Thursday, October 11, 2018

Emily Belz piece at WORLD on Ann Voskamp and plagiarism as indicator of contemporary popular Christian publishing

The Voskamp file suggests that publishers and writers both have responsibilities in this brave new world. Zondervan, caught red-handed with The Broken Way’s plagiarized passage, deleted the plagiarized part from digital editions entirely—this is apparently common practice when publishers find instances of possible plagiarism. If you download a Kindle edition of The Broken Way today, it will not have the story about Voskamp’s dad and the seed.

Zondervan also removed the YouTube video promoting the book where Voskamp told this seed story about her father. Zondervan, owned by HarperCollins, declined to comment for this story.

Curiously, when I ran Voskamp’s plagiarized text from The Broken Way through iThenticate, the software did not detect the plagiarism. Others in publishing say it’s not unusual for software to miss such obvious cases. The situation underscores the ongoing difficulty with catching plagiarism in publishing, even with new plagiarism software that has vast digital resources to flag these problems.

“The best defense against plagiarism is good software combined with good editors,” said Ben McCoy, managing editor at InterVarsity Press. InterVarsity runs all of its manuscripts through iThenticate, but McCoy has found gaps in the software’s ability to detect plagiarism as well.

Multiple people in the publishing industry I talked to want better plagiarism software, but nothing appears to be in the works. Publishers tend to rely on authors to abide by their contracts, which include stipulations against plagiarism or poor attribution. And now in a digital age, they can edit problems post-publication without attracting much notice.

There may, in the end, but no substitute for reading as widely and deeply as humanly possible.  When the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy erupted in the wake of Driscoll's fateful interview with Janet Mefferd in later 2013 she blogged (the content is long since gone) that she wasn't even the only person to have publicly broached the question or issue as to whether a Mark Driscoll authored book had failed to adequately cite materials and made reference to Wenatchee The Hatchet.  As I was reading Real Marriage in the summer of 2013 I got to chapter 7 and it took half a minute to recognize that Dan Allender's work was obviously a significant influence on the ideas of the chapter; that both Mark and Grace Driscoll had explicitly name-dropped Allender as an influence; and that there wasn't even a single footnote's worth of attribution or thanks in the first edition of Real Marriage.  That has since been fixed.

Let's recall that the late 2013 to early 2014 period in which Mark Driscoll was embroiled in a plagiarism controversy before it also turned out Mars Hill Church had contracted with Result Source to make Real Marriage a best-seller on the NYT bestseller list was just a few years ago.  If Mark Driscoll has declined to mention these controversies in Spirit-Filled Jesus while making some jocular comment about his family feeling like crash test dummies in a car without seatbelts it's not because the controversies didn't happen and weren't part of the journalistic record.  The difference between first and second edition Mark Driscoll books can still testify to what catalyzed the controversy.
Two years ago WORLD investigated whether Christian publishers use plagiarism software, and at the time most of the “big five” publishers like HarperCollins did not as a matter of habit, while smaller publishers did. Zondervan said that it used software if editors found red flags in a manuscript, but not on every manuscript.

Unfortunately the most realistic response to that paragraph would be "duh!"

which case the article goes on to discuss, in fact.

There's some context for Zondervan and plagiarism cases mentioned in the article:
For all of this, Zondervan has a reputation of responding quickly to plagiarism accusations. In October last year, Andreas Köstenberger reported his own plagiarism to his publisher, Zondervan—or what Zondervan called “a series of inadvertently unattributed references”—in a Biblical commentary on the Gospel of John. Köstenberger had failed to cite a commentary from D.A. Carson several times, a failure he attributed to inadequate note-taking.
Zondervan went through Köstenberger’s part of the commentary and found the problems were too “extensive” to fix. In December, Zondervan pulled the book out of print. Köstenberger issued a public apology, apologized to Carson, “my esteemed mentor and friend,” and also said he made “financial restitution” to Carson and his publisher.
Köstenberger had written about plagiarism in a 2011 book, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue. Addressing young Christian scholars, he wrote, “It is those engaged in biblical and theological studies who should hold to impeccable standards when it comes to respecting and referencing the works of others.”
Academic publications may still have some higher standards than pop inspirational books.  On the whole it eems that if you want to read inspiring stories as a christian you'd be better off these days reading inspirational literature that's public domain.

Someone named Paul once wrote a rhetorical question asking "what then is my reward?"  He wrote that his reward was that he shared the good news he had to share free of charge, thereby not making use of rights he might otherwise be able to invoke as one who was sent with a message, i.e. the Gospel.  1 Corinthians 9:18 for those who want to look it up and don't know the passage already.

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