In the early 90s, when I was a fairly young seminary student, I was working on a paper for one of my New Testament Greek courses. I had gathered up all the commentaries and journal articles that I could find on the topic, and was starting to write my paper. While reading one journal article, I said to myself, “Here is a great quote, I should put it in my paper.” Much to my surprise, the quote was already in my paper! The author of the journal article had taken an older commentary by another author, had reproduced it almost word for word, and then had it published in a prestigious journal. In doing so, he gave no credit to the original author, with no references, quotations, or footnotes. This was plagiarism at its worst and it was committed by a published academic.
Not being sure of what to do, I talked to my professor. He said that one of my other professors knew a friend of the author of the journal article. Word was passed up the chain, and I heard back that the author of the journal article had a deadline for the journal, and couldn’t complete the work in time. He panicked and copied the work from the older journal, thinking/hoping that no one would ever notice.
Fast forward to the present day, almost 20 years later. I wondered whatever had become of author of the journal article. Much to my surprise I found out several interesting facts about him. He is now a high ranking academic within a Christian college, and had been very successful in his position. He continues to write at a prolific rate. Most interestingly, was that after being appointed to the academic post, he had written a book that covered much of the same ground as the journal article. Had he plagiarized the book as well? I ordered both the original commentary and the newer book from Amazon. They arrived recently.
To my disappointment he had used the commentary in his new book. I had hoped that he would have completely started anew, with his own material. To his credit, he did put the older material into his own words this time, and his did credit the original author in an footnote at the end of the chapter (though his footnote did not mention the name of the original work, or its page number).
You will have noticed that I have been deliberately vague with my details. It is not my attention to destroy anybody’s career. Many iMonk readers would know both the academics involved, so to give any more details would likely lead to the names becoming public.
Has the author of the journal article learned his lesson? His failure to again give proper credit, and his continued prolific output makes me wonder about the integrity of all that he has written.
But I also know that if a microscope was held up to my life, that I would fall short in a lot of different areas too. Yet, God hasn’t given up on me, and is able to use me in many different ways despite my shortcomings. I can tell from what the author in question has accomplished in other areas that God has used him in other ways as well.
My God is a God of second chances. I am thankful that although I sin, Jesus’ sacrifice has paid for my punishment. God has given me a second chance, and a third, and a fourth…
Can I do anything else but the same?