Friday, October 10, 2014

Godot Walks Into a Bar.....

It's been a startling week in the land of stolen words.  An interloper has burst snarling into the peaceful grounds, a rough beast named "Consequences."  Talk about an unexpected guest.

On October 10, the Army War College revoked the masters degree of Senator and Plagiarist John Walsh.  The College found, in reasoning the Cabinet can only applaud, that if the Senator did not write the essay from which his degree flowed, he should not possess the degree.   The College did not spend time impugning the motives of those who had revealed the plagiarism, nor did it threaten them -- this despite the fact that unlike most Colleges, it has weapons at its disposal more powerful than the sharp keystrokes of its administrators.   No, the War College reacted as if, how to put it, as if the facts mattered. And so in the end, did Senator Walsh.  He apologized to the people of his state, and  correctly declared that the revocation of the degree did not take away from his service as a soldier.  The Cabinet is not one for quibbles.  It seems an honorable end to an unsightly but finite mess.

A second development, while hopeful, is less honorable, and its mess, if not infinite, far larger.  The University of Nebraska Press has admitted that Matthew C. Whitaker's Peace Be Still is not worthy of being sold. Or has it?   On Nebraska's website, the book is still being hawked in hardcover ($75) and paperback ($30).    On Amazon, Peace Be Still is also still listed for sale, including on Kindle, for those who prefer their plagiarism with a modern, back-lit glow.  There is no notice anywhere of anything amiss, nor any offer to buy back copies of the book.  And yet, and yet:  the rough beast of consequence snorts in the distance.  In response to our weary traveler's bold diorama of plagiarism unbound, and to Rick Shenkman's queries on History News Network, there is this, on HNN's website:

"The University of Nebraska Press is in the process of incorporating revisions to Peace Be Still proposed by its author, Matthew Whitaker.  These changes will address the issues of paraphrasing and attribution that have come to light since the book's publication.  Nebraska currently has no inventory for this title, and future printings will reflect the author's revisions."

The first thing to note is that this is simply untrue. The Cabinet has dipped into our Exposing Perfidy budget, and can report that we have on October 11 purchased, for $16.50, a Kindle edition of precisely the book Nebraska claims it's no longer selling.

The Cabinet must also wearily smile at Nebraska's suggestion that the revisions are "proposed by its author."  Proposed by its author, and accepted by its Press, only after months of denials that there was anything amiss.  After months of insistence that any criticism of the book reflected moral failings in the critics rather than a simple lack of skill in the author and editor.  The revisions to Peace Be Still are "proposed by its author" in precisely the sense that Germany's World Cup victory was "proposed by Brazil."

Perhaps that $16.50 is irritating the Cabinet more than it should, but we also can't help objecting to the odd phrasing of this notice.  There is, after all, a simple and well-understood word for what Nebraska deems "issues of paraphrasing and attribution."  That word is plagiarism.   Ah, well.  This is at least progress.  The Cabinet hopes, with its ardent if wooden heart, that the "revisions" do not simply mean Peace Be Still will be run several times more through plagiarism software.  Other Presses and other scholars do not believe that their goal is disguising theft rather than contributing to
 the sum of human knowledge   Nebraska and Professor Whitaker might take note.  Really:  they might.  The Cabinet will turn its face to the sun and hope.  We are optimistic that the Cabinet has purchased the very last copy of  Peace Be Still in its current state.  We are confident that Amazon and the Press' purchasing site will soon give notice that the current version of the book is  unworthy of a scholarly press.  We are hopeful that some at the Press, if  not the director or departing editor in chief, will grasp the need to figure out how it came to participate in passing off an unedited pastiche of barely manipulated clippings, as an authored and refereed piece of original scholarship.  Despite the press's public passivity and air of sullen nonchalance, we know some who work there want never to be part of a saga such as this, again. About one other thing, we can only wonder.  Does Professor Whitaker's institution, like the War College, believe that rewards and titles bestowed for tasks completed, should be revoked if it turns out that those jobs were never truly done?

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