Leslie Iversen Plagiarism Update

I contacted Julie Maxton, the Registrar of Oxford University, about the plagiarism of Professor Leslie Iversen that I pointed out in a previous post. (Four passages in Speed, Ecstasy, Ritalin: The Science of Amphetamines, a book by Iversen, were copied without attribution from a website.) Maxton’s first reply was this:

This matter was drawn to the attention of the Oxford University Press in 2009, when the OUP and Professor Iversen agreed with the author of the online text that a reference would be included in any reprint or future editions of the publication.

I thought it strange that Oxford University governance was outsourced to Oxford University Press. Maxton then told me that she had made up her own mind:

Having looked at the texts and discussed the matter with Professor Iversen and with Oxford University Press, both of whom had previously been alerted to your complaint, I was satisfied that the error related to a small section of text of the book in question, that it was an honest error rather than a deliberate attempt to plagiarise the results of research, and that appropriate remedial action had been taken as far as the author of the text was concerned.  I therefore concluded that no further investigation was required, and I regard the matter as closed.

Maxton did not respond to three emails asking why she concluded the plagiarism was “honest error”.

Oxford University’s plagiarism policy says “You have come to university to learn to know and speak your own mind, not merely to parrot the opinions of others. Still less to do so deceitfully, without attribution.” Apparently undergraduate plagiarism is a big problem at Oxford. According to an Oxford professor (not Iversen),

Hard though it may be to believe, students type word-for-word and increasingly copy and paste from the internet, and submit essays containing whole pages of this verbatim material.

7 Replies to “Leslie Iversen Plagiarism Update”

  1. Dr Maxton’s appointment was rather controversial. She is on her way out, leaving at the end of January to take a post at what I think of as The Disgraced Royal Society.

  2. students type word-for-word and increasingly copy and paste from the internet, and submit essays containing whole pages of this verbatim material?

  3. Here is one honest mistake scenario I am afraid will sometime happen to me. When I research for longer works, I usually paste longish quotes (with references or links next to them) right into the draft. When it’s a Google Document being edited together by many people, or simply a long and complex document, things get moved around a lot. I can easily see how a piece may land somewhere separate from its reference.

    What I don’t understand is the lack of communication and transparency. If an honest mistake is made, why not tell the world what it was, why it happened, and what you are doing to prevent it?

  4. This could reasonably be an honest mistake, although if so it points to carelessness. But the claim that “Apparently undergraduate plagiarism is a big problem at Oxford” implies that plagiarism is a bigger problem in Oxford than elsewhere. This I doubt. One lecturer at another university has said to me that she routinely gets essays blatantly copied from intenet sources, complete with embedded HTML codes clearly identifying the source – students do not even bother to paste-as-text. This is because we ask students to produce, not think. In my own teaching I ask for short essays on non-standard topics, and have yet to detect any evidence of plagiarism. The students seem to prefer those tasks as well.

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