Go read Tenured Radical. She tells us all about Robin Gerber, the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her. The galley proofs for this new book were sent out to a reviewer, M. G. Lord, whose book Forever Barbie Gerber quotes in Barbie and Ruth, directly, repeatedly, and without attribution! Tenured Radical writes,
[H]istorians. . . know about plagiarism. We talk about it a lot, and we have seen enough high-profile cases in the last decade to make it of grave concern, whether it appears in a work intended primarily for scholars or in something intended for the educated reader and/or enthusiast. This is why, other than the possibility of an old friend being ripped off, I think questions about plagiarism raised by Lord about Ms. Gerber’s book need to be aired in a scholarly setting. Lord’s assertion is that Gerber has taken quotes from primary sources published in Forever Barbie and failed to note that Lord did that research and, in the case of interviews, actually generated the source in the first place.
In this piece, published in the Los Angeles Times over the weekend, Lord explains that when asked to review Gerber’s book:
I found quotations from my research, verbatim and without specific attribution.
I showed the passages to my assigning editor. He had sent me a galley proof, not the finished book, and we both thought it likely that endnotes would appear in the final volume. But then the finished book came in, and though “Forever Barbie” was mentioned in the bibliography, there were no endnotes. I felt violated.
Histories do not grow on trees. The first person to cobble out a definitive narrative has to do a ton of work. You interview hundreds of people and hunt down documents, which can be especially elusive if influential people would prefer that they stay hidden. You separate truth from hearsay. Then — with endnotes — you meticulously source all your quotations and odd facts so future scholars will know whence they came.
Reached for comment by The Times, Gerber wrote in an e-mail: “I do believe that the credit Ms. Lord received was within the norm for a book which provides singular sourcing rather than footnotes. Having said that, if Ms. Lord feels that her book received insufficient credit for quotes from people she interviewed it is a simple matter to correct in the next printing. I have the utmost respect for Ms. Lord’s book and have recommended it to others.”
Bad luck, eh? Next time, Robin Gerber, make sure your book doesn’t get sent out to be reviewed by the scholars you’re ripping off. Or, you could just avoid the merest whiff of suspicion by following this even simpler advice: don’t plagiarize!
And as we all know, sometimes the simplest advice is the best. I share Tenured Radical’s concern with this case, not the least because it involves a dear friend of mine (Barbie!), but also because as TR points out, academic historians who behave in this manner would (rightfully) be suffer severe consequences to their teaching and publishing careers. (Unless of course, you’re Stephen Ambrose or Doris Kearns Goodwin. I suppose calling them “academic historians” is dubious in the first place, but if you get on TV enough as a “historian” and make enough money for your publisher, you can pretty much get away with anything.)