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December 01, 2005

How Not to Plagiarize

I'm reading with interest this story about writer Brad Vice, who won a literary award and published a collection of short stories and then had the former revoked and the press run of the latter pulped when someone noticed that, hey, there's a short story here that seems at least partially written by another writer. Vice, who is a professor at Mississippi State University, said something along the lines of "whoops," claimed what he was really doing in lifting entire lines from another writer was an homage, and also claimed to be confused about that whole "fair use" thing. Meanwhile, industrious reporters have noticed the increasingly-aptly named Mr. Vice may have also lifted lines from other places as well, which certainly lends credence to the whole "shaky about fair use" thing, but also suggests the fellow may be a serial plagiarizer.

Now, this article from Media Bistro says to me that lifting junk from other writers is some sort of hot new academic trend -- "Issues of intertextuality, embedded narratives, and literary borrowing and homage were very much in the critical air through the 1990s" -- which I suppose marks yet another difference between academia and the real world, in that if I heavily excerpted text from, say, Olaf Stapledon, and presented it as original material in a novel, I suspect Patrick Nielsen Hayden would bring down a big fat cudgel on my head long before I would have to make up some lame "It's an homage!" excuse and Tor became obliged to pulp an entire print run of a book. Out here in the wild, claims of wanton intertextuality gone amuck pale in the face of the economic cost of a major screwup.

(Also, come on, let's get real: homage is one thing and plagarism is another, and someone who makes his cash as a professor of English at a major state university damn well ought to know the difference -- and know what's acceptable "fair use" to boot. If that's not actually in the job description from an English professor, it should be. And heck, Vice is the advisor to the MSU's English honor society! Oh, the shame. For its part MSU launched an investigation into Vice's lifting issues, which suggests tenure is not something he should hope for at this point.)

Being as I am someone who ripped off Robert Heinlein with wild abandon for Old Man's War, I'm the very last person who should suggest homage is not a legitimate literary technique. However, I would note that in my case I did two things which I think are of critical importance: One, I didn't actually cut and paste Heinlein's words into my manuscript, and two, I've been almost gaggingly upfront about what I've been doing. I thanked Heinlein in my acknowledgements, for God's sake. It beats deluding myself that no one would ever catch on to what I was doing.

As a matter of record, I did it again in The Ghost Brigades, where I found two ideas of fellow SF writers compelling enough to play off of them. One of the writers was Nick Sagan, whose ideas about consciousness transference in Edenborn were right in line with what I needed for TGB. Another was Scott Westerfeld; the brief space battle on pages 119-121 of TGB owes quite a bit to Scott's jaw-droppingly good extended space battle in The Killing of Worlds (his is the economy-sized version, while mine is the miniscule travel-sized version). In both cases I gave a head's up to the authors that I was going to play a riff off a theme they established, and of course I noted the riffs in the acknowledgements section of the book, listing the authors and the books, and describing them as "authors from whom I've consciously stolen."

Because why wouldn't I? I don't want to hide when I borrow; I'm comfortable enough with my own writing skills that I'm not threatened by acknowledging how much my writing is influenced by my able contemporaries. More to the point, I want people to know, because if they liked my tip of the hat, they should know where to find the inspirations. If reading The Ghost Brigades' acknowledgements (or indeed, this very bit of writing here) sends a few more readers to Nick and Scott, how could I not be happy about that? They're both excellent writers -- I thieve only from the best -- and deserve all the readers they can get. Also, and not insignificantly, it innoculates me from later accusations of idea poaching, since a guy who hands you an itemized list of the people he's borrowing from is clearly not worried about such accusations. I plead guilty, and hope you'll read these other excellent writers, too.

I'm not so sanguine about actual word theft, mind you; that space battle I mention above plays quite a bit like a miniature version of Scott's, but at least i typed all the words and word structurements out of my own brain rather than cracking open my copy of Killing of Worlds and transcribing from what lie therein. But I guess if one were going to do that, then one really should acknowledge it, shouldn't one? Because otherwise you end up with the situation Vice seems to be in. A little tip for you budding (and in Vice's case, not so budding) writers, which I encourage you to take freely and propogate widely: Unacknowledged "homages" are often indistinguishable from plagiarism. Yes, even when everyone "should" know the writer or the work you're homagifying (no, that's not a real word). A simple CYA statement at the end a story ("The author wishes to acknowledge [insert other writer here], whose story [insert story name here] this piece homagifies in an academically approved intertextual sort of way") will probably save a lot of heartache and print run pulping later.

It's a little early to expect homage or even simple theft of the books I wrote, but you know, if someone wants to play the changes on an idea I've had or a scene I wrote, groovy. Have fun with that. And if you want to note it in the acknowlegements of your book, even better. And if you want to send me a nice gift basket with an assortment of cheeses in it as a way of saying thank you, why, that would be best of all.

Posted by john at December 1, 2005 09:30 AM

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Comments

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | December 1, 2005 11:27 AM

As just about any English teacher can tell you, there's a measurable percentage of the population that not only doesn't remember specific chunks of text, they don't believe anybody else does either. Many years ago, when we lived in Seattle, Joanna Russ phoned us up one afternoon. She was grading assignments for one of her University of Washington classes, and she wanted to read us a familiar-sounding two-paragraph passage from one of them.

"It's from the 'In the Houses of Healing' chapter of The Return of the King," said Teresa. "About two-thirds of the way down a right-hand page, in the Houghton Mifflin hardcover," I added.

I'd probably also catch the Stapledon. I even wrote an encyclopedia article about him once. (Just sayin'.)

Kevin Q | December 1, 2005 11:56 AM

I know there can be a problem sometimes in academia because researchers will read dozens of works before setting down to write their own. They get a good idea in their head from what they've read, and by the time they go to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) they've forgotten where they got the idea from, or even that it wasn't theirs originally.

That being said, I can't think of a single situation that would lead to accidental plagiarism in writing fiction. If you've read a work so many times that it's inscribed indelibly in your brain, you should recognize whenever anybody is copying whole portions - including yourself. If you've read a work once, many years ago, there might be similarities, but not over whole sections.

If you're thinking of copying, and thinking nobody will notice, just remember this - You are not unique. There's somebody else who's read all the same books as you, and they're going to read yours, and you're going to get caught.

K

Jas | December 1, 2005 12:20 PM

Back when I first got out of college, I worked for a bibliographic database software company. Part of what we provided was an electronic way for you to make notes of interesting passages you'd read, not just so that you could quote them later, but also to keep the original text around so that you could paraphrase without risk of accidently plagarising. Sounds like that sort of process has fallen out of use in academia?

And only peripherally related, what of self-plagarizing. Drives me, as a reader, utterly nuts. Yes, Piers Anthony, I'm looking at you, and your Incarnations series...

Jon Marcus | December 1, 2005 12:28 PM

Cheap shot time!


In the sixth paragraph, you (Mr. Scalzi) wrote: "I comfortable enough with my own writing skills"


I *am* not so comfortable with reading that. Helluva sentence for a typo...

John Scalzi | December 1, 2005 01:04 PM

Oh,, waa waa waa. It's fixed, you big baby-like baby.

DebC | December 1, 2005 01:13 PM

There's very little excuse for a professor at a large public university to claim ignorance of fair use. Most universities are obsessed with fair use ever since the Kinko's law suit when professors essentially had to stop photocopying anything and everything without permission and handing them out to their classes as class notes. There's a lot of time and effort spent in clearing rights for class handouts these days.

Most universities have whole web sites on fair use and, honestly, plagerisim is a _huge_ deal for most academics. I've edited grant applications where a major obsession was making sure that every reference was cited. If he's going to come up with an excuse, 'I didn't understand fair use' is a really, really weak one.

Michael Rawdon | December 1, 2005 01:52 PM

It takes a fair bit of work to do a good homage from whole cloth.

On the other hand, the sheer volume of stuff being written and published means that some stories will bear an uncanny resemblance to other stories at times. This can muddy the waters when it comes to outright infringement.

One of the favorite pastimes in the world of comic books is recognizing swipes and homages, the most famous of which is probably the Death of Phoenix cover and its antecedents and successors. It's been unclear whether the Perez Crisis cover was an homage to the Byrne X-Men cover, but it's fairly clear that covers after Crisis were deliberate homages or parodies, and probable that covers before the X-Men cover are simply coincidentally similar.

Joanna | December 1, 2005 05:04 PM

There was a New Yorker piece some time ago by Malcom Gladwell about a Tony-nominated play called Frozen. The play lifted several passages verbatim from a profile he'd written about a woman who studied serial killers. When I read the piece, I really felt like Gladwell was soft on plagarism and soft on the playwright, Bryony Lavery. Lavery claimed she just didn't realize that lifting his words and making one of her characters in the play a mirror image of the woman Gladwell profiled was plagarism. I just don't understand if your JOB is writing how you don't make it your business to familiarize yourself with the legal and ethical definition of plagarism. Furthermore, no matter how good the play was in the end, it wasn't wholly hers. That's the point, isn't it? You're laying claim to something that isn't yours.

elizabeth bear | December 1, 2005 05:08 PM

*g* I swipe sentences. Single sentences, and I do it on purpose, and I don't limit myself to SF and F writers, either.

For example, there's a reference in Hammered to "joy in Mudville," playing on the protagonist's last name (Casey, of course) and there's a direct quote from Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber in Blood and Iron ("His kind are the reason there are no wolves in Ireland," FWIW.)

But we call this allusion, and it does fall within fair use. And I frankly couldn't play the kind of metatextual games I love to play if I didn't do it.

A paragraph, or two, or ten... Um. Yeah. That's beyond alluding and metatexting and into sin.

John Pitzel | December 1, 2005 05:28 PM

Hmm. There are also the distressing examples of Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose. Be it an 'accident' or a 'homage' or inadvertent, it's still tough to swallow at any level, especially when every grad student in my department got the plagarism lecture on day one.

There is no way he didn't know.

Soack | December 1, 2005 06:31 PM

Just a question. Who are the greatest SF Contemporary authors you oh so like to rip off (consciously and credited, of course). just to add, is Michael A. Stackpole in that list?

claire | December 1, 2005 06:37 PM

the whole thing makes sense to me. as anyone who's taken an academic creative writing workshop can attest, academic writers are all but forced to imitate each other: imitate diction, syntax, dialogue rhythms, descriptive strategies, types of characterization etc, etc. the reason 99% of new fiction is crrrraaap is that creative writing programs churn out people who can assemble a bunch of approved strategies into something with a beginning, a middle, and an end, so publishers don't have to wait around for someone with something to say to come along.

so why the hysterical insistence on "originality"? whether you're imitating another writer's strategies, phrase by phrase, or just outright stealing passages, it's all really just a matter of degree.

can you tell i just finished my mfa thesis? but i'm not bitter.

Trent | December 1, 2005 06:43 PM

I'm with Bear. It depends upon what the author did and how.

Lars | December 1, 2005 08:00 PM

Cather Acker did it all the time. I read her book "Blood and Guts in High School" and I didn't find any proper references to the works of other authors that she used. Maybe I just didn't look hard enough, but I think hers would be a case of "homages" obvious enough that they don't require citation.

John Scalzi | December 1, 2005 08:24 PM

Soack: As far as I know I haven't read Stackpole, so it seems unlikely I'd take anything from him.

Let's see. Who do I acknowledge stealing from: Well, Heinlein, of course, and Sagan and Westerfeld, as noted above. Aside from that, there's a hat tip to Brin in the book, and I have war games that feature freezed-up suits, which I supposed I could say I nicked off Orson Scott Card (he has a more explicit acknowledgement about halfway through the book, however). I'm there's more I could think of, but that's what I have in my head for now.

Edward Trimnell | December 1, 2005 09:29 PM

I don't claim to be an expert on the subtleties of fair use, but it seems that fair use is primarily relevant when writing non-fiction.

For example, suppose I was writing a book about professional writing. I could legitimately write,

"Aspiring writers should not give up their day jobs. According to online author John Scalzi:

'Writing on the weekends actually can work. My point is, if you just wanna write what you just wanna write, don't make writing your profession -- make it a side gig or an avocation or a hobby. Nothing wrong with that, honest.'(John Scalzi's Utterly Useless Writing Advice)"

That would be a legitimate case of fair use.

On the other hand, if I were to implant an apt paragraph from Old Man's War in the opening scene of one of the space battles in my science fiction novel, that would just be a rip-off. As I understand fair use, there is seldom an excuse for borrowing direct quotes of creative pieces (except for reviews, criticism, or satire). Therefore, the "homage" argument doesn't really hold up.


Derryl Murphy | December 1, 2005 11:16 PM

My story "Summer's Humans" was a direct homage to Nadine Gordimer's novel July's People. Besides the title, I mentioned this in the intro to the story in my collection. So far nobody's raised any eyebrows at me, but then again, I suspect most people who read genre don't read authors like Gordimer.

D

Tom Nixon | December 2, 2005 12:02 AM

Yes, not only should he not count on getting tenure, but he could well find himself devoid of a doctorate. As the article mentions, the University of Cincinnati, givers of that doctorate, are now taking a look at his dissertation. Apparently, some of what he has plagiarized was written there first.

It's quite possible that the University could make a determination to rescind the doctorate.

Kevin Q | December 2, 2005 07:34 AM

Edward Trimnell:
You're right, that is where fair use crops up the most. Fair use is more likely where the copying work and the copied work are both scholarly works. But, there are other factors involved in determing fair use, including how much is taken, and the effect on the market for the first work.

Of course, there's no real reason why you couldn't pull a similar type of borrowing in a fiction work, where a character or the narrator quotes from another work.

And remember, Fair Use only matters if the work is copyrighted. I could have a character who only speaks in King Lear's lines from Shakespeare, with no attribution, and since Shakespeare is out of copyright, there'd be no issue. (Of fair use, anyway. Possibly an issue about whether that's actually a good idea.)

K

Simon | December 2, 2005 12:17 PM

And if you don't believe it, here's an actual "waaah, he somehow just 'forgot' to include an acknowledgment, give him a break" defense of ol' Brad. Why, Tom Stoppard used whole chunks of Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and nobody accused him of ...

Give me a break.

Christopher Billett | December 2, 2005 03:47 PM

John, a similar article was floating around the BBC News website the other day. Here it is, you might find it interesting with your blogging and journalistic background especially.

Kevin Murphy | December 2, 2005 07:08 PM

What about homages like Ken MacLeod's in Learning the World which deals with the classic Generation Ship? At the end of one chapter, one group of colonists are evading nuclear missiles fired by another group, and the intercom is announcing ship's maneuvers. The last two lines of the chapter, as they leave the attack behind:

All hands, stand by, free falling!

And the lights below us fade.

Nargel | December 3, 2005 03:22 AM

Re: freezed-up suits
I would say that is more likely to be from Heinlein - Starship Troopers.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden | December 4, 2005 10:47 PM

For the record, Joanna Russ phoned me and Patrick both, and we both identified the questionable passage as being partway down a right-hand page. That story still amazes me: The student thought he could pass a chunk of Tolkien off as his own work. He thought that Joanna Russ wouldn't recognize Tolkien. When confronted, he denied that it was plagiarized. When Joanna whipped out a copy of RoTK, and identified the passage, the student explained that he'd been busy, and his roommate had done the assignment for him -- and therefore his roommate was the one who was guilty of plagiarism!

I know more stories like that. The other one that haunts me is a guy who lost his Ph.D. and the teaching position he had lined up when it was demonstrated that he'd cheated during a docented open-book test he'd taken to satisfy the requirements of an incomplete he'd taken some years earlier. He had to translate a bit of Anglo-Saxon verse, writing the translation in above the original lines. His version had two problems: it was too much like one of the standard translations, and his version was a half-line off.

The minute I heard that, I knew it wasn't the first time he'd committed plagiarism. Staring hard at Anglo-Saxon verse isn't enough to tell you what each half-line means, but it's enough to match up the translated half-lines with the correct originals.

He was missing a basic skill. If he'd never learned the trick of looking at an obscure text and figuring out how much of it you do understand, and then figuring out how much additional meaning you can patch together using the bits you've already understood, how could he have gotten through Chaucer, or any other refractory or unfamiliar writing style?

I know an editor who bought a nonfiction book from an author who'd written a great deal in anoher medium. The editor gradually realized that this author literally couldn't understand that it's a no-no to lift chunks of material thousands of words long from the most recent definitive book on the subject in question. I'm not going to have time in this life to go back through that author's other writing, but I'm sure I know what I would find.

Tom Whitmore taught me a useful phrase for times when you're pretty darn sure it's plagiarism, but you're worried about the repercussions of saying so: inadequately transformed. As in, Vice's rehash of Carmer's work was inadequately transformed.

And it was, too. In the side-by-side examples, I was struck by the consistent inferiority of Vice's versions, and the superficiality of his changes. That's the difference between Brad Vice and Tom Stoppard. Vice isn't getting in there and wrestling with the source text; he's just muddling about on its surface.

And Vice didn't think he'd be caught! Right there, you know he isn't on intimate terms with language and literature. "Three distant high blasts of a bugle, then a drop of a minor third on a long wailing note." Not a line that you'd forget.

I must suppose there's a sort of textual blindness that leads some people to believe that their borrowings won't be evident. I've yet to have an author interpolate vast whacks of Olaf Stapledon in his or her work, but one wanna-be did type out all of The Worm Ouroboros and submit it to Tor. I wrote back to agree that it was a swell book -- but alas, one that was still in print from another house. Wishing him the best of luck, et cetera.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden | December 4, 2005 10:54 PM

Oh, and Ken MacLeod? His works are shot through with loving and knowledgeable references to the genre -- for instance, the line "Oh my stars, it's full of gods" in The Cassini Division. And I don't know how many people who read Newton's Wake will catch Ken's blithe reworking of "If You Could Hie to Kolob," but it pulled the rug out from under my feet.

Karen Fitzsimmons | December 5, 2005 06:58 PM

The people defending Brad Vice must be his buddies. I can see no other explanation for trying to justify what is obvious and egregious plagiarism. There is also no evidence that Mr. Vice is a "postmodernist," in the William S. Burroughs or Kathy Acker tradition. Far from it, his book is comprised of realistic stories set in the south. It's only after the fact, now that he's been caught, he's claiming he did it as "homage."

He's toast.

Kudos to Robert Clark Young for calling it like it is: a guy who was given all the breaks and screwed everybody else by being a mere plagiarist.

P.M. Cormano | December 8, 2005 04:52 PM

Once you get over that case of schadenfreude, Karen, you might want to consider these facts about the Vice case:

1. An epigraph from Carmer appeared in his graduate thesis. And Vice's thesis advisor was aware of the intended homage at the time, advised him as to how to handle it (presumably, by including the epigraph), and has said as much to the committee reviewing Vice's employment at Mississippi State.
2. Vice allowed his work to be published side-by-side with Carmer's in the journal Thicket earlier this year.

So tell me this: What kind of "serious and egregious" plagiarist publicly associates his work with the author he's plagiarizing?

Of course Vice didn't acknowledge Carmer in his collection, and I have no doubt that in failing to do so he met a basic standard of plagiarism and that the University of Georgia was justified in pulping his book. So if you want to call him a plagiarist, well, technically you've got a right, but I think it'd be more apt to describe him as a flaky (or stupid, if you're feeling critical) guy who was not nearly as concerned about covering his ass as he should have been. A plagiarist, as the term is commonly understood, is someone who deceptively tries to pass someone else's work off as their own, and I think a measured consideration of the facts shows that Vice had no intent to deceive. As I've said elsewhere, this distinction might not matter to an academic review board (and it certainly didn't matter to UGA), but it's very relevant to the assessment of Vice's character, which has been under assault since this thing began.

As a side point, your notion that the postmodern version of homage claimed by Vice's supporters has no application to realistic fiction is just plain wrong. Cross-reference Chekhov's "About Love" with Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" for one obvious example . . .

And now some facts about that straight shooter Robert Clark Young:

1. Attended the Sewanee Writers Conference in 2001, at the same time that Brad Vice was a staff member there.
2. Was ripped in a workshop that Barry Hannah led.
3. Gave a reading that was very poorly received.
4. Wrote an article in which he attacked the Sewanee Writers Conference and Barry Hannah without mentioning his association with either.
5. In that article, used ellipses creatively when comparing texts to make the plagiarism case against Vice appear stronger than it was.
6. Omitted, in the article, the details about the epitaph in Vice's thesis and the joint Carmer-Vice Thicket publication (both of which he was aware of, as he was posting regularly to the Story South page on which these details first appeared).
7. Contacted the University of Cincinnati requesting they rescind Vice's Ph.D.

Impartial journalist, or wounded seeker of revenge? You tell me . . .

PS Some interesting responses to Young's article here: www.nypress.com/18/49/mail/SOAPBOXING.cfm

PPS Sorry about the lack of formatting.

Karen Fitzsimmons | December 9, 2005 11:20 PM

No schadenfreude, Mr. Cormano. I just don't like somebody who gets his hand caught in the cookie jar to go spouting academic, faddish nonsense to justify his ethically bankrupt actions for eating all the cookies.

As for Robert Clark Young's article -- I thought it was clear that the guy had an intimate knowledge of a conference and thus was writing from personal experience. It turns out he was at Breadloaf, but he's not slagging that one. So perhaps Sewanee is more of a clicky type place? I wouldn't know.

As for his reading badly or getting trashed in a workshop -- I don't know. Sounds like the same kind of mud-slinging you're accusing Mr. Young of.

Maybe Vice was stupid? I'll go with that. And his academic advisors apparently were (are) as stupid as he is.

I don't feel bad his book was scrapped. He should have known better. I know many academics and they all agree that the defenses you muster are very thin indeed, Mr. Cormano.

At any rate, this incident will hopefully make more writers aware of the notion of fair use. Maybe it will save more books from being pulped.

P.M. Cormano | December 10, 2005 03:09 AM

OK, I'll rephrase the question a little bit: What kind of "ethically bankrupt" plagiarist publicly associates his work with the author he's plagiarizing?

I have a feeling you're not going to give me an straight answer, so I'll just tell you: no kind. If you're trying to fool the world by stealing from somebody's work, you don't go ahead and say, sure, publish my work right next to his, I'm sure nobody will notice the similarities. You just FLAT OUT DON'T DO THAT. Vice left the acknowledgement out by mistake. It was one hell of a mistake---and whether it was due to ignorance or oversight, I have no idea---but it sure as shi*t wasn't intentional, so how about giving the guy a little bit of a break?

Disbelieve it if you want, but Young's work WAS poorly received at Sewanee, both in the Hannah workshop and at his reading. And any journalist writing an article in which he portrays Vice and Hannah in a negative light discloses his personal connection to them up front . . . because if he doesn't, he's morally bankrupt, egregiously and obviously . . . right?

I do agree that Vice should have known better. But of the two opposing characters here, Young is the deceptive one.

Karen Fitzsimmons | December 10, 2005 01:17 PM

You strenuous defense(s) of Brad Vice lead me to conclude that you are indeed Brad Vice impersonating Mr. Cormano, or somebody very closely involved in this affair, perhaps a friend or mentor or even somebody mentioned in Mr. Robert Clark Young's article.

(Incidentally, your email doesn't work, which makes me wonder if it's a valid email, which makes me wonder again why you wouldn't use a real email unless you were not the person you claim to be).

>What kind of "ethically bankrupt" plagiarist publicly associates his work with the author he's plagiarizing?

To answer your question, it could be a plagiarist like Brad Vice who was given a lot of opportunities and was just DYING to get caught.

I really don't know. I know this: it's all very suspicious and my instinct is not to believe that Mr. Vice did it innocently.

Call into question Mr. Robert Clark Young's motives all you want -- but Mr. Young did not pulp Brad Vice's book, UGA did.

P.M. Cormano | December 12, 2005 03:18 PM

Yeah, but my point isn't that UGA shouldn't have pulped Vice's book, it's that Robert Clark Young is a wackjob pursuing a vendetta, and that one ought to keep that fact in mind when considering the NYPress article and Young's comments elsewhere regarding this case.

By the way, Karen (or Rachel Solomon, as you're calling yourself over at the Emerging Writers blog), your email doesn't work either, and you're attacking Vice just as strenuously as I'm defending him . . . so am I to assume, using your logic, that you're Robert Clark Young?

Here's an interesting thing, John Lesko, a professor at Saginaw Valley State University, who maintains a website devoted to plagiarism: http://www.famousplagiarists.com/popfiction.htm.

He's got an entry devoted to Vice up there now, with links both to Young's NYPress article and some of the Story South posts defending Vice, so he seems interested in presenting both sides of the issue. But then there's this quote:

"Things don't look good at all for this young professor and postmodern regionalist, to say the very least: 'Brad Vice has been or is being investigated now by three universities: U of Cincinnati, where he plagiarized in his dissertation; U of Georgia, whose press has ruled he is a plagiarist; and Mississippi State University, where he teaches" ("Further Plagiarism by Brad Vice.' Robert Clark Young in email correspondence with Dr. Lesko)."

I wonder if Young told Lesko that he was the guy who contacted both Cincinnati and Ole Miss urging them to conduct these investigations.

Coincidentally enough, Karen, Lesko quotes you too --- your post where you describe Vice as "toast." But he attributes the quote to a "T.N. Hayden," so you might want to get in touch with him about that . . . ought to be as easy as hitting "reply" to an email already in your box, if I'm not mistaken . . .

Karen Fitzsimmons | December 12, 2005 06:55 PM

Mr. Cormano, or whatever your name is:

I have nothing to hide. Email me at fitzykaren @ yahoo.com.

As for Mr. Robert Clark Young or Brad Vice -- I am only interested in the truth. I simply don't believe that Brad Vice made an innocent mistake.

That's the last I'll say on the matter.

Dane | December 14, 2005 12:21 PM

I can't understand what would allow someone to right out take the combination of words put out by another and claim them for themselves...openly, for money, forever. How impossibly dense would you have to be to believe for even a single second that you would not be found out? Unless you have a writer locked in in secret sweatshop with a dusty typewriter...you will eventually be caught. Don't you know that writers, especially those worthy of stealing from, are prolific enough that someone somewhere will spot similarities in your work and form at least a suspicion?

All that being said, I have been accused of plagarism. It sucks to have your reputation put to question. An adjunct teaching Spanish requested we turn in our notes to an oral presentation due later that week. I handed over copies of my sources along with a bibliography. The bibliography was lost somewhere between my hand and the director of the department. The adjunct turned the notes in as a compostition. The intenet service www.turnitin.com scanned my work and reported that 90% of my notes were taken from various web sites on the internet. That surprised me somewhat as some of my sources where hard sources.

That was the most horrible experience I ever had in school. I was almost put before the Dean (which would have made the charges formal and put onto my permanent record...yes, my PERMaNENT record). Several students came forward to my defense and coorborated that the instructor had asked for "notes" though what she meant was "summary". The adjunct instructor never did admit she made such an error. However, her services were not retained for the following semester. That helps me feel somewhat better about it. I can still feel that lump in my throat though. When your integrity is on the line...it gets very scary. The experience has prompted me to pay more attention when I am being given instructions that require I write.

Zoe Clarkshon | December 14, 2005 05:00 PM

If you wish, please read my comments regarding Robert Clark Young on the Emerging Writers Network. I am interested only in confirming PM Cormano's statements that Bob may have a vendetta against Brad Vice. And yes, my name is a pseudonym because I have been hiding from Robert Clark Young for many, many years. Some of us who write under pseudonyms here really don't want our careers gutted by Robert Clark Young, either, even if we, too, "have nothing to hide." I will not go into the circumstances regarding my need to keep my life fully protected from Bob, but I want to confirm that Bob does indeed take vengeance on people, even years after one has done a perceived wrong to him, and that he is the last person on earth to be accusing anyone of dishonesty. He is probably at least one of the posters on this and other forums (I can always tell his writing style). My one consolation is that Bob may be finally showing his true colors to the world. I am just sorry that Mr. Vice had to be in his line of fire as this happens. Cormano's post on Dec. 8th seems absolutely congruent with the type of behavior Robert Clark Young does. Remember that anyone with a grudge or a vendetta can attempt to bring one's career down, and sometimes they are successful--Bob didn't pulp Vice's book, but he obviously wants the man stripped of his Phd and his job. This could happen to any of us.

John Scalzi | December 14, 2005 05:25 PM

Zoe Clarkshon:

"Remember that anyone with a grudge or a vendetta can attempt to bring one's career down"

So can plagiarism, and rather more effectively, I'd say.

Robert Clark Young may eat babies, or whatever other horrible behavior one may wish to attribute to him, but he also wasn't the one cutting and pasting text without attribution (and not telling his publisher he had done it). Additionally, Young may or may not have wanted to burn Vice, but Vice had immersed himself in a hot tub of kerosene. One doesn't give one's enemies such opportunities without expecting them to take them.

In summation: If one wishes not to be outed as a plagiarist, one ought not plagiarize. Young's motivations in bringing the plagiarism to light are secondary to the fact there was plagiarism to bring to light at all.

John P. Lesko | December 15, 2005 10:16 AM

"Coincidentally enough, Karen, Lesko quotes you too --- your post where you describe Vice as "toast." But he attributes the quote to a "T.N. Hayden," so you might want to get in touch with him about that . . . "


Correction noted and posted. Seems like I was looking above instead of below Karen's post.
Thanks!
John P. Lesko

P.M. Cormano | December 15, 2005 04:40 PM

Scalzi: Thanks for letting me post here. No doubt Vice screwed up, but the case is less black and white than some, particularly Young, have made it out to be. And your notion that Vice, having sinned, deserves whatever the hell Young wants to throw at him just isn't rational. There are worse things than plagiarists in this world, and I'd submit that one guy devoting himself to the personal and professional destruction of another is one of them. Also, you seem to have forgotten that Young's not the one who broke this story; it was already news before he got involved. In fact, apart from the investigations at MSU and Cincinnati (which Young himself initiated), it had already been RESOLVED before he got involved. He wasn't bringing anything new to light; he was stomping on what was left of one man's reputation to settle a score with someone (Barry Hannah) and something (Sewanee) else.

Lesko: It's gratifying to see that you're interested in portraying this situation completely. If you haven't already, you might want to check out the Emerging Writers thread: http://emergingwriters.typepad.com/emerging_writers_network/2005/12/sifting_through.html. The discussion there is a bit more technical and informed, and a bit less partisan, though of course you'll still have a number of biases, including mine, to sort through . . .

Zoe: I'm pretty sure Young's a presence on these boards too---doesn't seem like he'd be able to restrain himself. I'd guessed Fitzsimmons on this one, and Solomon over at Emerging Writers. What do you think?

John Scalzi | December 15, 2005 08:04 PM

P.M. Cormano:

"And your notion that Vice, having sinned, deserves whatever the hell Young wants to throw at him just isn't rational."

Well, actually, I couldn't possibly care less what Mr. Young wants. In my opinion, Mr. Young's wants, needs and desires are not the issue.

The issue here is that Vice, a professor of English, apparently plagiarized and did so in such a significantly pernicious fashion that one of his professional awards was rescinded and the entire run of his book was pulped by his publisher. Despite your attempt to brush off this plagiarism as something relatively minor, it's a very serious thing indeed -- publishers don't pulp entire runs of book for trivial matters, and universities don't have plagiarism listed as expellable offenses just for kicks -- and latter-day rationalizations that he intended his stories as "homage" ring false in light of his actions concerning the work in the professional sphere (as in, he apparently never bothered to float the "homage" idea to the people paying him for his work until he got caught). Vice's alleged misdeeds in this regard have nothing to do with Young, unless you can persuasively suggest that Mr. Young is so intensely Machiavellian that he somehow managed to use his nefarious powers of suggestion on a younger version of Mr. Vice to convince him not to adequately attribute his "homage" to another writer.

Basically, what your argument seems to boil down to is that Mr. Vice should be largely excused from the consequences of his alleged professional and academic misconduct because Mr. Young is a dickhead. Well, the thing is, if Mr. Young is right, then it doesn't matter if he's a dickhead. Young may or may not have an agenda of his own, but this an entirely separate issue; suggesting that Mr. Vice is merely a victim of a literary jihad rather conveniently elides Mr. Vice's own very serious problems. If Mr. Vice loses his job, ultimately it won't be because of Mr. Young's actions, it will be because of Mr. Vice's. Likewise if his doctorate is rescinded. Mr. Vice may appropriately rue that his alleged past conduct gave Mr. Young a lever to persue his course of action, but it is indeed his conduct that gave Young his opportunity.

P.M. Cormano | December 15, 2005 11:02 PM

Sorry, haven't made that argument anywhere. But yeah, I agree, it'd be kind of ridiculous if I had . . .

Zoe Clarkson | December 16, 2005 05:16 AM

to PM Cormano:

Bob is very likely Solomon on the other board, and probably Fitzsimmons here (Solomon is the more obvious). He is not as clever as he would like folks to think, and his writing style and methods of verbal attack are pretty obvious to anyone who's known him for some time--I recognized it immediately (despite the female identities, which are easy to fake on yahoo and hotmail). I would be very careful about emailing either of them personally, even if they have "nothing to hide"--it could be Young himself trying to get personal info about you, esp. anyone whom he thinks is now engaged in a "smear campaign" against him (see new entry on his Wikipedia page).

My own two cents' worth (apart from the legitimate concerns about plagiarism) is that one of Bob's motivations in writing his article maybe have been to revive a nearly comatose literary career and get himself into the limelight again for a few minutes by creating a stir with his "investigative" journalism, and to have the last word on Brad Vice, the Sewanee Writers Group, etc. Only speculation on my part, but I knew Young for a very long time, and I know that he thrives on stirring up trouble for people he dislikes--one of the reasons I ended my friendship with him was because of this. My concerns are for anyone who gets in his sightlines.

However, I absolutely agree that there are legitimate concerns about Vice's plagiarism that still need to be addressed. Personally, I would like to see a complete investigation by another legitimate and (above all) unbiased journalist regarding this--BEFORE Brad Vice loses his doctorate and his job. I'd like to hear more from Brad Vice on this, too. I am on the side of those who've pointed out that Young did more nipping and tucking than Michael Jackson's plastic surgeon to make the plagiarism in the stories look far worse than it may have been. Plagiarism is plagiarism, and it's all bad no matter how much or how little there is in a work, but so is enhancing one's "evidence" in journalism to strengthen what might be a weak foundation.

John Scalzi | December 16, 2005 05:49 AM

Zoe Clarkson:

"Personally, I would like to see a complete investigation by another legitimate and (above all) unbiased journalist regarding this--BEFORE Brad Vice loses his doctorate and his job."

Leaving aside the observation that generally more public information is always good in any situation -- Inasmuch as the matters are apparently before review boards at both universities, and both universities presumably have access to both the primary materials in question and to Mr. Vice to answer the accusations, would additional journalism be squarely relevant to his review? My own (limited) experience with academic boards is that they are less concerned without outside journalism and more concerned with what's directly before them.

I presume the folks at both schools who look at the information will make good judgements, but however those end up for Mr. Vice it seems as if he's got at best a mixed draw. Even if he's exonerated at both schools, he's still had his literary award rescinded and his book pulped due to plagiarism. In terms of his writing and teaching career, these are going to be hard to get around.

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Stacy | April 21, 2006 04:44 PM

Update:

MSU has concluded its investigation and Mr. Vice has lost his job.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Vice

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