Late last week, Canon Press released a statement with the findings from their investigation into the plagiarism in A Justice Primer. To refresh our memories, the original statement they released back in December was:
Canon Press has investigated the charges of plagiarism and improper citation in A Justice Primer, and it is abundantly clear that the editor and co-author, Randy Booth, plagiarized material in multiple instances from a number of different sources. Such negligence and editorial incompetence is a gross breach of contract and obviously does not meet Canon Press’s publishing standards. As such, we have discontinued the book, effective immediately. Refer to the author statements below for more information. We would like to specifically thank Rachel Miller for bringing this to our attention so we could take the necessary steps to immediately correct such a serious error.
Apparently they have now changed their minds about portions of this statement. There are three main points that they make in the new statement. First, they claim I had help with my original article that I didn’t cite. Second, they claim that my colleague and I have a personal animosity towards Doug Wilson and that bias negatively affected the research. And third, they claim the plagiarism wasn’t intentional, was mostly citation errors, and was really not such a big deal after all. I would like to address each of these points in turn.
First, Canon Press has “discovered” that Valerie Hobbs helped me with my research. Valerie and I have worked and published together in the past, and I did ask her to help me. I did all of my own research, and the material I published in my article was my own work and my own findings. Valerie had a small, but much appreciated role in my research.
Here’s how the research process went. While preparing to write a review of the book, I discovered some passages that seemed odd. I decided to check if they were original to the book or from some other source. Because the book is only available as a hard copy book, and not electronically, I had to type up the quotes I wanted to search. Then I ran various quotes from the book through a commercially available plagiarism software. When I discovered plagiarized material in A Justice Primer, I wanted to be careful that my research was accurate.
Because large portions of the book were taken from Wilson and Booth’s blog posts, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t missing something. I didn’t want to say it was plagiarism by Wilson or Booth and have it actually be that someone had plagiarized their work. So, I discussed my findings with Valerie. She offered to run the quotes through the academic/research software she has access to as a professor and researcher. She did not turn up any additional plagiarism. What she found was consistent with what I had already discovered.
So there’s the big secret. Valerie double checked my work for accuracy. Since the findings were truly mine, I didn’t see any need to cite her assistance. But I am very grateful for her help. If Canon Press had bothered to ask me during their investigation, I would have happily supplied that information to them.
Second, Canon Press now seems to believe that because I have a history of writing things critical to Doug Wilson my findings are suspect. Doug Wilson himself addressed that very issue when he publicly thanked me back in December. He noted that while we have had our disagreements, he was thankful for my work in this matter.
It was no secret that I read A Justice Primer with the intention of critiquing it. I said so in my original post. It is absolutely true that I disagree with Doug Wilson on many theological matters. That doesn’t change the facts that I presented in my article. I was very careful in my discussion of the plagiarism not to speculate who had done the plagiarizing. Canon seems to think that I knew Booth was responsible and didn’t say so so that I could implicate Wilson. That is not true.
As I’ve said before, much of the book was taken from blog posts that Wilson and Booth had written over the last 10 years. However, there were large portions of the book that did not seem to come from either blog. The book itself gives no indication who wrote which portions or that Booth was the editor. When Canon released their first statement that Booth took full responsibility for the plagiarism, I agreed that Booth was likely the one responsible. But, because I could not know for certain who wrote what at the time of my post, I refrained from speculating. It would have been unfair to either author to do otherwise. And ultimately, as Doug Wilson has said regarding plagiarism:
But with all said and done, the person whose name is on the cover of the book is responsible to put things completely right if a problem surfaces. He may not be guilty, but he is always responsible — as basic covenant theology teaches us.
Lastly, the recent statement by Canon Press appears to say that the problems in A Justice Primer aren’t really that bad. It was unintentional. There were “citation errors.”
Let’s consider that for a moment. Before I published my article on the plagiarism, I presented my findings to 5 seminary and university professors. I wanted to know what they thought of the significance of what I’d found. All of them said it was plagiarism. They said that if they had done it, they would have been in trouble with their university/seminary/academic community. They also said that if one of their students had done the same the student would face disciplinary action including expulsion. Plagiarism is serious business.
What do universities say about plagiarism? Here are a few university statements. I’ll start with the one from Greyfriars’ Hall, the ministerial program in Moscow. New Saint Andrew’s uses a very similar statement:
Students must avoid plagiarism, misrepresentation, misappropriation of the work of others, or any other form of academic dishonesty, whether intentional or the result of reckless disregard for academic integrity (see “Plagiarism” in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers, sixth edition, p. 74 [5.2]). Such academic dishonesty may be grounds for disciplinary action by the instructor and Greyfriars’ Hall administration up to and including dismissal from Greyfriars’ Hall. (emphasis added)
This one is from the University of Sheffield:
Plagiarism(either intentional or unintentional) is the using of ideas or work of another person (including experts and fellow or former students) and submitting them as your own. It is considered dishonest and unprofessional. Plagiarism may take the form of cutting and pasting, taking or closely paraphrasing ideas, passages, sections, sentences, paragraphs, drawings, graphs and other graphical material from books, articles, internet sites or any other source and submitting them for assessment without appropriate acknowledgement. (emphasis added)
Here’s one from Duke University on what constitutes “unintentional plagiarism“:
Unintentional plagiarism is plagiarism that results from the disregard for proper scholarly procedures.
Examples of Unintentional Plagiarism:
Failure to cite a source that is not common knowledge.
Failure to “quote” or block quote author’s exact words, even if documented.
Failure to put a paraphrase in your own words, even if documented.
Failure to put a summary in your own words, even if documented.
Failure to be loyal to a source.
Or this one from Baker College on the difference between intentional and unintentional plagiarism:
Intentional plagiarism is copying someone’s words or ideas without citing them, in order to pass them off as your own (in other words, cheating).
Unintentional plagiarism is accidentally leaving off the required citation(s) because you don’t understand the rules of citation and plagiarism.
Going back to Canon’s statement, I didn’t speculate in my article as to whether or not the plagiarism was intentional. It’s certainly possible that Booth unintentionally plagiarized in places. In his own statement, he said he wasn’t aware that he had to cite dictionary definitions. And failure to put Tim Challies’ words in quotation marks or as a blockquote could also fall under this category, since there was some attempt at citation near that passage.
However, the chapter on Shimei is still hard to explain. Whole sentences and paragraphs were taken from the two sources and weaved together without any indication where the material came from. It’s hard to understand how that happens accidentally. But either way, intentionally or unintentionally, all of these are still plagiarism, by definition.
According to the academic statements above, if a student commits plagiarism, he or she will face discipline whether the plagiarism was intentional or unintentional. No one but Randy Booth knows if he intended to commit plagiarism or not. And in the end, it doesn’t matter. Either way the material was plagiarized.
It’s also plagiarism to take words from another source, change them slightly, and use them as your own without citation:
I hope that Canon Press and the authors involved will be more careful in the future with their citations. I also think it would have been wise for Canon to have kept to their original statement on the plagiarism in A Justice Primer. It was clear and concise. I don’t believe their current statement has done them any favors.