Last week, Eerdmans released a statement on plagiarism allegations they had received regarding three volumes of New Testament commentary by author Peter O’Brien. Given the wide variety of responses to plagiarism allegations by various publishing houses, I thought it worthwhile to commend Eerdmans for their excellent work. Several aspects of their response are worth noting.
First, the time frame is commendable. According to the statement, Eerdmans investigated and responded to the allegations within six weeks. I’m very glad to hear that they took the allegations seriously and sought to investigate and respond quickly.
Second, the process of the investigation appears to have been well done. The editors compared the text to various secondary sources and had external experts verify their findings.
Eerdmans editors compared the text of The Letter to the Hebrews (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 2010) with various secondary sources and submitted findings to external experts for verification.
Eerdmans’ conclusions are also admirable. The editors determined that the commentaries use of secondary sources did not meet acceptable standards.
Summing up the findings, Editor-in-chief James Ernest said, “Our own editors and our outside consultants agreed that what we found on the pages of this commentary runs afoul of commonly accepted standards with regard to the utilization and documentation of secondary sources. We agreed that the book could not be retained in print.”
Even though two of the volumes had much fewer problems, the editors determined that all three volumes could not remain in print.
Examination of the same author’s Letter to the Ephesians (PNTC, 1999) and Epistle to the Philippians (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 1991) found them less pervasively flawed but still untenable.
The author, Peter O’Brien, acknowledged his fault and apologized for his unintentional plagiarism.
The author, Peter T. O’Brien, was presented with the findings and provided the following response: “In the New Testament commentaries that I have written, although I have never deliberately misused the work of others, nevertheless I now see that my work processes at times have been faulty and have generated clear-cut, but unintentional, plagiarism. For this I apologize without reservation.”
Lastly, I am very pleased by the steps Eerdmans is taking regarding the plagiarized work.
● Ceasing sales and pulp stock of all three volumes, placing them out of print.
● Offering credit to individuals and trade partners who have purchased the above three volumes.
For detailed instructions on how to pursue this option, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
● Discussing best practices for quality control with press editors, series editors, and authors.
It is very encouraging to see a publishing house take such a serious stand on the issue of plagiarism. There was no attempt to downplay the severity of the allegations. There was no shooting or discrediting of the messenger. The plagiarism was investigated and the books were removed quickly. I hope that other publishing houses will follow Eerdmans’ lead in the future.