Lewiston Morning Tribune: Dispute over plagiarism erupts

Lewiston Morning Tribune | August 5, 2004

Dispute over plagiarism erupts

Doug Wilson, co-author of the book, denies allegation

By David Johnson of the Tribune“sloppiness”

MOSCOW — Christ Church Pastor Doug Wilson has been accused of plagiarism by his former major professor at the University of Idaho. Wilson has denied the allegation, saying he takes responsibility for footnote and citation mistakes in a book he co-authored, “Southern Slavery As It Was.” He said the book has been corrected and a new edition is about to be printed. But Nicholas Gier, a retired philosophy professor at UI, dismissed Wilson’s explanation as lacking credibility. “They (Wilson and co-author Steve Wilkins) are guilty of plagiarism in the first edition,” Gier said. “The second edition is a little too late, folks.”

The dispute erupted Wednesday when Gier made the plagiarism allegation in a letter sent to the editor of the Lewiston Tribune. Gier also began circulating a petition he plans to use as part of a newspaper ad that, among other things, displays portions of the alleged copied materials. “I’m a professional academic and he’s a former student,” said Gier, who taught Wilson during the mid-1970s. “I feel a responsibility for the product.”

But Wilson, whose book has been the target of local criticism since February, when he and Wilkins participated in a history symposium at UI, dismissed Gier’s concerns as bogus. “This is not about scholarly discourse,” Wilson said. “This is about finding anything that is embarrassing.” He said the mistakes are indeed embarrassing to him, but he stands by the thesis of the book.

A feud continues to brew in this university town as some local residents accuse Wilson and his church followers of buying up portions of the downtown area and injecting their religious-cultural views into the political process.

Gier believes Wilson’s honest-mistake explanation is an attempt to deflect responsibility for “blatant intellectual fraud.” On his Web page Wednesday, Wilson offered his side of the debate. “I am posting this now because some of our local Banshees have got wind of all this and have raised the cry of plagiarism (between intermittent sobs of outrage),” Wilson wrote.

In an interview with the “Lewiston Tribune,” Wilson said he and Wilkins wrote separately their portions of the book in question. Wilkins, he said, used and cited passages from a book titled “Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery.” Wilson said he was responsible for blending the writings together. And during that process, the footnote and citation problems arose. “It was clear there was no intent (of plagiarism),” Wilson said, adding that at the time he had not read “Time on the Cross” by R.W. Fogel and S.L. Engerman. “This was a mistake, not plagiarism.” At worst, he said, he’s guilty of “sloppiness.”

“Nice excuse,” groused Gier, adding the book by Wilson and Wilkins is not only a product of plagiarism but also exhibits intellectual emptiness. “The book is flawed, apart from the plagiarism. You could make a joke that they could have stolen from a good book.” When he learned of the citation and footnote problems several months ago, said Wilson, the book was immediately removed from sales by Canon Press. The press is owned by Christ Church. “Not one thin dime” was made off the book after the mistakes had been brought to his attention, he said.

Gier said Wilson and Canon Press have opened themselves to potential legal action from Little & Brown, publisher of “Time on the Cross.” Wilson said he has not been contacted by the publisher. He said the impetus behind making the corrections came from a third party, a Christian scholar, “who differs with us enthusiastically.”

Gier’s petition seeks signatures from “Palouse academics” condemning the use of an author’s words without proper attribution. He said he had already gathered several signatures by early Wednesday afternoon. Gier said he also has plans to run a full-page newspaper advertisement making the allegations of plagiarism against Wilson and containing side-by-side pages from the Wilson-Wilkins book and the Fogel-Engerman book. The texts and the petitions will be available at BookPeople in Moscow, according to Gier, adjacent to a display titled “Plagiarism As It Is.”

Johnson may be contacted at deveryone@potlatch.com