New Sokal effort as anti-plagiarist

Updated below.

You might remember Alan Sokal as the physicist who submitted a hoax paper to the journal Social Text in 1995, and they printed it, ha-ha! (Several years later, some other authors got revenge by publishing a fake physics text in a physics journal.)

Today’s Chronicle tells the story of Sokal’s latest incarnation as an anti-plagiarist. Seems a political scientist at Rutgers, Frank Fischer, stands accused of plagiarising the work of others on multiple occasions.

Interestingly, the text offered as a case is about Foucault. Here is the text from Alan Sheridan’s 1980 book followed by Fischer’s text. It does seem pretty close.

Mr. Sheridan writes, on Pages 139-140:

But this power is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the “privilege” of a dominant class, which exercises it actively upon a passive, dominated class. It is rather exercised through and by the dominated. Indeed, it is perhaps unhelpful to think in terms of “classes” in this way, for power is not unitary and its exercise binary. Power in that sense does not exist: what exists is an infinitely complex network of “micro-powers”, of power relations that permeate every aspect of social life. For that reason, “power” cannot be overthrown and acquired once for all by the destruction of institutions and seizure of the state apparatuses. Because “power” is multiple and ubiquitous, the struggle against it must be localized. Equally, however, because it is a network and not a collection of isolated points, each localized struggle induces effects on the entire network. Struggle cannot be totalized–a single, centralized [pagebreak 139-140] hierarchized organisation setting out to seize a single, centralized, hierarchized power; but it can be serial, that is, in terms of horizontal links between one point of struggle and another.

Mr. Fischer writes, on Pages 26-27:

Professional disciplines, operating outside of (but in conjunction with) the state, are thus seen to predefine the very worlds that they have made the objects of their studies (Sheridan, 1980). Because this power is exercised rather than possessed per se, it is not the privilege of a dominantelite class actively deploying it against a passive, dominated class. Disciplinary power in thissense does not exist in the sense of class power. Instead, it exists in an infinitely complex network of “micropowers” that permeate all aspects of social life. For this reason, modern power cannot be overthrown and acquired once and for all by the destruction of institutions and the seizure of the state apparatuses. Such power is “multiple” and “ubiquitous”; the struggle against it must be localized resistance designed to combat interventions into specific sites of civil society. Becausesuch power is organized as a network rather than a collection of isolated points, each localized struggle induces effects on the entire network. Struggles cannot be totalized; there can be no single, centralized power. For this reason, argues Foucault, resistance can only be leveled against the horizontal links between one point of struggle and another (Foucault 1984).

While some of this does seem pretty close (the commenters are in no doubt) there are also some standard phrases one hears a lot in the case of discussions of Foucault (it is not possessed but exercised for example). Now what if he had cited Sheridan here; this would be paraphrasing with acknowledgement, which is not plagiarism. But citing Foucault directly and bypassing Sheridan seems very much plagiarism to me.

There’s also the question of whether plagiarism is all the same. As commenter gringo_gus notes many of the passages are reworked.

3) What is the category of crime we have here, therefore ? Is it not time to have different degrees and categories of plagiarism ?

4)Methodologically, all we have here is a few hundred words from which were are supposed to judge a book of how many words. What overall percentage is plagiarised (this percentage would inform our judgements of students ?) What percentage, too, of the important stuff the book says, rather than this nuts-and-bolts explication would end up higlighted ?

Plagiarism is a tough charge to levy and has a powerful besmirching effect. Investigating it is often done in private, but the Chronicle has a track record of taking the issue on. Ironic that Sokal should be involved: perhaps he is trying to redeem himself?

Update (5:38pm EST). Fischer responds (comment #38 below original article). He repeats that it is sloppiness although he doesn’t deny the charges and says he regrets the passages.


One response to “New Sokal effort as anti-plagiarist

  1. In the example, Sheridan in not bypassed, at the most, the reference should have been lower in the passage.
    The other examples are even less convincing and are taken from work produced over nearly 30 years.
    There are no claims by the copyright owners.
    It seems to me that Mr. Sokal longs to be in the spotlights again.
    How shameful.

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