Jean Smith and Grant (cont.)

The American Historical Association is always good for a few laughs, nowhere moreso than in its ethics. Taking that body's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct for what it is, lax guidelines for ethically challenged historians, it may be worth looking at a couple of harder passages and applying these to the Smith situation in Grant. AHA: "A basic rule of good note-taking requires every researcher to distinguish scrupulously between exact quotation and paraphrase."

That's pretty black-and-white for this gray organization. Consider also that "No matter what the context, the best professional practice for avoiding a charge of plagiarism is always to be explicit, thorough, and generous in acknowledging one’s intellectual debts." [Emphasis in the original.]

Two key concepts are embedded in this tract: "Plagiarism, then, takes many forms. The clearest abuse is the use of another’s language without quotation marks and citation." Also: "When appraising manuscripts for publication, reviewing books, or evaluating peers for placement, promotion, and tenure, scholars must evaluate the honesty and reliability with which the historian uses primary and secondary source materials."

With that in mind, look again at our recent Smith/Grant entry:

Smith: The President's casket, draped in black crepe, rested on a raised platform under a domed black canopy.
Catton: Draped in crepe and black cloth, the President's casket lay in the East Room under a domed canopy of black cloth.

Smith: President Johnson, the Supreme Court, members of the cabinet and the diplomatic corps and other dignitaries, were seated in the room.
Catton: President Johnson, members of the Supreme Court and the cabinet, the uniformed diplomatic corps and other dignitaries, were seated in the room.

Smith: Correspondent Noah Brooks reported that the general "was often moved to tears."
Catton: Correspondent Noah Brooks said that the general "was often moved to tears."

And so it goes.

This comparison comes from the Grant Amazon page, where there are more intriguing hints of what might be happening.

Candace Scott, who manages an excellent Grant website, says on Amazon, "Most disturbing is Smith's propensity to borrow liberally from other authors in his interpretations. Certain sections of this book read similarly to words written by previous Grant biographers. See particularly his views on Grant's drinking, which are similar to McPherson's sections in his book, "Battle Cry of Freedom."

An anonymous Amazon reviewer says, "Further evidence that large parts of the book feel like a rush-job comes from the occasional word-for-word remarks "borrowed" from authors like Lloyd Lewis and William McFeely. Such (...) comments are jarring, and deepen the impression that Smith just did not put much mental effort into much of his work."

A reviewer named Hua Quach notes, "The almost verbatim lifting of passages from other books should be a call to the publishers this is not exactly the watermark of scholarship."

Where are the publishers in a matter of plagiarism associated with their author in a venue as big as Amazon.com?

More on Smith and Grant next week.