Similarly, it’s hard to figure out whether the source authors took the plagiarizer (and/or publisher) to court.  I know I have 19 in the list … am sort of reserving #20.

  1. Roots (Alex Haley 1976). Doubleday & Company was publisher.  Amazon still sells this book.  Haley was taken to court by author of The African, which Haley mined for characters, plot, quotes, etc. [details]
  2. The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys (Doris Kearns Goodwin 1987).  I gather she settled with one of her “sources” (Lynne McTaggart) before the plagiarism news was released. Goodwin requested that all copies be destroyed. [details]
  3. Alexander Graham Bell: A Life (James Mackay 1989).  He apparently paid the John Wiley & Sons to have the book recalled … as part of deal to avoid being sued by Robert V. Bruce.  Mackay was caught plagiarizing his next book, by the way. [details]
  4. The Survivor Personality (Patsy Westcott 1995).  Bloomsbury Publishers recalled all the books and had them destroyed.  Amazon sells used copies of this book. [details]
  5. When Love Calls (Gail A. McFarland 1999).  BET Publications recalled the book.  You can still buy used copies on Amazon. Gina Wilkins, who was the author plagiarized, won an out-of-court settlement. [details]
  6. The Wild Blue (Stephen Ambrose 2001).  Simon & Schuster publishes paperback with plagiarism removed. [details]
  7. Captain Henry Wirz and Andersonville Prison: A Reappraisal (R. Fred Ruhlman 2006)University of Tennessee Press recalled the book. [details]
  8. How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life (Kaavya Viswanathan 2006).  Little, Brown and Company recalled book, cancelled book deal with author. [details]
  9. Shadow Bear (Cassie Edwards 2008).  Signet said it found no evidence of plagiarism, then claimed the plagiarism was “fair use”, then decided to part ways with Edwards. [details]
  10. Free (Chris Anderson 2009).  Hyperion didn’t pull version with plagiarized passages, but did promise to correct future editions. [details]
  11. Axolotl Roadkill (Helene Hegemann 2010).  Ullstein bought rights from plagiarized author, then republished book. [details]
  12. How We Decide (Jonah Lehrer 2010).  Pulled by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. [details]
  13. Assassin of Secrets (Quentin Rowan 2011).  Little, Brown and Company issued apology, recalled all books from online, brick-and-mortar stores, offered full refund to anyone who purchased book. [details]
  14. The Raven’s Bride (Lenore Hart 2011).  St Martin’s Press defends author.  The best response to this defense is a Poe via the blog, The World of Edgar Allan Poe: “All I can do is offer some more words of wisdom from Mr. Poe himself: ‘To attempt the rebutting of a charge of plagiarism by the broad assertion that no such thing as plagiarism exists, is a sotticism, and no more.’ “  [Here’s the definition of sotticism.]  Amazon still sells this book.
  15. You’re Looking Well (Lewis Wolpert 2011).  Faber and Faber stopped selling the book in 2014.  Though it seems to be on Amazon.  He plagiarized parts of his next book, it appears. [details]
  16. Imagine (Jonah Lehrer 2012).  Houghton Mifflin recalled all copies, reimbursed people if they wanted to bring in copy to where they bought it. [details]
  17. Government Bullies (Rand Paul 2012).  Center Street promised to fix the “misunderstanding.” [details]
  18. A Call to Resurgence (Mark Driscoll 2013).  InterVarsity Press seemed sorry, and explained how author erred, but I don’t think it recalled the book. [details]
  19. Seeds of Hope (Jane Goodall with Gail Hudson 2013).  Grand Central (Hachette) had author(s) rework the book for new publication. Hachette made public announcements about recall, reasons. [details]

 

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Powerpoint plagiarism

Open up a Powerpoint or Prezi show on the Internet and it is likely to be packed with text and images copied from others: no quotation marks and no image attributions.  I think this is unfortunate, but not surprising — kids probably learn to plagiarize in grade school from their teachers, and then they watch their college professors do the same.  When students graduate and get jobs that require them to post slide decks on the internet, they’ll do the same: use other people’s text and images without indicating that that’s what they’ve done.

Powerpoint plagiarismBut why don’t teachers use quotation marks and attributions?  Teachers ask their students to cite sources on papers, so teachers clearly know about academic honesty in writing.  Here are my guesses:

  1. Teachers think that quotation marks and attribution text ruin the aesthetics of their slides.
  2. Teachers think citing others for copied text and images undermines their authority in class.
  3. Teachers know it’s wrong to plagiarize (and steal copyrighted images) but are busy and hope nobody will notice/complain.

For many teachers, it’s probably a little of all three.  And about #3, I’m left wondering why so many teachers place their plagiarized slide decks on the internet for the whole world to examine, rather than hiding them behind Blackboard and Moodle like everyone else does.

Given the common Powerpoint plagiarism by teachers, one might think education/teacher organizations would develop clear policies urging their members not to plagiarize (and not to use uncredited, copyrighted images).  The only statement on this topic I’ve found so far is from the American Historical Association (website):

“All who participate in the community of inquiry, as amateurs or as professionals, as students or as established historians, have an obligation to oppose deception. This obligation bears with special weight on teachers…”

More groups should plagiarize that sentence.

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Kids learn to plagiarize from their public school teachers

Use quotation marks to avoid plagiarism
This is a made-up quote inspired by a public school teacher who plagiarized me (twice). Please use this slide in your presentations to teachers-in-training.

This post is for public school principals and superintendents — people who are in a position to set broad educational policies and to rally teachers, staff, and students to achieve those goals.

Here’s my plea: ask your teachers to use quotation marks and citations when they copy/paste text into Prezi shows and syllabi.  Without explicit marching orders, some teachers seem to plagiarize, and then their impressionable students may end up believing plagiarism is “mildly bad but acceptable,” just like sharing MP3 files and bootleg Gossip Girl episodes.

How often do public school teachers plagiarize?  I don’t have any real data, but I’ve recognized chunks of my text on perhaps several hundred syllabi, slides, and handouts.  That might seem like a small number (there are a lot of teachers), but I see the frequency as rather depressing.  They are teachers — of all people on the planet, shouldn’t they be on top of attribution?  You don’t even need to find a special character code: it’s SHIFT + ‘.  Easy peasy.

So some teachers clearly plagiarize (and then post the files on the Internet for the whole world to see).  But why?  Let me allow a teacher to answer that.  The teacher quoted below plagiarized from me several times, excerpting parts of my Designing conference posters page onto her syllabus (no quotation marks or citation).  When I mentioned this to her, she replied,

“You’re absolutely right. Sorry again. It is a good resource and it helps kids, which is why I use it. I can see why you take issue that it is part of my syllabus which is tied to me/my class, but the teaching world couldn’t possibly, on every single document/worksheet/test we give our students, quote or cite source for chunks of information we use to help our students learn things. Education (at least where I teach) moves too quickly to do so, and we already have too much asked of us in and outside of the classroom. But yes, it is a large amount of information taken directly from your site/work.”

On her syllabus are chunks taken from other people, too (you can tell partly because the font and writing style are completely different; again, no quotation marks and no citations).  If students are able to recognize such patchwriting (likely, given it was an Advance Placement course), the students may assume plagiarism is socially acceptable.  If a lot of teachers plagiarize like the above, I think it may explain why so many students in college plagiarize.  It can also explain why they seem so shocked when they get penalized.

The teacher above is using what I like to call the Fair Use Excuse.  “Fair use” is a quasi-official term that describes a clause in the US Copyright Act, and allows people to legally use copyrighted text or images under some circumstances.  But “fair use” does not relate to (or permit) plagiarism, which is when people pass off other people’s text as theirs (no quotation marks, no attribution).  I’ve even had university copyright lawyers try the Fair Use Excuse when I mention that a faculty member has plagiarized me (i.e., copy/pasted my text with no quotation marks, no attribution).  Would teachers accept a “fair use” explanation from their students?  I don’t think so.

The Fair Use Excuse for plagiarism seems especially common among younger teachers, and I suspect they are second-generation plagiarizers who learned how to plagiarize from their teachers, the first generation that started using Powerpoint in class. Powerpoint is the entry drug for chronic plagiarizers.  Soon they moved onto Prezi, then started plagiarizing even their plagiarism statements.

By the way, the teacher mentioned above has a strong (one-sentence) warning about plagiarism in her syllabus — she clearly knows what plagiarism is and views it as academic dishonesty.  (Also by the way, her school’s academic honesty policy is plagiarized from another school.  That’s a different post, which, in fact, I’ve already made.)

So if you are a principal or superintendent, please use your influence to encourage your teachers to model academic honesty.  It’s in the same vein as asking them not to smoke in front of the school, behavior you’d think you didn’t need to explicitly prohibit, but do (you do, right?). Of course, if you’re a typical principal or superintendent, you’re thinking right now, “But my teachers are all great — this is simply not an issue at my school/district.”  And — forgive my bluntness — you’d be delusional.

If you are not a principal or superintendent, but know one, please consider sending this post to them. If you happen to be an education professor in college, you might want to add this issue to your teacher certification program (but that’s just me).

And if you are a student who has just been caught plagiarizing (oopsy!), the above information is your ticket out of the trouble!  Just analyze (via Google search) your teacher’s syllabus (or Prezi slides, or whatever) and document his/her plagiarism.  Then show the results to the principal and argue that your teacher showed you, by example, that it was totally acceptable to copy/paste without attribution.  To further make your case, plug in your school’s academic honesty policy into Google — chances are that your principal plagiarized it from a university web page. If teachers and principals do it (they’re busy!), you can, too (because you’re busier!).

For a great overview of how teachers can better reduce plagiarism in public school, this.  Please also see my page on Preventing Plagiarism, wherein I make a special plea to elementary schools teachers.

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