Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Answer from Profile Books in re Zizek

I've been in contact with Penny Daniel, managing editor and rights director at Profile Books, about the apparently inadvertent plagiarism of Jean-Marie Muller in Slavoj Zizek's Violence (Profile, 2008) that I blogged about earlier this month. Zizek, you might recall, blamed the error on his publisher, saying that his manuscript had been changed "without [his] knowledge" before publication. To me, this raised some questions.

The answer from Profile is a bit disappointing, but probably as forthcoming as can be expected. Daniel explains that they no longer have the page proofs or any other relevant files so, while she "can neither confirm nor deny what actually happened", and while it would be somewhat at odds with their "usual practice", it is probably true that a copy editor mistakenly formatted what should have been a block quote as a separate paragraph and thereafter inserted the description of Simone Weil as a French religious thinker "out of a desire to help the reader" without informing Zizek. She assumes that Zizek was given page proofs to review before publication and regrets that the error wasn't caught until now. I get the impression that it will be corrected in any subsequent editions of the book.

This will have to do, though it doesn't answer all my questions. There seem to be plenty of stylistic differences between what Zizek describes as "the last version [he has] of the complete manuscript (already copy-edited by the publisher)" and the printed version of the book, for example. I asked Daniel about this since it suggests that the manuscript Zizek has made public is not the last version that was seen by the eyes of a copy editor. Unfortunately, she had no further comment on the matter, citing, like I say, the fact that this all happened six years ago.

I'm working on a final post on this issue, which I'll probably post on Friday. For those who are interested, Adam Kotsko has in the meantime offered a defence of Zizek to keep the conversation going. I'll have some thoughts on his argument in my next post.


Andrew Gelman said...

Hi, I followed the link, and Kotsko characterizes plagiarism as "the most serious ethical violation in academia."

I disagree. I think that making shit up or falsifying data is a more serious ethical violation. The two violations can go together, for example Karl Weick, by plagiarizing the Alps story, was then free to make shit up, in a way that he couldn't have done so easily had he cited his source.

Beyond this, Kotsko seems to me to be doing something that I find very annoying: when someone defends himself, or a friend, from some criticism by first exaggerating the criticism (and perhaps characterizing it as an "accusation") and then denying the larger claim.

Kotsko did this by taking concerns about Zizek's misleading lack of attribution of quotes, and interpreting this as the position, "Apparently he needs to write things fresh every single time he publishes, or else he’s doing something akin to the most serious ethical violation in academia." Nobody's saying this (or, at least, you're not saying this!) but now Kotsko can argue against it.

I felt a similar feeling of frustration after Eric Loken and I raised methodological problems with that fecundity-and-clothing-color study, the authors of that study (Alec Beall and Jessica Tracy) responded that we "mply that [they] likely analyzed our results in all kinds of different ways before selecting the one analysis that confirmed [their] hypothesis." They then defend themselves against this claim, or implication, that we never made.

Beall and Tracy's response was more understandable to me than Kotsko's -- after all, Eric and I were criticizing their research and saying (correctly, I believe) that their experiments are dead on arrival, essentially too noisy for them to ever learn anything interesting about the research questions they're studying, so that's bad news even though we were not accusing them of ethical violations. In contrast, Kotsko is a third party so it seems particularly ridiculous to see him first exaggerating the criticisms of Zizek, and then shooting down the exaggeration.

But in any case, perhaps it would be useful to give a name to this sort of behavior (or maybe it already has a name)?

Thomas said...

I guess it's a kind of "straw man" argument. But instead of setting up a weak argument that can be easily defeated, it sets up overly ambitious argument to be "taken down a notch". Maybe we should call it the Haymaker (scroll down): "The haymaker is considered an imperfect/impure punch..."

Andrew Gelman said...


"Straw man" doesn't quite seem to cover it. One aspect of what might be Kotsko move is that in generally seems to be done in complete sincerity. Kotsko presumably really does think that you were accusing Zizek of "the most serious ethical violation in academia" (even though you never said that), Tracy presumably really does think that I was accusing her of fishing through the data (even in the context of an article where I explicitly stated that this was not my implication), etc.

So, yes, it's a straw man argument, but of a particular type, where the straw man is constructed by imputing an accusation.