Monday, September 27, 2004

Crimson with rage at plagiarizing professors

I already posted once about the flurry of plagiarism scandals on the HLS faculty. Today's Crimson has an article covering the accusations and the aftermath. I don't mean this to be a real "Fisking" (hate the term), but the whole piece is chockablock with nonsense and questionable argument.
Harvard constitutional law scholar Laurence H. Tribe ’62 apologized yesterday for not properly crediting another professor’s work in his popular 1985 book God Save This Honorable Court, one day after a conservative political magazine accused him of plagiarism.
Note that Tribe is not described as liberal, but the Weekly Standard is a "conservative political magazine."
Tribe, who was named one of Harvard’s 19 University Professors last June, defended Goodwin against plagiarism charges two years ago on the grounds that her work was “closely documented with something like 3,500 footnotes.”
Tribe’s 1985 book did not contain footnotes and endnotes—a decision he made as part of a “well-meaning effort to write a book accessible to a lay audience.”
I'm not sure how endnotes (which do not interrupt the flow of the text in any significant way or take up space in the body of the work) make a book inaccessible. If Tribe had to dumb things down this much to make the book useful, maybe it isn't such a great and important scholarly work. (The Weekly Standard dissection makes it sound like a Cliff's Notes version of Abraham's book, in fact.)
. . . both Ogletree and Dershowitz jumped to defend their colleague from the charges leveled against him.
Ogletree, speaking to The Crimson yesterday, dismissed The Standard’s allegations against Tribe as “nonsense.”
“I think Larry [Tribe] may be overreacting,” Dershowitz said yesterday, when asked whether Tribe was right to apologize. “Abraham sat on this story for 20 years. If he had a gripe, he should have written to Larry 20 years ago.”
So let me get this straight. Even though there are passages lifted from another person's work, verbatim, the charges are nonsense? What would Ogletree need to indict, a video of Tribe throwing darts at Abraham's picture and cackling while a research assistant transcribed directly from Justices and Presidents to a manuscript of Tribe's book?

If a giant of constitutional law topples in a forest, does it make a sound? This is more than a gripe. This is potential scholarly dishonesty and theft. Abraham should have called Tribe out if he knew about this years ago. It was wrong then and it's wrong now.
“Tribe’s towering contributions to the field of constitutional law over four decades should not be overshadowed by this episode,” [Stanford Law School] dean, Kathleen M. Sullivan, wrote in an e-mail. Sullivan was Tribe’s colleague on the Harvard faculty from 1984 to 1993.
I bet an untenured professor wouldn't get this soft treatment from Sullivan. Maybe we need some kind of disciplinary guidelines to ensure equal justice in sentencing for similar plagiarism offenses.
Dershowitz said yesterday that The Standard’s charges against Tribe were politically motivated.
“Show me the man, and I’ll find you the crime,” Dershowitz said—a quotation he attributed to Soviet spymaster Lavrenti Beria. “Clearly someone was looking to pin something on the most prominent liberal constitutional scholar in the country.”
Pin something? How about take him to task for a wrongdoing he has since admitted? This is some weird mutation of the CBS-Memogate argument - while the evidence is true, the accusations are politically motivated and thus must be given no credit. Maybe if Tribe was more concerned about producing original scholarly works and less about using his position for political ends, he wouldn't have cranked out such a shoddy book.

But Dershowitz isn't in total denial:
Dershowitz called yesterday for stricter University guidelines on source citations and the use of research assistants so that scholars could avoid ideologically motivated charges of plagiarism in the future.
Stop me before I steal again!

However, while the undergraduate and law school standards for plagiarism are quite clear,
Dershowitz said guidelines in the legal profession are murkier.
He said that judges frequently rely on lawyers’ briefs and clerks’ memoranda in drafting opinions. This results in a “cultural difference” between sourcing in the legal profession and other academic disciplines, Dershowitz said.
Now I always considered law professors to to be part of academia, but apparently they are all frustrated judges and should be assessed by the standards of their desired occupation when writing. Funny, that. Does this mean that student work, such as law review notes and seminar papers, is closer to real academic writing than the output of our faculty?
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