May 15th, 2010

The Harvard Law legacy of plagiarism (and Kagan and Obama and Tribe and Ogletree and Dershowitz…and Tom Lehrer)

Jack Cashill, who has previously stirred up controversy by alleging that Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s Dreams From My Father, connects some dots about the prevalence of plagiarism and/or ghost-writing among Harvard Law School professors, and the dubious role of Supreme Court nominee and former HLS Dean Elena Kagan in investigating some of these allegations.

This Boston Globe article backs up Cashill’s assertions about the overwhelming use of assistants by these professors (in particular Tribe and Ogletree, two especially worshipful Obamaphiles), and the sloppiness about attributions that seems to be the result. It also turns out that HLS’s Alan Dershowitz, one of Tribe’s big defenders, had a similar allegation of plagiarism made against him. And then there’s the plagiarism case of Harvard Overseer Doris Kearns Goodwin, as well as that of our Vice President Joe Biden (non-Harvard man).

Are you noting a trend? Because I am. All these people are liberal Democrats.

Which is not to say that the same thing doesn’t or can’t happen among conservatives or Republicans (here’s one I found in a quick search; feel free to offer others if you know them). It’s just interesting that these especially prominent cases seem to all feature those on the other side.

If it had been students making the same “errors,” Harvard might come down quite differently. But these professors were excused. Note that great legal mind Alan Dershowitz’s explanation:

Harvard’s Writing With Sources manual, which is distributed to all undergraduates when they enter as freshmen, offers a crystal-clear definition of plagiarism: “passing off a source’s information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them; an act of lying, cheating, and stealing.”

But 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.

I have no doubt that judges rely on lawyers’ briefs and clerks’ memoranda. But “rely on” is not the same thing is “quote from without attribution.”

As for Kagan’s role in the whole thing, here’s an article with some of the details, entitled “Kagan Whitewash.” The piece also includes some specifics of the quotes Tribe is purported to have plagiarized. The fact that many are close paraphrases rather than exact quotes is especially suspicious, because in such cases it’s hard to believe that the quotation marks had merely been left out.

Here’s more:

What did they find? Nobody knows. The report was not released and former Harvard president Derek Bok, one the authors, refused to discuss it when reached by JewishWorldReview.com at home last week.

The only “punishment” Tribe got was a statement by Kagan and Summers that cleared him of any malfeasance.

“The unattributed materials relates more to matters of phrasing than to fundamental ideas,” they said, offering a distinction that would have been irrelevant to Harvard if a student had done the same thing. “We are also firmly convinced that the error was the product of inadvertence rather than intentionality.”

“Nevertheless, we regard the error in question as a significant lapse in proper academic practice.”

A lapse? That’s like saying someone who bounces check didn’t swindle anyone the bum checks were just a lapse in accounting procedures. Or the shoplifter had a lapse in memory when he left the store without paying.

And again, just like Kagan’s statement on Ogletree, if the lapse was so ” significant” why wasn’t Tribe sanctioned?

In a lengthy article for his blog, Massachusetts School of Law Dean Lawrence Velvel said Kagan and Summers should have been axed for their “whitewash.”

He cited example after example of how Kagan and Tribe essentially offered excuses for the very actions they purported to condemn.

But I have a theory about the whole thing: perhaps Kagan, Tribe, Dershowitz, and Ogletree and all the rest are fans of another noted liberal (and Harvard man—although by way of math rather than law), Tom Lehrer. Since I happen to have a near-total recall of Lehrer’s incomparable oeuvre, I could not help but be reminded of his tongue-in-cheek exploration of the advantages of plagiarism in academia. Have a listen:

The most relevant verse (please read the whole thing, however) is:

I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics:
Plagiarize!

Plagiarize,
Let no one else’s work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don’t shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize -
Only be sure always to call it please “research.”

[NOTE: The reason I know Tom Lehrer’s work by heart is that I was such a fan that I committed it to memory as a child. Unfortunately, however, in his later years Tom Lehrer became a sufferer from a fairly advanced case of Bush Derangement Syndrome.]

40 Responses to “The Harvard Law legacy of plagiarism (and Kagan and Obama and Tribe and Ogletree and Dershowitz…and Tom Lehrer)”

  1. PA Cat Says:

    Another liberal icon, Martin Luther King, plagiarized his doctoral dissertation. As someone who worked my proverbial posterior off to complete mine, I’ve always resented the fact that King got a posthumous pass on his fraud. His plagiarism was first noted in 1989, but as the Wikipedia entry on the subject notes, “Numerous newspaper editorials defended King, saying he was still a great man regardless of his academic fraud. There has as yet been no explanation of the long delay between the discovery and its publication.

    “Boston University decided not to revoke his doctorate, saying that although King acted improperly, his dissertation still ‘makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship.’”

    More info. about King’s other acts of plagiarism at the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._authorship_issues

  2. mizpants Says:

    Like you, Neo, I was raised on Tom Lehrer, also from a very early age. I remember how puzzled I was by the lyrics of “The Old Dope Peddler.”

    He gives the kids free samples,
    Because he knows full well,
    That today’s young innocent faces,
    Will be tomorrow’s…clientele.

    Here’s a cure for all your troubles,
    Here’s an end to all distress,
    It’s the old dope peddler,
    And his powdered happiness.

    There I was, 6 or 7, singing along with that! No clue what it meant.

    My uncle was Lehrer’s roommate at Harvard, and like Lehrer, succumbed to BDS late in life

  3. Artfldgr Says:

    he also, i think, resented having more fame from the many ditties he wrote, and whom many asked him to perform over and over.

  4. Occam's Beard Says:

    “Boston University decided not to revoke his doctorate, saying that although King acted improperly, his dissertation still ‘makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship.’”

    What contribution would that be? Perhaps they could get Kinko’s to endow a chair.

    And given the cover HLS obviously gives to plagiarism by liberals (I have no doubt that by conservatives would be viewed a little more closely), how come Obama (and Kagan) still have laughably thin publication records?

    C’mon, you two. Hit the library, and bring your photocopier card. Beef up that publication record!

  5. mikemcdaniel Says:

    I continue to amazed of the brutal burdens the left, particularly the academic left, is willing to bear for the benefit of the little people like us. As a teacher of English, I too am burdened with teaching students how to avoid plagiarism. It usually goes something like this: “If an idea did not originate between your own little ears, you attribute.” And then I teach them the horrendously demanding and exacting MLA method of attribution: “After the quote or paraphrase that did not originate between your own little ears, you write, in parentheses, the author’s last name and the page number or numbers.”

    I’m sure you can imagine the horror on the angelic faces of my tender students of high school age contemplating the 10-20 keystrokes necessary to accomplish this Herculean task, the tears, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the rending of garments…just thinking about it brings me to tears!

    The burden of a Harvard Law Professor, a man with a doctorate level education, forced to do the same, or perhaps something slightly different under another research documentation standard is too horrible to contemplate. I’m poleaxed with befuddlement trying to imagine the raw, psychic horror such an advanced being might encounter dealing with this task. Is it any wonder such exalted personages might cheat a bit? Can we, those not fit to ascend to the level of their legal briefs, dare to criticize them for failing to do what high school kiddies to every day?

    Well, Ms. Kagan can’t anyway. In the logic of the left, I suppose that’s not a bug relative to appointment to the Supreme Court, but a very favorable feature.

  6. Cold Fury » A Manqué For All Seasons: In the Court of the Xerox Queen Says:

    [...] neo-neocon: This Boston Globe article backs up Cashill’s assertions about the overwhelming use of assistants by these professors (in particular Tribe and Ogletree, two especially worshipful Obamaphiles), and the sloppiness about attributions that seems to be the result. It also turns out that HLS’s Alan Dershowitz, one of Tribe’s big defenders, had a similar allegation of plagiarism made against him. And then there’s the plagiarism case of Harvard Overseer Doris Kearns Goodwin, as well as that of our Vice President Joe Biden (non-Harvard man). [...]

  7. reader Says:

    I too am a huge Tom Lehrer fan, and have enlisted his aid in corrupting the minds of many young people. Alas, he has always had some off the wall political views of his own — he has a really bizarre fixation on the manned space program, for example.

    Regarding his departure from the stage, he once said that after Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize it simply wasn’t possible to do political satire any more. Perhaps the awarding of the Peace Prize to Obama was loony enough in the opposite direction that he’ll come back some day.

  8. E.M. Crotchet Says:

    What compounds the problem of identifying plagiarism (and errors) in many cases of academic writing, is that the APA method of citation—endorsed by Sociology, English and Education faculties, for instance—means that citations are almost impossible to check properly. If you paraphrase another work in your paper, under APA rules, you need not provide a page number. Accordingly, if you paraphrase multiple authors, and provide page numbers, I need to read many entire books to find the referenced passages. So, if I have hold of a text, and I wish to prove that its claims are unsubstantiated, and selected out of context, and fundamentally meaningless in the first place, or if I suspect that you’ve just copied huge slabs thereof, my locating the original claims and passages will take weeks of hard reading. It is so much easier to say, “this work contains proper citations, it has been peer-reviewed, and it was published by a reputable publisher: it must be perfectly fine.”

    But “rely on” is not the same thing is “quote from without attribution.”

    Sometimes, I suspect, “rely on” means “plagiarising completely but with just enough rewriting to make it seem original.” The modern culture of condoning plagiarism, along with the concomitant ignorance of the nuances of slightly different meanings of various synomym, leads to academics’ writing papers and books which are completely wrong-headed. I saw a published dictionary of educational terminology—a recommended text at my faculty of education—which defines intelligence as “the ability to adapt to circumstances.” By that definition, some viruses are smarter than many bright but autistic children.

  9. E.M. Crotchet Says:

    Oops, above, for “if you paraphrase multiple authors, and provide page numbers”, please read “if you paraphrase multiple authors, and provide no page numbers”.

  10. E.M. Crotchet Says:

    PA Cat says:

    Another liberal icon, Martin Luther King, plagiarized his doctoral dissertation. …

    I read an interesting defence of his plagiarism: Dr King was merely participating in a long-accepted preachers’ tradition, analogous to the way bluesmen copied and developed each others’ songs, so it was perfectly all right. As Robert Johnson developed songs from, say, Skip James and Son House, and yet made the new songs uniquely his own, so Dr King was building his own unique thoughts using the phases and motifs of lesser predecessors.

  11. Borepatch Says:

    Interesting. As to the prevalence of liberal Democrats in these scandals, it may be less a “liberal” vs. “conservative” thing than a reflection on University hiring practices.

    If we assume for the sake of argument that liberal Democrats get tenure five times as frequently as conservatives, and if (arguendo) there’s an equal prevalence of plagiarism in both groups, then you’d expect to see five times as many scandals from the left.

    I don’t know whether this is true, or simply a Just So story. However, it might be testable: look at the difference in rates of these scandals between liberal arts and engineering/hard science. There is a much less skewed distribution of political views in the “hard” disciplines, so you’d expect to see a different distribution in scandals, too.

  12. gs Says:

    Borepatch, after watching the Bush administration’s grand strategery and fiscal discipline, I have come to believe that what ails the USA & the West is not restricted to one side of the political spectrum but, rather, systemic. To be sure, the dysfunction manifests in different ways in different places.

    If those who sit in the front row of our society are given grossly disproportionate status & rewards, it’s not surprising that people cheat to get there.
    ***********
    NNC, the developer of an authorship (“stylometric”) software package has examined, and found wanting, Cashill’s claim that Ayers ghosted Dreams from My Father.

  13. fiftyville Says:

    In honor of the fine tradition of plagiarism sanctioned by Harvard, I sent them a donation of xeroxes of a liberal amount of the cash I have in my pocket.

  14. jms Says:

    I read an interesting defence of his plagiarism: Dr King was merely participating in a long-accepted preachers’ tradition, analogous to the way bluesmen copied and developed each others’ songs, so it was perfectly all right.

    Translation: It’s ok because less is expected of him. Why? Because he’s a “preacher”, which is like a “bluesman.” Gosh. What word are we dancing around here?

  15. Russ Says:

    It seems as if the Sense Of Entitlement issued to each Harvard student upon matriculation, or employee at the time of hiring, includes being entitled to use other peoples’ work without attribution.

  16. DirtCrashr Says:

    Tom Leherer moved from MIT and taught at my Alma Mater, UC Santa Cruz from ’72 to 2001 — a place where it is almost impossible to find anything other than the most strident liberals and Democrats – and anarchists, feminists, communists, multiculturalists, and all things PC even today. Apart from Ben Stein and Victor Hansen, it’s a very-very short list of conservatives who have emerged from or even been contained in the Santa Cruz orbit.
    A former room-mate did attempt to start the University’s first chapter of Young Republicans while I was there around 1978, and at the time I was very much a product of the BayAryan environment and the embodiment of Liberal; wore a Mao hat, walked the campus in flip-flops – and pretty much hated him. Individuals may change, but not so easily Institutions.

  17. Loyola Says:

    Neo-Neocon, the depths of your geekiness is startling but impressive.

  18. tim maguire Says:

    I think Borepatch is on the right trail–they are not protecting liberals so much as academic stars. They are protecting their investment in these people’s reputations. It just happens that the stars are mostly liberals.

    Derschowitz’s comment regarding judges is accurate–judges take ideas from briefs and submissions without attribution all the time. But as a lawyer, I WANT the judge to take my ideas and present them as his own and I laugh a little when I think of opposing council (the only other audience member most of the time) reading the decision that adopts one of my arguments so completely.

    But Derschowitz can’t possibly think that practice confuses Tribe–courts scrupulously cite other courts and legal publications. Besides, as an academic, Tribe probably doesn’t write any briefs.

  19. JorgXMcKie Says:

    I hit the link to your Lehrer BDS entry and was especially interested in the first comment, which excoriates Bush for doing pretty much what Obama is doing now. I wonder if the commenter is just as angry at Obama?

  20. Mike_K Says:

    My college days were enlivened by Tom Lehrer, who used to play at the Interlude club in LA often enough so we were not starved of his work. We also had Red Foxx at his own club at Pico and Hoover (As I recall, it could have been Vermont). We had all their records, too. In those days nobody paid much attention to politics except Mort Sahl, who is still the best. I still love his line that the Korean War was “World War 2.3.”

    Bush Derangement Syndrome is only part of it. Television had an effect; people who listened to the Nixon-Kennedy debate on the radio, thought Nixon had won. The result of that debate was that physical appearance became far more important than it had ever been. Since handsome faces and powerful intellects do not occur synchronously very often, acrimony and lies took the place of much of the intelligent debate that once made politics an honorable profession, for some at least.

  21. Mr. Logic Says:

    “Are you noting a trend? Because I am. All these people are liberal Democrats.”

    Something like 90%+ of the Harvard faculty is liberal to being with.

  22. JAL Says:

    Well Borepatch .. the hard sciences don’t seem to plagiarize (a math formula?) as much … but they do have made up stuff.

    Lancet just (finally) dropped their support of the Wakefield MMR-Autism connection which they published, apparently with their eyes firmly closed, a couple years back….

    And then there is the “anthropomorphic global warming” crowd at East Anglia, and Penn (U or State .. where is Mann at?) and all over playing with data like it New Year’s confetti an computer ‘models’ as if they were game designers.

    And who was sticking the gray moths on tree trunks?

    I think the libs still have the edge, hard or soft.

    Now as far as tin foil stuff, both sides seem to be well represented, and may in fact overlap on the far side of the world.

  23. JAL Says:

    that’s “do seem to have made stuff up.”

    and “playing with data like it’s New Year’s confetti and producing computer ‘models’ as if they were game designers.”

    Sorry. Mmm… coffee under the keys?

  24. Occam's Beard Says:

    the hard sciences don’t seem to plagiarize (a math formula?) as much … but they do have made up stuff.

    Unfortunately, not true. It happens all too frequently, and is a frequent source of academic feuds. (One prominent academic scientist – who shall remain nameless – was famous for calling one of his competitors “Tracker”). In the strong form, a researcher reviews a paper or grant proposal and then mirabile dictu, has a great idea shortly thereafter. (This can also happen legitimately, because people forget having read something, and then have it resurface to consciousness later.)

    In the weak form, which is no less exasperating, the plagiarist essentially republishes your paper, citing it as reference “12(j)” – i.e., burying it in the middle of a list of 50 references, without mentioning it explicitly in the running text – with his experimental data, prominently citing the original references that you relied upon to deduce the answer, and then appending your conclusion. Thus on one hand the plagiarist has made his paper looks like an original contribution, but at the same time he has protected himself from charges of plagiarism/ inadequate citation. (“Hey, I cited the original work! It’s in the middle of this six-inch column of references that three people in the world will read!”)

    And yes, JB, I’m looking at you.

  25. Occam's Beard Says:

    Straight-up fabrication is relatively rare, because if it’s worth while making up, it’s worth someone else’s while to repeat it before attempting to extend it.

    The failure of a new grad student to repeat something is usually the student’s failure, but if a postdoc can’t repeat it, then you start wondering about it. (Still, some experiments are pretty techniquey, and some postdocs are better than others.) At the next scientific conference, if you find nobody can repeat it, the antenna start twitching, and everybody starts re-reading the whole thing more carefully with a view to its plausibility.

  26. Patrick Of Atlantis Says:

    Original thoughts, new ideas, are much rarer than masters’ theses and doctoral dissertations, because so much of scholarship consists of rehashing and plagiarizing. In the case of Tribe and Ogletree, it seems they didn’t scramble the words and sentences, and use the thesaurus, quotation marks, and footnotes, as much as they should have.
    Kagan will make as lousy a jurist as Obama is a lousy president, for the reason that both of them have bought into flawed and failed political and judicial philosophies, philosophies that are sold at Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton.
    Wise opportunists should make the most of thie Kagan nomination, and use it to assail the influence of Harvard and the other high brow universities on America and the government.
    An Anti-Harvard party would have a wide spread appeal, I think.

  27. Fat Man Says:

    Well, that got today’s “Gee, I didn’t know he was still alive” prize.

  28. meep Says:

    Yeah, I knew that about Lehrer [his politics]. And yes, I pretty much memorized all his songs as a teenager.

    My one boring Lehrer anecdote: my husband used to work in VIP reservations at American Airlines, and one day he got Lehrer making a reservation [always intersting to see who made their own reservations, and who had intermediaries... not that I would expect Lehrer would have intermediaries, but some of the others - like Tito Puente and Gregory Peck- were somewhat of a surprise]. So Stu recognizes the voice from my repeated playing of LPs and he proclaims: “Oh, my girlfriend is a big fan of yours!” Lehrer was less than enthused. Can’t blame him. He just wanted to book a flight, dammit.

  29. mike wood Says:

    Another Tom Lehrer geek. Most amazing.

  30. Uncle Pinky Says:

    By that definition, some viruses are smarter than many bright but autistic children.

    Or some bright, but hypocritical, professors.

    “Take your cigarette out of its holder,
    and burn your initials in my shoulder…”

    The man can turn a phrase as well as Allan Sherman. He gets a pass. Forever.

  31. DirtCrashr Says:

    Heh – more UC Santa Cruz fun: Michael Bellesiles got his B.A. from the UC Santa Cruz in 1975 – the same year Victor Hansen did. His book Arming America was found to be a fabrication and a fraud. He was stripped of his Bancroft Prize, lost his tenured position at Emory University, and Knopf destroyed the unsold copies rather than even remainder them. Go Slugs! :-)

  32. Borepatch Says:

    JAL, Mike Mann is at Penn State. The whole global warming thing is something where I think the science is particularly shaky.

    Certainly you get whacked out stuff in science all the time. It’s just harder, not impossible. It’s also easier to correct.

  33. bandit Says:

    I knew that about Lehrer [his politics]. And yes, I pretty much memorized all his songs as a teenager.

    I’m sorry.

  34. Joel Engel Says:

    Reminds me very much of the way pro/college sports teams treat their superstars. That is to say, celebrity justice. Axing, for example, Tribe and Ogletree would create a firestorm far more damaging to HLS than occasional inquiries from everybody but the most important mainstream media outlets. If you were a superstar law prof, and weighing your next career move, I suspect you’d very much want to know that your law school would stand behind you when you were caught with your words in the Googinator.

  35. Occam's Beard Says:

    Borepatch, great post on your blog.

    Kudos.

  36. miriam Says:

    I learned about Lehrer when in college; he uses words so well I am willing to forgive him his BDS, especially since the Left Wing of my family suffers from the same complaint.

    Fortunately, it’s not fatal.

  37. Milhouse Says:

    I have no doubt that judges rely on lawyers’ briefs and clerks’ memoranda. But “rely on” is not the same thing is “quote from without attribution.”

    Actually it is.

  38. On Plagiarism « Insomniac memos Says:

    [...] By Carl Sanders In a post on academic plagiarism at Harvard (with some pretty significant examples), there is a link to a wonderfully entertaining [...]

  39. Bush Stole Quotes for his own Memoir - Politics and Other Controversies -Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Conservatives, Liberals, Third Parties, Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Congress, President - Page 8 - City-Data Forum Says:

    [...] My goodness, even a former lifelong democrat blogger gets it right…………… http://neoneocon.com/2010/05/15/the-…nd-tom-lehrer/ Last edited by wrench409; Today at 04:26 [...]

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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