Brian VanDeMark: Accused of PlagiarismHistorians/History
In April 2013 Mr. VanDeMark asked that we take down this page, noting that an article by Yale University historian Daniel Kevles in the New York Review of Books exonerated him in 2003 from the charge of plagiarism. In the article, VanDeMark noted, that Kevles wrote that " 'something like half' of the allegations were reasonable paraphrases and the remaining ones were 'not important.' " We agreed to draw attention to Kevles's piece.
According to the Times more than 30 passages in VanDeMark's new book, Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb (Little Brown), are"identical, or nearly identical" to those found in four other books written by Richard Rhodes, William Lanouette, Greg Herken, and Robert Norris.
Mr. Norris told HNN that"in none of the examples on the four lists [of parallels published on HNN] is there a footnote to our books, not a one." He noted that the book contains copious footnotes and in places correctly lists the source of quotations from Herken and Lanouette.
From the account in the NYT:
The similar passages, which do not appear in quotations or with footnotes, were first identified by two of the authors after one was asked by The New York Times and the other by The Los Angeles Times to review the book,"Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb" by Brian VanDeMark and published by Little, Brown.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr. VanDeMark, who was a co-author with Robert S. McNamara of the best-selling memoir"In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam" (Times Books, 1995), said he was confident that"detached readers would find a majority" of the passages that were identified by the authors were"reasonable paraphrases." But he added that"a minority should, and will, be reworded or credited in a footnote."...
The first author to discover Mr. VanDeMark's apparent borrowings was Mr. Herken, a curator and historian at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. Mr. Herken, the author of"Brotherhood of the Bomb," was asked by The Los Angeles Times earlier this month to review"Pandora's Keepers."
By that time Kirkus Reviews, which reviews books before they are published, said of"Pandora's Keepers," in part, that"Though less well written than Richard Rhodes's `Making of the Atomic Bomb,' VanDeMark's study does a good job of exploring the culture of science, especially the science involved in making weapons and the moral dilemmas such work occasions." Publisher's Weekly lauded Mr. VanDeMark for bringing the nine men who built the first atom bomb"engrossingly to life."
But when he sat down to read the book on the weekend of May 16, Mr. Herken had a different view."I didn't see anything new here," he said."Then I started reading some more and recognized some things I had written."
"I was sort of transfixed," he added."It was almost disbelief."
Mr. Herken said he called The Los Angeles Times to say that he could not review the book because,"I think it's a work of plagiarism."
Robert Norris, author of Racing for the Bomb: Gen. Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man (Steerforth Press, 2002) was asked by the NYT to review VanDeMark's book.
[Norris]wrote to ask Mr. Herken if he thought the book was worth reviewing. Mr. Herken told Mr. Norris of his suspicions and asked Mr. Norris to keep a careful eye out for his own prose and scholarship interspersed in Mr. VanDeMark's book.
"Lo and behold," Mr. Norris recalled in a telephone interview,"within a half-hour after I have the book, I check the Groves' quotes and begin to turn up the list."
VanDeMark is the co-author of Robert McNamara's memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. His website indicats that he"assisted Clark Clifford with his bestseller, Counsel to the President." He has been at the Naval Academy for a decade. Little Brown released the book three weeks ago and according to the NYT has indicated it has no immediate plans to withdraw it. (The official publication date is June 2, 2003.) 15,000 copies were printed.
June 3, 2003
From the NYT, June 3, 2003:
Little, Brown yesterday withdrew a book about the creation of the atomic bomb after four authors complained that more than 30 uncredited passages in it were identical or nearly identical to passages in their works. Michael Pietsch, the publisher of Little, Brown, said the company had taken the unusual step of recalling the book,"Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb," from bookstores because"after speaking with the author, we agreed there were errors in the book that justified withdrawing it." Mr. Pietsch said that the author, Brian VanDeMark, an associate professor at the United States Naval Academy, would"make any necessary revisions" and that the book would be reissued later but only in paperback.
October 29, 2003
From the Washington Post, Oct. 29, 2003:
A U.S. Naval Academy history professor accused of plagiarism lost his tenured status and his pay was cut after a board of his peers concluded that he had committed acts of "gross carelessness" in his book about the atomic bomb, the academy's academic dean announced yesterday.
The three-member investigating committee found that Brian VanDeMark's book "Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb" "included a number of instances of improper borrowing and inadequate paraphrasing, and that these improprieties constituted plagiarism," Dean William C. Miller said at a news conference. The committee also found that the borrowing was the result of carelessness and not deliberate.
Miller said that effective yesterday, VanDeMark, a professor at the academy since 1990 and once considered a rising star, lost the tenure he earned in 1998 and will be on probation for at least three years, after which he may reapply for tenure. VanDeMark's status was also reduced from associate professor to entry-level assistant professor, and his annual salary was cut from $73,317 to $63,043. He also will be required to correct the instances of borrowing in "Pandora's Keepers" before it is republished. The book was recalled by its publisher, Little, Brown and Co., soon after the allegations were publicized in late May.
VanDeMark, 43, declined interviews yesterday but issued a statement through the academy in which he said: "I reiterate my personal responsibility and accept accountability for my unintentional mistakes....t of secondary sources."
The announcement ends VanDeMark's spell in academic limbo and allows him to resume teaching core courses at the academy in the spring semester. The academy began an investigation into the accusations immediately after they were published by the New York Times. Miller said that the investigation, conducted by his fellow history professors, was completed by late June or early July and that VanDeMark took nearly a month to respond.
After that, Miller was left to render his decision, bearing in mind that VanDeMark, like all of the academy's civilian faculty, is a federal employee and entitled to protections afforded civil servants.
Miller said that he spent much time pondering whether the plagiarism had been deliberate. "I relied very heavily on the judgment of the professors we used to consider this inquiry," he said, and they found that "the whole approach to documenting the sources of the book was flawed," pointing to sloppiness rather than purposeful theft. The academy did not release the text of the report on the grounds that it is part of VanDeMark's confidential file.
- Historians on the Hot Seat
- HNN Poll: Brian VanDeMark ... Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?
- HNN Poll: Should the American Historical Association Stop Investigating Scholars Who Commit Fraud and Plagiarism?
- AHA: Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct
- OAH: Professional Integrity
- What Is Plagiarism?
- 2002: Year of the Scandal
- Stephen Oates: I Stood Accused of Plagiarism
- Ralph Luker: The Year When We Got Caught
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ian - 10/30/2003
Throughout its history, the Navy has successfully met all its challenges. America's naval service began during the American Revolution, when on Oct. 13, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized a few small ships. Creating the Continental Navy. Esek Hopkins was appointed commander in chief and 22 officers were commissioned, including John Paul Jones.
From those early days of naval service, certain bedrock principles or core values have carried on to today. They consist of three basic principles.
Honor: "I will bear true faith and allegiance ..." Accordingly, we will: Conduct ourselves in the highest ethical manner in all relationships with peers, superiors and subordinates; Be honest and truthful in our dealings with each other, and with those outside the Navy; Be willing to make honest recommendations and accept those of junior personnel; Encourage new ideas and deliver the bad news, even when it is unpopular; Abide by an uncompromising code of integrity, taking responsibility for our actions and keeping our word; Fulfill or exceed our legal and ethical responsibilities in our public and personal lives twenty-four hours a day. Illegal or improper behavior or even the appearance of such behavior will not be tolerated. We are accountable for our professional and personal behavior. We will be mindful of the privilege to serve our fellow Americans.
Ian W. - 10/30/2003
Does it strike anyone as significant that the most egregious cases have been connected with professionally trained historians, rather than writers of history who are not history professors with doctoral degrees?
I would have expected the reverse, giving the close peer scrutiny applied to academic historians' work from the graduate careers forward. And yet all of the major cases in recent years have been from authors with PhDs, though in several cases the authors were publishing for a broad, popular audience.
JJD - 10/5/2003
Trying to contact you. What's your email???
NYGuy - 6/8/2003
"I hope you don't believe that history is so inconsequential. Works of history can affect people's thinking about present-day political issues, so it's true that "history has consequences."
For the most part history is inconsequential for predicting current events, that does not mean it is not helpful. A comparision to the stock market would show that predicting the market action from the past action has not been too successful, particularly in the past three years. And of course the prediction of a quagmire in Iraq was wrong.
One also has to take into account how the landscape changes. What happened in the Agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution period would not be of much help to the present "Technology Revolution", which is only about 25 years old. We have seen that with the internet and the ability to communicate with anyone around the world it probably has more impact on peoples thinking than a review of Ancient Iraq history.
Therefore, in making predictions, the current situation in technology has to be considered which I believe supercedes the historical perspective. And of course you have to consider the current cast of leaders. Fortuneately we have a great leader in GW who understands technology, the apparent reducion of time and distances, and how it enhances the relative strength between the U. S. and other nations.
J. Kent McGaughy - 6/7/2003
Yes, the works of some historians can and do effect the way that people view current day political issues; but I find fears that any one book having a long term indelible impact on events specious at best. On occasion a book comes along that excites and agitates people to the point of distraction--Charles Beard's _Economic Interpretation of the Constitution_ (1913) is one that comes immediately to mind, _Arming America_ is another. As for _Arming America_ being cited in a legal case that might reach the Supreme Court, so what?
When I initially made my comments, the focus was on recent news stories about historians and plagiarism and some general thoughts regarding things we can do to prevent such occurances. Yet, now it seems that it's shifted from that subject to _Arming America_. When will we get past this? The horse is dead, yet we're still here beating it.
Josh Greenland - 6/7/2003
"_Arming America_ is by no means alone in this category, I am sure all of us are aware of a book that is sloppy in its presentation, organization, and, occasionally, loose with the facts, and yet proves to be a commercial success. While academics bicker back and forth about these books, the authors and publishers are laughing on the way to the bank. The only victims are the historical profession and the unsuspecting non-specialist reader who then accepts the distortions and errors as fact."
I hope you don't believe that history is so inconsequential. Works of history can affect people's thinking about present-day political issues, so it's true that "history has consequences." Arming America was used in at least one court brief and was referred to in a judicial decision in at least one case that might make it to the Supreme Court.
Andrew Todd - 6/6/2003
The cumulative weight of evidence may be sufficient for a case of plagiarism, but one may have reservations about the extent to which particular allegations are being made, in effect, into claims of copyright on particular facts and sources. I should like to look at a couple of the points of similarity.
from: "Parallels with William Lanouette's Work" http://hnn.us/articles/1484.html Allegation #4, neutrons, etc.:
The essential similarity is a matter of scientific fact. That is the way a chain reaction works. Granted, both authors used the round number of two neutrons, rather than a more accurate 2.5, but that is common historical (literary) style. (note, for example, the exchange between Charles Babbage and Alfred Tennyson, cited in the Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes)
from: "Parallels with Robert Norris's Book" http://hnn.us/articles/1486.html Allegation #6, "on july 2," etc.
Here, we have a source quotation. Robert Norris has quoted the source verbatim. Brian VanDeMark, on the other hand, has quoted the source indirectly, in order to allow himself the privilege of translating it from telegraphic shorthand into english. With clever use of ellipsis, VanDeMark might have strengthened his prose by extractive a little bit more direct quotation, but that is a quibble on my part. These are about as fundamentally different treatments of the given source as one can imagine. The essential constraining similarity is the language of the source.
In most of the parallel instances, the similarities are between what are probably indirect quotations by both authors. In such a case, it is the source who is really the original author.
from: "Parallels with Richard Rhodes's Books" http://hnn.us/articles/1485.html Allegation #2, "Oppenheimer wondered," etc.
Judging from the context, this is obviously the witness E. O. Lawrence reporting as to Oppenheimer's words and state of mind. Again, one would have to track down the common source, and look at its language, But again, the constraining similarity seems to be what Lawrence said.
Presumably, the way to avoid getting entangled in a case like this is to aggressively force as much source material as possible into direct quotation, using ellipsis.
The thinking person's lesson from the David Abraham case, for example (cited in Peter Novick, _That Noble Dream_, 1988, pp.612-21), was never to take notes in archives, but always to photocopy everything, and to bring the copies home for use in the actual writing of chapters. Abraham copied passages in longhand in an archive, and made notes at the same time, and sometimes the two kinds of material became commingled, and he wound up presenting his assumptions as documented fact. As Novick pointed out, any number of famous historians had done the same thing. The Bellesiles case is almost a logical extension of the Abraham case, in that he seems to have done intentionally and consistently what Abraham did occasionally and accidentally. Again, the thinking person's conclusion is that historians need to get involved in systematically republishing primary sources, and then to position historical writing not as God's Truth, but rather as something between a lawyer's brief and a guide to the primary source literature.
Part of the issue in the present case is that of "celebrity topics." VanDeMark chose to do yet another book on the atom bomb. By contrast, a quick Alta Vista search suggests that there has probably been very little work done on the hand grenade-- and hand grenades have killed vastly more people than atom bombs. Going after the hand grenade would have tended to take a historian to sources which had not been so intensively visited by other historians. I suppose it would work out to interviewing veterans or the like. In social history, historians tend to space themselves out. There are vastly more trade union locals with recoverable archives than there are labor historians to write about them.
I do history of computers myself. There are perhaps a couple of dozen academic historians in the field, as distinct from engineer "fan-historians" and journalists writing in the tradition of Tracy Kidder (_The Soul of a New Machine_). There are only a few million pages of old trade and professional journals to plow through, and other people use different kinds of sources. I've been forced to adopt sampling procedures, e.g.. six months every five years, simply to keep the volume of material in a single journal down to what I can skim through. Even if we had a benevolent dictator parceling materials out, we could not read them all. So it is basically easy to "move out whenever one sees the smoke from a neighbor's chimney."
J. Kent McGaughy - 6/6/2003
The _Arming America_ digression aside, the problems involving historians and plagiarism that has garnered so much attention lately is reflective of a larger problem for the profession and has been building for quite some time.
The surest way to avoid plagiarism is to actually write something new, to present an argument or interpretation that is fresh. Over the past three decades, historians who have followed this route have written on subjects that are increasingly narrow in scope, to the point that the topics have become so esoteric that they only appeal to specialists in the field. Consequently, the works of many academic historians find outlets in some university presses or professional journals and beyond that, hopefully they find a place on the shelf of a university library.
Yet, history remains a subject that has widespread appeal among non-specialits, especially World War II, the Civil War, etc. and commercial publishing houses seek out historical works for this reason. As far as the publisher is concerned, however, their primary goal is to sell books. If they can find an author who can write well, and get that author to write about a popular subject, then the publishing house has little inclination or interest in determining whether or not the author actually has something new to say or contribute to the subject at hand. All the publisher is interested in is having the author churn out another book so they can get it into the bookstores and start selling it (think the late Stephen Ambrose).
The situation described above has adversely affected the historical profession adversely in two ways: first, the plagiarism scandals we've all heard so much about; and second, rushing books into print with such speed that errors are overlooked, citations are not checked, etc. _Arming America_ is by no means alone in this category, I am sure all of us are aware of a book that is sloppy in its presentation, organization, and, occasionally, loose with the facts, and yet proves to be a commercial success. While academics bicker back and forth about these books, the authors and publishers are laughing on the way to the bank. The only victims are the historical profession and the unsuspecting non-specialist reader who then accepts the distortions and errors as fact.
To my mind the solution to this problem is going to have to come from the historical profession itself--and it's not rocket science. Individual historians need to police themselves and make sure that whenever a subject for a possible book is entertained that it actually makes a new contribution to the study of that field or area, that it's not merely repeatitive of so much that is already there. Academic historians who train graduate students should make more of an effort to make sure that their students are developing subjects that have more widespread interest and appeal, but have not been overly researched, or if their students go that route, then make sure that the student has a complete bibliography of ALL the secondary literature that has been published on the subject and that they've taken these other works under serious consideration before going forward with their own work.
Some who read this may think that these comments are already being followed and complied with, I beg to differ. If that were indeed the case, then we wouldn't be having this sort of discussion regarding so many prominent historians, and I suspect (fear) that the cases of plagiarism in graduate programs across the country (if trends in undergraduate programs are to taken as a gauge) make the scandals we read about in the newspapers pale in comparison.
J. Kent McGaughy, Ph.D.
Charles V. Mutschler - 6/5/2003
Thanks for the response. Mr. Luker.
I agree, expelling someone from the AHA isn't much. However, I do think the history department chairman you mention has a very valid point. Why should one pay the dues to belong in a professional organization which doesn't work to enhance the standing of the profession?
Not to pick on the AHA and the OAH, but they seem to be missing the point that the publishers apparently understand. Appearances do matter. When a professional organization announces tht it costs too much to deal with plagiarism (paraphrasing Mr. Cronan of the AHA), or tries to finesse its support for utterly discredited work (the OAH Newsletter articles on _Arming America_), it seems to send the message that accuracy and honesty are not important in scholarship. I would think that is not the message that a professional organization would want the public to receive.
Fair enough, the AHA and the OAH are not the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association. Neither can prevent a person from hanging out his shingle as an independent historian. There is no professional license required to practice history. However, it would seem reasonable to have professional organizations take note of unprofessional behavior, and publicize the fact that certain works are known to suffer from problems such as plagiarism or dubious research practices.
The big publishers are taking a financial hit by pulling works from their catalog when they have been discredited. I would like to think that the AHA and the OAH could at least note that certain books and articles have been discredited. If I were on the OAH editorial board, it would seem like the logical thing would be to invite either Mr. Cramer or Mr. Lindgren to submit an article on the failings of _Arming America_ for publication in the _Journal of American History_, rather than give the appearance of trying to ignore the matter.
As the sordid news about professional misconduct continues to surface, it becomes harder and harder to defend failing students for plagiarism and academic misconduct when the professional historians cannot prevent their own from engaging in those activities.
I DO fail students for plagiarism, and I am amazed to find so little concern about academic honesty on the part of the profession's two largest professional organizations.
Thanks for reading.
Charles V. Mutschler
Ralph E. Luker - 6/5/2003
Mr. Mutschler, As I said elsewhere, a threat to expel someone from the AHA is akin to Br'ar Bear threatening to throw Br'ar Rabbitt in the briar patch. Another critic of the decision by the AHA on these lists is a historian, chairman of a history department at a significant institution of higher learning, and a self-proclaimed non-member of the AHA. If being outside the AHA is no professional handicap to him, how could it be said to be a punishment to someone who violates standards of professional conduct?
Steven Uanna - 6/4/2003
Anyone who researches the Manhattan Project and wades through the volumes of information on the subject (Robert s. Norris' recent book RACING FOR THE BOMB-General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's indespensible man) which is over 700 pages long including the index can be forgiven if they did not change every sentence or footnote everything. The real danger is that Mr. VanDeMark is a military history teacher at the U.S. Naval Academy and may be called upon at some point to interpret and perhaps write official miliatry history. He may have done this innocently. He should be allowed to be heard and present his research and explain how this could happen. The Manhattan Project is a very complex subject, and I am far from an expert on it but I have an interest in it. My father, Major William Lewis Uanna was the main security officer on the Manhattan Project, and for a time was "the intelligence officer to the Secretary of War" and made sure Truman's order to Secretary of War Stimson to drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan was carried out.It is my contention that the very historical material that Mr. VanDeMark is accused of plagiarising is in itself inaccurate.
Take for instance Mr. Norris' book mentioned above. General Leslie Groves was not the Manhattan Project's indespensible man. Every serious historian should jump at the chance to investigate the cover up committed by Leslie Groves and his deputy on the Manhattan Project Kenneth Nichols in hiding the true role of Major William "Bud" Uanna in the Manhattan Project, The Atomic Energy Commission and the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. You can see it for yourself on http://www.securitysuperchief.com. Especially when it is known that "Bud" Uanna was one of the key planners of the CIA, was the Special Assistant for Security to the Secretary of Commerce and was the Chief of the Division of Physical Security, beginning at the height of the McCartyhy era in 1953-54, the files of McCarthy's closed hearings have recently been released. All these roles have been covered up. Quite a cover up. I informed Ms. Arnita Jones at the American Historical Association of this on June 1, 2003 and also about much of the informationh I am telling you. I asked her for guidance, so far no response. Bud Uanna's role in the Manhattan Project and in these other positions has been highlighted in newspaper and magazine articles and in two movies. James Whitmore portrayed him in ABOVE AND BEYOND and Stephen Macht poortrayed him in the 1980 movie ENOLA GAY. At the end of ENOLA GAY it said that he had been murdered in Africa and all records of his death have disappeared. The man who provided this information to VIACOM, the makers of ENOLA GAY, was Paul Tibetts the pilot of the Enola GAy in World War II. I am in admiration of some of the authors of the books on the Manattan Project and suspicious of others. I claim that Groves and Nichols intentionally hid my fathers role. A real job for the historians now is tracing how Groves and Nichols skirted his role. (And how historians have missed it. I give clues in my web site). When you visit my web site you will see that that was no easy task. Then figure out why they wanted to do that. I call upon the "experts", Richard Rhodes, Gregg Herken especially Robert S. Norris to take a look. And what is very distressing is that in a scenario similar to the VanDeMark situation, the books of Groves (NOW IT CAN BE TOLD) and Nichols (THE ROAD TO TRINITY) are used as Military historical records.
There is something in my web site for a variety of historians, Presidential (I think Michael R. Beschloss would be fascinated), Miliatary (the Atomic Bomb and post war atomic policy and strategy, plus his work in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps starting right before WW II began), Diplomatic(Bud Uanna not only was the body guard of John Foster Dulles but he protedted all visiting VIP's including Queen Elizabeth and Khrushchev personally when they visited the United States. Not to mention all the manuals and statutes he wrote (at the Atomic Energy Commission he wrote the "Q" Clearance). And students of the Assassination of President kennedy will be amazed at the new evidence I present about the conspirators. The people that were probably behind his exile to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and far away from the National Security Council's "Special Committee".
So the issue here is not just plagiarism, it is the plagiarism of a false history. Visit http://www.securitysuperchief.com and see for yourse3lf. If you care about history!
Charles V. Mutschler - 6/4/2003
I was surprised that the decision by the AHA to stop investigating professional misconduct received so little attention, especially following the commentary about 2002 being the year that historians got caught behaving badly. The newest disclosures make the decision of the AHA much harder to understand.
Does anybody else think that plagiarism and faked scholarship hurts the profession? Personally, I think the AHA and the OAH should be a lot more concerned with cleaning up the appearance that misconduct in the profession is rampant than anything else right now.
Mr. Luker's question was, I paraphrase, "what can the organization do?" Fair enough, Mr. Luker. My answer would be that a good place to start would be dropping plagiarists and those found guilty of intentionally falsifying their work from the organization's membership.
What bothers me is that I see the publishers are demanding higher standards of academic conduct for historians than the professional organizations.
Charles V. Mutschler
Josh Greenland - 6/4/2003
"The embarrassment for historians is that it was not us who first recognized the problems."
Joyce Lee Malcolm was among the early critics, but she was ignored by other historians.
dan - 6/3/2003
If you read enough, some of your writing will start to resemble that which you read. I think the computers may LOWER the incidence of paraphrasical plagiarism... The human brain is an amazing, and remarkably efficient, organ - sometimes too efficient for our own rules!
Jonathan Dresner - 6/2/2003
The fungibility of digital text is certainly part of the problem I see with my students' plagiarism and the tendency to work at the last minute is very much enabled by computers, though there is also a certain decline in the teaching of writing standards ("I've never had to footnote anything before") which also plays a role.
But I'll accept excuses from first-years that I won't from seniors, and I'll accept excuses from business majors that I won't from history majors, and none of them are acceptable from a professional historian with graduate training and previous (presumably properly cited) publications.
VanDeMark is at the US Naval Academy! Honor code, anyone?
Andrew Ward - 6/2/2003
I'm beginning to think that this wave of plagiarism and accusations of plagiarism are both the results of computers. Suspect passages are much more easy to locate now with the use of search and find, and direct quotes are much more easily mixed up with an author's paraphrase when transcribed onto a computer. It is now possible to cut and paste your way toward a deadline, linking each little nugget with a segue, and pass it off as history. If you or your researchers are not careful about quotation marks, when you finally get around to writing something you have no way of knowing what's your phrasing and what's someone else's without looking everything up a second time in the original source, which defeats the time-saving purpose of transcribing and assembling notes into a word or data management program in the first place. There's no excuse for any of this, of course, and it doesn't account for missing ascriptions, but I wonder if this phenomenon is not so much the result of decaying morals as the speed at which computers tempt us into working.
Ralph E. Luker - 6/2/2003
Mr. Williams, I take no credit for "exposing" the flaws in Michael Bellesiles's _Arming America_ and, indeed, might have read the entire book without recognizing that there were problems, as did so many of Bellesiles's reviewers (which, of course, assumes that reviewers of a book have read it before writing a review of it). The credit belongs to: 1) Clayton Cramer, 2) James Lindgren, and 3) the historians who contributed to the _William & Mary Quarterly_ symposium. The embarrassment for historians is that it was not us who first recognized the problems.
Clayton E. Cramer - 6/2/2003
There are plenty of times that in the course of your research, you find that some other writer has done a wonderful job of expressing an idea--and any paraphrase that you come up with just isn't as crisp, or as clear. Me? I just put quotes around someone else's fine piece of writing, and don't try to pass it off as my own.
Of course, I rely more on primary sources than a lot of "real historians," so this isn't a problem for me.
Jim Williams - 6/2/2003
Some historians did read Bellesisles' book carefully, particularly several with specific knowledge in the topics upon which he wrote. Historians with a statistical bent who focussed on the colonial and early national periods knew his argument had gaping holes in it, as Ralph Luker demonstrated in a devastating fashion.
The problem was that the committee awarding the Bancroft prize and many reviewers of the book lacked this type of expertise. They also either knew so little about farm life or were so committed to gun control (or both) that common sense was ignored. To those familiar with farm life, Bellesisles' arguments are ludicrous.
In my field of expertise, two decades ago Gerda Lerner received acclaim and awards for The Creation of Patriarchy, a work which experts on women in antiquity such as Sarah Pomeroy and Mary Lefkowitz consider seriously flawed in methodology and probably wrong in conclusions. When Mary challenged Gerda at a panel on the book at the Berkshire Women's Conference, Gerda responded (as reported to me by a credible spectator), "If that's not the way things were, that's the way things should have been." History isn't about the way things should have been. "Political Correctness" can win out in the short run over "historical correctness". It won't win out in the long run, and Lerner's argument is rejected by most experts on women in antiquity today.
I would also add that Bellesisles' misdeed was not plagiarism - the question at issue here - but either sloppiness of the highest order or deliberate fraud. To me, the latter is a more serious offense.
Such works do have a useful result, however. They stimulate scholars to review evidence critically and often to arrive at a more accurate understanding of an issue than existed prior to the overblown or deceptive argument being publicized. In my field of expertise, we have advanced remarkably beyond the sometimes superficial and misleading analyses of Sir Kenneth Dover, Michel Foucault, and John Boswell on ancient homosexuality to a much more thorough understanding of ancient attitudes in this controversial area. Hopefully, Bellesisles' book will stimulate the same hard-headed and meticulous analysis of sources which the path-breaking work of these scholars instigated.
Josh Greenland - 6/1/2003
Maybe it's an exception, but historians didn't read Michael Bellesiles' gun-related work carefully before giving him awards and passing resolutions in his defense.
Steven Uanna - 5/31/2003
Visit http://www.securitysuperchief.com and find out who really ran the Manhattan Project! The authors can argue about how to word General Leslie Groves version of what happened on the Manhattan Project and post war nuclear policy but visit http://www.securitysuperchief.com and meet the man that has been left out of the "OFFICIAL" version of American intelligence and security history, William "Bud" Uanna. He is the man who played the main role in the Manhattan Project. He was a lawyer, engineer, scientist and Counter Intelligence Corps agent. He was also the "Intelligence Officer to the Secretary of War" and made sure President Truman's order to drop the A-Bomb on Japan and end World War II was carried out. I challenge the authors of all the books on the Manhattan Project to explain how a man who has been written about in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, been portrayed in two movies, James Whitmore played him in ABOVE AND BEYOND and Stephen Mach played him in ENOLA GAY, could not get so much as a mention in all the accounts of the Manhattan Project and post war atomic history. Bud Uanna oversaw the transfer of the Manhattan Project to the Atomic Energy Commission. He named the "Q Clearance" and oversaw the construction of the storage bases for the Atomic Bombs right after the war. Visit http://www.securitysuperchief.com. Here you will learn about the amazing career of Bud Uanna, he was Secretary of State John Foster Dulles bodyguard at the U.S. Department of State where he was the Chief of the Division of Physical Security. The movie ENOLA GAY said he was murdered in Africa. The source of this information? Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay. Visit the site. It introduces you to Bud Uanna and reviews some history that most Americans are unaware of.You will get new insight into J. Robert Oppenheimer's case and also the Rosenbergs. And much more. Thank you.
Jonathan Dresner - 5/31/2003
Actually, I would argue that there is something about historians that makes them more likely to catch plagiarism: they read each other's work with great care and attention, and reviewers are frequently people with great knowledge about the subject matter and relevant scholarship.
Danny Mintz - 5/31/2003
Is there something about historians that makes them more susceptible than other academics are to becoming plagiarists?
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