Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Plagiarism: OK if You've Already Got the PhD

The Washington Post, citing 02138 Magazine as its source, exposes the practice of celebrity professors at Harvard, who produce an unbelievable number of books while fulfilling their teaching responsibilities. . . . and while keeping their face in the press with interviews, tours, and talking head appearances.

(You have to scroll to the second story on the WaPo page, btw. )

F’rinstance Alan Deshowitz, Law Professor, has published a dozen books since 2000.

Now, I couldn’t write a dozen books in 7 years if I did absolutely nothing else but work on them day and night. Most authors couldn’t. (a million monkeys, maybe.)

Jacob Hale Russell (of 02138) says Dershowitz pays a couple of full-time researchers and 3 or 4 part-timers $11.50 an hour to churn these books out. Dershowitz also repackages his own published text and chapters under new titles. It's legal.

Another Harvard Law Prof, Charles Ogletree,was not too disturbed when others found that his book contained several uncited paragraphs of another author's published text. Ogletree used the old “my research assistant copied text verbatim from another source and another assistant accidently left out the attribution while typing” excuse. That's gotten a lot of mileage lately, but the academic community doesn't seem to mind.

As Peter Carlson of WaPo observes, students get expelled for such antics. It’s called plagiarism, and you’d think law professors—especially as their value lies in their rep—would put themselves above suspicion. You'd think that their peers, at least, would demand that.

Of course, you’d think historians like Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin would review the text from their books as well, removing passages lifted whole from other authors. But they used the same excuse—my research assistants wrote it and forgot the attribution.

Look, if your research assistants are writing your books, their names should be on the spine.

The practice of sending out underpaid grad students to compile books that will sell because a noted scholar—honest or not—is listed as the author has apparently become acceptable. I find it vile and shameful.

For the record, none of my professors ever did anything like that.

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