Plagiarism, Arizona style

Last month a history professor sent me a note regarding plagiarism at Arizona State University:

Matthew Whitaker, who had received an expedited promotion to full professor and was made Director of a new Center for the Study of Race and Democracy by Provost Elizabeth Capaldi and President Michael Crow, was charged by most of the full professors in the History Faculty with having plagiarized throughout his corpus of work, copying from regular works of scholarship and from web sources. Indeed, in his response, which claimed that the petitioners were racist, Whitaker admitted to plagiarism in his work, defending himself in part by stating that he had not reviewed carefully the research and writing he had hired others to do. . . .

What bothered my correspondent was that Whitaker remains an ASU Foundation Professor of History despite all the plaig. According to Whitaker’s webpage, he “is also a highly sought after speaker, having offered commentaries on NPR, PBS, . . . and other media outlets.” Sort of like a sunbelt Doris Kearns Goodwin, I guess.

To spin this in a more positive way, I assume that Whitaker, like Goodwin, is a well-read, knowledgeable, and thoughtful person who can contribute a lot in the public discussion as well as in the classroom.  Maybe as a person who does not do original research, he is even more qualified as a commentator because he has no intellectual ties to any particular ideas or sources?

I asked my correspondent if I could blog this, and he sent me a longer version, which goes into some details and also addresses the racial politics involved in this case:

Over the past three years as a university faculty member, I’ve learned that a professor who plagiarizes blatantly and repeatedly can reap substantial benefits, while those who object to his fraudulent practices are subject to threats against their jobs and punishment from the administration. I’ve learned that the editors at a scholarly press will market a book to undergraduates, despite knowing that if those students were to use the book’s citation standards, they would be drummed out of their classes for violations of academic integrity. Perhaps most painfully, I’ve learned that the profession to which I have devoted much of my adult life professes high standards, but does not defend them.

The blog spot Cabinet of Plagiarism ( provides the evidence for the varieties of fraud in Peace Be Still, by Matthew C. Whitaker.  Are you looking for old school, word for word lifting with no citation?  That’s a rarity these days, but this book offers it; please see Exhibit  A:  Do you want a more typical undergraduate model:  passages taken from the internet, a few words changed, and the occasional cite thrown in so that the student can say, “but I cited” if called to the professor’s office?  Please see Exhibit B:  There is also something to me more sinister, that one can only see if one still believes that scholars are expected to create knowledge, not simply repackage it. Peace Be Still offers entire sections in which words are changed, but every statistic, every primary source, every transition, even every gesture toward larger meaning, is cribbed from another book.  The strip-mined book is Hine, Hine, and Harrold’s African-American Odyssey.  Turning page after page, following along with the seemingly endless borrowings, one realizes that Peace Be Still contains no distinctive idea other than the author’s conviction that he needs to publish a book, and the University of Nebraska Press’s belief that it might make money from unsuspecting readers.  Please see Exhibit C:

The gross deficiencies of this book have been picked up by astute readers in review sites such as, and they point to the fact that Whitaker had already been accused of plagiarism in his previous work. Indeed, in that previous incident, he admitted plagiarism, excusing himself on the grounds that much of it was committed by the people he had quietly hired to do his research and writing. Yet it seems that nothing in that prior event raised any alarm at the University of Nebraska Press.  Nor were they troubled by the fact that, plagiarism aside, large stretches of this “scholarship for a new generation” is drawn from online encyclopedias, the very sources undergraduates likely to be assigned this book, are told not to rely on. (Such sources, unlike this book, are free to the user:  Nebraska is knowingly selling tapwater in Voss bottles.)

The triumph of this plagiarist suggests that the critics of the humanities may be right.  How do we continue to argue for humanities at the university level, if a university professor and a university press scrape their material from Wikipedia and from old textbooks?  Why are we charging students to sit at our feet and absorb our expertise, if our expertise consists of little more than the ability to rearrange words? Disturbingly, the plagiarist and his press are in no way arguing for a new model.  Instead, they insist on credentials, built on the old model.  Those few who defend the book note that the author is “Foundation Professor of History,” as if the honorific means the book must be worthy.  In their world, a book on “modern black America” that takes its description of affirmative action debates virtually word for word from “,” is a real contribution to thought, rather than a way for an academic historian and a press to make money.

There is another element to my education.  I hesitate to bring it up lest its power dispel all other elements of my story.  But, it does matter and it should be addressed.  That element is race.  The plagiarist writes about African-American history and is African American, and he has not hesitated to claim that those historians who have shown where he copied word for word from other authors were motivated by race, or, slightly veiled, motivated by envy over his success. When confronted by these charges, the only useful response is to ask the critics to look at the evidence, and hope that they will.  One can then point to the explicit standards of the historical profession about plagiarism, those the American Historical Association displays on its web page:  Please see Exhibit D:

So, there you have the central points of my education.  It is acceptable, nay profitable, to present others’ work as one’s own, while displaying in one’s syllabus the sternest warnings for students should they do the same.  It is acceptable for a university to reward an employee who sat down with someone else’s book, typing in passage after passage, changing just enough words to evade anti-plagiarism software and relying on Wikipedia for novel thoughts. It is acceptable for a prominent academic press not to edit carefully a manuscript from an author previously charged with plagiarism, to sell it to undergraduates, and to allow its author to use it as evidence of scholarship.  It is acceptable for the major professional organization of historians to proclaim its commitment to the highest standards of academic integrity, while doing nothing to uphold them.

Many good historians have recoiled at this book – as they have at Whitaker’s other work.  There are presses who refuse to publish his work, and principled persons outside the profession who see plagiarism—and the wilful ignoring of plagiarism—as real threats to any claim that the humanities can make a contribution to original knowledge.  But as long as there is a press that will publish fraudulent work, university administrators who will countenance fraud, and a professional organization without a backbone, all those who maintain these standards must be re-educated.  There is a new place for the Humanities, not just the one we hoped it would be.

I understand where my correspondent is coming from, as there’s something particularly frustrating when someone gets caught red-handed and still refuses to admit wrongdoing. And there’s always someone else around who’s willing to take the so-called mature, adult route and explain it all away.

One natural response might be to say, hey, plagiarism is no big deal. After all, Martin Luther King plagiarized. Then again, Martin Luther King was not a professor of history. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that (a) in the grand scheme of things, plagiarism is a minor offense—it’s something you shouldn’t do, but lots of people do it—sort of like we might say that having an affair with an intern is bad behavior but we wouldn’t want to go so far as throw a president out of office for it, and (b) plagiarism is something that a professor of history really shouldn’t do. Then again, it seems pretty common to hear accusations that various big-name professors plagiarize, for example Laurence Tribe, Alan Dershowitz, and Ian Ayres—and I haven’t even left the faculty of Harvard and Yale law schools to compile that list. For whatever reasons, these guys’ offenses don’t seem to have bothered too many of their colleagues, and Whitaker’s do. I’m not sure why. Perhaps history professors are a more crotchety sort, compared to law professors or statistics professors (as I didn’t hear of anyone from the George Mason University statistics department complaining about you-know-who).

I noticed on Whitaker’s webpage that, in addition to various service awards, he’d received a research award in 2010 for one of the ten best articles of the decade from the Journal of the West. So I did some googling and found it.

I’m not a historian myself and it’s hard for me to evaluate the paper. At a very superficial level I was disturbed by various eccentricities in the writing (for example, referring to “the Ragsdales” in some places and “the Ragsdale’s” in other places), but ultimately that doesn’t mean much, nor do I know anything about that particular journal. So I can’t comment on the merits of the case. It’s just an interesting story.

Behavior that would result in a failing grade for a student . . . but leads to awards for a tenured professor

Let me close the discussion with the following juxtaposition.

First, from the Cabinet of Plagiarism:

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 11.48.46 AMScreen Shot 2014-03-04 at 11.48.59 AM

On the plus side; Whitaker removed the cliche’d phrase, “undisputed rulers of the roost” when copying from the online encyclopedia; on the downside, I don’t know what he was thinking when he rendered “Conservatives” with a capital letter.

Second, from a google search on *matthew whitaker syllabus*:

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 11.41.03 AM

To be fair, though, this syllabus is from 2003. Perhaps policies have changed and academic integrity is no longer a “must.” A “may,” perhaps?

65 thoughts on “Plagiarism, Arizona style

  1. Whitaker has a future in helping design plagiarism detectors.

    Just like the Enron emails are used for NLP and networks training, it would be sweet if Whitaker’s body of work became the standard corpus against which new plagiarism detectors are tried.

    “Our software passes the Whitaker test for plagiarism detection”

    Now he can be the Foundation Professor of Plagiarism Detection.

  2. I’ve never encountered blatant fraud like this, but I constantly see the same mathematical trick repackaged and published over and over again. I wonder how many times over the centuries that “completing the square” has been repackaged with different verbiage and published.

    The funniest part is that papers like that never, ever, fail to have the most convincing argument you’ve ever heard for why that new verbiage represents a real advance, which when combined with other similar advances, will lead us to a new age of scientific knowledge and understanding.

    • In a case familiar to me, one person was accused of plagiarism because a segment of their code very closely resembled a segment of someone else’s previously published program.

      The case was resolved to the satisfaction of everyone except the accuser by pointing out that both code segments were inevitably almost identical, because both were just using logarithms to do a simple calculation.

      Napier, Briggs and Bürgi were not available to protest that their work was being used without proper acknowledgment.

      • Anyone who has ever typed “reg Y `X'” is plagiarizing Nick Cox. #TrueFact #Guilty

        Just to be clear: real plagiarism of the type described in this post is pure, unadulterated douchebaggery. But borrowing methods is not plagiarism. I think Entosophy’s point about over-hyping one’s contribution is, indeed, an example of douchebaggery, just not plagiaristic douchebaggery.

        • jrc,

          In the examples I’ve run across in real work, the only meat to the entire paper was the “trick”. Some of the authors themselves published different versions of the same trick with different verbiage. Even after they must have seen many versions already.

          I wouldn’t call it plagiarism; it’s obviously a pretty lame attempt to plus up their paper count though.

          The hard work was the original discovery of the trick and whatever verbal window dressing being thrown around it is going to be forgotten by history. In the olden days, people wouldn’t have published it so quickly, but would have developed and generalized it to the point where someone reading one good paper gained the same understanding as someone reading the 100 lame papers that would make up the “literature” today.

        • Why do referees let this pass? Or is the recycling not so obvious; with the body of science getting so vast is it likely that they may not have seen the original technique?

          Or are the referees plain sloppy or incompetent?

        • The papers are shopped around different journals until naive or overly rushed reviewers are hit upon.

          In one case I know of, a reviewer pointed out that a paper referenced in the paper raised a very subtle technical issue that needed to be addressed but hadn’t been (and maybe couldn’t be) adequately addressed.

          A couple years later, essentially the same paper was published in a different journal with that troublesome reference omitted.

        • In fact, I’ll go further. If a field is producing exponentially more papers each year, but going nowhere for decades at the time, a high portion of those papers have to be recycling the meaty part of other papers just with a different dressing.

          The only other option they have is to apply to same old blah that didn’t work before to new data. But that’s only possible if it’s easy to get new data.

        • I’m sympathetic to these arguments – you’ve been making a pretty clear and helpful argument regarding the proliferation of published articles, their decreasing quality, and the negative effects of that on “science” in general over the last few weeks (and longer). I think that is really helpful.

          But I also don’t think it is plagiarism. It may have overlap (a douchebag who publish essentially the same article in 10 different places may be more likely to be the kind of douchebag who also plagiarizes), but they are separate problems. The difference, as I see it, is that re-packaging one idea into 10 papers is a means of multiplying one good insight into the rewards one should only be entitled to for having had many good insights, while plagiarism is a means of using someone else’s insights to gain rewards for contributing nothing. Both bad, but different. Yes?

  3. For one, the writer’s of anti-plagiarism software should be ashamed. With all this talk of AI, Bayesian pattern recognition etc. it’s disappointing it wasn’t caught.

    • I don’t see what this (depressing) story has to do with failures of anti-plagiarism software. First, I doubt small humanities publishers like the University of Nevada Press make use of anti-plagiarism software. Second, unlike the case in the sciences (e.g. I doubt there’s a large-scale text database that allows one to cross-correlate sentences in books, even if one wanted to do so. (I could certainly be wrong about this.) Third, the point here seems to be that the plagiarism *was* caught (manually), and this has had no consequences.

    • The point seems to be that plagiarism software should be capable of catching the tricks used by plagiarists, should their works be fed into it. I don’t think journals and book publishers routinely use such software.

      A near equivalent is that really good computer hackers sometimes get taken on, willingly or less willingly, as advisers to or employees of national agencies, rather than spend lengthy terms in prison.

      • A quick read shows that it’s a bit of both: the provost at CSU was hired in the summer of 2013 by CSU’s President. She was granted a PhD by UIC, and her dissertation has come under question for plagiarism. She is the wife of the CSU’s President’s personal lawyer, and the CSU President also sat on her PhD thesis committee. So it is UIC that has the plagiarism standards to uphold; should the dissertation be found in violation, then I guess CSU also has a decision to make.

  4. From Arizona State’s website:


    Matthew C. Whitaker is currently ASU Foundation Professor of History and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. He earned a BA in sociology and a BA in history at Arizona State University, where he also completed an MA in United States history. Whitaker earned a PhD in history, with honors, at Michigan State University. He specializes in U.S. history, African American history and life, civil rights, race relations, social movements, sports and society, and the American West. Whitaker is the editor of three books, including Hurricane Katrina: America’s Unnatural Disaster, and he is the author of Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West. His forthcoming book is Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama. He has also authored a number of award- winning journal articles, numerous encyclopedia essays, and over 20 opinion pieces. Whitaker has won 30 awards for his research, teaching, and service, and has given motivational speeches and lectured in nations throughout the world, including Australia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, England, Ghana, Ireland and Liberia. His commentaries have been featured on CNN, NPR, PBS, WVON, KEMET, and other media outlets. He is also the owner and CEO of The Whitaker Group, L.L.C., a human relations, cultural competency, and diversity consulting firm. Whitaker serves on numerous boards, including the distinguished International Advisory Board of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, and INROADS.

    Professional Service Activities

    Dr. Whitaker has also served or currently serves on numerous boards, including the Western Historical Quarterly, California Legal History, the distinguished International Advisory Board of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, and INROADS. Professor Whitaker is also active in numberous scholarly societies, including the Association for the Study of African American History; Organization of American Historians; Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association; and the Western History Association.

    Awards, Honors and Distinctions

    2013 Looking@Democracy Award, Illinois Humanities Council/MacAuthur Foundation
    2011 Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award-ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
    2011 ASU Professor of the Year Special Recognition Award
    2010 ASU Professor of the Year Special Recognition Award
    2010One of the Ten Best Articles of the Decade Award-Journal of the West
    2009 City of Glendale’s (Arizona) Martin Luther King, Jr. “Promoting Inclusive Award”
    2009 Mark of Excellence Award-National Forum for Black Public Administrators, Central Arizona Chapter
    2008 Excellence in Diversity Award-National League of Cities
    2007 ASU’s Parent’s Association Professor of the Year Special Recognition Award
    2006 ASU Promotion and Tenure Exemplar Award
    2006 Ronald McDonald House Charities (Arizona Chapter) Excellence in Education Award
    2006 City of Phoenix Martin Luther King, Jr. Living the Dream Award
    2006 Maricopa County, Arizona, NAACP Educational Leadership Award
    2006 ASU Distinguished Last Lecture Award
    2005 Journal of the West Award for Best Article of the Year
    2005 Dan Shilling Public Scholar Award-Arizona Humanities Council
    2005 ASU Patricia Gurin Scholar-Activist Award
    2004 ASU Centennial Professor Award
    2004 Education Leadership Award-100 Black Men of Arizona, Inc.
    2003 Bert M. Fireman Prize-Western History Association
    2000 Sara Jackson Award-Western Historical Association

    • No, I don’t think these are my popular posts. If I wanted to generate traffic, I’d be posting infographics along with unskeptical links to studies of the form, X gives you cancer or Y improves your love life.

  5. The triumph of this plagiarist suggests that the critics of the humanities may be right. How do we continue to argue for humanities at the university level, if a university professor and a university press scrape their material from Wikipedia and from old textbooks?

    I hate this argument. For all its shame, plagiarism is hardly the main weapon critics beat the humanities with. For one, the ill of plagiarism, even the blatant, unpunished sort, is hardly specific to the humanities nor is it of epidemic proportions. Sure, Whitaker is as ass but to use him to conclude or not conclude anything about whether “the critics of the humanities may be right” is preposterous.

    This is the risk with this excessive focus on plagiarism. Frankly I feel it gets far too much attention & the more insidious, pervasive, & systemic ills of methodology, irrelevance, bias, abstruseness etc. get sidelined.

    • I agree that this is not something the humanities specifically should be embarrassed about. But do note that it’s not the plagiarism alone that is supposed to indicate that the critics are right. It’s the triumph of the plagiarist. Andrew has been doing a great job of tying individual cases of plagiarism to larger and more important problem of the absence of effective means of correcting the literature. If it were easier to expose cases of plagiarism, and, as I’ve been arguing, if it were possible to make a reasonable career on the basis of critical scholarship, then I think the other ills you mention would also be more effectively dealt with. That’s the mission of the replication and criticism movement, I guess.

    • Rahul:

      I respect your utilitarian argument. But I can’t imagine that Whitaker or the ASU administration would go for it: if they really believed plaig was no big deal, why do they have such a stern rule failing students who do it? I do think that “integrity” (in the words of Whitaker’s syllabus) has a value of its own.

      To get to the specifics: the plagiarized work I’ve seen is typically flawed, in part I think because people plagiarize as a way to avoid real work. Consider the math error introduced by Wegman when he copied from Wikipedia.

      I wouldn’t be so bothered if Whitaker would just flat-out copy in his books and acknowledge the source of the material. But then, of course, it might be hard to convince skeptical parents of ASU students to shell out $27 each for his book. Similarly, I wouldn’t have been so bothered had Wegman just copied out the Wikipedia material with an acknowledgment and a link. But then, of course, it might be hard to convince the taxpayers of the state of Virginia to be paying the guy $184,472 a year (gulp!), and he might not be testifying in front of congressional committees.

      How much of a scandal is this, or should it be? I don’t know. The world is full of time-servers who shift papers around on their desk and collect fat salaries, because they know what to say to make their bosses happy. So, on one hand, yes I think it’s offensive that these guys are profiting by essentially lying to the world and then are being paid what seems essentially to me like hush money to stay in their jobs and not (further) embarrass their institutions by being fired. On the other hand, I guess this isn’t nearly as bad as employees at a pharmaceutical company falsifying a medical trial and making money selling people drugs that don’t work, or employees at a casino making money by devising ways to lure compulsive gamblers and bust them out.

      • I have tended to regard plagiarism as a) fraud — the plagiarist is pretending to either know more or have done more than they really do, b) theft — the plagiarist is stealing ideas and the work of others to get a reward which they do not deserve and which the original writer may deserve.

        This last part is most important for professionals/academics. While students are committing fraud and theft they are unlikely to be depriving someone else of rewards, should they be monetary or honours though in the longer run they may be getting job or graduate postions, etc. based on this.

        With someone like Whitaker, he may well have gotten his Foundation Professor job on the basis of stolen ideas or materials and, at the same time, deprived someone else of an appointment or, at least, a good yearly review by stealing some of those awards and honours he lists.

        In the case of you-know-who at UV, the plagiarism may well have contributed to poor policy making at the US Federal level. Theft, fraud and deliberate lying.

        • Plagiarism is indeed fraud, but what irks me that we focus on one type of fraud intensely, and it isn’t even a very common type of fraud nor the most damaging. e.g. Take non-replication. I could, totally dishonestly, make up data or hide the unfavorable data points or cherry pick or do some other egregiously bad trick and so long as I did not plagiarise I most likely would not get caught.

          If we were really serious about stopping fraud we’d introduce measures to catch such types of fraud but we don’t. And it’s not as if it is impractical: we could have say random third party replications for 10% of papers we publish or some such auditing measure. But there’s hardly any support for such a venture. Instead we prefer to hide behind excuses claiming our techniques are too special to be replicated etc.

          The thing with hounding plagiarists is that it is like the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight: we focus on fraud that’s easy to prove.

  6. I’ve always like the letter of he AHA’s professional standards in re plagiarism, while of course being somewhat disappointed with the way it is lived by scholars. Two favorite formulations:

    “The real penalty for plagiarism is the abhorrence of the community of scholars.” (Note that it does not say the abhorrence of individual scholars. The issue today is how the community reacts as a whole to cases of plagiarism, not that there are a few curmudgeons who are willing to make the evidence public while everyone else looks the other way.)

    “The plagiarist’s standard defense—that he or she was misled by hastily taken and imperfect notes—is plausible only in the context of a wider tolerance of shoddy work.” (This of course also goes for the defense of hasty and imperfect checking of a research assistant’s work.)

  7. “Nor were they troubled by the fact that, plagiarism aside, large stretches of this “scholarship for a new generation” is drawn from online encyclopedias, the very sources undergraduates likely to be assigned this book, are told not to rely on.”

    Plagiarism aside, what’s with this generic distaste for online encyclopedias? Personally, I’ve been disappointed by Wikipedia less often than by a sloppy, stale, biased or mistyped reference in an old-world, print article.

    • Rahul:

      I took this not as a criticism of Wikipedia but as an emphasis that the university didn’t seem to mind that Whitaker was violating the rule that they enforce so strongly on undergraduates. It doesn’t seem right to let him off the hook (to give him a promotion, actually) and then slam 19-year-old kids for the same activity. Also, this copying is not an incidental offense, it’s central to his job as researcher.

      Sort of like how the government continues to put drug users in jail even though the last three presidents have all admitted using illegal drugs. (Or, at least, Obama and Clinton definitely admitted it; I seem to recall reading that Bush pretty much admitted it too, but if not this doesn’t affect my main point.)

      • I took that quote to mean your correspondent objects to Wikipedia and other online sources, even if attribution was explicit & no plagiarism happened.

        Am I misreading that?

        • I could ask him. But my guess is that (a) he would not object to using Wikipedia etc if it is properly cited, but (b) he would not think it appropriate to give tenure to a professor who does not do research and does not write original teaching material. Also that it’s damaging to the institution to have a more lenient plagiarism for profs than for students.

        • At the universities where my son and daughter graduated (I graduated in the dead tree era) the general consensus was that Wikipedia was a good starting point for an introduction to a topic so that you could read the (typically secondary) sources cited by Wikipedia and work your way to primary sources with which you were expected to interact. The point was consistent with what all my professors expected: to interact with the material in such a way as to be able provide a cogent analysis of the work to date, to recognize and properly formulate the important unanswered questions, and to undertake the analysis of one or more of these consistent with the time and expectations of the class or the degree. The problem with plagiarism is that it fraudulently misrepresents the work of others as one’s own and prevents the student (or professor) gaining the experience – and dare I say “wisdom” – that is derived from actually doing good academic work. I think this is exceedingly important now, where “TL;DR” is the dominant meme. When university administrators tolerate such shoddy scholarship, the entire university community suffers. It is like the corrosion of metal in a bridge – the bridge may look sound for a while, but it eventually collapses under the weight of the load because it no longer has the capability to perform the expected task. So, thank you Andrew for calling those responsible to give account.

    • It’s not a distaste for encyclopedias, but for the presentation of information that is readily available in encyclopedias as original scholarship. It’s disappointing to read a book that is supposed to document the results of research is really just telling us what has been known for years, by everyone who knows anything about the subject. (That said, Peace be Still is apparently a kind of textbook, so as long as we don’t read it as serious scholarship I suppose we can avoid at least that disappointment. But the critic is right to say that simply repackaging the information that is already in textbooks and encyclopedias can hardly be considered a history “for a new generation”.)

      • No, I didn’t mean the plagiarism part. That’s of course wrong. But that quote from Andrew’s correspondent clearly seems to object to the source (online encyclopedias). Even if clearly cited I presume.

        That part I’m always irked by.

        • I also don’t mean plagiarism. Even if the encyclopedia is a properly cited it is disappointing to discover it as a source. (Like if someone quotes a famous poet from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.) That’s often why it’s not properly cited, of course. The plagiarist is trying to present something that is widely available already in a way that unsuspecting readers can add to their impression that the author is really intelligent and knowledgeable.

        • Ah! Ok, so we have a fundamental disagreement. Why does, say, Wikipedia disappoint you? Can you elaborate? Do you doubt it’s reliability over the average print source that’s perfectly acceptable to everyone as a citation? Do we still have strong reason to believe Springer or Elsevier devote any more resources to fact checking than Wikipedia?

          I don’t get that part: We think it OK to cite some random, unknown Xang et al. writing in Journal Obscura but not to Wikipedia. Why?

        • The difference between an encyclopedia and a journal is that a journal is, at least in principle, the place where an original piece of research is presented along with a detailed account of how the discovery it presents was made, whereas the encyclopedia is a place where knowledge is presented as a result only. The knowledge you find there is, in principle, never stated in its original formulation. (To take your example, this is absolutely essential in Wikipedias editorial policy: WP:NOR. More importantly, the journal article is meant to be discussed and debated by its readers before any of them makes up their mind, whereas an encyclopedia is written so that it can be safely believed even by someone who is not qualified to carry out the relevant research. The journal article is part of a conversation among knowledge people, whereas the encyclopedia communicates knowledge from the knowledgeable to the unknowledgeable. This is why it is disappointing when a scholar (and expert) appears to know only what it says in the encyclopedia on a particular topic.

  8. This professor is an affirmative action hire. On average, they can get away with more bad behavior for longer than non-quota employees.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out this professor helps out the Arizona State athletic department by running easy classes for jocks, much like the current scandal at North Carolina.

    • So this MCW guy appears to be somewhere on the spectrum between lazy researcher and self-glorifying plagiarist, but I don’t see any evidence at all from his past that he was an “Affirmative Action” hire (which I take to mean you believe he got the job over more qualified (ex ante) candidates because of the color of his skin).

      Here’s a guy who started in community college in Phoenix, got a transfer to ASU, came back to earn his masters, went off to a respected PhD program and studied under a respected adviser, showed a lot of promise of being a productive faculty member, and got a job at his alma mater, where presumably people knew and liked him and had followed his progress and respected his work.

      Now, neither of us know how this guy stacked up to the other candidates ASU interviewed that year, but on the face of it, I’d say you are talking out of your ass.

      • Indeed he’s talking out of his ass. Next he’ll produce some anecdotes of egregious behavior by some minority Profs. as evidence. Conveniently forgetting the many regular hires who engage in same behavior.

        This is typical Sailer strategy. Insinuations & damning anecdotes without a shred of rigorous evidence.

        What’s worse, such gratuitous accusations give other asses like Whitaker excuses to claim they are victimized for race.

      • He’s an “inside hire”- which is offensive in various ways, but which is a type of offense that the Sailers of the world would miss because it isn’t quite what their agenda is.

      • As to the viability of the racism charge, the committee of full professors who initiated charges against Whitaker (10 faculty members) included one African-American woman whose father was a civil rights pioneer (Monica Green), an American Indian man (Donald Fixico) and a South Asian woman(Yasmin Saikia).

  9. It should not be forgotten that Whitaker was brought up on plagiarism charges before at ASU in 2011-12. A three-person review committee that “exonerated” him, the same type of objective institutional committee that is charged with assessing fraud in NIH and NSF grants, included a career university administrator named John Lombardi. He was a close personal friend and colleague of the ASU Provost Betty Capaldi. They had been involved in a previous scandal at the University of Florida.

  10. The anonymous faculty member who, on Andrew Gelman’s blog, provided the excellent account of the brouhaha over plagiarism charges levied against Arizona State University faculty member Matthew Whitaker correctly stated that Whitaker holds the title of “Foundation Professor of History.” This, however, is somewhat misleading. In 2012, Whitaker was drummed out of the history faculty of ASU’s School of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. He is no longer listed as a member of the university’s history department, and he and his Center for the Study of Race and Democracy were expeditiously dispatched from the main Tempe campus to one of the less-visible, satellite campuses of the university. His current appointment as a Foundation Professor of History is in the School of Letters and Sciences, a recently-birthed part of what ASU’s PR people style the “New American University.” In order to measure the academic respectability and mission of the School of Letters and Sciences, one need only Google it.
    The anonymous author of the piece alerts readers to alleged fraud in the latest publications by Whitaker, but does not cover closely the methods the “New American University” used to investigate whether the charges against Whitaker had merit. In 2011, a large majority of full professors of history suggested the need for in inquiry to Arizona State’s president Michael Crow. Clearly, the buck did not stop at his office. He passed it on down the line to his provost, who became the first to launch a defense of Whitaker. Some who were closely monitoring the case thought Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi (who has since adopted the surname of Phillips) and her assistant provost, Robert E. Page, Jr., judged the evidence against Whitaker insufficient to sustain the demand for an inquiry. In due course, they were forced to appoint a panel to investigate the case, and it was at this point that the entire matter took a curious turn. A panel was appointed by Capaldi Phillips to examine the business. Partial accounts of the entire matter appeared on the web and in print publications, Inside Higher Ed (Katustuv Basu, “Plagiarism Ignored,” [May 11, 2012] and the local Phoenix newspaper, The Arizona Republic (Anne Ryman, “ASU History Professor at Center of Plagiarism Debate [May 6, 2012] ).
    Basu and Ryman both note that the investigating committee consisted of three members, but after that point, their accounts contain only partial, though accurate, information. Of the three committee members, the first was an ASU administrator, Dr. Jane Maienschein, the Director of the Center for Biology and Society at the “New American University.” Although lines of authority and patronage are sometimes convoluted and defy examination, no center or director operates easily without the anointment of the provost.
    The second member of the committee was Dr. Eduardo Pagan, an associate professor at one of ASU’s satellite campuses. Needless to explain, elevations from associate professor to full professor, of course, must be approved by the university provost.

    The third, and most intriguing appointment to what was supposed to be an objective and independent committee, was that of Dr. John Lombardi. He is a historian by trade, although he has not published any historical research since 1985. Since then he has worked as an academic administrator. At one time, he was president of the University of Florida, his tenure running from approximately 1990 to 1999. He was sacked from his presidency for awarding unauthorized, five-figure raises to several administrative associates. Among those receiving the under-the-table raises was Elizabeth D. Capald Phillips. She was obviously one of Lombardi’s favorites. She was first blessed with a $28,789 salary boost, jacking her yearly pay packet to $260,000, more than five thousand dollars more than the chancellor who then ran the university system. “It also isn’t the first time Lombardi has been generous with Capaldi, a close associate of the president’s since she arrived on campus several years ago,” according to Barry Klein and Lucy Morgan, two reporters from the St. Petersburg Times. “When Lombardi decided to elevate her to provost in 1996, Capald [Phillips] was director of UF’s department of institutional research, a relative backwater academically.” According to Klein and Morgan, “Many faculty members were surprised by the promotion. But even more were flabbergasted by the raise she received: $94,200, or an increase of almost 80 percent” (Barry Klein and Lucy Morgan, “ UF’s Lombardi Offers to Leave Job,” St. Petersburg Times [August 24, 1999] Lombardi’s online cv offers even more testimony to their close relationship. Of the fourteen books he has published since 2000, Capaldi is listed a co-author of all but one of them. In the same cv ( Lombardi unaccountably neglects to mention that he was the president of the University of Florida for almost a decade. His entries read, from the earliest to the most recent, during the approximate time of his presidency:
    Professor, Department of History, University of Florida, 1990-2002
    Director, The Center for Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Florida, 1998-2002
    Co-Editor, The Top American Research Universities, 2002-
    Director, The Center for Measuring University Performance, 2013-

    Despite the general condemnation of plagiarism by the American Historical Association, its statement on the subject, like many of the organization’s pronouncements, is all whine and no bite. Those involved in the controversy have, for the most part, done very well. Whitaker retains his position as “Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy” and “ASU Foundation Professor of History, School of Letters and Sciences” with a salary of six figures. His claim that racism was a part of the controversy involving his academic record was eagerly seconded by some of ASU’s more cynical faculty members. They grumbled that his promotion and appointment as a founding center director were propelled by his race rather than his qualifications. John V. Lombardi, who served as Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst from 2002 to 2007 and as president of the Louisiana State University System until he was terminated on Friday, April 27, 2012, has apparently suffered no ill effects from his participation in the Whitaker inquiry, although, oddly, neither of his university presidencies are listed on his on his online cv. Eduardo Pagan remains an associate professor at Arizona State, but has been elevated to the position of “Vice Provost and Associate Professor” in the ”Office of Academic Excellence and Inclusion,” a position most likely created as part of the “New American University” boondoggle. He no longer operates from an obscure satellite campus in West Phoenix, but from the Office of the Provost at the administrative headquarters on ASU’s main campus in Tempe. Jane Maienschein continues to preside over her Center for Biology and Society, having accrued multiple honors over the years. She is a ”Regents’, President’s and Parents [sic] Association Professor.” She is also listed on the ASU School of Life Sciences web page as a “Faculty Leader, Human Dimensions.” It is unclear what this last title means—perhaps it is another opaque-but-glorious bit of “Newspeak” from the “New American University.” The University of Nebraska Press bumbles along either unaware or unconcerned about the Whitaker investigation and the challenges addressed to the two of his books that they offer for sale on their website. Robert Page, Jr. has, perhaps, had the most success since the controversy over Whitaker’s work. He has been raised from “Foundation Professor, vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences” to provost. He has replaced Elizabeth D. Capaldi Phillips, his former supervisor.
    Alas, the only person involved in the sordid matter who does not seem to have prospered is Elizabeth Capaldi Phillips. For reasons unknown she left her $425,000 job at the “New American University” to take a position at the University of Florida and direct the online education program for a mere $285,000. As mysterious as her departure from Arizona State University was, Capaldi Phillips’s absconding after a mere three months from her UF job is even more puzzling. At last report, she intends to return to ASU, although it is not clear that she will be rehired at her previous salary of almost half-a-million dollars (

    • Sure seems like there’s a terrific amount of inside information here. Methinks we have more than a few ASU professors of history airing grievances. If only they published as vigorously as they whine about Whitaker, they might get somewhere.

  11. Beggaring Belief.

    Whitaker’s book won a prize! The “Bayard Rustin Book Award,” created just this year by the Center for Race and Democracy at Tufts University. Three intriguing features: 1) it was awarded in April 2014, presumably for books published in all of 2014; 2) it was awarded to a textbook; 3) the Tufts Center is the entity that inspired Whitaker to set up a sister center at ASU several years ago, using the same name and lots of Arizona State University money. He and Tufts Center director Professor Peniel Joseph are in close collaboration, sharing conferences with the same title etc. Here is the fabulous Twitter feed:

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  13. Reading the article and the comments, combined with a review of commentary elsewhere, leads me to conclude that several individuals have an ax to grind with ASU administrators. There is too much information here that only ASU faculty would know. Members of that faculty must have been a part of granting the accused professor tenure in the first case. The accused professor received two degrees from the same department that then hired and tenured him. Were these people as outraged at the time? Any question of unacknowledged complicity?

    • Skeptical:

      If you follow the various links and news articles you will see that multiple profs at ASU were indeed outraged at the time. And of course a new plagiarism case made everyone outraged again. I think these faculty are indeed angry at the administrators but I wouldn’t call it “an ax to grind”; rather, they think the administration did not act appropriately.

      • The evidence about Whitaker’s practices speaks for itself, but I doubt that constitues the whole story. I am troubled by several parts of this wild tale. Dd the ASU history faculty raised the charge of plagiarism at the time it reviewed Whitaker’s file? Apparently not when he was tenured. Was the ASU administration in possession of these charges at the time it promoted Whitaker to his current rank? Or did the faculty become wise after the fact? Did they not review his scholarship before offering a recommendation for promotion? I notice no one asks these questions. We ask why the press did not take precautions before publishing another book. Fair enough. We should be as skeptical about these obviously informed anonymous insiders and the self-serving narrative they have spun. One can be forgiven for suspecting that there is something more here than has met our eye to date.

        • The silence in response to these astute queries is deafening. Perhaps Gelman’s research skills are limited to airing nameless complaints without doing any original work of his own. The internet remains an excellent forum for character assassination bolstered by tabloid bloggers who simpy broadcast whatever tripe is forwarded to them, seasoned with ascerbic commentary befitting the idle gossip of the faculty lounge. Whitaker’s sloppy, careless, lazy copying is bad enough, but this dribble masked as witty response serves no earthly purpose.

        • Who:

          I’m not sure what your point is? If you want to say that Whitaker plagiarized and won’t admit it but plagiarism is no big deal, I can see that. Or if you want to say that Whitaker plagiarized and won’t admit it but that he’s made lots of other important contributions and so we should put the plagiarism in that context, I can see that too.

          But if you want to say that it’s not appropriate for me to report the plagiarism just because I didn’t do original research on this topic, that just seems silly to me. I do lots of original research, of course, but this blog also serves a reporting function, and in this case it’s notable to me that a respected university and a respected publisher don’t seem to want to do anything with the information provided to them.

          Finally, I don’t see why it’s “character assassination” to present some quotations from a book, an online encyclopedia, and a course syllabus.

        • First, dear chap, please refrain from putting words in my mouth.

          Did Whitaker plagiarize? I think that’s obvious. Should he be punished? Again, obviously yes. Is plagiarism a serious offense? Of course. So let us set that aside.

          Have you gone beyond leaks from anonymous sources? No. Did you try to contact Whitaker? It appears not. Have you inquired why some of the very people now after Whitaker voted to tenure him years before? Again, it seems not. In your focus on a university press’s admittedly curious response and airing the rantings of ASU history professors, named and unnamed, you have overlooked asking simple questions about the previous behavior of those professors in advancing Whitaker’s career. This amuses and astonishes me. You have failed to subject your sources and their behavior to the same scrutiny you have directed at their targets. Indeed, you have taken what you have received and reported it uncritically.

          Ask your sources some questions instead of simply serving as their mouthpiece if you want us to take this sort of commentary seriously. Right now, your reporting is a joke, and you have let your sources off the hook, presumably because you want more of their dribble.

          You excel at dishing it out, but you curl up and snarl sarcastically when you are treated the same way you treat others. Grow up.

        • @Who, me question?

          AG will probably wisely refrain from responding; I, on the other hand, am feeling both cranky and reckless. “Dear chap”? “Curl up and snarl sarcastically”? Carping about anonymous sources from behind a pseudonym? Blow it out your ass, you pompous gutless wonder.

        • Poor anonymous Corey, defender of poor research practices by a hack blogger. Have a nice day in your state of denial.

        • Hack blogger? This starts to become ridiculous, now. If you would actually care about the truthfulness your statements, you’d also know that Corey is not writing anonymously here. If you want to raise some serious concerns about the discussion about the Whitaker case, you might want to try to phrase it in a less insulting and more comprehensive way.

        • There’s snark enough for all. To be fair, what Mr. Gelman’s fans may applaud as dry wit on his part may be defined as snarky by others less favorably inclined. Easier to deride the snark than to consider the underlying points.

          People have suggested that Mr. Gelman has not gone far enough in his inquiries and has not cast a critical eye at his anonymous sources. Those observations have not drawn a reply. Mr. Gelman has sidestepped some of these questions and declined to answer others. Several posters have responded to what they define as personal attacks with personal attacks. Anonymous attacks on the subject of the post (Dr. Whitaker) are left unquestioned, while anonymous responders who point out the fact of anonymity are attacked. Treat all sources with equal skepticism is advisable.

          I doubt Mr. Gelman will respond directly to criticism of how he has gone about reporting this matter, and I have no interest in playing these silly little games. Reading the post and the comments provides sufficient amusement.

          I conclude that the discussion has jumped the tracks. Dr. Whitaker’s transgressions remain part of the record, but a reader would have to be foolish to leave it at that.

        • Bob:

          I presented some quotations from a book, an online encyclopedia, and a course syllabus, which for some reason a commenter above labeled as “character assassination.” As I’ve written in various places (for example, here), I’m bothered by academic plagiarism, and I’m bothered by people who deny it when they’re caught. I have not done any original reporting on this case, nor have I ever claimed to do so, but if you or anyone else has anything useful to add, you can feel free to do so.

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  16. I’m late to the game here, but there have been new issues raised about Mr. Whittaker. He’s been busted back to Associate Professor and is now having his ‘work’ done as a consultant for the Phoenix PD called out as swiped from the Chicago PD. The City Council which authorised the $200k contract are looking for their money.

    Withal, did anyone determine whether Mr. Whittaker actually got a PhD from Michigan State? According to his published biography he managed to take an ASU MA in 1997 and a PhD four years later – which is quite fast. I’d be interested, purely as a matter of curiosity, to read his dissertation.

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