Saturday, January 23, 2016

overview of the Canon Press retraction of Doug Wilson and Randy Booth's A Justice Primer, a case study in the irony of a blogger on the net highlighting plagiarism in a book that was apparently written to address perceived problems of bloggers

Readers of Wenatchee The Hatchet probably already know that this isn't a blog that avoids a long-form discussion of a topic.  So we'll warn you up front that there's going to be a lot of quotes. One of the signal weaknesses of internet reading habits is a failure to maintain an ulta-long form sense of history and argument. Not everyone's bad at this, some are even quite good at it.  It's just that the kind of internet attention spans that frequent the net can be susceptible to forgetting how things play out.  So in order to get some sense of the recent retraction of A Justice Primer it might be helpful to consider the ease with which its co-author promoted it until certain things were brought to light.
Monday, September 7, 2015

Those who believe themselves to be hep to my tricksy ways might have surmised that I orchestrated this entire recent flap about Steven Sitler because Randy Booth and I recently put out a book entitled A Justice Primer. But whether you are disposed to believe me or not, that was a total coincidence. In this book we address biblical principles for evaluating charges that are brought against someone, anyone. The book is, I believe, quite a necessary resource for good-hearted Christians everywhere — who regularly see defamatory information scrolling by in their Facebook feed. There is even a chapter entitled “Trial by Internet,” which concludes with this sage advice: “Never get into a braying contest with donkeys” (p. 160).

Sarcasm noted. The sage advice as identified by Wilson does not seem so sage. It would be sage if it didn't seem Wilson was eager to ignore the spirit and the letter of that advice by continuing to write the sorts of things in which he proclaims Christian girls are prettier, for instance, and then marveling at being proverbially led to the gallows that even fellow Christians wouldn't affirm all the proclamations made by Wilson along the way.

A couple of weeks on ...
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
If there is one thing that Christians need to learn more about in this “click to convict” era, it is the importance of due process, presumption of innocence, hearing both sides argued, and so on. Those interested can learn more about it in A Justice Primer, a book I wrote together with Randy Booth.

Now there's a plug for one's product. :) And then something happened, somebody did a detailed overview of the book.


What’s my point with all of this? Well, the book is based on blog posts that were written to defend and protect certain men against perceived injustices by church courts and by those who were discussing the cases on the Internet. With that context, the purpose of the book becomes clearer, and we can then decide if the book’s advice is as useful as it claims to be.

As Wilson and Booth write in the book, “Persons bring charges. Persons have motivations. Those motivations need to be evaluated, just like the charges do.” (92) Persons also write books and have motivations that need to be evaluated.

It wasn't too long before Wilson, as he often does, had thoughts to share with the public on the matter.  The gist was that while his work in the book did not come up guilty of plagiarism, the writing of his co-author sure did.

Saturday, December 12, 2015
On Thursday, Rachel Miller revealed that significant portions of A Justice Primer, coauthored by Randy Booth and me, had been plagiarized. The same day Canon Press discontinued the book, posted their own statement about it, as well as separate statements from Randy and from me. They can be found here. In addition, a second statement from Aaron Rench, CEO of Canon, has now been posted here.

Rachel Miller and I have clashed in the past, but on this issue I owe her my heartfelt thanks. Better this revelation now, and a resultant mess, than to have years of calm if such calm were to be purchased by means of undetected plagiarism. I am grateful to God for sending this revelation, and grateful to Rachel Miller for bringing it.

Justin Taylor made some helpful comments about publishers and plagiarism here. Canon is already in the process of contacting the authors who were plagiarized in order to apologize to them. But yesterday Canon Press took the additional step of purchasing some plagiarism software which, as Justin indicated, is not yet industry standard, but is likely to become so. They intend to incorporate that software into their editorial processes. The first thing they did with it is run my contribution to A Justice Primer through it, which came out clean.

Nevertheless, all that said, there are some significant areas where I need to take the responsibility. Let me first make a few general statements, and then follow it up with a few specifics.

I continue to affirm the principles I laid down on this same subject in my discussion of Mark Driscoll and the charge of plagiarism against him. The particularly relevant sections are #4-6. The cash quote is here: “I am nevertheless responsible for it. My name is on the cover.” ...

The mention of Mark Driscoll's name is a reminder that Doug Wilson has not, in fact, clarified if he has any new perspective about Mark Driscoll's situation and decline in status beyond his "revenge of the beta male" narrative offered in the wake of Mark Driscoll's resignation in October 2014. 

To date neither Mark nor Grace Driscoll have addressed the question of why so much content in the first printing of Real Marriage lacked citation credits for works they demonstrably drew from. So as that goes, Doug Wilson and Randy Booth, once caught, admitted the book they published had plagiarism in it and the book has even since been retracted.  The irony of a book that seems to have addressed the frequent injustice of bloggers discussing in public things that some in ministry would prefer not be publicly discussed has since been retracted because a blogger highlighted plagiarism in the work is almost beyond words. Doug Wilson seems to have cultivated a robust sense of humor, though, so at least he, perhaps, can see how this could come across as really quite funny.

It's the kind of dry irony that would "probably" not be lost on Carl Trueman, at least:

who links to Rachel Miller's recent statement, of which we'll quote just a small part.
It was no secret that I read A Justice Primer with the intention of critiquing it. I said so in my original post. It is absolutely true that I disagree with Doug Wilson on many theological matters. That doesn’t change the facts that I presented in my article. I was very careful in my discussion of the plagiarism not to speculate who had done the plagiarizing. Canon seems to think that I knew Booth was responsible and didn’t say so so that I could implicate Wilson. That is not true. ...

Now that we've done that, let's go back and revisiting a fairly glowing review of A Justice Primer from The Gospel Coalition's Kevin DeYoung.
Kevin DeYoung
November 5, 2015

Douglas Wilson and Randy Booth, A Justice Primer (Canon Press, 2015). I thought this was a book on social justice, economics, and big picture politics. It’s actually a book about how the Bible would have us judge each other (or not) in the mad, mad world of blog warriors and internet vigilantes. This book is full of refreshing wisdom. I hope it reaches a wide audience. And if you already know that Doug Wilson is a good-for-nothing scoundrel (and I don’t know him personally and do strongly disagree with him at times), then that’s an indication that you really need this book. [UPDATE: It seems that portions of the book were plagiarized, which, while not changing the nature of the content, cannot help but affect one’s opinion of the book. I hope Wilson and Booth will respond to the evidence presented in the link above. NEXT UPDATE: The book has been discontinued by Canon Press because of “negligence and gross incompetence” resulting in plagiarism and improper citation.]

Did Kevin DeYoung get a galley proof copy of Real Marriage?  If Canon Press discontinued the book it sure seems like someone at Canon Press thought that this revelation changed the nature of the content of the book in some fashion! 

Now there is a point I stop to make here about the nature of what some call watchblogging, it's worth noting, as Alastair Roberts has over at his blog, that the biblical authors are (compared to modern authors) serenely unconcerned with highlighting the psychological or emotional motivations of figures in biblical narratives.  The general concern is what did X say and what did X do. 

A watchblog does not need to traffic in speculations as to the motives of parties at work.  The temptation may be there but generally the heart knows its own sorrow and no other shares its grief.  And as Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth that just as no one knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him, so only God knows the thoughts of God.  So, with a couple of simple verses revisited we can safely say that a watchblogger has no real obligation to speculate as to the motives of someone.  It can be enough to document what a person said and did.  As far as humanly possible that's what I've tried to do at Wenatchee The Hatchet regarding the history of the people and institution known as Mars Hill.  It's not ultimately of any journalistic value or historical help to people to do too much speculating as to motives.  But methods and results can certainly be discussed. 

So ... back to the situation at hand.

It's hard not to imagine that were he alive today to observe such a situation play out that Jacques Ellul would say that A Justice Primer was propaganda that became counter-propaganda against its authors' own cause when the plagiarism was discovered.  For longtime readers, yes, that's a sentence of foreshadowing there.  We're going to get to Ellul's work and its potential relevance to the history of Mars Hill and the public ministry of Mark Driscoll later this year, time and providence permitting.  Since along the way in fielding a plagiarism controversy about one of his books it seems providential Doug Wilson should have felt obliged to highlight a plagiarism controversy that was connected to Mark Driscoll.  Given the intellectual mentor dynamic the younger has spoken of about the older this ties things together thematically quite well.

Wilson and Booth at least they had the stones to do what Mark and Grace Driscoll have not done and may never do, admit the scope of citation errors in a first print edition of a book they co-authored and then have principle enough to both address the problem publicly and even retract the book.  What Team Driscoll did in the wake of their plagiarism controversy was have books retroactively fixed while staying scrupulously silent about the whole thing.  If Mark Driscoll still considers Doug Wilson's books to be useful for instruction on manliness it can seem as though some lessons were not learned here.  It's not as though Doug Wilson has not been at the center of other controversies connected to plagiarism in books with his name on them and he's still at the same church doing what he's done.  If anything the Wilson/Booth plagiarism controversy and their handling of it highlights how drastically different the plagiarism controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll was.  It seems you can weather a plagiarism controversy here and there without feeling any need to resign from your pastorate.  Just look at the case history of Doug Wilson. 

But Wilson does have a credibility problem here now.  Now that a blogger has demonstrated that a book with Wilson's name on it had plagiarism of the sort that inspired Canon Press to retract the book, a book that seems on various accounts to have been discussing how to deal with the injustice of bloggers blogging about stuff you wish they wouldn't blog about, the book A Justice Primer could now stand as a paradoxical case study in the value and perhaps even the necessity of blogs playing an observational role in the activities of public ministries and associated publications.  Wilson looked perfectly content to promote his book in the months before Miller and her help compiled evidence of problems in the book. 

After all has been said and done it seems that now that both sides have been argued Canon Press has conceded plagiarism happened and the book has been retracted. 

1 comment:

Law Prof said...

The problem is irony will be lost on Mr. Wilson, who in spite of his naive and rather thin pretenses to intellect, seems to be a person remarkably incapable of genuine introspection. I suspect that he is not quite clever enough to grasp the irony of any circumstances involving his own actions.