Does Plagiarism Matter to Christians?

Judging by reaction to recent plagiarism cases, I don’t think plagiarism matters much to most Christians.

Of late, professor Aaron New has brought forward multiple clear examples of plagiarism involving Tim Clinton and the American Association of Christian Counseling. I have published most of them on this blog. The response has been interest from the Christian Post but other than that, a resounding yawn. The AACC’s response has been to blame interns and employees and buy software to find plagiarism before they publish it. Tim Clinton’s other organization, James Dobson’s Family Talk has removed articles with plagiarized material but without comment or apology.

Two days ago, Publisher’s Weekly first reported a settlement between Christine Caine and Carey Scott in a plagiarism case. Caine took some of Scott’s work and used it in a recent book. While Caine’s publisher settled with Scott, Caine has remained silent, without comment or apology. She hasn’t explained how Scott’s material ended up verbatim in her book and promotional material (see my post where I demonstrate Caine’s copying). Outside of a few familiar voices on social media, there is little pressure on Caine to explain herself or take responsibility for her actions. Her publisher has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Silence is the strategy.

Yesterday, World magazine’s Mindy Belz examined the tepid apology offered by author Anne Voskamp for plagiarism on Twitter. The apology for one instance of plagiarism (now deleted) was buried in a blog post in such way that it could easily be missed. She hasn’t had much else to say about it. But why should she, very few people seem to care.

And let’s not forget Mark Driscoll who was responsible for citation errors in several books. In 2013, Janet Mefferd first accused Driscoll of borrowing concepts from Peter Jones without appropriate citation. From there, I discovered additional problems in several of his books. Although Driscoll didn’t acknowledge wrongdoing, one of Driscoll’s publishers quietly corrected most of the problems over the course of a year. Today, Driscoll is back with a new book from Charisma publishing.

What is the Solution?

For her article, Belz spoke with publishing industry insiders. She reported that one answer was better plagiarism detection software. My answer is to hold authors to a high standard. They should do their own work. Fewer books would be published but given the repetitive nature of many books published by Christian publishers, that would be a good thing.

I suspect that part of the reason plagiarism is a mild sin among Christian writers and publishers is that enforcing the rules would require Christian authors to write their own material. Thus, ghostwriters and researchers would be out of work. Pretend experts and Christian celebrities would have to develop actual skills and find something novel and interesting to say without the help of paid experts and researchers.

As illustrated by the above situations, publishers aren’t regularly accountable to the public, nor do they require authors to be accountable. Scott had to go to court to get justice. She couldn’t count on Caine and her Christian publisher to do the right thing. Now that the situation is public, Caine isn’t talking. Although I don’t know what is in mind, her silence gives the appearance that she hopes her popularity will get her through this rough patch.

What has surprised me is that lack of response from Christians on social media to these cases. Only a very few members of the American Association of Christian Counselors have called for AACC leaders to be accountable. Very few evangelicals have directly appealed to Clinton, Caine, or Voskamp to take responsibility for their actions. Given the social media reaction, I suspect Christian publishers are content to ride out the few emails and calls they are getting in advance of the next book release. If many Christian consumers cared, they would go to the social media accounts of these authors and ask for answers.

As the Caine case demonstrates, plagiarism is actionable. However, in Christian circles it doesn’t appear to matter as much as it does elsewhere. Plagiarism leads to job loss or sanctions in the news room (e.g., here, here, here) and academia (e.g., here, here). When I contacted the Colson Center about Tim Clinton’s near verbatim use of a Chuck Colson op-ed in one of his articles, their response was to say nothing and let it go.

In academia, we will continue to enforce high standards of plagiarism. However, it is jarring to realize that our students will enter a world where plagiarism matters less when they work in media organizations which promote Christianity than in places which do not identify as Christian.

 

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Image: Warren Throckmorton

Without Apology, Zondervan Settles Plagiarism Case Involving Christine Caine

According to Publisher’s Weekly yesterday, publisher HarperCollins Christian/Zondervan and author Christine Caine settled a plagiarism lawsuit with author Carey Scott. Scott accused Caine of copying sections of Scott’s book Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life to include in Caine’s book Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny.

Scott commented for the PW article, Caine did not.

While Scott alleged several instances of copying, I can show one. Consider the last paragraph of page 55 from Scott’s book beginning with “And the enemy”*

Then listen to Christine Caine’s narration from a segment of “Joni Table Talk” where she promotes her book Unashamed.

While this is a small portion, the words and flow of the sentences are copied from Scott’s book. This section was apparently quite important to Caine in that she chose it to promote the essence of the book. Because of the complaint, Caine agreed to change the text of the promotional video (you can view that on You Tube). In the complaint, Scott alleges that Caine acknowledged that she had read Scott’s book.

Sometime in July 2016, following HCCP’s and Zondervan’s review process, Ms. Caine contacted Ms. Scott directly. Ms. Caine affirmatively acknowledged that she had access to and read Ms. Scott’s work. (page 7)

Scott further alleged in the complaint that Caine’s book is “substantially similar” to hers. In a court filing prior to the settlement, Zondervan and Caine contested Scott’s claim that Caine’s book was substantially similar to Scott’s book.

Messages left with Zondervan and Christine Caine were not returned. Carey Scott had no comment.

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Image: Warren Throckmorton

* This was Exhibit A in Scott’s complaint against Zondervan and Caine. The first two sentences in Scott’s books are reversed in Caine’s narration.

Crossway Books Condemns Manipulation of Bestseller Lists

Monday and Tuesday, I wrote about three Christian authors (David Jeremiah, and Les & Leslie Parrott) who have used help from ResultSource CEO Kevin Small to attain their publishing success. Mars Hill Church’s contract with ResultSource to elevate Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage shook public trust in that church. Perry Noble, pastor of New Spring Church, has admitted to using ResultSource to elevate the position of one of his books. There are other authors of books published by Christian publishers who use the ResultSource schemes.
Until recently, ResultSource’s methods were wrapped in mystery. However, with the disclosure of the contract between Mars Hill Church and ResultSource, the public got a look at the service purchased by authors who want New York Times Bestseller status. Essentially the author pays ResultSource to purchase a large quantity of books which ResultSource will send to addresses supplied by the author. If the author doesn’t provide enough addresses in the right geographic areas, then ResultSource will supply them. ResultSource deliberately uses methods which overcome obstacles “to the reporting system” (i.e., deceives the bestseller list). See the excerpt from the contract below for the details.
I asked three Christian publishers — Tyndale House, Harper Collins Christian, and Crossway — for opinions about the use of ResultSource. Tyndale House’s Todd Starowitz told me he would reply when publisher Ron Beers returned from a trip. However, Tyndale did not respond further. HarperCollins Christian did not respond at all. Only Crossway, speaking generally about list manipulation and not individual authors, provided an answer:

From our point of view at Crossway, the bestseller lists are designed to provide an accurate reflection of the market’s response to an author and his or her book. If an author, agent, or publisher intentionally tries to subvert or distort the intended purpose of the bestseller lists, we believe this would constitute an ethical violation, in terms of standard ethical norms, but even more so in terms of Christian ethics. This would be dishonoring to the Lord (to whom we are ultimately accountable), and it would also conflict with our calling to love our neighbors as ourselves (by not creating a distorted or deceptive picture of reality). Christian authors, agents, and publishers are called to a high standard of integrity as we seek to glorify God, not only in the content of what we publish, sell, and market, but also in the way in which we go about this calling.” — Justin Taylor, senior vice president and publisher for books, Crossway 

I think Taylor cuts to the heart of the problem with manipulation of bestseller lists. The lists should provide a snapshot of the public response to a book. The public at large seems to see the lists as indicating broad public interest and even quality. However, as it stands, what the list provides is unclear. As the extent of manipulation by Christian and non-Christian authors unfolds, the list may be more of a shadowy glimpse into who has sufficient money to purchase their way into a fiction. Taylor calls the manipulation what it is: unethical. Taylor calls the Christian publishing world to a higher standard. The defense that everybody’s doing it is no defense at all.
Back in June, David Jeremiah’s non-answer to Marvin Olasky’s question about list manipulation provided an insight into another bogus rationale.

Marvin Olasky: TheNew York Times for its bestseller list counts sales from a bunch of secular stores; I understand there’s a company that will go in and buy several books in each of these bookstores. The companies that do that spread the release point of these books that are purchased by individuals so they can get attention. Is that legitimate?
David Jeremiah: The bottom line is you’re selling these books and they’re just not getting noticed. If you want the books to be noticed so that you can reach more people with them, you’ve got to figure out how to do that. I don’t know all of the ramifications of it, but I know that you can’t just write a book and say I’m not going to have anything to do with marketing. If you don’t care enough about it to try and figure out how to get it in the hands of other people, nobody else is going to either.

If you want your books to be noticed, you have to do something about it. It is stunning that David Jeremiah, a man who provides daily bible advice about a host of topics, can say unchallenged that he doesn’t “know all of the ramifications of it.” Dr. Jeremiah, fellow Cedarville University alum, let me ask you to read Justin Taylor’s statement about the ramifications. Let me hasten to add that I don’t know exactly how Jeremiah worked with ResultSource. However, given the direct question about manipulation of sales asked by Olasky, it is disappointing that Jeremiah did not answer it directly.
If he is really unsure of the implications of Olasky’s question, then Dr. Jeremiah should also read Jared Wilson’s article, “What’s Wrong with Buying Your Way onto the Bestseller List. Wilson provided five reasons the practice is wrong:

  • It’s dishonest
  • It’s egocentric and lazy
  • It may eventually harm your reputation and will bug you in the long run
  • It’s poor stewardship and bad strategy
  • It disadvantages those actually gifted.

See also the comments of the Director of Communications for the New York Times.
At the end of the day, it should not be hard for Christian leaders to understand why fooling the public with a purchased persona is wrong. When Mark Driscoll’s deal with ResultSource came to light, the church initially called it an opportunity, then unwise, then wrong. Eventually Driscoll removed the designation of NYTs best selling author from his bio. What should other authors do who have used this scheme? What should publishers do? At Crossway, there doesn’t seem to be any problem with understanding the ramifications.
 
Excerpt from the contract between Mars Hill Church and ResultSource. The entire contract is here.
RSIMHCone
 
For another inside look at ResultSource in the context of business publishing, see Jeffrey Trachtenberg’s article.

Man sues Bible publishers over references to homosexuality

Actually, what I think he is saying is that the Bible doesn’t really mean homosexual when in I Corinthians 6, homosexual is listed. As I understand it, from this USA Today article, he is arguing that the publishers used the term homosexual in the translation with intent to harm him as a member of that class. I think Zondervan and Thomas Nelson will prevail…