• September 3, 2015

Alan Sokal, the 1996 Hoaxer, Takes Aim at an Accused Plagiarist at Rutgers

Alan Sokal, the 1996 Hoaxer, Takes Aim at an Accused Plagiarist at Rutgers 1

Rutgers U.

Frank Fischer, a political scientist at Rutgers U., says his alleged plagiarism was mere sloppiness and not all that uncommon in scholarship.

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close Alan Sokal, the 1996 Hoaxer, Takes Aim at an Accused Plagiarist at Rutgers 1

Rutgers U.

Frank Fischer, a political scientist at Rutgers U., says his alleged plagiarism was mere sloppiness and not all that uncommon in scholarship.

Two scholars have accused another scholar of committing plagiarism multiple times in a half-dozen books, the first of which was published in 1980 and the most recent just last year. The scholars make the accusations in a 70-page document, provided to The Chronicle, that includes many instances in which exact wording is reproduced without quotation marks, and long passages that closely mirror other authors' previously published work.

It is an unusually painstaking effort to uncover apparent scholarly wrongdoing. But what makes it even more unusual is how it all came about, and how it came to involve Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University who is best known for the hoax that bears his name.

The account begins with a political-science graduate student at the University of Zagreb, in Croatia, named Kresimir Petkovic. Last year Mr. Petkovic submitted a paper to the journal Critical Policy Studies. The paper was a critique of the work of Frank Fischer, a professor of politics and global affairs at Rutgers University at Newark, who also happens to be an editor at the journal. Mr. Fischer has edited or written numerous books on public policy, and in 1999 he won an award for his scholarship from the Policy Studies Organization.

He took issue with Mr. Petkovic's paper, saying that the graduate student had mischaracterized his work. In an e-mailed back-and-forth between the two, the possibility was raised that Mr. Petkovic's paper might be published in the journal, along with a debate-style response from Mr. Fischer. That possibility was later dropped and, after several months, Mr. Petkovic's submission was rejected.

Mr. Petkovic was annoyed. He felt that his paper had been accepted for publication, and that the acceptance had been withdrawn without a satisfactory explanation. Mr. Fischer says the paper couldn't be published because Mr. Petkovic refused to remove the supposed mischaracterizations of his work. The dispute was nothing noteworthy, except to those involved; misunderstandings and hurt feelings are part of academic publishing.

Then, according to Mr. Petkovic, he discovered a passage in a 2003 book by Mr. Fischer that appeared to have been lifted, in part, from another book. He wrote a paper that accused Mr. Fischer of plagiarism and submitted it to a different journal.

Mr. Fischer blames the incorrectly cited section on an oversight by an editor. More broadly, he says the allegations of plagiarism in the 70-page report by Mr. Petkovic and Mr. Sokal are evidence of no more than sloppiness.

The paper in which Mr. Petkovic alleged plagiarism in the 2003 book was forwarded to Mr. Fischer, who warned him that such accusations would be "grounds for a lawsuit against you were they to appear in print."

Mr. Petkovic responded in an e-mail to the effect that Mr. Fischer could sue him if he wanted to. He also made clear what had prompted his investigation: "If you have treated my text and me as an author seriously, nothing of this would have happened," he wrote. The subject of the e-mail is "Devil in Mr. Petkovic," and the sign-off is "Hugs 'n' Kisses."

50 to 100 Hours of Checking

Next Mr. Petkovic did something rather strange. He sent an e-mail message to Alan Sokal, whom he had never met, and knew of only because of the mid-1990s hoax in which Mr. Sokal successfully submitted a nonsensical paper to the journal Social Text in an effort to prove that such journals were interested in trendy ideology, not scientific rigor.

Why send a message to Mr. Sokal, a physicist, about supposed plagiarism in political science? "He seemed like a nice and funny guy," Mr. Petkovic says. "I didn't think he would respond."

But he did respond. Mr. Sokal says he read the e-mail message and had some free time to look over the paper Mr. Petkovic had sent. He became upset with how Mr. Petkovic had been treated, he says, and was outraged at the threat of a lawsuit against a graduate student by a senior scholar. So he decided to help Mr. Petkovic by investigating Mr. Fischer's work.

According to Mr. Sokal, he had never heard of Mr. Fischer or the journal in question. But that didn't stop him from throwing himself into the project. Over the summer, Mr. Sokal estimates, he spent 50 to 100 hours searching for instances of plagiarism in Mr. Fischer's work. What he found were more than a dozen passages, many of them several paragraphs long, that parallel already published work.

Mr. Fischer regularly cites his sources, but he doesn't make clear that he's borrowing the structure of the sentences, and often strings of exact wording, from those sources—in a sense, "tracing" the other books. While words have often been changed or added, the similarity of the passages is striking.

Using Mr. Sokal's research, Mr. Petkovic and the physicist then prepared the 70-page document explaining what they had found, and included the e-mails between Mr. Petkovic and Mr. Fischer. The document also includes Rutgers's policy on plagiarism, which states that "every direct quotation must be identified by quotation marks, or by appropriate indentation."

Mr. Sokal says it was "with a certain sadness" that he went about chronicling the similarities. "I don't take any pleasure in exposing this pattern of plagiarism," he says.

Asked if there was any relationship between this project and the famous Sokal affair of 1996, he says the only connection is that "I'm willing to engage in issues outside my field if I feel competent to do so."

Denial of 'Out and Out' Copying

In an e-mail exchange with The Chronicle, Mr. Fischer challenged the idea that what Mr. Sokal and Mr. Petkovic had discovered was plagiarism, calling it only sloppiness. When asked whether the verbatim material should have been in quotation marks, he responded: "Yes, but does one have to change every word? I don't think what I did is all that uncommon. I think the important part is to cite the works."

He argued that Mr. Petkovic was lashing out at him because his paper had been rejected.

Mr. Fischer also sent an e-mail to colleagues alerting them that accusations of plagiarism against him had been made, and that there are "passages that should have been more carefully checked" in his books. But he maintained that there were no "no out and out examples of whole passages taken without attribution."

He also noted that "we are now in the electronic age, making possible a careful scrutiny of every detail—a technique that I will myself use in the future to check my own texts."

Scrutinizing the Words

Below are a couple of the passages flagged by Mr. Petkovic and Mr. Sokal in their report. The first is an excerpt from Alan Sheridan's 1980 book, Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth. Following that is an excerpt from Frank Fischer's 2000 book, Citizens, Experts, and the Environment. The highlighted passages show the alleged duplication in Mr. Fischer's work.

Mr. Sheridan writes, on Pages 139-140:

But this power is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the "privilege" of a dominant class, which exercises it actively upon a passive, dominated class. It is rather exercised through and by the dominated. Indeed, it is perhaps unhelpful to think in terms of "classes" in this way, for power is not unitary and its exercise binary. Power in that sense does not exist: what exists is an infinitely complex network of "micro-powers", of power relations that permeate every aspect of social life. For that reason, "power" cannot be overthrown and acquired once for all by the destruction of institutions and seizure of the state apparatuses. Because "power" is multiple and ubiquitous, the struggle against it must be localized. Equally, however, because it is a network and not a collection of isolated points, each localized struggle induces effects on the entire network. Struggle cannot be totalized--a single, centralized [pagebreak 139-140] hierarchized organisation setting out to seize a single, centralized, hierarchized power; but it can be serial, that is, in terms of horizontal links between one point of struggle and another.

Mr. Fischer writes, on Pages 26-27:

Professional disciplines, operating outside of (but in conjunction with) the state, are thus seen to predefine the very worlds that they have made the objects of their studies (Sheridan, 1980). Because this power is exercised rather than possessed per se, it is not the privilege of a dominant elite class actively deploying it against a passive, dominated class. Disciplinary power in this sense does not exist in the sense of class power. Instead, it exists in an infinitely complex network of "micropowers" that permeate all aspects of social life. For this reason, modern power cannot be overthrown and acquired once and for all by the destruction of institutions and the seizure of the state apparatuses. Such power is "multiple" and "ubiquitous"; the struggle against it must be localized resistance designed to combat interventions into specific sites of civil society. Because such power is organized as a network rather than a collection of isolated points, each localized struggle induces effects on the entire network. Struggles cannot be totalized; there can be no single, centralized power. For this reason, argues Foucault, resistance can only be leveled against the horizontal links between one point of struggle and another (Foucault 1984).


1. rolandkaschek - October 15, 2010 at 06:07 am

Thank you for making this an issue of the "Chronicle". There are two things that I want to add:

1. A couple of years ago I gave a class in which, among others, plagiarism was discussed. In the definition that I have used at that time emphasis was given to deciding whether or not the wording used by a more recent author possibly could have been chosen if they would have not known a particular text befor writing their own text. I think that criterion is hard to deal with but has the advantage that it rules out monpolizing words and technical terms. The text I drew from back then was W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.M. Williams, The craft of research, The University of Chicago Press, 1995.

2. While one might not want to accept it: publication is not only about truth and good ideas. It rather is also about power and money. Senior scholars are supposed to sort of direct the evolution of their field. They do so as editors of journals or conference proceedings; reviewers of papers and referees of project proposals. In my experience there is clear evidence for the hypothesis that scholars easily come into conflict with their own goals, limitations and needs. I therefore feel since quite some time that a fundamental reform is neded of the current approach to deciding about papers and projects etc. In particular I think there should be something like an "appeal court" at which rejection issues could be discussed. Of course, for the idea to work with regard to conferences the organizers need to include in the conference plan of deadlines the time needed to discuss related issues. For all the publication channels in a field these appeal courts would have to publish anonymized reports on their transactions. These transactions could alert authors so as to not send papers into dangerous channels.

2. dweihs - October 15, 2010 at 06:14 am

As a "senior " scientist , and past Provost- this so-called sloppiness should result in Fischer not being allowed to be an editor. If he were in my university while I was Provost , I would have started an investigation by external reviewers, with a view to disciplinary action in the university if this "sloppiness" was a repeat performance - with consequences ranging all the way to dismissal.

3. mbelvadi - October 15, 2010 at 06:29 am

Mr. Fischer admits to "sloppiness" as if that were a defense against a charge of plagiarism. But faculty never accept that as a defense when accusing a student of plagiarism; rather, it's usually part of the accusation, not defense. His "does one have to change every word?" also sounds like he thinks it is acceptable to do what we tell students NOT to do - to change a few words in a passage to avoid using quotation marks. That argument also contradicts the first - if he deliberately changed some words to avoid the direct quotation, then he can't claim that he left out the quotation marks accidentally, out of "sloppiness" (that is, accidentally).

On another point, I find the very last line of the example text interesting. If Sheridan used the "horizontal links" phrase in 1980, yet Fischer thought it came from Foucault in 1984, does that mean Foucault plagiarized Sheridan too?

4. kchristi - October 15, 2010 at 07:01 am

If a student of mine turned in an essay containing this passage, he or she would earn an F.

5. swmoore - October 15, 2010 at 07:50 am

If a student of mine did this not only would they get an F but they would be reported the the academic intergrity office. After 2 such incidents on our campus the student is sometimes put on probation but is more often expelled.

6. gringo_gus - October 15, 2010 at 08:26 am

You know what though. What Fischer writes as a whole is much clearer, and different to what Sheridan writes. He couldn't have made this improvement if he didn't wholly grasp what Sheridan was trying to express, and internalize it.

So, some points that arise from this.

1) Fischer is clearly not an idiot unable to think or express meaning clearly, who therefore steals someone else's work - the usual cause of plagiarism.

2) Given this, then, what do his accusers claim for Fischer's motivation beyond sloppiness ? I guess it is easier to edit and improve rather than find the words oneself, so, laziness too ?

3) What is the category of crime we have here, therefore ? Is it not time to have different degrees and categories of plagiarism ?

4)Methodologically, all we have here is a few hundred words from which were are supposed to judge a book of how many words. What overall percentage is plagiarised (this percentage would inform our judgements of students ?) What percentage, too, of the important stuff the book says, rather than this nuts-and-bolts explication would end up higlighted ?

5) I agree that verbatim cites should be evidently so, in quotes. But citation data in the text do mitigate imho.

I do not know any of the people involved, but to me it certainly does look like sloppiness rather than conscious intent.

Finally, even as a scholar in my early fifties, I am becoming aware of how things I used to be able to rely on, and were clearly obvious to me from my own memory - like what in my notes I wrote myself, and what is my paraphrasing of someone else - is much more fuzzy. I have to be really careful to make that clear in my record keeping, but I also have to remember to do that. Of course, people do cheat, but sometimes I think, there but for the grace of god...

7. texasguy - October 15, 2010 at 08:38 am

Commenter #3 makes a very good point. All efforts made by plagiarists to hide their "borrowings" are just the proof that they knew what they were doing.

8. myemotan - October 15, 2010 at 08:53 am

Surrogate Plagiarism
Fischer does not directly or explicitly deny the (apparently indefensible) plagiarism charge, so he invokes the "sloppiness" excuse. His intellectual honesty or credibility becomes questionable when, as the 70-page report strongly shows, the Fischer sloppiness becomes a chronic or persistent and thus deliberate strategy for (sleekly) concealing plagiarism. He implicitly admits the palgiarism but seems dismissive of it because he sees it as a common practice or violation and thus excusable or inconsequential. Apparently, the common practice, especially in some social-science publications or writing traditions, of never introducing (in-textually) a reference at the BEGINNING of the referenced paraphrase or summary or quote encourages this kind of (intentional or intended) plagiarism. In such documentation, one hardly knows where a reference (that one acknowledges with a parenthetical citation at the end of the reference) begins. This documentation style sometimes facilitates the blurring of the line between the voice of an invoked author and the voice of the borrowing author. We usaully know that the author has borrowed someting; we also usually know where the borrowing ends, but we sometimes do not know EXACTLY where it begins. The practice (in some literary scholarly publications) of properly introducing (in-textually) EVERY reference guards against the so-called unintended plagiarism.

Furthermore, I find the Fischer e-mail threat disturbing because it attempts to extort Petkovich's silence. Bartlett quotes Fischer as saying, "If you have treated my text and me as an author seriously, nothing of this would have happened." Bartlett adds, "The subject of the e-mail is 'Devil in Mr. Petkovic,' and the sign-off is 'Hugs 'n' Kisses'." Since the Petkovich paper situation created a conflict of interest for Fischer as editor, why did he dash the "raised" "possibility" "that Mr. Petkovic's paper might be published in the journal, along with a debate-style response from Mr. Fischer"? Such arrangement would have given Fischer the opportunity to "defend" or "justify" his "sloppiness" excuse. The fact that Fischer failed to choose this route implies that he did not want to bring any plagiarism attention to himself. Ironically, his attempt to silence Petkovich backfires. What he initially tried to conceal eventually appears in an uglier way. A master irony: an editor of a scholarly journal who normally would be expected to be meticulous pleads sloppiness, chronic sloppiness.

9. ethan56 - October 15, 2010 at 09:04 am

If a student of mine did something like the example cited in the article, the student would be reported to the Student Honor Council. The student would get an F(X)--plagiarism--on the student's record until the student had taken a course on plagiarism ethics, after which the F(X) would become an F.

10. 11200222 - October 15, 2010 at 09:07 am

As several others have said, if I saw this in a paper written in Freshman English I would automatically fail the paper, and refer the student to an academic disciplinary process. Not only were the ideas lifted; the very words themselves, clearly, were lifted, without acknowledgement. This is about as clear a case of plagiarism as one is likely to see. If this is not plagiarism, then nothing is, and we can all start reprinting others' works as if they were our own, without fear of consequences. "Oh, how sloppy of me; I didn't realize that I put my name on someone else's work!" Yeah, right.

11. fred_bauder - October 15, 2010 at 09:11 am

I haven't read the 70 page report yet, but this is a familiar problem on Wikipedia where editors may take a short cut by incorporating blocks or long sections of text rather than rewriting the information. The problem, of course, on Wikipedia is that to rewrite something you have to more or less understand it. It is not clear from your article if Fischer was diligent about citing the sources he copied. In the example given he seems to cite one source while copying text from another. Anyway to the point, if he cites his sources he's engaging in copyright violation, not plagiarism, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Plagiarism#Sources_under_copyright

12. jgcarroll - October 15, 2010 at 09:11 am

As a current doctoral candidate I have gone out of my way to make sure that I have properly attributed every idea I have borrowed and that my paraphrasing is sufficiently different from the original source that there will be no lingering questions about plagiarism (I have been so rigorous in citing sources that I have recently begun to wonder, in fact, where my own ideas are in my dissertation). It is understandable, in my opinion, when senior academics are found to have been a bit sloppy in their note-taking and writing; with so many responsibilities associated with academia the pressure to produce must be, sometimes, overwhelming. But the same spirit of generosity is not extended to junior academics, and so I have consciously created a very rigorous set of standards and practices for myself.
In the process of doing my own work, though, I have also discovered a few instances in which respected authors in my field have been sloppy with their scholarship. But this leaves me in a puzzling situation: what, if anything, should I do? The threats leveled against Mr. Petkovic are not surprising to me, leaving me to believe that, in a tight job market, it is better to shut my mouth and focus on my own work than to point out the inconsistencies in the professional practices of my soon-to-be colleagues and peers.
But I do believe, of course, that this sort of "plagiarism" - a label that I find to be too stark and binary - is a very common thing in academic writing. In the end I choose to focus on my own work, trying to avoid the kinds of professional repercussions that Mr. Petkovic will most likely suffer in the near future.

13. flowney - October 15, 2010 at 09:15 am

This discussion also has relevance to copyright which relies upon the same principles. The debate about this kind of intellectual property will only become more important as faculty begin to use new eBook technologies to create eTextbooks specifically designed for particular courses. The number of texts covering the same topics will multiply exponentially and, so, the probability of plagiarism will rise.
In US law at least, one cannot copyright (monopolize) a fact or an idea. One can only copyright the unique expression of an idea. For many topics with a long history or extensive investigation, that criterion can be quite a challenge if it is taken in a literal "zero tolerance" manner. How many accounts are there of Hannibal crossing the alps? As time goes on and as these accounts accumulate, the ability to describe things accurately must inevitably decline, So, how are we to assure academic integrity if that is how we define it?
Administrators will gravitate toward simple, objective appearing criteria because it helps make their workload easier to manage but is that what is best for scholarship?

14. anna31 - October 15, 2010 at 09:17 am

Beyond the common discussion on plagiarism that we all know from everyday experiences at the universities, there is another - quite substantial - part of the story that strikes me.

If Mr. Petkovic feels himself to be such an innovative and wonderfull researcher, why doesn't he show this to the scientific community?
Instead of publishing his piece of work elswhere - and there are many journals where he could prove that his critique of Fischer's work is a relevant and a good one - he seems to spend all the energy to attack Mr. Fischer personally. Is that supposed to be his scientific project?

Petkovic's attitude prehaps does not break any specific written rules, but it does not show any remarkable qualities - that he had claimed to be hurt because of negative reviewing of his manuscript - either.

Whereas Fischer obviously had to stand out various critiques in the reviews (without which he could not publish his books and articles) Petkovic turned to personal attacks after the first rejections.

Every critique is possible. But a good critique needs a good style.

15. pchoffer - October 15, 2010 at 09:19 am

Folks: having some experience trying to decide if parallel texts were evidence of plagiarism, and viewing plagiarism as a "strict liability" offense (to which one cannot raise the defense of "I was sloppy" or "my research assistant was the guilty party"), I found the Petkovich-Sokal document exhibited pretty damaging evidence of excessive borrowing without proper attribution. Setting aside Fischer's non-denial defense and his conduct toward Petkovich, what struck me was, first, the extent to which unique or proprietary coinage (one might even call some of it "jargon") from target sources was adopted without quotation marks indicating the nature of the borrowing. Overall the pattern was one of "close paraphrase" (in the article called "tracing") that one found in Stephen Ambrose's work.
Second, it appears that on occasion Fischer lifted his target sources' sources verbatim, without the appropriate "as quoted in [the target source]" citation. If you decide to borrow a quotation you find in a secondary source you have to tell your reader that the quotation came from the secondary source. This is true even if you break up or elide a portion of the quotation. If you go to the source of that quotation and read the entire original yourself, you do not have to say where you found the reference to it. You can then use whatever portion of the original yourself (always quoting and citing properly).
The AHA Statement on Standards and other discipline's codes of conduct make clear that such close paraphrase, without explicit attribution of the original author's unique scholarly contribution, is a censurable offense. But the penalties for such offenses vary. In the Harvard Law School cases, there was no punishment save public shaming (one supposes that the puritan tradition of the stocks lives on in Cambridge). In other cases, more stringent punishments were imposed. Rarely did professors face the same kind of punishment that students, found guilty of the exact same kind of behavior, faced.
All best, Peter

16. molneck - October 15, 2010 at 09:23 am

The placement of citations to Sheridan and to Foucault in the excerpt from Fischer leave the impression that Professor Fischer is crediting Sheridan with a general point that is expressed in the first sentence, while he is offering his own summary of Foucault. This is not a matter of omitting quotation marks.

17. molneck - October 15, 2010 at 09:32 am

Just to be clear: I had not read mbelvadi's comment, #3, before submitting my own. He or she had already made my point. (There is a convention for aknowledging this in writing: "Mbelvadi makes the same point in Comment # 3.")

18. sschram - October 15, 2010 at 10:01 am

Frank Fischer is widely recognized as an original thinker with path-breaking ideas in the field of public policy analysis. No one can ever take that away from him. Evidently, in publishing those ideas, in a few selected cases he parroted the words of background sources that served as context for his innovative analyses. Most often he cited these sources when doing so. No malicious intent here to be sure; and no harm really. Not plagiarism or even copyright infringement in almost all cases. Why all the fuss? It is made clear in the memos that are being made public: revenge; pure and simple by a spurned article writer who gets an assist from a crank who hates post-modernists!

19. dank48 - October 15, 2010 at 10:21 am

I don't want to come off as hypersensitive, but as an editor, I really get tired of scholars laying blame for the defects of their published works on "an oversight by an editor." It's bad enough when the person whose name goes at the top of the published piece can't be bothered to check his or her own work for, ah, technical scrupulousness.After all, the editing at this level is a matter of sweeping up, sometimes mopping up: fixing the details of grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, syntax, clarity, accuracy, and so forth, but "accuracy" at some point just has to remain the author's responsibility. Editors are trash collectors; the sloppiness is what we try to eliminate.

To expect an editor to research the entire literature to make sure the author hasn't indulged in excessive borrowing would be unrealistic, unprofessional, and imo simply bizarre.

In the example given, of the 197 words in the Fischer pp. 26-27 passage, 109 are highlighted, i.e. borrowed from Sheridan pp. 139-40. Perhaps 55% lifted is within Mr. Fischer's standards for originality.

As a book editor, if I had come across this, I'd have raised holy hell, meaning the project would have immediately been sent "upstairs" for a keep-or-kill decision. No publisher with any sense wants to take a dip in this pool.

Comment #14, btw, seems to me a masterpiece of irrelevance, like complaining about the water on the floor after the fire department has left. And finally, it's especially picquant when an editor blames another editor for the defects of his publication.

20. avalongod - October 15, 2010 at 10:24 am

It may not be popular of me to say, but I agree with one of the previous posters that there probably ought to be degrees of plagiarism. From what I saw, "sloppiness" or "laziness" would pretty much characterize the offense here. If Fischer cited the original works, which ironically would have made it easier for his critics to attack him, I do think that mitigates the "crime".

I'm uncomfortable with how this arose too...pretty clearly revenge motivated by a graduate student who didn't get an article published. @#8, it wasn't Fischer who said ""If you have treated my text and me as an author seriously, nothing of this would have happened" it was the graduate student. As for there being a conflict of interest between Fischer being editor (although I note, it wasn't made clear if Fischer was action editor...meaning had control over this particular paper...many journals have associate editors for this kind of situation)...it is possible. But this is something that regularly occurs in academia. Editors or reviewers quashing research or reviews which are critical of their own work (or even just beloved theories) is hardly an outlying event.

In the end, I think this is being whipped into an emotional frenzy, rather than something being handled cooly and rationally.

21. doris5145 - October 15, 2010 at 10:41 am

Frank Fischer is not only known as an original thinker, a person, who has brought new and innovative thoughts into the field of policy analysis, he is also known for his engagement for young scholars. What is going on here? What I see is a young man, whose article has been rejected by a peer reviewed journal. This happens every day and everybody working in academia has made such experiences, not only younger scholars. What is so unusual and shocking in this case, is, that this young scholar is not trying to get his article published elsewhere (brilliant and without fault as he seems to be), but starts a smear campaign on the editor looking for revenge. Do we want academic publishing to work this way: "if you're not accepted, hit the editor"? Frank Fischer has published numerous books and articles, thousands of pages of innovative writing. If a small number of his citations are sloppy, this is not really copyright infringement. And people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

22. cwinton - October 15, 2010 at 10:54 am

As someone noted, Mr. Fischer's passage is a clearer rewrite of Mr. Sheridan's, something editors typically do for authors. That Mr. Fischer could have been more careful attributing Mr. Sheridan's work is undeniable, but the reference to Mr. Sheridan, if not the complete connection, is there. Here's my question. When an editor makes significant changes to an author's text, which is then published under the suthor's name with little if any acknowlgement of the editor's work, by the definition of plagiarism some of these posts seem to be making, it would appear to me the author becomes guilty of plagiarism?

23. unusedusername - October 15, 2010 at 10:54 am

Petkovic's motives in exposing Fischer's motives are irrelevant. Fischer is a plagiarist--end of story.

I can just imagine what my advisor would have said if he found something like this in my thesis, and I replied, "Calm down, no biggie, I was just a bit sloppy."

24. unusedusername - October 15, 2010 at 10:55 am

Correction: Petkovic's motives in exposing Fischer's actions are irrelevant.

25. sages - October 15, 2010 at 11:18 am

@18. sschram: '...No malicious intent here to be sure; and no harm really....' How exactly did you determine this? All I see is plagiarized text by someone who is expected to uphold the integrity of the science published in his journal. No harm done!?

26. helgap1 - October 15, 2010 at 11:26 am

Frank Fischer has accomplished so much for the policy analysis field and is not only an original thinker but he has pathed the way for argumentative policcy analysis. Now two scholars want to discredit him as one of the didn't get his paper published in the way he felt it sould be published? I think this is more than revenge and to me it looks like a personal mission of destroying the good reputation of a leading scholar. Three questions come to my mind in this regards: 1.) Why didn't Mr Petkovic take up the ideas from the reviewers of his article, revised it and got published? 2.) Why didn't he take up the offer from the journal to be replied by Mr. Fischer. This could have even been a very fruitful and interesting discussion and it could have given a lot of attention to Mr. Petkovics work. But maybe Mr. Petkovics work is not as original as he claims it to be. 3.) Why did he invest so much time in trying to discredit others work and not come forward with his own? As for now I have not seen anything published other than than in Croatian that could be read by the scholarly community. I don't buy the story either that they have invested only 50-100 hours to come up with a 70page report. I believe they have worked hard just to show that some words used by Mr. Fischer were to be found in other sources too. But taking a closer look what did they find? It was actually only words and not meanings that others used before and Mr. Fischer did not steal them, but he cited them. So what is all the fuss about? I beleive Mr. Petkovics aims is not to become a well-recognised academic scholar through publishing original work, but just to get media attention. Had he attakced a less important scholar, nobody would have reported it.

27. tyroneslothrop - October 15, 2010 at 11:27 am

It is hard to take anything associated with Sokal seriously. He proved over a decade ago that he was willing to engage in acts of bad faith to "prove a point." He cannot be trusted.

28. rockthekasbah - October 15, 2010 at 11:33 am

This whole story seems very dodgy. It looks like an attempt to smear Fischer.

I think there are two important points:
1. Fischer's level of plagiarism is of copying phrases, but he does cite his sources. Plagiarism is the intent to steal someone'e else's ideas. He is stealing their phrases, but he shows whose ideas they are.

2. Petkovic's intentions are to take revenge on an editor who turned down a paper. Any academic will have papers rejected: you submit it elsewhere and get on with life (perhaps learning from it). Boo hoo, cry baby. Throw toys out of the pram!

I can't believe a serious publication like The Chronicle is apparently engaging in a smear campaign. If you want to report on double standards in plagiarism - then please go ahead! But I think there are gaps in the logic here.

Some requests:
ONE. Please can Petkovic and Sokal submit ALL their submitted papers for the same 'plagiarism' check they used on Fischer?

TWO. Please can they perform the same test on some other authors (including editors who HAVE accepted their papers)?

Now *that* would be interesting.

29. europeangirl - October 15, 2010 at 11:33 am

How pathetic and ugly... Is that what scholarship is about?
Are all these graduate students who support Sokal/Petkovic indeed wasting their time concocting 'own words' instead of actually thinking? How about expressing some ideas worth reading?

How come none of the allegedly plagialized authors has come forward during all these years of F. Fischer's impressive scholarly carreer?
Instead, two persons 'speak up' - one of them, A. Sokal, is obviously trying to dust off his forgotten fame by applying computer techniques to texts he was never interested in and had never read, let alone understand. The other one is a frustrated graduate student whose whole contribution to the academic world so far consists of free translations/summaries/interpretations of authors in the field Frank Fischer represents, in Chroation journals. So, if it is in Chroation, it is not plagiarism any longer.
The latter point needs to be documented. I regret to say that I do not have 100 hours at my hands to do this, since I am busy teaching my students what really matters.

30. sages - October 15, 2010 at 11:47 am

@all those who are attacking the accusers: Their work and character has nothing to do with the matter at hand: were some texts plagiarized by Fischer?

31. resource - October 15, 2010 at 11:48 am

What is the intent behind the rules surrounding citation to original works in scholarly writing? It is to give credit where credit is due. It appears that Dr. Fischer did that.

Scholarly writing is not creative writing. It is not marketed as original thought. Most often, research writing is expected to report the knowledge and interpretation of others, and then report how new inquiry has advanced that knowledge and suggests new analysis.

We teach graduate students that all statements and claims must be supported firt by citation to reference. A common caution to graduate students is 'we are not interested in what you think'. so we ask to write what other people think, with proper citation. Now, we come with this nit picking pedantic fine tooth combing for every phrase and common that might have been uttered by someone else.

Folks, there are no new ideas to expressed in the introductions and literature reviews of scholarly work. Let's just assume that, and get on with productive work.

32. profmomof1 - October 15, 2010 at 12:06 pm

For me a key problem here is what originally happened to Petkovic with the journal. He thought his paper was accepted, to be published with debates. Then the acceptance apparently was withdrawn and it was rejected at the behest of an editor with a clear conflict of interest.

When I was a young up-and-coming scholar I submitted a journal paper about a particular analytical technique, with data showing why a new alternative technique was more accurate. The "father" of the the original analytical technique was one of many associate editors for that journal. The paper went through peer review and was accepted by the editor-in-chief pending revisions. After submitting the revisions it was given final acceptance and I was given a target date to expect proofs. On that date, instead of proofs came a withdrawl of acceptance due to that associate editor with a conflict having vehement objections.

Since Petkovic's paper was not rejected due to peer review, but due to the objections of an editor with a conflict of interest deciding he did not want to allow open debate that might have shown him in the wrong, Fischer should be removed as an editor of that journal. It's just inappropriate behavior; and even more so if Petkovic actually received an acceptance that was withdrawn.

33. slantchev - October 15, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Poster for #s 18, 21, and 26: please post under one name since you clearly are the same person.

34. sciencewhiz - October 15, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Mr. Fischer did not give appropriate credit where credit it due. Based on what is presented above, I can tell you if he were an undergrad or grad student, he would be called on this and sent up on academic misconduct charges. But because he sits resting on his laurels and is now deemed a "scholar", he doesn't have to meet the same measure of scholarly integrity that others do.

No matter how this came about, I'm disappointed that other scholars from the academy do not clearly see what is before them.

35. graythebruce - October 15, 2010 at 12:37 pm

#33: Thank you. Glad I'm not the only one who had concluded that. To me, the most damning aspect of the text excerpted here is that Foucoult is being cited as the source of the ideas for most of the paragraph, when in fact Sheridan is the source of most of the wording. Fischer argues that he cited his sources; not really. He cited sources, but evidently not always the right ones. When my students do this, they're invariably trying to make it tougher for people reviewing the text to spot the plagiarism. They copy from Smith and cite Jones. That's far, far more serious than simple patchwriting.

36. drnels - October 15, 2010 at 01:06 pm

Why are we not supposed to accept admissions of sloppiness from first-year students but we are from professional scholars?

37. warrenyoder - October 15, 2010 at 01:10 pm

One key element missing from this discussion is the dramatic change in scholarly tools that became available during Dr. Fischer's career. In this time we went from printed documents, to online library databases, to citation managers, etc. Scholars have had to change their habits time and time again. It was all too easy to enter a passage in one application, update the information to another, then another, and lose the context of the quote. We have only recently had the tools to easily find and compare text strings across years of scholarship.

The comments for this article mainly concern contemporary material researched and written with current tools where plagiarism can be operationally defined and motives reasonably inferred. I suggest than any scholar with a career than spans more than 5 years be concerned with this use of tools available only recently to examine scholarship from past decades without any understanding of the dramatic changes in scholarly tools.

38. frank_fischer - October 15, 2010 at 01:19 pm

I have been attacked and accused of alleged plagiarism. This was initiated by a Ph.D candidate at the University of Zagreb, whose article was rejected by the journal I co-edit, Critical Policy Studies. The article was properly reviewed and Routledge confirms this. The process was the basis for the rejection.
Rather than attempt to publish the article elsewhere, Mr. Petkovic decided to go after me personally. He spend a long time (perhaps 100s of hours, one can assume), electronically scanning my writings over 30 years. He/they came up with some unfortunate instances, but it is largely sloppy paraphrasing in my view, for which I have publicly taken full responsibility. I don't remember these things, but I would agree that they shouldn't be there.
To say that they have 70 pages of findings sounds like a lot. But they have conceded that 98% (I would say 99%) of my work withstood their electronic scrutiny and Professor Sokal even told me in an email that I had made significant contribution to the field in which I write. But he decided to crucify me for the rest. He presented himself as "only the messenger" of the things they just happened to have "stumbled onto". Given his previous activities, this would indeed, be a new role for Professor Sokal.
This was not the first time Mr. Petkovic has tried this; he sought to interest another journal, but was turned away. The early effort was in large part personal, but this one also rests on both personal and political-academic motives, as emails from the Ph.D student to Sokal indicate. He asks Sokal to get involved because he too is opposed to my theoretical starice, a view that Professor Sokal attacks in the famous "Science Wars" of the 1990s. professor Sokal took this on without investigation of the background issues, and he told me, I believe I am correct in saying, that he has never met Mr. Petkovic. But now he is the accuser, which adds sensationalism.
I do hope that somebody explores their behavior as well. Mr. Petkovic's own behavior would seem to itself pose ethical questions, both then and now.
When the journalist of the Chronicle called me about this for any comments I might have, he did not mention that it was Professor Sokal was involved (only saying that Mr. petkovic had a co-author). That knowledge would have changed the way I would have responded.
In any case, I do not approve of those passages, as they appear. Even if they are such a small percent of the overall body of work, I can honestly say that I regret this. In a certain way, I even thank them for pointing them out to me. None of it was done intentionally. Had i not sloppily forgotten to check them again, I would have better paraphrased them. I would add that it is difficult to stay on top of this in long books written over several year, but I do not offer it as an excuse.
With best regards,
Frank Fischer
Professor of Politics and Global Affairs

39. johnfarley - October 15, 2010 at 02:00 pm

I do hope that all the complexity and debate here is taken into consideration the next time someone contributing here gets a paper from a student with similar problems. When I was actively teaching (I'm retired now), I never subscribed the "turn 'em and throw the book at 'em on the first violation" school of dealing with this kind of thing. I found that failing the paper, explaining the rules, and allowing the student to re-write was a more effective approach than the highly punitive approach many of my colleagues favored. I think it led to students learning a lesson that stuck with them, rather than to a lot of anger, resentment, and (probably) efforts to be more clever the next time.

I know that what I say is not particularly applicable to how this case should have been handled, but it does bother me when we have one set of standards for our students and different ones for ourselves.

40. dank48 - October 15, 2010 at 03:18 pm

And btw, to the commenters who are still outraged, shocked, and appalled at Sokal's behavior: Is anyone claiming that he didn't demonstrate the utter vacuity Social Text?
You don't like the way he did it; too bad. The emperor didn't like being told he was naked, but he didn't think criticizing the little child's diction would put clothes on his back.
I wish we had Sandy Thatcher's take on this.

41. dank48 - October 15, 2010 at 03:19 pm

". . . vactity of Social Text?"

Mea culpa.

42. jrshearer - October 15, 2010 at 03:30 pm

I agree that what Mr. Petkovic has done smacks more of retribution that it does any serious attempt to reform academia, and I find his and Sokol's actions to be distasteful.

That being said, what Mr. Fischer has done is not only distateful, but also it is clearly plagiarism and dishonorable. As an English professor, I can tell you that, no matter what citation form you are using, the rule is that no more than THREE words of original phrasing, word order, or sentence structure can be used from another source without quotation marks going around it. To simply cite in an offhand way at the end of a paragraph is, I agree, "sloppiness." But to have close to, if not full, sentences that exactly mirror another text without quotation marks is, indeed, plagiarism. It's not paraphrasing, which is putting another's original idea into YOUR OWN WORDS, because this was not doen in the above example, even with the vague citation at the end, it is plagiarism. My students learn this every year in Composition I, and they know that simply putting a citation at the end of a paragraph implies that there is no original material in the paragraph, which is not the case in the above example either. So, really it is an epic fail on all counts.

Yes, it is "sloppiness," but it is also plagiarism. And it is time for Fischer to own up to what he's done just the same as it is for Petkovic to admit that he started all of this by having the academic equivalent of a 2-year-old's tantrum. Everyone involved is an adult; therefore, it is time for both sides to own up and take the appropriate punishments for the crimes committed.

43. 12080243 - October 15, 2010 at 03:33 pm

Accusations against Mr. Fischer would never have gotten any traction at all at the University of Southern Mississippi where copying other's words and ideas is considered "not reinventing the wheel" and therefore perfectly acceptable. This rationale was advocated by past dean of the College of Business, Harold Doty, as a legitimate basis for copying another school's Academic Integrity Policy. Furthermore, Harold Doty, Alvin Williams, past Interim Dean, and Charles Jordan, Professor of Accounting, are fully supported by USM's administration, when they asserted that if an author gets permission, in private, from an original author to copy their words and ideas "without proper citation", then there is no plagiarism. USM administrators have not approved these rationales for students, but the principles--"not reinventing the wheel" and "approved" copying "without proper citation" --are legitimate answers to allegations of plagiarism for faculty at USM. If Fischer was a faculty member at USM the accusations of plagiarism would never pose a problem for his employment. For details, see "University and AACSB Diversity", http://commons.aaahq.org/posts/3d4bfd4201.

Chauncey M. DePree, Jr., DBA
School of Accountancy
College of Business
University of Southern Mississippi

44. tyroneslothrop - October 15, 2010 at 03:38 pm


Sokal proved he was a liar and that he was willing to act in bad faith when submitting an article for review. He proved both of those things with his actions. I would never trust anything he submitted and certainly would return it without review. He violated the principle of good faith when submitting for peer review. He cannot be trusted. He lacks basic academic and scholarly ethics.

He "proved" nothing about Social Text, only that they acted in good faith and he did not. Those are facts. That some feel that he proved a point they wanted proved, is an issue for them. Not a fact.

45. j_roberts - October 15, 2010 at 03:54 pm

Can we please not fight the Science Wars again? Most of us in the hard sciences think he made a point, most in the soft sciences do not, and there are a few on the fence or who "crossed over".

46. minnesotan - October 15, 2010 at 03:55 pm

I hope I never find one of my students plagiarizing. I don't think I can handle the accusations to which Mr. Sokal is being subjected. Is this a case of "She was asking for it?" or a case of "I didn't do it, but she loved every minute of it?"

47. sschram - October 15, 2010 at 03:59 pm

The utter vacuity of social text comment is priceless! Who are these idiots. Have they ever read social text, which by the way continues to thrive as an important source of social commentary. I am done with this distraction. I will try to resist the next time the tea party comes to town.

48. drangie - October 15, 2010 at 04:00 pm

Neither Sokal's nor Petkovic's motives matter a bit here in considering the evidence. Sokal's past actions v. Social Text are irrelevant. Whether Sokal deceived Social text, or acted in bad faith, is irrelevant here. If there is evidence of plagiarism, who found it, and why they found it, does not change the evidence itself. All that matters is whether or not the evidence put forth supports a charge of plagiarism.

49. 12080243 - October 15, 2010 at 04:13 pm

48. drangie,

Clearly you are right when you say, "If there is evidence of plagiarism, who found it, and why they found it, does not change the evidence itself. All that matters is whether or not the evidence put forth supports a charge of plagiarism."

At the University of Southern Mississippi, administrators would take action to fire you if you brought forth evidence of plagiarism of another faculty member or an administrator. They would bring the full force and finances of the state to destroy you. (See # 43 above.)

Chauncey M. DePree, Jr., DBA
School of Accountancy
College of Business
University of Southern Mississippi

50. gringo_gus - October 15, 2010 at 04:32 pm

Here's some more for you Professor Sokal:

* People putting their names on papers because they are part of a research team, even though they haven't contributed to the paper

* Esteemed professors insisting their names go on papers because they are "principle investigators", "team leaders" even though they haven't contributed to the papers

* Harvard Business Review uses professional writers to work on submissions which are attributed solely to their submitters

* The widespread belief in Europe that once a paper get a revise and resubmit it is accepted practice in the US to hire a professional writer to redraft

So, Professor Soka will you investigate this too ? Or are you happy to have a go at individuals, but not the establishment ?

51. reidmc - October 15, 2010 at 04:37 pm

Per an earlier comment, I believe the general plagarism question, and this example, would be more effectively discussed if there were grades of plagiarism: perhaps first, second and third degree? Too many widely varied examples now get a single, one-word label.

52. tombartlett - October 15, 2010 at 04:42 pm

This is Tom Bartlett, the reporter who wrote the article. I want to respond to a comment made by Frank Fischer above. He writes:

"When the journalist of the Chronicle called me about this for any comments I might have, he did not mention that it was Professor Sokal was involved (only saying that Mr. Petkovic had a co-author). That knowledge would have changed the way I would have responded."

All comments in the article from Fischer are taken from our (many) e-mail exchanges (as the text of the article makes clear). He absolutely knew that Sokal was the co-author when he made those comments. He was also given a copy of the 70-page document in advance, which lists Sokal as the co-author. The notion that he did not have a chance to respond -- or was not aware that Sokal was involved -- is demonstrably false.

53. 11126724 - October 15, 2010 at 04:43 pm

Some of the (excessively) self-righteous comments above verge on anal compulsive behavior, and seem to confuse the DIFFERENT standards that are appropriate to copyright infringement, plagiarism, and evaluation of student papers as distinct from scholarly publications. One would hope that evaluation of scholarly publications might rise above the gutter found here.

1. Plagiarism concerns the theft of ideas, not words per se. The source of the ideas, and some might say even the phrases, is given in the first sentence, so clearly there was no plagiarism in this case. It might have been more clear if attribution had appeared at the end of the paragraph, or if preceded by a colon in this case.

NOBODY has a monopoly on words and phrases they have used. Once published, they may be used freely by others--so long as attribution is given, as it was in this case. No doubt many scholars have used phrases they read twenty years before, not realizing they were not the original author. The more one reads, and the longer one lives, the more likely this is to occur. Moreover, sometimes the same ideas (or phrases?) may occur simultaneously to two people who have little or no contact with each other (e.g., Darwin and Wallace?). Only the owner of publication rights to an original publication has standing to complain about copyright infringement, and then only in a court of law. Other complaints are irrelevant. I don't see the copyright owner here anywhere.

2. Go ahead and insert parenthetical citations after every phrase highlighted in the sample paragraph provided above and see what the effect is. Without them, the paragraph more clearly expresses the ideas than the original author, as more than one commenter observed. With them, all meaning is lost in a blizzard of citations--as is often the case in dissertations and law review articles by junior scholars. Anal compulsive citations obscure meaning, and contribute nothing to the advancement of knowledge.

3. Motivation IS important. As any criminal lawyer will tell you, there is no crime if there is no intent. Lacking intent, there is only accident--which may or may not be a civil wrong of varying significance, but again, only the owner of the copyright has anything to say about that. Petkovic soiled himself badly in this case. "Hell hath no fury like a graduate student scorned."

By the way, none of these parties is known to me personally. And as for the most self-righteous amongst the comments above, "Methinks the lady doth protest too much..."

54. profmcgoverb - October 15, 2010 at 04:48 pm

To #48 and others on this point - The motives of Petkovic and Sokal are absolutely important and relevant, without which there is really no case. This is nothing more than spiteful behavior of a rejected and disgruntled author whose work has been rejected by reviewers of multiple journals (and not just where Fischer is Editor). Moreover, why has a link to the original article by Petkovic so marvellously argued that was rejected only out of spite, not been made public in this "expose", just the diatribes and aggravating email correspondence?

Fischer has contributed to the study of public policy truly innovatively, while bringing to bear a reading of really diverse disciplines and disparate texts. He has used these readings to develop and clarify and deepen their meanings within the topics he focuses on, and some are better referenced than others, but to the charge of plagiarism, and more seriously intent to pass of anothers work as his own is not demonstrated by the accusations and the highly selective and split-hair 'content analysis' provided by Sokal and Petkovic. Would eminent sources cited in his text such as Hawkesworth, Hajer, Fairclough, Stone not have made those accusations earlier?

This is a deliberate smear campaign against Fischer, whose record of treating young researchers and encouraging doctoral scholars is exemplary, he has spent considerable energy promoting budding scholars, of which I include myself, when he was a visiting Professor in Karlsruhe.

For a student to threaten and intimidate in this fashion, is odd. Probably someone is settling some other score with Fischer using this student as an instrument. There must be many in other intellectual camps who would stoop so low to settle rivalries, when their intellectual ground doesn't hold in academic debate and method. This is one way to try to bring down an intellectual giant, but the intended effect would not be achieved, both the accusers and their 'evidence' lack legitimacy, and one of them if not both have clear, albeit different motivations to malign Fischer.

55. ellenhunt - October 15, 2010 at 04:54 pm

Fischer is guilty, as many are of his time, of borrowing text that either is plagiarism or copyright violation by not properly restating it. In the past, before electronic text versions it was functionally impractical to check. Therefore, more than a few people like Fischer "used text" improperly. Generally, they had no bad intent, and it was, "sloppiness" on their part because they didn't think it would ever come up.

But now things have changed and they have come up. I don't go so far as suggesting that Fischer be fired. If I were on a faculty committee investigating the text, I would recommend that if he gave an apology and published all the instances he knew of where he had done this that would be adequate.

Comparing this to lifting in an undergrad paper is inappropriate because these are a tiny part of a large body of work. Undergrad papers are short, and such a "lift" would be of great significance. Since as far as I know nothing in these "lifted texts" was of significance to Fischer's work except as background, his work stands.

I think the attacks on Petkovic and Sokal are outrageous though. And I am very troubled by Fischer's behavior.

In my mind, if I were on a faculty committee investigating this, the most important matter would be the threat of a lawsuit against a student. For that, I would have to think long and hard. I believe I would require that he never be editor for any publication again to keep his position. And I would have to think a long time about appropriate sanctions for that behavior.

56. resource - October 15, 2010 at 05:03 pm

It is interesting to read commentary about the conventions of plagiarism as if they arise from a sacred text handed down by the jesus god of scholarship. Only in the anal world of academia are people so obsessed with the originality and ownership of phrases, sentence structure, and punctuation.

How myopic it is to not see the difference between repeating a few sentences of interpretation and claiming the invention of a new idea, method or material object.

Note that most or all of phrases I and every poster record here have been written or uttered by many others in many forums and venues.

Some here have made reference to the advances in technology and the implications of those advances on editing and the search for demon plagiar. One effect of the ubiquitousness of information in the postmodern techno-era is that word combinations that formerly were esoteric become increasingly common -- what was sacred becomes profane.

If you want to use any of my words or ideas, feel free. If you make money on it, send me a check.

57. cwinton - October 15, 2010 at 05:20 pm

Thank you gringo_gus ... a much better statement than my little question earlier among all these comments. I doubt many of those so eager to condemn would hold up to scrutiny similar to the extensive hours Mr. Sokal spent on Mr. Fischer's work (never mind he came up with so little across what is reported as a very large body of work). Of course, these folks may not have a written record worth scrutinizing, but I suspect most did some sort of dissertation, edited and vetted by a number of parties, made available through the home institution's library, and all without any more than indirect credit to anyone save the candidate. Let's say your spouse edits a piece of your work for you, or some faceless editor you only marginally credit, then whose words are you publishing, hers or yours, and isn't that a form of plagiarism when it's construed as many seem to be doing so here? I readily concede that if a student submitted just the passage cited, that would be a problem, but what is presented is a single paragraph from an entire book.

58. rixster - October 15, 2010 at 05:31 pm

Number 6 has the chutzpah to call himself a scholar ? He writes like a high school junior.

59. 12080243 - October 15, 2010 at 05:55 pm

I agree with #54 when he says, "To #48 and others on this point - The motives of Petkovic and Sokal are absolutely important and relevant, without which there is really no case." And I also agree with #48 when he says, "If there is evidence of plagiarism, who found it, and why they found it, does not change the evidence itself. All that matters is whether or not the evidence put forth supports a charge of plagiarism."

My motives as you can read in the case study cited below was to present evidence of plagiarism to administrators at the University of Southern Mississippi and observe their behavior in relation to their rules and procedures. Would they follow their rules and investigate the accusations and evidence? It was their choice. It should be noted that plagiarism as many above have suggested is not a simple matter. So, what did the administration decide to do? From the perspective of a researcher, I could care less what they chose to do. My job was to observe and report. See the report of one aspect of the study which was presented at the 2010 American Accounting Association's Annual Meeting, "University and AACSB Diversity", http://commons.aaahq.org/posts/3d4bfd4201.

Chauncey M. DePree, Jr., DBA
School of Accountancy
College of Business
University of Southern Mississippi

60. gables4 - October 15, 2010 at 06:04 pm

Am I the only reader more interested in the backstory than the plagiarism issue?

This account fails to provide information on the manuscript review process that took place, and how Petkovic's manuscript came to be rejected. This rejection seems to be what sparked Petkovic's plan for revenge.

We are not provided the reason(s) for the rejection of the manuscript, nor details regarding at which point in the review process the rejection took place. By not providing these details, the Chronicle leaves readers to wonder about many things.

Did Fischer handle the manuscript as he would any other, holding it to the same standards of review? Or did he abuse his position/power as editor and reject the contribution in an attempt to silence a scholar who is critical of his work and might bring it under closer scrutiny? Should an editor recuse him/herself from making a judgment on a manuscript when there might be at least the perception of conflict of interest?

Did the manuscript pass through the editor's vetting process and make it through to the peer review process? At that point, did it get rejected? Was it "accepted with revisions" or "revise and resubmit"? Did Petkovic refuse to make suggested changes? Did any of the peer reviewers conclude that Petkovic had mischaracterized Fischer's work, as Fischer contends? And how did Petkovic mischaracterize the work?

It is reported that Fischer wanted a chance to publish a debate-style response to the article. At what point in the review process did that idea get floated? Had the article already been accepted at that point, or was the response an idea that had some bearing on whether the article would be accepted or not? Is it normal in Critical Policy Studies for scholars whose work is critiqued to be given an opportunity to respond in writing?

Did Petkovic submit the manuscript to this particular journal because he knew that Fischer was one of the editors, and if so, what was his motivation? We all know that it can be difficult to publish an article that goes against the major paradigm or critiques the work of a senior scholar. Did he believe that Fischer would be in no position to block the publication because it might look bad for Fischer the editor to reject an article that critiques Fischer the scholar?

If he had so closely reviewed Fischer's work in the preparation of his manuscript, is it possible that he had already discovered the plagiarized passages and felt he had some leverage with/against Fischer? Was Petkovic's manuscript accepted at first and then rejected as he seems to indicate? What were the details of the reversed decision? Did he feel he was being censored or that he was being asked to make revisions so substantial that they would change the very nature of his scholarship?

It is also interesting that Petkovic's response was to write an article accusing Fischer of plagiarism and submit it to another journal. The Chronicle reports that this manuscript was then forwarded to Fischer. Unfortunately, the Chronicle does not indicate who sent it to Fischer. Was it Petkovic himself, or was it someone from the editorial board of the other journal? If someone from the other journal passed it on, was that ethical or unethical? Was this article the same as the 70 page report he penned with Sokal, or are there two documents alleging plagiarism?

In the end, I think it would be useful to know more details about that review, as it may shed light on the characters and motivations of both Fischer and Petkovic as well as on the politics of scholarly publication.

61. garlic_tooth - October 15, 2010 at 06:48 pm


This might answer to some of your questions:


(is one of the links provided in the article.

62. aegean - October 15, 2010 at 07:21 pm

The "genetic fallacy" occurs when one attempts to discredit an assertion by pointing out the conditions that led to its being asserted, such as the motives of the speaker or author. Sadly, the fallacy is rampant in academic discourse, including several of the preceding comments. Petkovic's and Sokal's motives have nothing to do with the TRUTH of their accusations against Fischer. Even if their motives were dishonorable (which I doubt), the accuracy of their accusations would be affected not in the slightest.

63. seattlenerd - October 15, 2010 at 07:33 pm

To #54; the motives of Sokal and Petkovic matter only insofar as we are concerned about the style of their actions

Anybody could go out and look up Fischer's published work, and draw their own conclusions. Whatever Fischer did and whether or not we approve are completely independent of who brought the thing to our attention ... or even *whether* it was brought to our attention.

Does plagiarism achieve existence only when it is noticed? Does it matter who notices it first?

Suppose that a graduate student discovers my plagiarism, and burns down my house in protest. Then that student is an arsonist. But I am still a plagiarist.

64. socialinquirer - October 15, 2010 at 08:36 pm

I am a social scientist in the United Kingom. I do not know any of these people personally, although I have read Fisher's and Sokal's books. Can I give some comments on what I am seeing here?

1. Petkovic has found evidence of plagiarism in Fischer's work. It seems that the level of copying is unacceptable, especially for a respected scholar.

2. But I also believe this level of plagiarism would not result in the highest penalty in my university. (I say this because I was chair of examinations for three years and had to deal with such cases). The reasons are that Fischer has stated sources, and that the proportion of copying is high in the selected paragraphs, but low (very low) for the entire submitted work. It seems many of you would disagree, but the bare facts are that - at my institution - the evidence here (if from a student) would result in a reprimand rather than expulsion or failure.

3. I find the discussion about 'whether motivation is relevant' to be bewildering. Of course it is relevant. Under British libel law accuracy is no defence against defamanation. (Of course the writers are not in the UK but I give this as an example of the different interpretations around the world). In this law, what matters for 'defamation' is whether the intent is to denigrate the professional or personal reputation in ways that are inappropriate or unreasonable. I am not convinced that accusing someone of plagiarism is a reasonable follow-up to someone rejecting an academic paper, even if one feels it is a controversial decision.

4. The following is said with some sensitivity. Petkovic seems to suffer from some kind of negative, possibly obsessive-compulsive, thinking. Possibly this is a disorder. I have looked at the link provided above by #61, and it is page-by-page over-analytical (some might say rambling) obsessive accusation and complaining. Then there is the (supposed) 100 hours of analysis of Fischer's work looking for dirt to throw at him.I have had to deal with students (and sometimes friends) who have gone through periods like this. Are we seriously taking this as a basis for criticising a well known scholar? Surely we should 'consider the source' (as the journalists say)? Perhaps we should reframe this discussion from 'why is Fischer bad' to 'what tensions might be going through the accuser's mind?' (and possibly help him)?

5. And talking of journalists, I am (literally) confused by Tom Bartlett's comment at #52 above that Fischer knew from the start that Sokal was involved. Fischer (if it is him above) claims to have not been told at the start of the communication. Bartlett says Fischer did know after seeing correspondence. To me this does not look like a contradiction because it is still possible that Fischer did not know at the start. This is not a criticism of Bartlett, it is just a question, and Tom can you clarify? That said, I must say, however, that the tone of Tom's response above does make me think you have it in for Fischer. Is this true? If so, why is this? And does this undermine your report?

6. I am also surprised by the comments of people such as ellenhunt at #55 above that the student should be protected simply because they are students. This seems strangely precious. Graduate students are adults. They can break laws. There are many cases of students accusing professors of sexual intimidation, or of other terrible things, simply to gain advantage. My own reaction is that litigation is an obvious option to consider for anyone threatened with an attack on their reputation from someone seeking revenge over something as normal as a disagreement about a paper. (Although it might not be the best option).

7. This entire discussion needs a baseline. People seem to be talking as though Fischer's type of plagiarism is specific only to him and the rest of us are blameless. I don't believe it. Is it possible to compare the type of copying / plagiarism shown in Fischer's work with other scholars? Or indeed with Petkovic and Sokal themselves? I am not arguing that the kind of coping shown to exist in Fischer's work is ok. But it might be more likely in the kind of synthetic books that Fischer produces. And it might exist in more people's work than we realize. The truth is, we simply don't know. If we did some more analysis of other people's work then we might realize that we are not discussing Fischer as an individual but a common trend.

8. I am fascinated by how different institutions and individuals in this debate have different standards of plagiarism, yet seem to assume that all other institutions should have the same approach.


65. myemotan - October 15, 2010 at 09:34 pm

The Plagiarism Plot Thickens
#52's (or tombartlett's) categorical denial of #38's (Frank Fischer's) claim that (Chronicle's) Bartlett did not initially identify Sokal to him as the other accuser further erodes Fischer's credibility; does it not?

66. mmd1960 - October 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm

This is worthy of a novel. There seems to be a lot of evidence of plagiarism, but when was it first detected? I think Petkovic set a trap for Fisher. I also think Fischer is a bully. They're a match set on each other's mutual destruction.

67. tombartlett - October 15, 2010 at 11:17 pm

@Socialinquirer: I didn't mean to be confusing. I'll clarify:

Fischer and I had a brief, initial telephone conversation during which I let him know about this 70-page document that accused him of plagiarism. I don't quote from that conversation at all. I thought I did mention Sokal at this point, but when I e-mailed Fischer the document he expressed surprise (in an e-mail) that Sokal was involved (all of this happened within a couple of hours). All the comments in the article from Fischer are from our e-mail exchanges, from when Fischer knew for sure that Sokal was involved. Again, he knew Sokal was involved when he made those comments that I quote.

I don't have it "in for" Fischer. I don't know Fischer. I don't know Sokal or Petkovic. I have no axe to grind here.

68. mensa174 - October 15, 2010 at 11:19 pm

"What can not be said must be passed over in silence" - Ludwig Wittgenstein.

The comment,3. mbelvadi - October 15, 2010 at 06:29 am, exemplifies the indolence and grandiosity too frequently accepted in the Ivory Tower of tenured scholars. It is more than interesting that the passage cited in this article is from Alan Sheridan's work of Foucault's original and seminal publication, History of Sexuality Volume 1, An Introduction. If either of the principals in this ridiculous and infantile discussion, truly knew Foucault or his corpus, they would know how appalled he would be at the use of his genuine scholarship in a 'pissing contest' by those for whom action is a concept non grata. Sheridan's work was published in 1980, while Foucault's was first published in his native language, French, in 1976 by Gilliarmard. I am confident Foucault would howl at the absurdity of this inchoative piece of pseudo intellectualism.

69. seattlenerd - October 16, 2010 at 01:16 am

To #64's point number 3, asserting that the motivations of Sokal and Petcovic are relevant ...

We're not talking about law, or common law, but about academic standards. Sokal and Petcovik didn't sneak into Fisher's flat and steal his teapot; they pointed out that he seems to have liberally lifted other people's words. Perhaps Sokal and Petcovik are ghastly twits, people that we wouldn't like to have as neighbors, wouldn't have over for high tea --- but what if they're right?

And then there's that nasty quote, variously attributed to Sayre, Kissinger, and others, which I paraphrase: "academic conflicts are so bitter, because the stakes are so small."

For the untenured, the stakes aren't so small. For the tenured, well: pretty darned small, really. Pride is one thing, but reliably making house payments and gathering sabbaticals is another.

70. gringo_gus - October 16, 2010 at 05:45 am

"Number 6 has the chutzpah to call himself a scholar ? He writes like a high school junior.", asks number 58.

Guilty on both. Rather, I write like someone posting on a message board when I am posting on a message board, and like a scholar when I am trying to be a scholar.

And, to make something useful from this ad-hominem. I have been what I think is plagiarized. My ideas have been claimed as someone else's and published as such. However, I was paraphrased, misrepresented, and a very small part of my larger argument was credited.

But because the formal rules were therefore followed, I have no redress, and indeed I got over it, unlike the complainant in this case. But it is a far bigger sin than that Fischer is accused of by Sokal. Plagiarism is basically wrong, I thought, because it involved passing others ideas as one's own. Instead, because that is harder to verify, we look at mechanical aspects of copying (for sure, that is wrong, but a different degree of wrong). And so we have a case here, where the essence of what a scholar is saying, his original contribution, is trashed because of a mistake that is easier to make than some, who I guess have never written books, will acknowledge.

Meanwhile, Sokal is ever silent on the attribution scandal in the hard sciences (eg principle investigators putting their names on papers to which they made no contribution).

71. gringo_gus - October 16, 2010 at 06:16 am

Also, Tom Bartlett, you say

"I don't have it "in for" Fischer. I don't know Fischer. I don't know Sokal or Petkovic. I have no axe to grind here."

But you do know Sokal in some way because you write "... it came to involve Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University who is best known for the hoax that bears his name."

If the accusations had been made by Professor Gringo Gus, from Hickshire University, England, and a Croatian doctoral candidate, you, and the Chronicle, would have given them the same consideration ? I doubt it, and put it to you you were predisposed to addressing this because of Sokal's involvement. That is very like axe-grinding to me.

I think this is news only because of Sokal's involvement. Without it, there wouldn't be a story for the Chronicle.

72. alan_sokal - October 16, 2010 at 07:39 am

Just two small (but important) factual corrections:

1) "He wrote a paper that accused Mr. Fischer of plagiarism and
submitted it to a different journal." Actually, Mr. Petkovic wrote a paper that recounted his experience with the journal Critical Policy Studies -- explaining why he thought he had been treated unfairly -- in the hope that exposure might lead to such situations being less frequent in the future. And then he added, almost as an afterthought, a comment about the one case of plagiarism that he had discovered. See

The difference is significant, because the published version tends to support Professor Fischer's contention that Petkovic CHANGED the topic to plagiarism, as an act of "revenge". But in fact, Petkovic addressed directly the issue of his experience with CPS; the issue of plagiarism played only a minor role in his essay.

In fact it was _my_ intervention that led to plagiarism becoming the
main issue. I told Mr. Petkovic that his experience with the journal was unfortunate but probably very common, even in physics, and I wasn't sanguine about his chances to get his "experiment with CPS" essay published. The plagiarism, by contrast, caught my attention -- especially in view of Professor Fischer's threats against Petkovic (see below) -- and I volunteered to devote some time to investigating it further.

2) "He became upset with how Mr. Petkovic had been treated ..."
Well, yes and no. As we make clear in Appendix A of our 70-page document, I personally take no position on whether Petkovic correctly interpreted Fischer's writings or not, because I do not feel competent to do so. In particular, I take no position on whether Petkovic's paper merited rejection or not. My involvement in this issue was motivated by (a) shock at the discovery of plagiarism in the work of a major academic, and (b) outrage at the major academic's attempt to save his own skin by threatening a vulnerable PhD student. (And not only threats of a lawsuit: see Appendix D, letter to Dvora Yanow (cc'ed to Petkovic), last paragraph.)

In particular, having quickly discovered, by Google search, a few further examples of Professor Fischer's plagiarism (see Appendix A for details), I suspected that more was to be found -- and I felt an ethical obligation to pursue it and to make the results public.
(But I confess that I might not have felt so strongly about it, were it not for Professor Fischer's threats against Petkovic.) Over the summer, I (not Petkovic) invested about 50-100 hours of my time doing the investigation.

73. earfish - October 16, 2010 at 10:18 am

Having just completed my dissertation and after spending hours upon hours editing and re-editing, checking citations, looking for missing quotations, making sure all conclusions were logical, MY OWN WORK and IN MY OWN WORDS; etc, I find it somewhat appaling and disconcerting that Professor Fischer seems to get away with the "sloppiness" excuse and continues to be published and a member of faculty.

Such leeway was not given to my students or colleagues when I was in graduate school. As a graduate student, I had to participate in no less than four academic misconduct meetings when students had done the SAME THING that Fischer has done. The committee always ruled that it was academic misconduct - the sloppiness excuse (as it actually was sloppiness in most of those cases for undergraduates) was not considered a valid excuse for their misconduct and they were penalized. Granted we were not at Rutgers, but I don't believe the policies are that much different when it comes to such blatent stealing of intellectual property. I would think that the original authors or subsequent publishers from whom Fischer plagiarized would have some final say in this matter.

74. gringo_gus - October 16, 2010 at 10:30 am

I've now spent a couple of hours looking at the Sokal 70 page paper (I have a paper of my own to write, displacement activity).

Given my previous postings, I was hoping the plagiarism claims could be disproved or at least challenged. But the highlighted text in the article above is actually an exemplar, rather than an exception.

One could argue in Fischer's life works even the material in the Sokal/Petkovic paper is proportionately small. I would still want to give Fischer the benefit of the doubt, and argue for looking at the whole of his scholarly contribution, not this nuts and bolts stuff. I think bad memory and poor note-taking could explain a lot of their findings. But all of that is mitigation, not contradiction of the Sokal/Petkovic findings, which are quite startling.

It is a tragedy, not least because I found myself liking and learning from the material Fischer had written, that Sokal/Petkovic present. Unfortunately, that material is better attributed to Fischer et al.

I do think more of this goes on, unwittingly or otherwise than has hitherto been acknowledged. It is also the case that it is now more possible than ever to detect this using software like "turnitin". But is it too much to hope for institutional reform - including an amnesty or some form of reconciliation process- so the rules of the game can be agreed again afresh ?

I think Sokal might have gone to Fischer directly (I can't see that he did). I think too, the tone of his posting is self righteous (particularly his claimed shock at the discovery of plagiarism in the work of a major academic - let's get some baseline data). But in the end, I am not sure what else he could have done. Given my previous postings, I owe Sokal and the CHE an apology.

75. manhire - October 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm

What about plagiarism in graduate school theses and dissertations?

Ohio University Plagiarism

76. sschram - October 16, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Re the last comment: I don't owe CHE an apology, I owe Frank Fischer an apology for being a member of such moribund institution as higher education that the members of the academy think they can do no better than scan documents for whether phrases in paragraphs not central to the argument being made, only to find selected parroting and then feel, given all the time wasted on such mindless behavior that an indictment still needs to be upheld.

As for the charge: ask any of the people being parroted as to whether they think Frank Fischer stole their ideas and used them as his own. The answer is now for decades spoken loudly in a deafening silence. Why? Not because they did not read his writing, but because he did not steal anyone's ideas and they know it. Instead, he parroted a few phrases out of tons of writing. This amounts to the greatest example of making a mountain out of a molehill. The authors know it and never said anything, in most cases because they are intelligent and thoughtful people who have a sense of proportion. Someone once said, the politics in the academy are so vicious because the stakes are so small. So are the people who engage in such vicious petty politics. Shame on the Chronicle for making an issue of this. Shame on Petkovic for wanting revenge. Last, shame on Sokal for seizing the opportunity to continue to be the over-the-top polemicist that he is. Where is the sense of proportion? Where is the common decency? Where the scholarship in all this? Nowhere to be found.

77. spork - October 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Looks like we have another Stephen Ambrose on our hands.

78. europeangirl - October 16, 2010 at 01:05 pm

# 76 thank you; I thought I had lost my mind...
I am shocked by the number of 'academic writing' teachers who evidently do not understand what scholarship is all about. How mediocre and pitiful is that?
Indeed, I also feel ashamed to be a member of such a club...

79. sages - October 16, 2010 at 01:45 pm

#76, 78: Some academicians are apparently perfectly willing to apply academic integrity arguments against plagiarizing students, but not against their colleagues and friends.

80. qariwa55 - October 16, 2010 at 02:01 pm

I think many people are getting worked up over this case because they sense (or clearly see) that it reveals deep. systemic issues in the academic production of knowledge. If you read the revised paper Petkovich submitted to CRITICAL POLICY ANALYSIS, along with the correspondence and the reviews, it is obvious that he was treated poorly. Though I cannot judge how accurately he understood Fischer, his paper is lucid and interesting, to this non-expert anyway. At least one reviewer read into it what was not there, namely a defense of positivistic, technocratic approaches to policy.

As for the plagiarism charges, the evidence is clear enough that Fischer (or his editors) is (or are) guilty. Fischer's defense of himself by suggesting it was only "sloppiness", and that he had no malicious intentions, is wholly unconvincing and accord with the excuses every student I have caught plagiarizing (and there have been many) has offered me.

All that said, I am willing to bet that both the shabby, condescending treatment Petkovic got (not only from Fischer) and Fischer's plagiarizing are endemic these days in academia. So many "scholars" make their careers aping others, and many fresh, original, or iconoclastic writers have their writings get quashed unfairly. My suspicion is that Fischer's misconduct, both as a scholar and as an editor, are milder than that of many academics. It would be a terrible disservice (perhaps even a tragedy) to single him out or to allow this incident to detract from any of the genuine contributions he has made to his field.

One final note: those who are irritated by Petkovic's vengefulness should should look at the wonderful American philosopher Robert S. Solomon's argument that vengeance is by no means always a bad thing (A PASSION FOR JUSTICE, e.g. 39ff.).

81. europeangirl - October 16, 2010 at 02:05 pm

No, I am absolutely not willing to apply this kind of arguments against plagiarizing students. I really hope my students learn from me the value of honest academic debate, I hope they would be able to appreciate original and courageous thinking, rather than wasting their time to reformulate other scholars' thoughts in 'their own words' beyond recognition.
It this kind of 'academic integrity' is what higher education has become, I would be deeply ashamed.

82. cassadia - October 16, 2010 at 02:06 pm

wow. I have to wonder how representative a cross-section of modern academia is on this page.

All I know about Frank Fischer, I learned from this page. First, he is a serial passive plagiarist, whose best defense -- as EDITOR of a journal -- is to claim SLOPPINESS!! To which he adds, without apparently realizing he will be almost instantly outed as a liar by #52 tombartlett, that he was unaware that Professor Sokal -- a skilled polemicist -- was his adversary.

When an academic has to choose between ignorance and malfeasance as an explanation of his errors, we have got a problem. Here is a fellow so accustomed to cutting corners, the whole concept of intellectual integrity has become an option, a suggestion, an unrealistic expectation.

Having spent the main part of my life as an academic trapped inside an English department with people who claimed to believe reality was "a linguistic entity," Professor Sokal's Hoax was once of the high points of the whole experience for me. Since the most damning accusation against Sokal is that he acted in "bad faith" -- although he immediately outed himself in _Lingua Franca_ -- I can only wonder if those who accuse him are themselves acting in bad faith.

Even today, I can get a lift to my spirits by just reading the TITLE of his piece for _Social Text_: "Transgressing the boundaries: towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity." His assertion of the non-existence of the external world was quite on a par with the hideous idiocy of my peer-reviewing colleagues..........

I used to think it was just my department, then I looked up and realized this loss of integrity (both senses of the word "integrity") had overtaken the public press as well. "The horror! The horror!"

83. johnmashey - October 16, 2010 at 02:40 pm

I had never heard of Dr. Fischer, although I own several of Dr. Sokal's books. I offer a compare-and-contrast example of a case (of which plagiarism is a small part) that will likely have much stronger consequences:

I am interested in opinions, especially on the *presentation* style for plagiarism, that seeks to make it easier to assess for people not very familiar with the subject.
(I don't want to hijack this thread, so feel free to scrub this, or give it sits own, if its interesting. I was stirred by the yellow highlighting.)
In 2006, a high-profile report to Congress, the "Wegman Report" was used to attack climate science.
Recently, 2 of us found 35 of 91 pages to be plagiarized.
The first part was found by a Canadian blogger, "Deep Climate", who used different fonts, somewhat like Sokal/Petkovic, but in a side-by-side style, as in:


I found that the plagiarism was compelling, but for people who hadn't studied it carefully, it took substantial time and effort. I was doing some related work, and we ended up with a highlighting scheme, like:


Exact word-for-word identical is in cyan, and after a person starts to believe that, it drops out of a person's perception. Yellow is used for trivial changes, fo the sort that students seem to do to foil plagiarism-checker software.

This is a (250-page) report, of which about 70 pages is this sort of thing:


pp.118 introduces an amazing plagiarism chain in which the original sources were plagiarized in the report for Congress, then in {a paper and two PhD dissertations.} That led to a 3-column format, in which the {...} were shown together, since they were close.
There, I had to add green highlighting.

If anyone is interested in the context, read p.1, pp.2-3, and then pp.189 on plagiarism/paraphrasing, followed by 50 pages of side-by-sides starting on p.200.

The main impediment to this is Microsoft Word, which offers only a fixed palette of 15 highlight colors, most of which are completely useless.

In our work, one can find:
a) That many of the trivial changes are almost certainly done to foil automated plagiarism detectors.

b) In many cases, the *changes* were the interesting words, because absurd errors, meaning changes, and biases leap off the page. Much of this plagiarism is different, because it was done by a team that did not know the field, and sometimes made changes that reversed expert conclusions, i.e., more like fabrication.
In this case, there is also a bizarre history in the university *handling* of this case, which was formally reported by a distinguished Professor from UMass in March.

So, opinions on the presentation style and comparison/contrast with other plagiarism events would be welcome.

84. cassadia - October 16, 2010 at 07:05 pm

@Johnmashey #83

I haven't the time or patience to go through your list of cites at sites ... (tried to work "sighted" into line and got lost....)

Oh, yes. Here's the brief version: most plagiarists do not start out with verbal larceny in their hearts. They live and die as amateurs. They are naive about the whole enterprise and really don't understand what is at stake. The plagiarism they produce is usually "passive" in nature, and their understanding of their sources is fairly limited.

The first thing they have to learn is to restate someone else's point. I used to work with a piece called, I think, "Freedom is making hard positive choices." You don't feel free when you're forced to choose between two awful alternatives. They could understand that part. What they couldn't deal with was that you feel more free when you're faced with essentially the same choice stated in a positive or negative manner: pay less up front versus get a discount later.

Their gradually dawning understanding came to them through the authors' words. To get them to break free of the authors and talk about the concept of "feeling free," the best thing to do was to ask them to explain "hard positive choices" without benefit of the essay in front of them. What is no help at all is the all to common practice of asking them to write an essay on what it takes to make them feel free.

The first of the most common technical errors involvea what I called "quilting" (now they call it patch writing). It comes from having insufficiently synthesized (understood) the sources. The second is what I always called "the fudge zone." This is where FF goes astray: is he paraphrasing Sheridan or Foucault or is he himself analyzing Foucault much as Sheridan did? It's much easier to paraphrase someone you disagree with -- you're in the process of disowning his words as you write -- than someone you agree with. That's when the fudge gets particularly thick.

I've had innumerable students ask how many words do you have to change so it isn't plagiarism? My answer is "all of them," which is neither true nor very helpful, but it does highlight the COGNITIVE nature of the problem at hand. Students who echo the syntax with different words really don't understand what's wrong with what they're doing.

Do you have any idea what's involved in TEACHING people through this complexity ... while your colleagues are asserting the unreality of physics. Most don't even TRY to do it right. It's just too damned much work.

85. sages - October 16, 2010 at 07:06 pm

81. europeangirl : Okay, so let's see. You wouldn't apply these arguments against plagiarizing to your student's work? Right. Copy and paste someone else's work verbatim without indicating that it is a verbatim copy is then okay? Copy+paste and then tweak a word or two here or there to cover up the deed is okay? I hope you are not being shy to express your peculiar understanding of academic integrity in your department, and I hope they are paying attention...

86. 11126724 - October 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm

This string of postings is a marvelous example of why Wikipedia is such a waste of time and effort. I can think of no greater condemnation of this discussion than to say it reminds me of the constant drama on Wikipedia. Pointless. Vacuous. Drivel.

87. sages - October 16, 2010 at 10:45 pm

#86. 11126724: ...which is why I'm back for more!

88. europeangirl - October 17, 2010 at 02:28 am

#81 reading carefully is a crucial academic skill.

89. random - October 17, 2010 at 09:18 am

Does anyone else wonder whether some of these comments so enthusiastically supporting Fischer as an original thinker, as doing innovative work, as a mentor of young scholars might be Fischer himself? He's shown that he's reading the thread. Comments 18, 21, 26 are obviously the same person, but what about others? Comments 21, 28, and 54 all talk of smear campaigns; while comment 53 and 56 dismiss the allegations as "anal." There are also those comments emphasizing ideas over words, as if ideas can be expressed without language.

I also find it interesting that 53 says that to citing the sample passage properly would obscuring the text in a "blizzard of citations--as is often the case in dissertations and law review articles by junior scholars." This suggests a senior person contemptuous of junior scholars. For in fact, with the passage in question, what needed to be done was to cite Sheridan where the Foucault citation is since Fischer was relying entirely on Sheridan for the reading of Foucault. It would really just be one citation (oh, and I would also put the paragraph in quotation marks).

Then there are the comments that seem to be more emotionally invested than one would expect. Are they Fischer? People in the field? Comment 29 (by europeangirl) talks about Fischer's "impressive scholarly career" but also seems to know a lot about Petkovic's publication record? Hmm . . . how is that? The denigration of Petkovic's publications in Croatian seems to accord with Fischer's own contempt for Croatia/the periphery in the emails he sent (from the document links provided). And comment 76 with that cri de coeur at the end, calling shame on the Chronicle, Sokal, etc etc., does not sound like an impartial observer.

And I am baffled by comments saying that scholarly publications should be judged on different plagiarism standards than student papers, as in comment 53. Should it be more lenient or should we hold professors to higher standards? Comment 81 is particularly astounding: europeangirl would have students cut and paste "rather than wasting their time to reformulate other scholars' thoughts in 'their own words' beyond recognition." That completely misses the point--if you're only cutting and pasting you haven't shown that you have truly understood the text. But the comment at the end of 81 about being ashamed of academe again seems to be excessive emotion for an impartial observer.

90. sschram - October 17, 2010 at 10:08 am

No one is saying that student papers should be judged on a different standard. What I am saying is that if you use the right standard for both students and others, Frank Fischer did not plagiarize. He did not steal other people's ideas and use them as his own. He instead parroted the phrases of a few authors during the course of thirty years of writing and those parrotings were limited to providing context for his own original and innovative work and words which he got from no one else. In fact, the people he parroted do not think Fischer stole their ideas when they read his published work and during those thirty years none of them ever cried plagiarism. But now, armed with a scanner, two people totally biased and loaded with prejudice try to trump up these parroting as plagiarism. To put it simply, that is absurd. This whole affair is a bunch of hot air instigated by a spurned article writer and a polemical interloper looking to keep alive his reputation for causing trouble rather than promoting scholarship. They have achieved their ends and scholarship is worse for it. The fact that some people are dupped into taking this seriously is its own sad commentary on the deterioration of the academic mind. For the record, I am not Frank Fischer. I do deeply respect him and his work. His work has been a beacon for me and many others. No amount of scanner for phrases will take that away. Keep scanning, but Frank Fischer's positive influence on the field of public policy analysis was long ago affirmed many times over.

91. martin_max - October 17, 2010 at 10:15 am

The laws that deal with copyright infringement give authors and publishers adequate redress when a writer helps him or herself to someone else's words. The authors referred to by Fischer, and their publishers, are some of the biggest around. The publishers scarcely lack the means to invoke these laws; nor are they likely to be indifferent to possible financial compensation.

Fischer's books would have been sent by their publishers to academic readers before being accepted for publication. Once published, they would have been sent out for review; and they would have been read (or at least the relevant bits) by many of the people whose views were treated in them. This means that Fischer would be a fool to deliberately infringe the copyright of major authors: the chances of being spotted would be high, leading to financial compensation and an agreement to withdraw the book for revisions. That this hasn't happened to Fischer in the last 30 years suggests that nobody affected has felt that his infringements damaged them or degraded academic discourse in their subject.

Petkovic or Sokal seem little concerned with academic discourse. Petkovic encounters Fischer at a conference and soon after submits an article questioning Fishcher's ideas to Fischer's own journal. Fischer claims Petkovic has misrepresented his ideas and denies him publication. There are other journals around, but Petkovic seemingly doesn't try to submit his paper to them. Instead, he goes to work on a new paper describing bad treatment at the hands of Fischer and submits this to another journal. Complaints about journal editors by rejected academics are not unknown, but are usually made in an effort to get the rejection reversed. Petkovic seems to have ditched his paper pretty quickly. The relationship with Fischer seems to have been what mattered. The end of one of his emails to Fischer is curious: 'Finally, this is the last letter I will ever write you. Spare me the answer because I won't write back. The communication with you is not something on what I want to spend any of my future time. Hugs 'n' Kisses, KP'. This sounds rather as if Fischer has picked up a stalker.

So, Petkovic becomes increasingly obsessed by his relationship (or lack of one) with Fischer and, far from not wanting to spend any more time on it, goes for help to Sokal. Sokal might have recognized a younger colleague with an emotional problem; but he may have had his own agenda, indicated by the Chronicles's headline, 'Alan Sokal, the 1996 Hoaxer, . . .'. Fourteen years since his glory days! Rather than suggesting to Petkovic ways of getting his original paper and his ideas published - including contacting Fischer's publishers, or his editorial board (both valid ways of seeking to get a decision reversed) - Sokal encourages the young obsessive in a personal vendetta.

Fischer is a major scholar. A questioning of his ideas should have represented an academic opportunity. Instead, one is left wondering whether Petkovic's original article was even meant as a contribution to scholarship. And the discovery of copyright infringements committed by Fischer and his publishers seem rather less sensational when we consider that none of the people affected by those infringements thought it worth raising the issue.

92. scherrer - October 17, 2010 at 10:42 am

I have downloaded the Sokal/Petkovic text and went through it carefully. I cannot support their conclusion that Prof. Fischer had been caught at plagiarizing. In all instances he gave credit to the originators of the thoughts he presented. In most cases the similarity of the wording extends only to short strings. I wonder, if one would let persons write from memory about texts that they have just read, whether one would find a similar amount of overlaps. Most of Fischer´s text passages presented in the Sokal/Petkovic text are from parts of his books where he explicitly presents other authors' ideas to the reader. Again it would be interesting to compare the amount of overlaps in his texts to those one would find in other authors' popularization of Habermas or Foucault. In short, the Sokal/Petkovic accusations are without substance.

93. tyroneslothrop - October 17, 2010 at 11:35 am

Most of us in the hard sciences who think critically do not feel that Sokal "proved" any point, other than he cannot be trusted. Our stock in trade is to submit articles in good faith. We assume editors will act in good faith and we assume reviewers will act in good faith. When someone acts in bad faith they attack the very foundation of academic publishing. Sokal violated that foundation and now he would criticize others for similar acts of bad faith. Sokal has no ground to stand on. Once you violate the basic principle of scholarly work, acting in good faith, it is gone.

94. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm

"Do you have to change every word?"

That kind of misses the point. Even a paraphrase of someone else's ideas has to be cited correctly. In some cases, he has changed words to attempt to cover his tracks, but in other cases he has kept grammatical mistakes or other errors from the sources from which he has plagiarized.

You don't paraphrase by taking a passage and changing enough words. Instead, you use your own words and then still cite the source in the immediate vicinity of the paraphrase. (Not two pages before or after.)

The proportion of a book that is plagiarized is also unimportant. Nobody is claiming that the majority of his work is unoriginal, just that he is a serial plagiarizer. It would be like a bank robber saying that he goes into plenty of banks just to do his ordinary business, without robbing them. He could argue that he only robbed 19 banks, but walked into 400.

We don't really know the full extent of it either. Google does not catch every instance.

95. amnirov - October 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm

I love Sokal. If the liberal arts acted a little bit more like the sciences, ours would be an infinitely richer and more reputable corner of the world.

96. tolerantly - October 17, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Sokal is my hero. Agree wholeheartedly with amnirov. Are you listening, Mr. Kopleson?

97. mrmeed - October 17, 2010 at 02:10 pm

Since we are discussing academic ethics, should we also consider Professor Sokal's ethics? Is it a part of his professional obligation as a physics professor to ferret out plagiarism in the political science discipline? Was his Fischer research approved by NYU's IRB? Did Professor Sokal use NYU computers and other resources while doing research on Fischer's books? Were any of his resources supported by government funds? Is the time he spent on the Fischer matter time he could have spent teaching physics? Did Professor Sokal do the Fischer research in his NYU office? He uses NYU email in his correspondence about the matter. Is Professor Sokal saying that NYU supports this kind of research among faculty? Is it appropriate for Professor Sokal to use NYU as an institutional instrument to pursue a personal vendetta of the Croatian student, putting aside the veracity of the evidence? Did Professor Sokal have any assistance from NYU faculty, staff, or students when engaging in the Fischer investigation? Did Professor Sokal have a responsibility to report the accusation of palgiarism to a court, professional body, Rutgers, and/or to the NYU administration before going public with his accusations? In the case of student plagiarism, it is typical to refer the matter to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action to afford the student the right of appeal. Should Professor Fischer have a right to hear the charges against him in a forum where evidence can be objectively presented and contested? Since some of the email was selectively included with the CHE article, should Professor Sokal relase all 100+ email between him and the Croatian graduate student? Professor Sokal believed he had an ethical obligation to expose Fischer. Did he not also have an ethical obligation to ensure that a virtuous process was followed when presenting his accusations?

98. drstarsky - October 17, 2010 at 02:25 pm

Regardless of the merits of this case, I'm thinking of giving the 70-pages document to a student of mine who is starting to write a dissertation. "See, that's what happens to you when you plagiarize".

99. sschram - October 17, 2010 at 02:25 pm

Re: the last post by mrmeed. This is very true. Sokal is holier than thou in a thoughtless way overlooking that for years he is the most unethical researcher I know. His 1996 hoax violated the IRB standards in place at NYU at the time and dared people to call him on it. Now, again he violates ethical norms and expects to be praised with love and other such vacuous words of thoughtless followers. Let's investigate Sokal and have him fired.

100. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 02:35 pm

These questions are pretty easy to answer:

Is it a part of his professional obligation as a physics professor to ferret out plagiarism in the political science discipline?

Yes. Bad scholarly practices in one field damage scholarship as a whole. We all have the obligation to hunt plagiarists down.

Was his Fischer research approved by NYU's IRB?

Irrelevant. IRBs usually approve research dealing with human research subjects.

Is Professor Sokal saying that NYU supports this kind of research among faculty?

Irrelevant. He can do any kind of research he likes. Academic freedom.

Is the time he spent on the Fischer matter time he could have spent teaching physics?

Sure, but so what? As long as he taught enough physics that year to fulfill his obligations, why should it matter?

Should Professor Fischer have a right to hear the charges against him in a forum where evidence can be objectively presented and contested?

Sure. I'm sure that will happen once Rutgers brings him up on charges. There is nothing inherently confidential about comparing published texts against each other.

etc... Somehow, if we can make the act of pointing out somebody's plagiarism unethical in its own right, then we can neutralize the charges.

101. sschram - October 17, 2010 at 02:48 pm

Re bemsha's statement "IRBs usually approve research dealing with human research subjects." This is the point: this statement is patently false proving that defenders of Sokal are ignorant and misinformed. This list of comments is chock full of idiocy. Yet, it continues to drivel out and down.

102. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 03:08 pm

Perhaps we misunderstand each other. Here's the URL for a typical IRB at a university: http://www.irb.pitt.edu/pdf/IRBPPfinal81409(2).pdf

What percentage of that does NOT deal with human subjects? I am unaware of having to get approval from an IRB to write a paper about Habermas's relation to Foucault or a literature survey of scholarly articles. It is patently false that IRBs approve or disapprove of research dealing solely with comparisons between texts. That doesn't even fall in their purview. I don't have to get permission to do research that doesn't involve human subjects (or hazardous materials etc...). I know this because I never ask for permission to do research since I don't deal with those issues in the first place.

103. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 03:16 pm

I left out animals, of course, but I assumed no animals were harmed in the composition of Sokal's report.

104. csabel - October 17, 2010 at 03:17 pm

I agree with those who have said they would flunk a student, report him/her to the Honor Council for a case like the one cited in the article. It is a SLAM DUNK plagiarism case, with numerous phrases and whole sentences directly used without attribution. For this, Fischer should be fired, as "dweihs" (the former Provost) suggests. We wouldn't tolerate this from a student, why tolerate it from a colleague?

The comments of "mrmeed" say a lot about what is wrong in academia. Attacking Sokal on such arcane and ridiculous grounds just facilitates the viciousness of Fischer. Supposing Fischer really is guilty of no more than sloppiness, that makes him UNFIT to hold any academic position. We have heard similarly lame excuses from other high-powered academic plagiarists. Aren't academics supposed to be among the world's most careful people, particularly when it comes to handling ideas and evidence? The use of the text in question shows not sloppiness but craftiness in attempting to lightly modify his unattributed source. In either case, Sokal's efforts are to be praised and emulated. Would that more academics cared so much about their profession -- yes, even to the point of checking the integrity of work in another discipline -- and less about their careerist aspirations!

Academia ought to be able to unite on such a simple issues as academic integrity. I suggest that plagiarism be investigated more regularly and more thoroughly. When cases of plagiarism are found, there should be negative points added to an individual's and an institution's "esteem indicators" to balance out the prestige of multiple books and editorships -- since those will have turned out to rest on cheating.

In the classroom, too, there should be an incentive structure to root out cheating, which would be the opposite of what exists in many places today. Currently, there is zero incentive to root our cheaters. It is much better, in fact, to turn a blind eye to cheating. Dealing with cheaters is time consuming and ultimately redounds negatively to the faculty member who has this "problem" in his or her classes, a problem others do not seem to have. Faculty who catch a cheater should be given immediate merit bonuses of, a say, 500$ per case, and points acquired toward promotion. That could be extended to Sokal's work on a faculty member's publications, so that in addition to negative 'esteem' points for Fischer and his Univ., a special bonus could be given to Sokal for the hours he spent on an academically worthy project. I can hardly think of a better use of NYU's email system, web browsers, and computational power (excepting physics, of course) -- maybe using the same resources to get tickets to a musical would have been acceptable? Certainly easier for him.

105. paul_dorfman2 - October 17, 2010 at 03:26 pm

Throughout a long and productive career Frank Fischer's theoretical and practical development of, and commitment to, greater involvement and empowerment of people in the protection of our shared environment, has been very significant. Part of this work involves the consistent elucidation of a core academic and real-world concern: How do people get together in order to 'speak up' for the protection of their environment?

Rather than atomise selected elements of his work, it may prove more worthwhile to attempt to critically reflect on his work as a whole. If you do so, you find that he has made a very worthwhile and profound contribution to our collective knowledge about science policy and participatory democracy in the context of environmental risk.

Dr Paul Dorfman
University of Warwick

106. sschram - October 17, 2010 at 03:29 pm

Re bemsha's failure to get approval from the irb: check again. if your research involves the possibility of accusing someone of academic dishonesty, you better go to the irb first or you may find yourself in big trouble for unethical behavior.

107. sschram - October 17, 2010 at 03:31 pm

sokal is a liar who refuses to get irb approval for his research because lying is unethical.

108. cassadia - October 17, 2010 at 03:34 pm

@sschram " this statement is patently false proving that defenders of Sokal are ignorant and misinformed." Huh? The statement that "IRBs usually approve research dealing with human subjects"???? Is this your claim?

It is certainly true that some IRBs have overstepped their bounds, trying to control all sorts of things that are none of their business.... but really? You want to claim that "defenders of Sokal" (all of us? most of us?) are "ignorant and misinformed" (in general? in respect to this single claim about the proper role of IRBs? which claim, by the way, only one of us "defenders of Sokal" has made?)

Really? This is the claim you want to stake your superior wisdom and knowledge upon?

The thing about ignorance is that when you have it --say in a subject like math, logic, or grammar-- you really don't know how much there is that you don't know. As a consequence, you are likely to vastly overestimate the depth and width and breadth of your own ignorance.

I do agree with you this list of comments is "chock full of idiocy," but I advise you to step back from the precipice. The worst thing you could do for your self-esteem right now would be to attract Professor Sokal's attention.

Sokal's only sin/crime/academic malfeasance was to make some ignorant folks look utterly and irredeemably foolish.

109. cassadia - October 17, 2010 at 03:37 pm

ooops. I should have said: " As a consequence, you are likely to vastly UNDERestimate the depth and width and breadth of your own ignorance."

What you OVERestimate is how knowledgable, witty, and keen you are.

110. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 03:42 pm

Back that up. Give me a single case in which someone has asked for prior approval to write that kind of paper. IRBs are mostly about the use of human subjects in research. I quote the New York Times:

'Review boards, first created in 1974, were initially restricted to biomedical research. In 1981 the regulations were revised to cover all research that involves “human subjects” and is designed to contribute to “generalizable knowledge.”'

Accusing someone of intellectual dishonesty is not using that person as a 'human subject,' by any stretch of the imagination. (Of course, they can sue you for libel, but that's a different issue.) Otherwise, I'd have to get permission to write about Habermas's thought, since Habermas is a human being! Who do you think the human subject is here, Fischer? You called my statement patently false, but still haven't explained why. Why is it unethical to point out someone's ethical lapses? Why shift the blame to the messenger?

111. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 03:53 pm

I assume that if Sokal's evidence were weak, Fischer's defenders would go after that rather than pointing to Sokal's role in a hoax many years ago. For the record, I do think that the "Sokal hoax" was an ethical lapse on his part. He could have been fired for that. I don't see why that negates what he's done in this research paper, or why he is a liar in his critique of Fischer. The evidence pretty much speaks for itself no matter who brought it forward.

112. amnirov - October 17, 2010 at 04:29 pm

Those who harp on Sokal's hoax article should get a life. Literary theory is intellectually bankrupt crap and it was justifiably ridiculed back in the day. Exposing the utterly idiotic nature of literary theory was a public good. If it were in my power, I'd give him an honorary PhD for it--in literary theory. The only people who complain about the hoax are people who know in their hearts that their own research is more or less random buzzwords strung together in no real order.

113. applefitch - October 17, 2010 at 04:47 pm

That some comments here are defending Fisher and the practice of plagiarism, and that Sokal is also being criticized here for his involvement (yawn), much of which stems from lingering sour grapes over Sokal's exposure of Social Text as a fraud, is not all that surprising and quite fitting actually. Harry Frankfurt wrote a very nice paper on such academic practices called, On Bullshit.

It's nevertheless frustrating that we social scientists are seemly content to have outsiders carry out our trash for us. We'd rather do all sorts of gymnastics over our heaps of garbage because the mess of cleaning it up ourselves might reveal too much. Besides, whistle blowers don't get hired, they don't get tenure, they don't get promoted, they get excommunicated. I've got a career to look after!

But then there are folks like tyroneslothrop (comment #93) who claim to be in the "hard sciences" and believe Sokal's Social Text exposure was an act of "bad faith", an attack on "the very foundation of academic publishing." Really? So exposing scholarly fraud, whether practiced by an academic journal, a faculty member, a journal editor or editorial board, "violate[s] the basic principle of scholarly work"? I guess the reach of silly science extends quite broadly.

Finally, I suppose we could take Dorfman's position (comment #105) and simply excuse Fisher's actions because they're so insignificant when compared to all the good and nice things he's done over his career. Why should WE tarnish his life-long achievements as a scholar and protector of the people. He's a swell guy, and how dare this uppity graduate student ruin it all for something as insignificant as plagiarism. It's all about our careers anyway, right?

114. sschram - October 17, 2010 at 05:21 pm

In the book, The Sokal Hoax, it is made very clear that the editors of Social Text did not want to publish Sokal's hoax article because it included a number of totally unbelievable claims, but Sokal insisted and refused to have his article published with the cuts. The editors decided to publish the article in toto as an interesting example of a scientist believing some outrageous ideas. Then Sokal turned around and accused the editors of publishing an article with so many outright falsehoods. The incident was interpreted widely as proving that Social Text did not know what it was talking about when it came to science but the fact of the matter is that Sokal insisted that outrageous claims be retained and the editors simply published the article not as something they endorsed but as an interesting specimen of a scientist's unique thinking. It turns out that thinking was hoaxed up. I do not see how this contrivance proved anything about Social Text. Instead, it showed the extent some people would go act disingenuously to prove a point.

The interesting parallel here is that supposedly Petkovic refused to make changes in his article that the editors thought reasonable; and then when the article was this time rejected, the hoaxster from the prior incident gets involved to allege plagiarism by an editor. It seems like a similar strategy of using negotiations about publishing articles to try to impugn the integrity of people whose work is disliked.

As for the evidence of plagiarism, the report is quite clear in showing that most of the words from the authors being quoted do not appear in the Fischer books. When they do, they are most often summaries of work being cited that actually have different sentences even if some of the words are the same and in a few cases the summaries parrot the wording of the original author being cited. But the authors are cited, the sentences are most often different, using the same words from the English language in selected instances in different sentences does not mean you stole someone else's their words let alone their ideas, and none of the cited authors ever claimed they were being plagiarized.

Research done to intentionally impugn the integrity of a scholar is in violation of basic research ethics. Scanning their documents is fine but if your intention from the start was to do their reputation harm there is a slight chance you might be able to get IRB approval but I am sure the IRB where you are doing the research would expect to know about the research ahead of time and would want to evaluate the extent to which such work was going to be done in an ethical fashion.

115. zinker - October 17, 2010 at 05:29 pm

It is one thing to have one's works legitimately critiqued, quite another to have one's personal integrity questioned af the critiques fall short of the mark. The fact that these occasional public 'trials' occur in an arena where all too often, a sort of 'herd mentality' takes hold, against the 'accused', it is difficult not to become cynical about the current state of higher education, and if gives one pause regarding what it means to be a scholar and thinker in these times. Obviously, Frank Fischer is not the first, nor will he be the last, to undergo this sort of public 'trial'. But it is interesting that he was accused of plagiarism after his critics' arguments failed to take hold. Instead of pursuing a course of action that would have continued to focus on the merits or demerits of Dr. Fischer's assertions, his critics resorted to a personal attack. In my mind, this resort ot a 21st century academic version of a 'witch hunt' belies the paucity of the critics' arguments regarding Frank Fisher's work. In the past, when such situations have arise, the works under attack have usually touched something profound within everyone involved, including the critics, requiring that all invoolved change the way they look at themselves and practice their craft. Resorting to the4 personal attack of an author when the critic's arguments fail to take hold smacks of the tactics of a 16th century Inquisitor.

If they are truly honest with themselves, notone scholar can truly say that he or she, at one time or another in the course of their careers, has not had a situation where the possiblity of them having plagiarized has not occurred, whether in print or in the classroom. Those of you who make great efforts to sift out and acuse plagiarists in print, can you truly say that in the classroom you've NEVER made a statement that was literally taken from a source that you did not cite verbally, in class, at the time you made the statement? Can you even be sure that at on time or another in human history that the words, phrases, or concepts you've tauted in print as 'unique', or in the classroom, weren't said before by someone, somewhere?

The truthful and honest representation of one's own thoughts represents an ideal rather than an either/or proposition. At times, we do better at it than at others. Only in this highly bureaucratic, narcissitic and capitalistic age, where individuals and corporations can be said to legally 'own' words and ideas can it be said that plagiarism is a black and white concept. Focusing our attention on publicly ritualized trials, such as in this forum, only serves to direct attention away from basic underlying questions that some previous bloggers have already suggested: Can knowledge really be 'owned'? Is scholarship really just about competing among aspirants for some kind of academic 'golden glove' award?

Alongside the practice of individual research, there have always existed communities and traditions of inquiry that have placed a premium on the transmission of knowledge and on the collective nature of inquiry. In such communities and traditions, the members haven't cared whose words were being used, whether they be concepts and ideas borrowed from one another (with attriubution) or a new innovation in the inquiry. Everyone has understood that what is involved is the collaborative efforts of lthe community or tradition as a whole.

In the meantime, I support Frank Fischer. In the current climate it takes courage to put ANYTHING in print without risking the possiblities of being personally attacked, especially when what is put forward makes people think or challenges the institutionalized status quo. Over his career, Frank has challenged his colleagues and students to live up to the hightest ideals of free thought and free expression.

116. tolerantly - October 17, 2010 at 05:31 pm

Dr. Dorfman,

Congratulations for your friend that he's been so terrific and productive. He is also, apparently, a crook. Maybe he will be terrific and productive in some other line of work once he figures out how not to steal.


also at a university.

117. zinker - October 17, 2010 at 05:39 pm

Correction: In the second to last paragraph, I meant to say '(with or WITHOUT attribution)' . . .

118. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 05:43 pm

That's not how I read the report. The bold face type is wording that is different, not the same, and the normal font often predominates in the compared passages. It looks like someone copying sentences from secondary sources into their research notes, then rewriting the sentences a bit so they are not exactly the same. Given that paraphrase without proper attribution is also plagiarism, it doesn't really matter that not all the language is verbatim. As Fischer said "does one have to change all the words?" In other words, he actually admits that he did research that way, taking quotes from sources and changing some words. What's the ambiguity there? He's admitted to this plagiarism, attributing it to his sloppiness. There's some gray area about how serious each of the 19 offenses is in itself, but there's a pattern that needs to be investigated.

This news only came out a few days ago. There is still time for those authors to complain. I'm sure some of them will in due time.

119. msmph - October 17, 2010 at 05:48 pm

There is a relatively small group of academics involved in Fischer's area of Political Science. The fact that none of the authors who Fischer supposedly plagiarized from have complained of plagiarism by Fischer when they almost certainly have read his work is evidence that no foul was committed here.

120. sschram - October 17, 2010 at 05:50 pm

The bold face type (the different words) predominates except for the passages where there are quotations from a still other source. I can't see how using a quotation from another source that someone else used should count as you improperly copying someone's text. Both text end up quoting the same source. Take that away and a lot of the text in common is done. Then there are the gaps between the similar words. Just because someone uses the same words but in different sentences is no proof of plagiarism. Then there is the fact that these people are cited. Then the fact that these are people who often knew years ago that they were cited and did not claim plagiarism then. Molehills can only be made into mountains when you take a certain view.

121. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 05:58 pm

Nobody cites orally, in the classroom teaching situation, in the same way as in print. That's a total canard. You couldn't find the page numbers fast enough during a free-wheeling discussion. I can't believe you would use that desperate an argument. Print scholarship is supposed to be more careful and deliberative.

And yes, no scholar can be sure he or she didn't slip up on one occasion in print in a minor way. If that's true, then we should never care about the flagrant cases? That makes no sense. I would horrified if I found an instance in my own work, and so I try to prevent it. What we're talking about is a consistent pattern over decade, not a minor accident.

122. cassadia - October 17, 2010 at 05:59 pm

@sschram #114 "In the book, The Sokal Hoax, it is made very clear that the editors of Social Text did not want to publish Sokal's hoax article because it included a number of totally unbelievable claims, but Sokal insisted and refused to have his article published with the cuts."

This statement is false on its face.

123. pterodactyl123 - October 17, 2010 at 06:01 pm

"The fact that none of the authors who Fischer supposedly plagiarized from have complained of plagiarism by Fischer when they almost certainly have read his work is evidence that no foul was committed here."

Uh, no. It could be that Fischer is plagiarizing across the disciplines. If he is a plagiarist, I'm sure he is clever enough to make sure that the ideas he "borrows" are those of people outside of his field.

One problem in academia these days is that hardly anyone reads anyone else's work. There's just too much "knowledge" out there to assume that other scholars would necessarily realize that their work has been plagiarized.

In recent years, there have been similar scandals in other fields. You can rest assured that the affected individuals took a while to find out what had happened to their work. And when they did find out, they were shocked. This case has only broken to the surface; time will tell who else comes forward to report inappropriate use of their work in Fischer's oeuvre.

124. tolerantly - October 17, 2010 at 06:02 pm

"There is a relatively small group of academics involved in Fischer's area of Political Science. The fact that none of the authors who Fischer supposedly plagiarized from have complained of plagiarism by Fischer when they almost certainly have read his work is evidence that no foul was committed here."

You jest. How many academics do you know who'll willingly stir the pot by calling a colleague a plagiarist and demanding a public admission or retraction of work?

125. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 06:06 pm

Yes, that's great: the other scholar has also done the work of finding just the right quotes to illustrate "your" points! And these long quotes are used in the exact same context, with similar language before and after. Usually, you have to say "qtd in" when you do that, especially when you reproduce the transcription errors of your intermediary. I feel I should give you people a course on citation practices. Do I have to explain everything?

126. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 06:17 pm

@123 In terms of quoting across discipline, it's clear that he relied a good deal on the secondary literature on Foucault and similar writers, who are not necessarily in Political Science depts, and who would not be expected to turn around and read his specialized research.

Also, note how much he repeats the same paragraph from book to book. It's a little easier to be so productive if you recycle that much material. That's not a hanging offense, but just saying... It doesn't look good.

127. fire_dragon - October 17, 2010 at 06:38 pm

The Sokal/Petkovic paper pretends to address issues of academic quality and honesty. As such, it should stand up to highest academic standards. But clearly it does not.

The proposition in the paper is that Fischer's academic work is marked by "alleged plagiarism" (in a round robin email yesterday Sokal writes plainly about "plagiarism"). According to the Oxford English Dictionary plagiarism denotes "the wrongful appropriation or purloining and publication as one's own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas ... of another".

The automated computer-based check of overlapping words and formulations is only the first, necessary but not sufficient test.

The second test is whether a typical political science reader would understand passages like the one quoted in the Chronicle as Fischer appropriating ideas of another as his own. To prove their point, the auhtors must therefore consider how the incriminated passage would be understood by Fischer's audience. This is an interpretive method which Sokal/Petkovic obviously despise and possibly do not fully understand.

For any scholar with a background in political theory or policy analysis it is quite clear that in the paragraph which is quoted in the Chronicle Fischer expresses ideas which he draws from Sheridan (1980) who in turn is indebted to Foucault (earlier work, English translation published in 1984). Therefore the Sokal/Petkovic proposition fails the second test, which they do not even attempt or envision.

If Fischer's paragraph was part of a student paper, I would have knocked off a few points for weaknesses in referencing and called the student in for a serious conversation. Only if several such paragraphs would be found, the paper would be referred to university plagiarism procedures.

However, if submitted as a student coursework, I would probably fail Sokal/Petkovic's paper for lack of awareness of relevant methods, lack of rigour in the conceptualisation of their approach, and insufficient understanding of the limits of their chosen methodology.

128. pterodactyl123 - October 17, 2010 at 06:49 pm

@127: Time to get a reality check. Plagiarism does not require a specific audience to be detected. I doubt that many Political Science scholars are well-versed in Foucault. Since Fischer does not explicitly cite Foucault until the very last sentence of his paragraph, most Poli Sci readers would assume (like the average academic reader) that the words preceding that final sentence are Fischer's own. Of course, we now realize they are NOT his own words, but those of Foucault (who is dead, and could not have caught the plagiarism on his own). But Sokal is alive, and did catch it.

Your explanation of plagiarism (below) is nonsense:

"The second test is whether a typical political science reader would understand passages like the one quoted in the Chronicle as Fischer appropriating ideas of another as his own. To prove their point, the auhtors must therefore consider how the incriminated passage would be understood by Fischer's audience. This is an interpretive method which Sokal/Petkovic obviously despise and possibly do not fully understand."

129. jhun6693 - October 17, 2010 at 07:17 pm

The really sad thing is... how little appreciation the people claiming plagiarism and such have of academic traditions and the role of citation. It is like they do not even know what it means to precis someone else's work, it is a standard practice for around 1000 years. You say the persons name, then you give a precis or paraphrase of their ideas. It only has gone on like that for oh 1500 years. Yet, our plagiarist accusers seem to have no idea about the world of scholarship. Something is shameful and lacking here, and it isn't Professor Fischer. In each case, he at least gave attribution, and attribution, not citation, is the defense to plagiarism, because plagiarism is not the lack of citation, it is the lack of attribution. Professor Fisher seems to attribute quite clearly.

130. tks25247 - October 17, 2010 at 07:23 pm

I doubt most Poli Sci scholars would realize that Fischer "attributes" his ideas to Sheridan. Sheridan is a British translator and fiction writer. Google him. Then think about if Fischer's specific audience would ever be able to guess where Fischer draws his ideas about Foucault's text from.

131. cassadia - October 17, 2010 at 07:36 pm

@127, through 128 ... pterodactyl123 is right. Find me "a typical political science reader," then we'll talk.

Back in the 90's, the typical reader in the humanities believed/or claimed to believe that we could not know the physical world EXCEPT through language. Since we are biological beings evolved on this planet, we get a whole lot of information about the world around us straight from our sensory apparatus. I would tell them that my kitten had so little use for language she wouldn't respond to her own name, but she KNEW and could communicate the knowledge that she was cold or wet, scared or hungry.

All of this quibbling stuff matters a great deal. The humanities as it existed in the 90's heralded in the biggest wave of pseudoscience and broken public discourse since the atom bomb and anti-communism overwhelmed the country's "mind," assuming in has/had one.

I don't mind so much that you're wrong. I expect people to be wrong. What I really object to is the profound dogmatism that accompanies your wrongness.

You are stomping around a valid concept, but your "test" doesn't do it for you. The grain of truth behind what you're claiming goes something like this:

Part of what you do as you ENTER a field of study is to "pick up the lingo." You have to start sounding like someone within the field of study. A lot of passive plagiarism takes place at that boundary mark. What counts as common knowledge within an epistemic field? When you no longer have to ask that question, you are a chemist, astronomer, philosopher, etc. There is also a phenomenon called "homage." Philosophers who quip that life is nasty, mean, brutish, and short are not accused of plagiarism. Depending upon how sophisticated and skillful you are, you can ape the mannerisms of a famous author as an inside joke. All that is fair game, common knowledge for academics.

What ought to be common knowledge for academics and is not can best be characterized as "the standards of argument and evidence." Lot of work needs to be done there...........

@130 ... exactly right. Fisher does not "attribute" to Sheridan the credit for HIS precis work.

132. fergbutt - October 17, 2010 at 07:42 pm

Fischer's mistake was claiming "sloppiness." Under different cultural circumstances, he could have used the MLK "voice merging" excuse used to explain Dr. King plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation. It's entirely appropriate in the black church, according to Keith Miller, to borrow words. Thus it's no big deal that sections of MLK's dissertation (or his "I Have a Dream" speech) were lifted from unattributed sources.

133. cassadia - October 17, 2010 at 08:00 pm

@132 ... the key to what you say is "under different cultural circumstances."

Use Thomas Jefferson's history with the Declaration of Independence as another example of different cultural circumstances. The concept of "corporate" or "group authorship" can help clarify.

However, you would do a disservice to a contemporary student who is working to find a place in an academic world today to give them this as an out.

Try as you may, you will NOT find an algorithm to answer the question of "what is plagiarism?" But we can get a lot closer. Too many students are just not READY to do rigorous academic work.

Fischer claims "sloppiness," which is probably right. He leaves unanswered the question of whether he CAN do better. Does he have the cognitive and linguistic skills? Open question.

134. zinker - October 17, 2010 at 08:13 pm

bemsha #121 states: "Nobody cites orally, in the classroom teaching situation, in the same way as in print. That's a total canard."

So you expect to believe everything you believe in print? Print is nothing more (nor nothing less) than dialogue and discussion by other means. It seems disingenuous to apply the rules against plagiarism in print, but not in the classroom. To privilege text and print over oral communication represents a dual standard that scholars and academics do not fully appreciate. Perhaps those who complain about trying to get their students to understand the rules of plagiarism should begin practicing what they preach . . . in the classroom. Scholarship and academics is an attitude and PRACTICE that should extend to all areas of our professional lives, not just in print. The rules of plagiarism emerged as a way of facilitating dialogue and scholarly conversation, pure and simple. They were not meant to be some sort of 'bludgeon' or textual 'prison', to keep academics 'in line' from violating copyright laws or protecting the economic interests of elites who make their fortunes in publishing and print-oriented communications.

135. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 08:26 pm


For sure, there should be a double standard. Unless I am reading from formal lecture notes (which I never do) something unexpected will come up in the classroom everyday. I might say something like "many scholars believe that..." and do an improvised summary of a scholarly consensus. I won't list every scholar who thinks this or provide publication dates or page numbers because there isn't time. Or I might just teach the subject matter presenting standard information without listing every scholar who agrees with me. Do you really think the same standard applies to a peer-reviewed article? Do you want our teaching to be as formal as that, or our peer-reviewed articles to be that sloppy? That would be fatal to both, I think.

Obviously, I don't believe everything I read in print. That's a petitio principii. Print can be scrutinized in the way that oral dialogue cannot. That's kind of the point, isn't it? You believe something (or not) by looking at its arguments and documentation and evaluating it. I really wonder what universe you inhabit if you think a peer-reviewed article and a classroom discussion can have the same rules of citation and attribution.

136. mslibraryghost - October 17, 2010 at 08:44 pm

To quote from someone else's work without attribution is affronts the academic search for truth and light, which is basic.

Academic writers (like my students) must put quotation marks around any word or two or three words that are somehow "singular": that have the stamp of the author on them; that stop us in our reading for their irony, alliteration, or precision; that make us laugh aloud or wince; that are not the words that we might have used unaided.

Better to err on the side of scholarly generosity toward one's predecessors than to be :( "sloppy." Pretty embarrassing for the U.

All the errors in "the book" are, as the foreword/intro commonly affirms, "the author's."

137. mslibraryghost - October 17, 2010 at 08:45 pm

To quote from someone else's work without attribution affronts the academic search for truth and light, which is basic.

Academic writers (like my students) must put quotation marks around any word or two or three words that are somehow "singular": that have the stamp of the author on them; that stop us in our reading for their irony, alliteration, or precision; that make us laugh aloud or wince; that are not the words that we might have used unaided.

Better to err on the side of scholarly generosity toward one's predecessors than to be :( "sloppy." Pretty embarrassing for the U.

All the errors in "the book" are, as the foreword/intro commonly affirms, "the author's."

138. larryc - October 17, 2010 at 08:51 pm

Random made an astute point back at comment 89--the bulk of the posts here defending Fischer seem to have been made by the same person.

139. bemsha - October 17, 2010 at 09:09 pm

Some fallacies used by Fischer's defenders:

ad hominem (against Sokal)
tu quoque (everyone does it anyway)
argument from the motivations of those pointing out the plagiarism (if what they say is true, it doesn't matter)
canards and red herrings, various kinds of question-begging
argument from authority (Fischer is a good guy in other ways, a prestigious scholar, etc...)
confusion of copyright in the legal sense and the ethical code of scholarship
argument from the percentage of Fischer's total output affected
argument from sloppiness
argument that Fischer is a smart guy and thus didn't need to plagiarize; therefore he didn't
argument that a student would have had to do what Fischer did a few more times to be brought up on charges
argument that unattributed paraphrase is ok if you change enough words
argument that direct quotes without quotation marks are ok if the original author is cited a few paragraphs away
argument that my ignorance of IRBs constitutes the same ignorance of everyone on my side of the question
argument that none of the people plagiarized has complained yet (!)
argument that professors sometimes don't follow the exact same rules in the classroom when they lecture or lead discussion
argument that accusations didn't consider specific psychology of Poli Sci Professor
argument that Sokal is not in this field and has no standing

Did I leave any out?

The only legitimate argument is that someone has examined the evidence and concluded that this does not constitute significant plagiarism, in his or her considered professional judgment. I respect that argument if made in good faith. I'm sure some people have sincerely reached that conclusion. I disagree, but that's the only way to go. The rest is just blowing smoke.

140. zinker - October 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm

@bemsha #135

The point, though, is that we live in an electronic age (See Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, 1982), where even text is 'fluid', open to a number of interpretations and usages, embedded in the various practices of various inquiring communities. Yes, it's true, some of the most insightful and fruitful comments can come from the spontaneity of classroom discussion, but it's still incumbant upon a professor to put what has been said in the classroom into the context of the existing literature, otherwise, how do we get students to understand that what has been said has been 'unique' or 'insightful'? The discovery of knowledge is a communal process, involving seasoned professionals and novices, exploring and working together. I always tell my students at the begining of each term that they have to decide whether or not to accept what I say as 'true' or not. It is a MORAL CHOICE to accept what I say in the classroom as being 'true' or not, since ultimately, their actions and professional behavior will be either directly or implicitly effected by what I say. And all of this sets aside the fact that soon, even our classroom lectures will be open to scrutiny, as we move toward online education and the video recording of spontaneous classroom lectures becomes more common as an educational practice, thus probably requiring more formal citations in our classroom behavior.

I'm not condoning outright acts of plagiarism (once had a student whose paper began, 'This chapter covers . . .', and I flunked him.) But I am saying that 'plagiarism' is a contestable concept, the definition of which should be determined by the inquiring community that seeks to use it as a practice of inquiry. For thousands of years, scriptural texts have been freely copied and reworked by thousands of anonymous scholars and translators, without what we would consider 'scholarly attribution', yet to accuse these theologians and translators of plagiarism as they reworked the the texts would be ludicrous. Even today, theologians and ministers freely use one anothers' words, without always attributing their sources. It all depends upon the community of inquirers in question, as well as the purposes to which any produced 'knowledge' is directed.

Our present day academies are artifacts of the 19th century, when 'science' and 'scientific inquiry' promised moral, social, and intellectual certainty, and it was from that century that the bureaucratization and standardization of knowledge production across the disciplines came into play, giving rise to 'plagiarism' as a bureaucratically condemned practice. To put a scholar on trial for 'plagiarism', judged by those who are most likely outside the inquiring community to which that scholar belongs, is to create an injustice. 'Print' is always directed toward a particular community or audience, and it is incumbant upon both the writer and the reader to understand what audience is being addressed.

141. garlic_tooth - October 17, 2010 at 11:06 pm

@zinker 135 said:

".. I am saying that 'plagiarism' is a contestable concept [..]For thousands of years, scriptural texts have been freely copied and reworked by thousands of anonymous scholars .."


This is not about 'anonymous scholars'. Here we talk about a person accused of taking the text(s) of some other scholars and publishing them under his name. Let's keep the discussion clear.

142. zinker - October 18, 2010 at 12:00 am


But "keeping the discussion clear" also means being clear about the community of inquiry of which that person is a part, and who the audience was to whom that person was writing. As bloggers above have pointed out, NONE of the persons from whom materials were supposedly 'plagiarized' were upset when those materials came out in print. . . . THEY were part of the community of inquiry of which the writings by our supposed 'plagiarer'were a part, and only that community has the right to say what is 'plagiarism' and what isn't.

143. zinker - October 18, 2010 at 12:21 am

Additional remarks to garlic_tooth:

A majority of those condemning Fischer for plagiarism seem to assume that the academic community 'in-toto' represents the inquiring community to whom Fischer was addressing. I'm arguing that this is not the case. Each discipline has it's own subgroups and special inquiring communities that have their own scholarly practices and rules. Before making a blanket condemnation of any particular scholar for violating supposed 'academic rules' (as if they can be generalized across disciplines), it is incumbant upon the reader and would be accuser to fully understand and be clear about the rules of inquiry that govern a particular scholarly community's inquiring practices. For a physicist to condemn a critical policy theorist, part of a relatively small subgroup of inquiring scholars, assuming that the same rules of inquiring practice obtain in the community of policy theorists, as in his own field of physics is to misapply his own standards. In addition, the paper that was turned down, was also turned down by another policy journal. Before submitting his article, it was incumbant upon the author of that paper to fully understand the rules of scholarship that governed the journals in question. Bottom line: Individual inquiring communities have the right to formulate and put into practices their own rules of inquiry.

144. stonewashed - October 18, 2010 at 04:45 am

random (89)
I hope you are reading: brilliant logic! Applied to you, it is pretty certain you are Mr. Petkovic!

145. gringo_gus - October 18, 2010 at 05:47 am

I hesitate to post again after my volte face, but here goes. By the standards of social sciences and humanities, the copying identified in the report is not insubstantial.

The critique of Sokal that he should have kept out for whatever reason - disciplinary difference, lack of institutional support, is wrong, and an insult to academic freedom.

I like what Frank Fischer writes, it is original, insightful, clever. But bits are copied. I don't like Sokal for his hoax, which I personally think was duplicitous, and as questionable practice as anything Fischer is accused of.

But, you know, if people we don't like (Sokal in my case) aren't allowed to speak what they believe to be the truth then academic freedom is out of the window. And how we challenge them is not because we don't like what they say, but to demonstrate the basis of their claims to truth is questionable. Thats why citation matters, as well as not passing off others ideas. The biggest hurt Frank Fischer has done is to the legitimacy of his own. There should be no cause for celebration here.

And, as for celebrity scholars, pah. They should get over themselves.

146. rollivier - October 18, 2010 at 06:18 am

So let me get this right, Fischer is not a thief, he is consistently sloppy? Thank god he is not a M.D. people would be dead on the table. What a sham! If I had ever submitted work with this sort of "sloppiness" I would have received a great big (F) and been sent packing. There is no excuse for this blantently unprofessional behavior. Be gone... before someone drops a house on you.

147. stonewashed - October 18, 2010 at 07:15 am

indeed, you would get an F for blatEnt spelling mistakes, to begin with.
The serious issue is, however: did you actually submit 1400 pages of work to anyone for a grade?

148. random - October 18, 2010 at 09:24 am

Another speculation, if I may: I don't recognize many of the handles of comments supporting Fischer. They seem to be new identities, while I do recognize other names from the Forum. But I haven't been reading the Forum much in past couple of years so I may be entirely off the mark here.

This episode reminds me of the lesson the Romans learned: don't make the Illyrians mad.

149. katzlazer - October 18, 2010 at 09:41 am

The title the Chronicle put on this article just goes to show the power of 'fame.' Would this article even be here if Kresimir Petkovic produced the same 70 page document instead of Sokal? I doubt it.

150. gmorcol - October 18, 2010 at 11:40 am


This is not a proud moment for academia. Some of the 140+ comments made so far on this blog made me question if the authors really read the 70-page Petkovic-Sokal document carefully. I think, before passing any judgments on Fischer or Petkovic-Sokal and expressing "righteous indignations" about Fischer, we should look into this document very carefully and scrutinize it.

What kind of a method did Petkovic and Sokal use to identify plagiarized texts? What do they mean by plagiarism? What do the authors of those indignant comments mean by plagiarism?

I tried to read the Petkovic-Sokal document. I must say that it was a frustrating experience. I copied the texts side by side trying to find out mechanical similarities and similarities in meaning. I am not sure if they wanted to enlighten our discourse about an important ethical issue (plagiarism), or to create a negative impression about Fischer, even worse, to obfuscate the issue by providing a massive amount of text data without any systematic comparisons. I hope that those who have the time will sample the texts from the document and make comparisons, paragraph by paragraph.

Here is the method Petkovic and Sokal used: They compared texts from Fischer and other authors electronically to find matching words and word groups. This could only be the first step in a content analysis of texts. One can find meaningful patterns or end up with nonsense after this. There is a key to understand what Petkovic and Sokal did: They identified matches in words and word groups even when they are "possibly reordered" (see the first page of the Petkovic and Sokal document). In other words, they were looking for any combinations of words and word groups. This obviously increases the odds of finding matches dramatically.

Not surprisingly, they ended up with thousands of matching words and word groups. It is interesting to see in the Petkovic-Sokal document that they highlighted even common terms like "the social world" and "taken-for-granted" as examples of plagiarism. That is not all: They highlighted block paragraphs (direct quotes from a third source) that both Fischer and another author used as "plagiarized texts," even though Fischer clearly cited their sources. Another observation I made while reading the Petkovic-Sokal document is that they did include the citation numbers Fischer used for footnotes (or endnotes), but did not include the footnotes (or endnotes) themselves. So we are left wondering if Fischer made proper attributions or not. We do not know. Therefore he must have plagiarized.

I cannot help but ask this: Did Petkovic and Sokal do a very sloppy job in content analyzing Fischer's texts and accidentally created the image that he plagiarized? Did they base their serious allegation on a very poorly conceptualized an executed content analysis? Or, did they do this intentionally?

Petkovic and Sokal base their charge of plagiarism on this flawed mechanical word matching method. it is obvious that Sokal is not a social scientist and he does not know how to conduct a content analysis. It is also apparent that Petkovic, a graduate student, has not learned so far how to do content analysis. And yet, they do not mind accusing a scholar based on a flawed research. And the Chronicle publicizes their accusations without seriously investigating the validity of their work. And some who commented on this blog jump on the bandwagon and express their "righteous indignation." Of course, many others pointed out the shallowness and fallaciousness of Petkovi and Sokal's claims.

Now what? Here is what I suggest;

The Chronicle should convene a panel of experts to investigate the validity of Petkovic and Sokal's claims. They should be experts in linguistics, content analysis, and academic ethical conduct. The Chronicle should pay for all their expenses and for their time.

During such an investigation Petkovic and Sokal should be questioned for their motives. This is legitimate because we know that Petkovic started the whole affair after his paper was rejected by the journal Fischer is an editor of.

As part of this investigation the panel should also look into the 100+ email messages between Petkovic and Fischer and other correspondences. The panel should question why only a small sample of the messages was included in the Petkovic-Sokal document.

I hope in the end this will be a learning experience for all of us in the academia. I hope we will come up with a better understanding of what plagiarism is, what it is not, and how it should be detected and investigated.

151. bemsha - October 18, 2010 at 11:49 am

No, Zinker. Baseline rules do not vary by discipline. There is not a special little rule saying Poli Sci faculty can do this and anthropology scholars can't. It's fudging the issue. I read works in fields not my own all the time, so I expect some standards to be enforced across all disciplines. Cross-disciplinary critique is actually helpful to make sure we're all on the same page. If the standards of one field are laxer, we have to offer that critique and have that field clean up its act. Plus, he is himself citing people belonging to a variety of department.

All this talk of interpretive communities is really bullshit (see Guillory's critique of Fish e.g.) Look at university academic integrity codes. They don't define plagiarism differently for different fields. Are you really arguing that it is because Sokal is not in the field that he doesn't understand that what Fischer is doing is fine by laxer social science standards? That's insulting. That is such a weak argument that I am surprised that you would even offer it in good faith. Plenty of Social Scientists and Humanists like myself on this forum agree that it's plagiarism.

152. lee_scoresby - October 18, 2010 at 11:53 am

@150: some of the material really is in the "doth protest too much" category, i.e., they take relatively common ways of summarizing theorists work, find overlapping (and differently ordered) text, and call it plagiarism. But there are a number of examples of rewriting (including blockquoting the same material with very similar "wrapping" text) that cross the threshold of what we would commonly categorize as plagiarism if we found it in a student's paper.

153. blomert - October 18, 2010 at 12:08 pm

We are dependent on words, that others have already used, otherwise we would have difficulties to be understood. And our thinking is created by thoughts, that others already have formulated earlier.
Or as Karl Mannheim poses it: It is not, that we think, but "it thinks within us", our own thoughts coming out of a cauldron of thoughts of our time and space.
Freud had put something similar earlier.... So had Mannheim plaguiarized Freud? That's ridiculous! He was Mannheim and he
had said it too - in a different context. So: Look at and read the work and make the content analysis
as a whole.
Reading the letters of Sokal and Petkovitch I also can only say: The
game, they play, is obvious, sapienti sat...

154. gringo_gus - October 18, 2010 at 12:36 pm

@150: Lee-Scoresby is right. By any standard, if this kind of practice was in a paper I was grading, even on "discursive mimesis in intellectual practice", it would be seen as plagiarised. I think, too, you gloss when you talk of similarities of words and word groups. There are whole sequences of not just word groups, but sentences, and this happens repeatedly. Even if the footnotes cited page numbers, that text is reproduced verbatim without signalling this is the case is an entry-level misdemeanour across the humanites and social sciences.

I also think that your expert-authority claims are pretty dodgy. I suspect if you saw a technocrat in another field marshalling your logic and your argument you, like me would be the first to point the finger, and rightly so. Only you have the expertise to judge, you seem to be saying.

(You do realize that the plagiarized material in their report is the text not in bold, not the other way round ? I made that mistake on first reading).

Now, like I say, its tragedy. I think that more can/should be done to rescue Fischer's larger contribution by saying, this was wrong, but the larger contribution should stand.

I also think there is a bigger issue about people in social science just writing too much, and having to take shortcuts to produce to the quantity of work they produce. But you could say that what Fischer is doing is a form of ratebusting, and that the rest of us who don't (or try not to, at least) do this kind of thing are being judged by people in authority for whom people like Fischer are the quantitative benchmark. It has been implied that Petkovic is obsessive, who knows; but what about the obsessive publishers, particularly when so much of what they way is self-evidently repetitive ?

I also suspect that Fischer is not the only one, and that there should be a mechanism for people to 'fess up. Likewise, senior faculty can become the object of fixations by others early in their career, fantasized as all-powerful and in control, when really, as the Sokal report suggests, they are as flawed as anyone else. I suspect there are few who could prove themselves wholly perfect in every aspect of their practice if pursued by someone with a grievance and time on their hands.

Again, I have seen a good friend of mine determined that his supervisor was planning his intellectual demise, and that his external examiner was in on it, and he too started reading the supervisors work line by line. Even got the supervisors 20 year old dissertation thesis from the library. He passed his viva with flying colors. Now you could argue Sokal was colluding in this kind of thing, and has a track record etc. But remaining silent about these kind of problems is the bigger issue here.

155. alan_sokal - October 18, 2010 at 01:23 pm

To "gmorcol" (#150):

I am grateful that you have actually tried to address the content of the 70-page document that Mr. Petkovic and I have presented. As you correctly observe, many commenters (on both "sides" of this discussion) seem not to have even read this document.

Let me address briefly some of your concerns:

1) What is the precise definition of "plagiarism"? Obviously there is no unique definition of plagiarism; and plagiarism also comes in degrees of severity, which reasonable people might evaluate differently. One imperfect but fairly sensible (as far as it goes) definition of plagiarism is given in the Rutgers University standards that we quote in Appendix C:

"Plagiarism is the representation of the words or ideas of another as one's own in any academic work. To avoid plagiarism, every direct quotation must be identified by quotation marks, or by appropriate indentation, and must be cited properly according to the accepted format for the particular discipline. Acknowledgment is also required when material from any source is paraphrased or summarized in whole or in part in one's own words. To acknowledge a paraphrase properly, one might state: to paraphrase Plato's comment... and conclude with a footnote or appropriate citation to identify the exact reference. A footnote acknowledging only a directly quoted statement does not suffice to notify the reader of any preceding or succeeding paraphrased material."

These are the standards that Rutgers University imposes on its students,
and which are supposedly binding also on its tenured professors. It would be fruitful for commenters in this forum to address specific examples of texts cited in Sections 1-19 (pp. 2-51) of our document, evaluating them against this standard. I am perfectly aware that some of these examples constitute more clear-cut (or more severe) cases of plagiarism than others. Our main aim in the 70-page document was simply to make these texts available, so that each person could evaluate them for himself or herself.

2) You are right that direct quotes from a third author, if used by both texts, are placed in ordinary font in our document; and you are also right that common phrases like "the social world", if used by both texts, are also placed in ordinary font. So one cannot judge the existence or extent of plagiarism _merely_ by mechanical counting of ordinary vs. boldface font in our file. I absolutely agree, and we never suggested otherwise. But as commenter #152 pointed out, one frequently finds identical (or similar) direct quotes _together with_ identical (or similar) "wrapping text"; and this, especially if repeated for several paragraphs (or in some cases, several pages) on end, is strongly indicative of plagiarism.

3) We did _not_ use ordinary font _merely_ on the basis of matches of words or word groups; rather, we required that Fischer's text be using the same words (possibly reordered) _to express the same idea_ as the earlier text. Since this is not a purely mechanical comparison, different reasonable people could in some cases make different decisions. But I do not think that the overall conclusions would be much changed.

4) When either Fischer or the earlier author used footnotes or endnotes,
we ALWAYS strove to report (either in a footnote of our own, or in our commentary following the text) the content of that footnote or endnote. If in any case we forgot to do so, please let me know, and I will gladly supply the missing information.

5) The ENTIRE e-mail correspondence between Petkovic and Fischer is included in the two documents that the Chronicle has posted:
The first document contains, in Appendix D, ALL the correspondence with Fischer subsequent to Petkovic's discovery of one example of plagiarism; in particular, it contains all of Fischer's threats against Petkovic, and Petkovic's responses. The second document contains ALL of Petkovic's correspondence with Fischer and his colleagues concerning Petkovic's submission to Critical Policy Studies.

156. cholbert - October 18, 2010 at 01:56 pm

If a student at my community college did this, he or she will fail the assignment and be brought before the dean of students. Sloppiness? I don't think so. It's cheating, pure and simple.

157. alan_sokal - October 18, 2010 at 02:29 pm

P.S. A particularly informative discussion of plagiarism, with illustrative examples, can be found in the "Guide to Using Sources" that Harvard University issues to its students:
Many of Fischer's texts exemplify what this Guide terms "mosaic plagiarism" and "inadequate paraphrase" -- with the difference being that the examples of plagiarism offered by the Harvard Guide are only two or three sentences long, not two or three pages.

The Harvard Guide was brought to my attention by
These blogs also make some interesting further comments.

158. ellenhunt - October 18, 2010 at 03:45 pm

Re: #64, Item #6. "I am also surprised by the comments of people such as ellenhunt at #55 above that the student should be protected simply because they are students. This seems strangely precious. Graduate students are adults. They can break laws. There are many cases of students accusing professors of sexual intimidation, or of other terrible things, simply to gain advantage. My own reaction is that litigation is an obvious option to consider for anyone threatened with an attack on their reputation from someone seeking revenge over something as normal as a disagreement about a paper. (Although it might not be the best option)."

I find you appalling. If you are not aware of how vulnerable graduate students are, I simply have not words for you. Certainly, I know of one case of a grad student who falsely accused a professor of sexual misconduct. But I know of 20 more instances of professors who either succeeded in destroying a student's career or tried, for hideous, venal, corrupt reasons. Some of them are so outrageous, so atrocious, as to be criminal.

Regarding the UK's libel laws? Indeed, the UK is a notorious "venue shopping" location used by vile people to censor what should be known. This has resulted in legislation in other nations requiring that to enforce a judgement of a UK court, the case must follow the rules of the courts of the target nation.

159. alan_sokal - October 18, 2010 at 04:32 pm

Re a peripheral issue raised by #158 and #64:

As "ellenhunt" #158 correctly points out, the English libel laws are notoriously favorable to plaintiffs (especially rich corporations and politicians who can afford expensive lawyers) and unprotective of free speech.

But "socialinquirer" #64 is flat wrong when he/she asserts that "Under British libel law accuracy is no defence against defamanation." Even in England, truth is an absolute defense (oops, defence) against a charge of libel. (Thank god, because I teach one semester per year in London and am thus subject to the jurisdiction of the English courts.) Anyone curious as to the details can find references cited in footnote 35 (p. 14) of my talk

[By the way, it is wrong to refer in this context to "British" law, as the legal system in Scotland is different from that in England and Wales, and I am not sure what the situation is there.]

160. johngrin - October 18, 2010 at 04:52 pm

Knowing Frank Fischer's work, and much of the work by others on wich he draws, very well, I have long hesitated to interfere in this rather alienating debate.

Plagiarism, especially when used with the strong moral connotations atached to it by many of the critics on this site, has at its core the use of other people's ideas without referring to them.

This is simply not what Fischer did. While, as he has publicly admitted, he could occasionally have been more careful in the way he draws on others' work, he has always referred to it at the instances where he cites it.

What remains is that Fischer is one of the most productive and original thinkers in political science, whose work has been cited many times for what he has aded to the discipline. No one acquainted with the literature would confuse his own contributions with those of the authors he cits, even where the paraphrasing was not entirely clear technically.

Finally, may I express my surprise that some of the more behement critics prefer to utter their accusations anonymously. I personally adhere to different professional and personal ethical standards.

Let us all go back to business.

161. kreso_petkovic - October 18, 2010 at 05:22 pm

It certainly was not my intention to write anything further on this sad
matter. I somehow considered it closed. Everything is documented and
commented in the lengthy file that can be downloaded on this page
(http://chronicle.com/items/biz/pdf/plagiarism_fischer.pdf). I would very
much recommend to anyone seriously interested in this case to simply take
some time and read this document, perhaps even to check all the links
provided in the document, and then to reach the balanced judgment in this

But since Professor Fischer first had his say in this forum, and later
Professor Sokal, with multiple entries, I thought I should also post a
comment. I understand that the document describing my unfortunate experience
with Critical Policy Studies is now also made available by the staff of the
(http://chronicle.com/items/biz/pdf/Petkovic_Experiment_with_CPS.pdf). This
should also throw some light on Fischer's numerous and continuing
manipulations in this case, from which I got tired long before this article
saw the light of the day. I ask the reader just to take a look at
correspondence in the end of both documents. If nothing else, that makes
some facts clear enough.

Here, I would only like to address a statement made by a probably misinformed Prof. Colebatch, because it is important for understanding some aspects of this case. It was given in another forum, CPS Listserv
(http://listserv.cddc.vt.edu/pipermail/cps/2010-October.txt), where the army
of Fischer's supporters is being mobilized for this one (that forum is now
closed for outsiders, perhaps for tactical reasons). Prof. Colebatch writes
there: "Fischer is a major innovative thinker in policy studies. Like
everyone else, his work is subject to critique by his peers. The same is
true of Petkovic, who has submitted a piece three times to policy journals,
but every time the referees have recommended against publication."

As one can clearly see from both of the documents now available here, I
submitted my paper only to one journal: Critical Policy Studies. It was first conditionally accepted by its editor (Fischer: "With regard to Critical Policy Studies, your paper as it now stands is way too long for publication as a journal essay. A piece of about half the length would be suitable for section called Forum, devoted to controversial issues and debates. If that would be of interest to you, I would most happy and willing to reply -- debate format -- to your article."). Then the reworked version was rejected by the same person. Then that same person said that it is not up to him to decide. And then, after a while (only after I've sent a request for reviews to journal's secretary), I've received two reviews that looked more like "hired guns" reviews than double blind peer reviews to me. (That, and only that, is the meaning of "I was not treated seriously as an author" statement.) So, the problem was -- contrary to what Prof. Colebatch stated -- that the one journal I addressed without any bad intentions whatsoever lacked a proper peer review procedure!

The document I've sent to the Policy Studies Journal obviously is not an
academic paper. That was clearly stated. It was only a description of an
important bad experience I had with another journal. It included my paper as
a supplementary data. The JPS did not send me any reviews. Instead, they
(Peter deLeon & co), according to Fischer, called this document "a jeremiad"
(is that, perhaps, a peer review?) and sent it to Fischer, who then started
threatening me. Then I sent the document to Sokal and rest is more or less

So, to set the record straight, when it is said that I have "submitted a
piece three times to policy journals, but every time the referees have
recommended against publication", it is simply a false statement that in the
end functions portraying me as a frustrated (obsessed?) scholar who seeks
his revenge because his papers are not good enough among his peers.

In any case, the issues of Fischer's plagiarism do not in any way relate to
my (or anyone else's) psychological dispositions or frustrations. The same
goes for the unprofessional procedure I was unexpectedly subjected to in two
scholarly journals.

Kresimir Petkovic

Faculty of Political Sciences
University of Zagreb

162. dsuciu - October 18, 2010 at 05:52 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

163. dsuciu - October 18, 2010 at 06:05 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

164. angrydilettante - October 18, 2010 at 09:44 pm

No one climbs out of this cesspool smelling especially rosy.

Kresimir Petkovic initially has a legitimate grievance about a mediocre journal engaging in lame reviewing practices and seriously dropping the ball when a senior reviewer has a clear conflict of interest. Then, instead of taking the high road, this genius decides to try his hand at living out Notes from the Underground. He is a sick man. A spiteful man. An unattractive man ... oh hey, look: I loosely paraphrased without quotes or clear attribution. Now if only I were to subvert the peer review process, maybe Petkovic will stalk me too?

Frank Fischer, who actually has done good scholarly work and clearly isn't in the business of stealing other peoples' ideas, comes across as ... well, you know, the senior, well-established guy we all say respectful and responsible things about in public because yes, he has published a lot and yes, his work is reasonably influential, and yes he's a learned fellow ... but then we cannot help muttering under our breath after the reception: "what a self-important douche!" Add to this some petty plagiarism and wow, oops! "maybe next time I'll just dial down the self-serving corruption of a journal's review process?"

Alan Sokal ... Alan Alan Alan. A smart, funny, awkwardly but sorta sweetly earnest guy, but here he comes across as that aging rockstar who had the catchy tune from a while back, and is now taking a lame stab at another hit single (aaawwwkwaaard).

And poor Mr. Sheridan, an innocent with no stake in any of this sordid mess, now finds himself with a paragraph out there in cyber-la-la-land that actually reads much better after some petty plagiarism.


And don't get me started on you lot.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go bump into some aristocrats. And plagiarize my graduate students' work.

165. oldassocprof - October 18, 2010 at 09:58 pm

Had I been Fischer, I would have used one cite more to Sheridan. It probably also needs quotes and brackets between "Disciplinary" and "localized." But many here are correct: there isn't an absolute black and white standard. So an errata sheet needs to be published making the correction. Especially since a professor was charged with the same thing at Texas A&M, and only got a hand-slapping.

When I was more of a Marxist than I am now (BTW, is *that* from Foucault? I can't quite remember), we used the phrase "in the last analysis" quite a lot. I have no idea where I heard it or read it first, but I never used it with attribution, and would not today. So, maybe that's plagiarism.

166. flemmingbjerke - October 19, 2010 at 06:07 am

The following quote from the Chronicle's Fischer-plagianism article reduces the issue to a storm in a teacup:

"Over the summer, Mr. Sokal estimates, he spent 50 to 100 hours searching for instances of plagiarism in Mr. Fischer's work. What he found were more than a dozen passages, many of them several paragraphs long, that parallel already published work."

More than a dozen passages out of six books plus a lot of articles! Is that the crime?!!!

Let's suppose it is true.

Then, I would say to Frank: "Don't be sloppy!"

To the Chronicle, Sokol, and Petrovic, I would say: Ha - ha - ha - ha! Haven't you something more interesting to spend your time on!

It becomes even funnier, when Sokal in his letter to Frank writes:

"if my guess is right, then at least 98% of your scholarly output (perhaps more) was written by you."

Frank, your enemy says that you have written at least 98% of your books yourself! What a blow!

But, I think the Chronicle should not bring forth the bitter fruits of revenge and hatred. That is unprofessional.

And now to something completely different.
(Please, guess whether this was a quotation!)

167. alan_sokal - October 19, 2010 at 07:52 am

Professor John Grin of the University of Amsterdam (to whom I am grateful for using his real name in posting #160) asserts that

"While, as he [Fischer] has publicly admitted, he could occasionally have been more careful in the way he draws on others' work, he has always referred to it at the instances where he cites it."

Alas, this assertion is demonstrably false, as can easily be checked by a cursory exaination of the document
In the cases of Goulet (section 4), Ferguson (section 5), the first Fairclough passage (section 8), Polkinghorne 1988 (section 13), Polkinghorne 1983 (section 16) and Majone (section 17), the author in question is either not cited at all in the book, or else cited only very far from the passages in question.

Dr. Peter Feindt of Cardiff University (alias "fire_dragon" in posting #127) asserts that

"To prove their point, the auhtors [sic] must therefore consider how the incriminated passage would be understood by Fischer's audience. This is an interpretive method which Sokal/Petkovic obviously despise and possibly do not fully understand."

Put aside the question of how Dr. Feindt can be so sure what Mr. Petkovic and I "despise" or "understand" (is he a mind-reader?).
The assertion is anyway demonstrably false.

Although we do not make many comments on the texts we compile -- preferring to let each reader come to his or her own evaluation --
the _whole point_ of our critique is precisely that, in those instances where Professor Fischer does refer to the original author somewhere near the copied text, the reader is seriously misled as to which words and ideas are Fischer's own. The Sheridan/Foucault example cited by the Chronicle is an example of this, but far from the worst. In at least two cases we make this point explicitly ("The reader is thus left with a doubly wrong impression", p. 31; "The reader is thus made to believe ...", p. 36).

[By the way, how do I know that "fire_dragon" is Dr. Feindt? Because I received an identical posting from him, two days earlier, in an e-mail cc'ed to me.]

168. valerierosebronte - October 19, 2010 at 09:31 am

I find it hard to believe that what appears to be word-for-word copying can be dismissed as "sloppiness" or "laziness" by a professional holding a coveted post in the humanities. I would have failed a student when I was a TA for this type of copying.

Even as a graduate student, I was fully aware of what constituted plagiarism and painstakingly cited every single thought that was not my own, dreading that anyone would ever levy any accusation of plagiarism, including even borrowing the shape of another's argument. Citing your sources is part of writing. No responsible academic, or "scholar", should pawn it off on an editor and if they do, they should be publicly humiliated, regardless of the rather petty motivations of one Petkovic.

Too many hacks, not enough jobs, and the sharks are circling. Cry "sloppiness" on your way out the door.

169. bemsha - October 19, 2010 at 10:18 am


If only 2% of your work were plagiarized, that would seem like a very small number, right? So in a book of 50,000 words, say, if the equivalent of 1,000 were in question, that would be a small amount? Or the equivalent of 4 pages out of 200, or 8 in a 400-page book, that would be a trivial amount of plagiarism? Is that what you're saying? What would be the threshold at which the plagiarism was not trivial? Would it have to reach 4%, or 10%?

170. stonewashed - October 19, 2010 at 10:29 am

In fact, my main concern lately is that nobody is interested in plagiarizing my writing. Is it that dull?

171. prof291 - October 19, 2010 at 11:29 am

All this fretting about plagiarism has gone way too far, now. What is needed is a complete restructuring of the way we look at plagiarism, given advances in communications technology and advances in understanding the cognitive aspects of creativity. Consider 42's comment, that it is standard in English to require citation of as few as “THREE” sequential words. But strings of three, four, and five words can be found readily on the internet. Who really “owns” those word combinations? If they're owned only because one is using them from a particular source, tied to a particular idea, then that makes plagiarism more a metaphysical construct: that those words suddenly “belong” to the person one is reading more than they “belong” to any of the other thousands of people who've also used that word combination. There are no “original” ideas now, either. Anyone writing about any aspect of public or social life is one of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of professional writers and bloggers all of whose work is now out there and searchable (See Steve Dutch's views on this). The capacity for anyone to publish their views has completely unhinged the institution of idea-ownership. Moreover, if words have any meaning, it is inevitable that people looking at the same situations from the same perspectives will use the same words and phrases to express what they think. They're even likely to generate the same puns and jokes.

Alan Brown of Southern Methodist University has demonstrated the tricks that our minds can play on us, fooling us into thinking that our thoughts and words are original insights when really they've emerged from memory. Sigmund Freud, Helen Keller, and George Harrison, among others, have been trapped this way. It hardly seems reasonable to “criminalize” plagiarism (to use Rebecca Moore Howard's idea) when it seems to be a danger of the thinking process itself. Some may be more prone to these cognitive accidents than others, in which case such a tendency ought to be considered a form of cognitive disability, to be accommodated, not moral failure, to be punished. Valerierosebronte's (168) anxiety not to be influenced (cf Bloom) shows the wasteful drain of productive energy from joy and discovery to fear and defensiveness.

“Charges of plagiarism are fast becoming the blood sport of choice among academic bottom-feeders,” wrote Steve Dutch at his webpage Sense and Nonsense About Plagiarism. I think it's time for a re-evaluation of plagiarism.

172. tolerantly - October 19, 2010 at 12:26 pm

"There are no “original” ideas now, either."

Speak for yourself, buddy.

173. prof291 - October 19, 2010 at 01:04 pm

Dear Tolerantly,

That's a joke, right? Because the word string "speak for yourself buddy" registers over 4000 hits on a Google search, and "there are no "original" ideas now, either" registers none.

And that is my point. What one person thinks, thousands are thinking, too. And can publish it. The idea-ownership regime is totally fractured.

174. sages - October 19, 2010 at 01:20 pm

prof291: Don't confuse ideas with phrases, and your "original" idea about there being no original ideas isn't original either.

175. gmorcol - October 19, 2010 at 01:28 pm

Professor Sokal;

Thank you for responding to my comment (#150) in a respectful manner (#155 & 157).I will do the same, but I will be frank with you.

I must note first that you did not respond to my points adequately. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I will try to make my points more clear and coherent this time.

My main concern is that your 70-page document does not meet even the standards of a publishable paper, let alone being justifiable for a piece that accuses a scholar for a serious violation. When you compile a document like this, which has serious ethical and possibly legal implications for all the parties involved, you should have been far more careful, thoughtful, and meticulous. A document like this must meet far higher standards than the standards for a journal publication. But your document does not even meet the standards for a publishable paper.

I characterized the method you used in your document "flawed" in my earlier comment. I must say here that it is actually worse. It is intentionally or unintentionally deceptive. You created an overall impression about Fischer's work by slapping 50 pages of text (this is the length of the texts you actually cite from Fischer and others) one after another. As you concede, many who wrote on this blog did not even read the document, but many of them did form an opinion about Frank Fischer taking your accusations on their face value. You may say "I presented the evidence; it is up to them to make a judgement." No, you did not present evidence. You presented a 50-page long text data with some commentary attached to them. If one tries to read the document with uncritical eyes, it is normal that because of the sheer volume of the text data, one forms the impression "Fischer must have done something wrong; otherwise this much data would not be presented here."

But if we go beyond the clutter of the text data you presented, we can begin to see the problems with your document. I said some of the following before (in #150); I will say them again, because you dodged those issues in #155 and 157.

Even as an academic paper that would be submitted for publication in a journal, your document has the following flaws. (Remember, I said that such a document must meet much higher standards.)

1. Your study is very poorly conceptualized. You concede in #157: "Obviously, there is no unique [sic!] definition of plagiarism; and plagiarism also[sic!] comes in degrees, which reasonable people might evaluate differently." And then you make similar points in the rest of your comment. So you put together a document accusing a scholar of ethical violations and publicize it in the most public way possible (the Chronicle), and you know very well that plagiarism can be defined or perceived differently by different readers? The lack of clear definition of the concept you are investigating alone would be the reason for rejection if yours were a paper submitted to journal.

2. The methods you used to produce your document are flawed in multiple ways.

a) You used content analysis,whether you were aware of that or not, and it requires serious expertise. Content analysis is much more than a number crunching and pattern matching method. It can begin with pattern matching (in your case finding similar words and word groups), but does not end there. You should also do a solid interpretive work to understand authorial meanings and intentions. This is very difficult. It takes serious expertise and a lot of work.

What you did was to use an electronic method to find matching words. I do not know exactly what kind of an algorithm you used, but from what you wrote I understand that you used the most casual method possible (finding combinations of matching words, regardless of their order). What is the problem with that? This method inflates the number of matches dramatically. It is like calculating combinations in mathematics, instead of permutations (sequences in particular order). As you now very well, you can find far more combinations than permutations from the same set of data.

So, the method you used inflated the number of occasions where you found "matches." Hence, the 50 pages of text data are presented as "evidence." And this contributes to the impression that Fischer plagiarized in so many occasions. Impressions do matter and your method, intentionally or unintentionally, contributed to creating a false impression.

b) That is not all, you, intentionally or unintentionally, counted the words and terms that are used commonly in the literature (see my examples in #150 and many others) as "matches" (i.e, plagiarized). This, together with the combination method you used (regardless of the order of the words), inflates the size of the texts cited your document to 50 pages.

c) Another issue: You highlighted as "plagiarized" several direct quotes that both Fischer and other authors used from third parties. This again inflates the size of your document. In your #157 you address this issue, but what do you say in response? I could not figure out what you were saying to justify this.

All in all the methods you used to "detect cases of plagiarized texts" are not only deeply flawed, but also highly deceptive, because they create the impression that there is a massive amount of plagiarized text in Fischer's works. What you did is not only academically unacceptable, but also ethically highly questionable.

d) You say in #157 that you did not merely count words, but identified occasions where the "same idea" was expressed. Now this is interpretation, the more difficult part of content analysis. It can be very tricky, especially if you are trying to detect cases of plagiarism. You say in #157 "reasonable people could in some cases make different decisions." Indeed. That is why especially if you are accusing someone with plagiarism, you should be extra careful when detecting "same ideas." You should double-, triple-, quadruple-check your data and consult with experts before reaching any conclusions.

3. The presentation style in your document is not only extremely poor (for an academic paper), but it also contributes to the overall impression you created about Fischer.

What you did was to slap a massive amount of text data one after another and inserted commentary under them. There is no systematic comparison between texts. So, you want the reader to believe your interpretation. Or you are asking the reader to figure it out themselves. Your defense in #157 is that (I am paraphrasing here)you never suggested that merely highlighting words with normal font and bold could be used to judge plagiarism. What are you saying here? If not, then why did you present all these 50- page data with normal fonts and bold? Again, intentionally or unintentionally, your sloppy presentation contributes to creating an impression about Fischer. You do not present evidence, but loosely organized data. Once again, this would not meet the standards of publishing in an academic journal, let alone being sufficient to accuse a scholar of plagiarism.

Another issue; You say in #157 that you did present the information in the enumerated citations. No, what you did was to present your own commentary/interpretation of that. The reader of your document does not see what actually Fischer said in those footnotes (or endnotes).

All in all, your conceptualization, methods you used, and your presentation were all extremely poor for an academic paper. If I were a reviewer your manuscript, I would not read pass the first page and return it to the editor right away. What is highly objectionable in what you did is that you publicized such a poorly done document to accuse a scholar. What you did already harmed his reputation among those who do not know his works. This makes me question your intentions.

If you were seriously concerned about an ethical issue (plagiarism), you could have done your investigation seriously (See my comments 1 and 2 above). In doing so, you should have consulted experts. If you had serious evidence after all these, you should have informed the institution of the person, not publicize the case the way you did.

This makes me think whether your intention was to get another "Beyond the Hoax" published. I found some of your points in that book quite interesting and provocative, others amusing and wrong. Nobody was harmed directly by that book, as far as know. But this time it is different. This is no laughing matter.


Goktug Morcol

176. prof291 - October 19, 2010 at 01:40 pm

I'm detecting quite a lot of touchiness about originality here, but nothing about my main point---on the absurdity and even injustice of a lot of the dialogue about plagiarism, here and in other discussion in this newspaper. Especially given what we know about technology, cognition, and learning as a collective process. Is it really necessary or helpful for scholarship to have graduate students like valerierosebronte in perpetual fear of being "discovered" some years down the road? I don't think it is. It's time to recognize the realities of creativity and how ideas are generated, and by the way there is a substantial scholarship in the area of rhetoric and composition on this topic---too extensive to summarize here.

As for the lack of originality, anywhere, we may have recourse to Ecclesiates, if we want to go that far back. Maybe "original" is not the right word, and we should say "sole ownership." Thousands of people say the same things simultaneously, and can distribute their views. That's a lot of "originality," but it's all the same. Who is the lucky one we credit with ownership? On what basis? The "plagiarism game" has become a pathological and destructive undertaking.

177. lee_scoresby - October 19, 2010 at 02:08 pm

@175. A quick note. I agree the 70-page document includes a great many false positives--and for many of the reasons you suggest. But I think you're a bit off:

"c) Another issue: You highlighted as "plagiarized" several direct quotes that both Fischer and other authors used from third parties. This again inflates the size of your document. In your #157 you address this issue, but what do you say in response? I could not figure out what you were saying to justify this."

Some of the clearest examples of plagiarism involve double quotation: Author A makes an argument and quotes author B in support of it. Fischer paraphrases Author A, uses the exact same quote from Author B, and then either cites author B without citing A, or cites A elsewhere, without making it clear that the argument+textual evidence is borrowed directly from Author A.

I did this once in a piece I published for a college opinion journal. I sort of knew better, and have regretted it ever since. Fischer definitely should know better.

178. edfinance1 - October 19, 2010 at 07:18 pm

Somewhat against my better judgment, I have decided to wade into this intellectual swamp by actually reading the Petković/ Sokal ( P/S) paper. Here is what I found:
1. The title of the paper is “Some Probable Instances of Plagiarism in the Work of Professor Frank Fischer” [emphasis mine] not “Some Instances of Plagiarism in the Work of Professor Frank Fischer.” Although this may seem a subtle distinction, it is consistent with the manner in which P/S present “evidence of plagiarism” in the body of their paper.

179. edfinance1 - October 19, 2010 at 07:29 pm

2. Contrary to the assertions of some who have not read the paper, P/S do not claim that

180. edfinance1 - October 19, 2010 at 07:30 pm

matches of short bits of sentences constitute plagiarism. Rather, they identify and

181. larryc - October 20, 2010 at 01:03 am

In 98% of my days on this earth, I did not shoot a drifter just for the hell of it.

And you bastards want to harp on the 2%.

182. m1schuld - October 20, 2010 at 06:24 am

Far worse than the charge of plagarism is the fact that the thoughts contained in the paragraph pass as scholarship. It is both unorigional and insincere to to turn a simple concept such as "'power' is not centralized" into,

"Such power is "multiple" and "ubiquitous"; the struggle against it must be localized resistance designed to combat interventions into specific sites of civil society. Because such power is organized as a network rather than a collection of isolated points, each localized struggle induces effects on the entire network. Struggles cannot be totalized; there can be no single, centralized power."

How could an editor get away with such redunant word usage and hollow statements such as, "Struggles cannot be totalized." Also, what kind of editor allows the phrase, "Per Se," to go to print?

183. johncross1789 - October 20, 2010 at 06:40 am

Wow! This article really got the juices flowing. I don't have time to read all the comments, let alone the 70 page paper but I do want to wade in my self with a few points from the perspective of an author, teacher, and sometime editor. First, as an editor on a few occasional books and journal issues, I do have to say that some authors can become very irate when their papers are rejected. In fact, I was so shocked by the response of some authors that I gave up editing for a while. .

Second, as a teacher I take plagiarism very seriously and I am usually the instructor who catches the vast majority of plagiarism cases almost anywhere I teach. (Incidentally with the internet it is usually extremely easy to catch most plagiarism--just google the suspect phrase...) However, as with most other legal concepts under English Common Law, the key to any guilty verdict is intentionality. Did the author mean to take credit for something someone else said, or is it a mistake? Here you have to account for the possibilities involved, and certainly one would expect a learned scholar to be held to a higher standard then a mere student. In this case the way the prior author is cited definitely gives the impression that the ideas about Foucault are Dr. Fischer's. Did he intend to take credit for those words, or is it possible that at the time he meant to go back and rewrite the paragraph (as I often do) and simply forgot with the pressure of meeting publishing deadlines and other duties (as I hope I never have)? Certainly that would be "sloppy" and for a student would merit a lower grade, but hardly disciplinary procedures..

On the other hand, as an author, one must account for the complexity of the task: any book length manuscript is going to include some errors no matter how many times it is reviewed. I must admit that often, in my haste to get out my ideas before I lose track of them, I will use partial citations in my early drafts, correcting them at a later stage. Is it possible that one or two citation errors slipped through? If this is the only questionable case in a 300-400 page book, I would consider that possibility highly likely, and very hard to catch by an editor or reviewer or even, after a while, by the author him or herself after having to suffer through reading ones own text umpteen times. (Alas, and alack! How quickly we spot those stupid mistakes after the article in question is published!).

184. 12071647 - October 20, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Perhaps someone can clarify a point: If one writes a synthesis involving other people's ideas, and one cites them correctly as the sources of the ideas, one only has two options: 1) extract broad stretches of text and quote/indent; or 2) completely rewrite all unique phrases and terms and assure no more than two words match in succession? Imagine that this writer put quotes around each and every one of those highlighted passages...how icky.

It just doesn't seem like plagiarism if it's the construction of a synthesis using cited ideas of others, but rewritten for clarity. Granted, some of the "lifted" text seems a bit long, and I might have prefaced the paragraph with a, "This cited author writes...".

185. edfinance1 - October 20, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Somewhat against my better judgment, I have decided to wade into the intellectual swamp by actually reading the Petkovic/Sokal (P/S) (something that a majority of the commenters appear not to have done.

Here is what I found:

1.The title of the paper is "Some PROBABLE Instances of Plagiarism in the Work of Professor Frank Fischer" [emphasis mine], not "Some Instances of Plagiarism in the Work of Professor Frank Fischer." Although this may seem a subtle distinction, it is consistent with the manner in which P/S present "evidence of plagiarism" in the body of their paper.

186. edfinance1 - October 20, 2010 at 12:49 pm

2. Contrary ot the assertions of some who have not read the paper, P/S do NOT claim that matches of short bits of sentences constitute plagiarism. Rather, they identify and present 18 instances in which EXTENSIVE sections of Fischer's works track thos of other, unattributed, works. By "track," I mean that the passage, with the addition or deletion of some words or phrases by Fischer, is a verbatim copy of the source document.

187. edfinance1 - October 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm

3. The contention that P/S must engage an expert in "content analysis" to determine whether the language in Fischer's work matches that of another work is total crap. The methodology that P/S used to identify the matching provisions is irrelevant. All that matters is that P/S have identified numerous passages in which significant amounts of text which Fischer claims to be his own is identical to text in other documents. If it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you don't need an ornithologist to tell you it's a duck.

188. edfinance1 - October 20, 2010 at 12:56 pm

4. For the most part, the matches that P/S identify consist of fairly lengthy sections of text that were obviously drawn from an unattributed source, interspersed with some text added by Fischer. Perhaps Fischer thought that these changes were sufficient to convert the original text to paraphrase, thus making attribution unnecesssaary. (My speculation, not that of P/S.)

189. edfinance1 - October 20, 2010 at 01:06 pm

5. Contrary to another assertion that was made here, P/S do NOT interpret or draw conclusions about whether any of the 18 instances, either singularly or in total, constitute actual plagiarism. They simply present the facts and allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

6. RE: the 98%/2% issue, P/S note that the 18 instances were identified using rather crude techniques and therefore represent the minimum number of instances of probable plagiarism. In other words, the actual number of such instances is unknown, but almost certainly exceeds the 18 instances identified.

7. Appendix C presents relevant clauses from Rutgers University's official policy concerning plagiarism and the American Political Scientists Association's "A Guide to Professional Ethics in Political Science." Again, it is left to the reader to determine whether Professor Fischer committed plagiarism or otherwise violated either of these entities' policies regarding academic integrity.

190. bemsha - October 20, 2010 at 01:17 pm

For #186.

You can paraphrase with attribution or quote with attribution. Paraphrase means using mostly your own means of expression, not just rewriting someone else's. Obviously, there will be some words in common. In a paraphrase, you should still include brief quotes when the original author said something in a particularly distinctive or memorable way. You wouldn't write "Kelly establishes that the Spanish Civl War begin 'in 1936'" because there is nothing distinctive about that phrase. But if Kelly uses distinctive language to characterize something, you can't just lift his felicitous phrase and make the reader think it is yours.

You would use a block quote when the original material is too long to paraphrase, or when your paraphrase would be about as long as the block quote anyway. Paraphrase is used, usually, not to give every detail in an original source, but to be more concise and bring out the main points. Not everything in a secondary source will be directly relevant. Sometimes, however, you want to both cite an extensive paragraph verbatim and also comment on this material.

When extensive paraphrases take the place of original source paragraphs of almost equal length, there is usually a problem. This problem does not become plagiarism unless there is a lack of attribution.

191. edfinance1 - October 20, 2010 at 01:20 pm

Having reviewed the 18 passages identified by P/S, I regrettably conclude that Professor Fischer has repeatedly violated one or more of the policies regarding plagiarism and academic integrity of Rutgers and the APSA.

The fact that Professor Fischer is an eminent scholar in his field does nothing to mitigate the seriousness of his actions, nor does it excuse "sloppiness." Whether his "intent" in "lifting" text was good or bad is irrelevant. If anything, his stature should require that he maintain the HIGHEST standard of accuracy and honesty.

The character and motives of Petkovic and Sokal in writing their paper are irrelevant. The fate of Petkovic's earlier papers at the hands of Fischer and whether P/S are engaged in a personal vendetta against Fischer are irrelevant.

Thank you, bemsha (139), for listing all of the fallacious arguments that have been proffered in defense of Fischer. Thank you also for your complete, succinct statement of the issue:

"The only legitimate argument is that someone has examined the evidence and concluded that this does not constitute significant plagiarism, iin his or her considered professional judgment... The rest is just blowing smoke."

[I apologize for the use of caps rather than underlined or italicized text. "Comments" does not allow either of the latter, so I am forced to use caps in order to indicate emphasis. I also apologize for breaking this single comment into several sections. For some reason, I am prevented from entering the text in its entirety and had to resort to this approach in order to write my complete comment.]

192. edfinance1 - October 20, 2010 at 01:33 pm

And no, I am NOT Fischer.

193. edfinance1 - October 20, 2010 at 01:33 pm

Correction, I should have said I am not Petkovic or Sokal

194. niceday - October 20, 2010 at 01:42 pm

[Reposted from CHE forum]. Again, looking at this outside of the ideological battles that seem to be going on, and the fury of scorned authors, I see a very small error -- *if* that's really all that's been found after combing through dozens of books.

Also, I like what Alan Sokal did with Social Text. I'm sorry, if your reviewers are allowing bullsh*t to pass through, you deserve such audits. So this isn't an anti-Sokal screed either.

It's very hard not to repeat phrases you've read/heard thousands of times in your own writing. Pretty much everyone does this unconsciously because that's the way the human linguistic brain works -- we have phrases that we repeat ("the sturdy oak" etc.) and that's how languages are built in our brain. Everyone, everyone does this.

I've had copy-editors take out quotes. I've forgotten to add quotes only to catch them at the last minute. I've paraphrased only to find out that the paraphrasing now looked like something I'd read a year ago instead of what I paraphrased from. It has become easier to catch oneself because of the Internet -- when I see a suspicious phrase of mine, I google it and, on occasion, found that it's from a book I read years and years ago. Sometimes I don't even remember having read the book, but there's the phrase! People who wrote books years ago did not have this option so it must have been harder to guard against unintentional repetition.

I am willing to bet that any large enough body of work contains some small amount of this kind of error. I mean, what are we talking here? Dozens of books? If yes, the actual rate of error is minuscule and nowhere near the 2% number that is being quoted.

Actual plagiarists tend to be repeat and prolific offenders. I'm willing to call the firing squad if there's more than what's in the report. In the meantime, I urge people to go over their own work with that level of scrutiny (have Alan Sokal spend months on it!) and see. I am willing to bet that everyone who's published enough will find phrases "lifted" or incorrectly quoted that they were not even aware of.

So, if, indeed, they've only found a few paragraphs where there were almost always citations nearby but the quotes were somewhat off and the paraphrasing a little less than ideal, I'm still calling this petty. If there's more, yeah, bring it on. If he's an intentional plagiarist, there will be more.

195. 12071647 - October 20, 2010 at 01:50 pm

#192: Thanks, that explanation was clear. It seems to me, though, that it's hard to say when paraphrasing exceeds some critical threshold to become theft. I guess the more capable the writer, the lesser the "need" for paraphrasing.

Looking over the 70-page document, the examples appear that that threshold was crossed.

196. edfinance1 - October 20, 2010 at 03:03 pm

@ gmorkol (175): your comments cause me to wonder whether you actually read the P/S paper. To take your allegations seriatim:

1. "You may say 'I presented the evidence; it is up to them to make a judgement.' No, you did not present evidence."

As I noted earlier, this is precisely what P/S do: present evidence of some probable instances of plagiarism.

2. "You presented a 50-page long text data with some commentary attached to them."

I challenge you to quote one example of "commentary." I have read the paper more than once and could find none.

3. "If one tries to read the document with uncritical eyes, it is normal that because of the sheer volume of the text data, one forms the impression 'Fischer must have done something wrong; otherwise this much data would not be presented here.'"

I would hope that this is not how you evaluate students' papers, i.e., I don't read them, but I grade them based on the volume of text submitted. Frankly, I think it's an insult to all of the highly intelligent and well-educated readers of this publication to imply that they evaluate papers in this way.

4."So you put together a document accusing a scholar of ethical violations and publicize it in the most public way possible (the Chronicle), and you know very well that plagiarism can be defined or perceived differently by different readers? The lack of clear definition of the concept you are investigating alone would be the reason for rejection if yours were a paper submitted to journal."

See above. I find no "accusations," just evidence. The statement that different readers can come to different conclusions is simply an acknowledgment of the obvious, as these comments demonstrate. One would think that P/S's accusers would at least bother to read the paper before forming conclusions, no matter what their personal definitions of "plagiarism."

5. "You used content analysis,whether you were aware of that or not, and it requires serious expertise."

Irrelevant -- see my (189).

6."So, the method you used inflated the number of occasions where you found 'matches.' Hence, the 50 pages of text data are presented as 'evidence.' And this contributes to the impression that Fischer plagiarized in so many occasions. Impressions do matter and your method, intentionally or unintentionally, contributed to creating a false impression."

False. (By the way, it's 70 pages -- not 50.) P/S used a matching algorithm as a "first pass" but then selected only the 18 most egregious examples of probable plagiarism to present as "evidence." Did you read the same paper I did?

7. "That is not all, you, intentionally or unintentionally, counted the words and terms that are used commonly in the literature (see my examples in #150 and many others) as 'matches' (i.e, plagiarized)."

False. Read the paper. Look at the parallels between the extensive, lengthy passages that P/S identified and the source documents. This is not simply counting "words and terms...commonly used in the literature."

8. "You highlighted as 'plagiarized' several direct quotes that both Fischer and other authors used from third parties."

The quotes are not identified as such, nor are their sources.

9. "There is no systematic comparison between texts...why did you present all these 50- page data with normal fonts and bold?"

This IS the systematic comparison. The parts of the text "authored" by Fischer which are identical to those in the uncredited source document are in normal type; those that differ (i.e., the words added by Fischer) are in bold type. The question posed to the reader is, "Is the extent of the overlap sufficient to constitute plagiarism?" Again, it's up to the reader to decide.

10. "You say in #157 that you did present the information in the enumerated citations. No, what you did was to present your own commentary/interpretation of that. The reader of your document does not see what actually Fischer said in those footnotes (or endnotes)."

Again, please give me your alleged evidence of "commentary" or "interpretation." What I see is that P/S have made no attempt to hide the footnotes. Their corresponding numbers appear in the same places as in Fischer's text. At the bottom of each page, P/S summarize the content of each, and identify the source and the pages in the source where the footnote or endnote occurs. The source documents are all listed in pp. 53-56 of P/S.

It is true that P/S have not presented the actual text of each footnote/endnote. I speculate that they did this in order to limit the length of their paper. The information they provide, however, makes it very easy to compare their synopses to the actual footnotes/endnotes.

197. alan_sokal - October 20, 2010 at 03:55 pm

Dear Professor Morcol (#175),

Apparently Mr. Petkovic and I have failed to make clear (to you at least) the purpose of our 70-page document. It was _not_ our aim to write a publishable academic paper (where one would publish it, anyway?). Rather, our goal was simply to compile the evidence of probable plagiarism in the work of Professor Fischer and to make it publicly available, so that each person could evaluate it with his or her own brain. We intentionally _refrained_ from almost all commentary or analysis, except for occasional brief remarks.

But let's get real: There may be no unique definition of plagiarism, but the standards are not infinitely flexible. The Rutgers University policy on academic integrity, which is binding not only on students but even (believe it or not) on tenured professors who are editors of major journals, states unequivocally that

"Plagiarism is the representation of the words or ideas of another as one's own in any academic work. To avoid plagiarism, every direct quotation must be identified by quotation marks, or by appropriate indentation, and must be cited properly according to the accepted format for the particular discipline. Acknowledgment is also required when material from any source is paraphrased or summarized in whole or in part in one's own words. To acknowledge a paraphrase properly, one might state: to paraphrase Plato's comment... and conclude with a footnote or appropriate citation to identify the exact reference. A footnote acknowledging only a directly quoted statement does not suffice to notify the reader of any preceding or succeeding paraphrased material."

Can you seriously contend that our 70-page document does not reveal extensive plagiarism as judged by this definition? [And if you do seriously contend this, then I would urge you to examine some specific examples, rather than remaining at the level of abstraction.]

Many universities supplement their formal definitions of plagiarism with detailed guides to students, giving informative specific examples of the various types of plagiarism (see the links at the bottom of this posting). Virtually any three-sentence passage in our document (except the boldfaced non-plagiarized sentences that we sometimes included to provide context) would constitute unambiguous plagiarism according to these guides. A few of those three-sentence passages taken together, inserted in two or more separate papers, and the student would risk expulsion: not only at Harvard, Yale and Princeton, but also at Rutgers and many other universities. The 70-page document indicates plagiarism, by these standards, a few hundred times over.

Of course, you are free, if you wish, to articulate and defend a concept of plagiarism that is different from the one enforced at most American universities, and then go on to apply it to Professor Fischer's texts. But be careful: students these days are much more expert at Google search than us old-fogies. Anything you write now in exculpation of Professor Fischer is likely to be cited to you by the next student you discover plagiarizing.

A good lawyer might argue that some of these texts date back to 1980 (though other egregious examples are from 2009) and that ethical standards in academia ought not be applied retroactively. Fair enough. Perhaps someone who has the time (not me) could investigate pre-1980 definitions of plagiarism. But I doubt that the standards have changed very much over the last 30 or even 100 years, except to become more detailed and explicit in the face of ever-more-sophisticated protests by guilty students and their parents.

When I was in junior high school, back in 1967, our teacher taught us the proper use of quotation marks. I don't know where you or Professor Fischer went to junior high school, but I doubt that your teachers would have had much time for the excuses that are now being proffered in his defense.






Penn State

Indiana University


198. alan_sokal - October 20, 2010 at 04:06 pm

P.S. While I was typing up my comment #199, "edfinance1" beat me to the punch with his excellent #198. Just a few minor corrections to his or her post:

2. There are in fact at least two instances of brief commentary (pp. 31, 36) along the lines of "The reader is thus made to believe ...". But the basic claim is correct: we intentionally refrained from commentary.

6. Our document is 70 pages long, but the texts indeed occupy only 50 pages (pp. 2-51).

8. Some of the direct quotes are indeed correctly attributed by Fischer, so the mere fact that we put them in normal font does _not_, in and of itself, indicate plagiarism. But as "lee_scoresby" (#177) points out:

"Some of the clearest examples of plagiarism involve double quotation: Author A makes an argument and quotes author B in support of it. Fischer paraphrases Author A, uses the exact same quote from Author B, and then either cites author B without citing A, or cites A elsewhere, without making it clear that the argument+textual evidence is borrowed directly from Author A."

199. ajokic - October 20, 2010 at 09:02 pm

I get a definite image in my mind when I compare (a) the guidelines with respect to what is considered plagiarism provided by Professor Sokal (many have already been familiar to me); (b) the kind of "work" Professor Fischer does, as illustrated in the presentation by Mr. Petkovic and Professor Sokal; and (c) the unbearable lightness of the nonchalant dismissal by Professor Fischer of the objection that he is a plagiarizer on a mass scale as just "sloppiness". The image I get is of the following event that just took place yesterday at my son's soccer practice: (a') there is a clearly visible "no dogs allowed" sign posted at the entrance to the school playground where the practice takes place; a lady not only (b') walks her dog into the play area right by the sign, but (c') her dog takes the opportunity to "mark" the territory by urinating straight at the sign. Why do I find the (a'), (b'), (c') sequence normatively exactly analogous as the (a), (b), (c) sequence where Professor Fischer exercises as much care over his "research" as this lady over her dog?

200. sschram - October 21, 2010 at 10:53 am

Re 201:

Here's the difference: after the dog did its business no one ran to the Chronicle of Higher Education to complain about minor oversights.

201. mrmeed - October 21, 2010 at 11:01 am

This is a case study of vigilantism, yellow journalism, and mob justice.

202. cassadia - October 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm


Mr. Fischer may or may not have suffered rough justice, but the single passage compared above by Bartlett is sufficient unto itself to convict him to shoddy scholarship and plagiarism.

He attributes to Foucault in 1984 something substantially written by Sheridan in 1980. When the social sciences adopted this citation format illustrated here, they greased the skids for a loss of interest in the originality of expression, which then added grease to the loss of interest in the originality of meaning.... Page numbers on both "paraphrases" would probably have saved him from this train wreck.

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