The Ryan plagiarism scandal: an historian to the rescue

Someone with a good grasp of the material noticed that Professor Vanessa Ryan's Thinking Without Thinking in the Victorian Novel contained copied passages (see the table here)

The perp says she did a mea culpa,
Ryan said she took immediate action, notifying her publisher, her department chair, other colleagues and the scholars improperly cited in her book.
This "immediate action" came in August 2013 after an anonymous tipster turned her in to the university. Having been discovered, she became terribly sorry. Nevertheless,
Kate Flint, a Victorianist who is familiar with Ryan’s work, and who is chair of the department of art history at the University of Southern California, said that Ryan’s response to the allegations demonstrates her academic integrity.
Now, if you will take a few minutes to read the table linked in the first paragraph, you can map your own impressions against these defenses of Ryan's actions (this again from Flint):
...the case demonstrated how easy it could be – even for the brightest young scholars – to accidentally mix their words with others’ after hours, days, and even years spent in libraries covering vast amounts of material. In time, she said, Ryan’s case might even be used a “lesson” for up-and-coming graduate students.

“Any of us could do this,” she said. “It’s a really, really unfortunate, even tragic case of somebody who has done something unwittingly they should not have done being made to pay far more than people usually are.”
Flint's defense, in a nutshell is that

(1) Ryan acted with integrity by stepping forward after being exposed as a plagiarist

(2) She accidentally "mixed her words with others" (the table shows no mixing and the sources did not even get a biblio entry)

(3) Any of us could accidentally become plagiarists at any moment (tragically!)

(3) She should not pay "more than people usually" pay for this action, whatever that means.

It's disturbing that a history professor would make such a defense. Given her attitude toward sources and "accidents," one would hope another anonymous tipster would now go through Flint's books with an eye towards attribution.

Ryan was exonerated by an investigative troika brimming with collegiality. They let her off with rationalizations. The Brown student newspaper:
The committee’s final report, delivered ... and approved ... in November, stated that though Ryan’s book contains plagiarized material from other sources, the plagiarism in question “does not rise to the level of misconduct.” “While, as a result of these mistakes, my book uses words from other scholars’ writings without attribution, the substance of the ideas in the book is my own,” Ryan wrote to The [Brown Daily] Herald.
Keach and 12 other faculty signed a letter protesting the investigation's outcome.
“Everyone I talked to in the English department understood that document [the troika's report] to be saying that research misconduct included plagiarism, that plagiarism is a form of research misconduct,” [Professor William] Keach said. “Therefore any judgment that a faculty member’s work contained errors that were plagiarism but not research misconduct was a kind of category mistake. It was contrary to the logic of the University rules.”
"Category mistake"? Or rank immorality?

In reading any mix of my writing and the writings of others, I can recognize others' passages. I may not be able to place the source, but I know when I see others' material. Either Ryan did not read the proofs or perhaps the book was assembled by helpers in a process too embarrassing to explain.


Guest Post: Closing remarks on McClellan's telegram from Maurice D’Aoust

Closing remarks from Maurice D’Aoust:

I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Sears has failed to respond to the evidence presented in my last rebuttal surrounding the phantom “idnight” in McClellan’s September 11th message to Halleck.  I must, therefore conclude that he concedes no “idnight” exists either on the microfilm copy or on Mr. Thorp’s digital rendering of the message.  I was also gratified to see Mr. Thorp's comment in this regard.  Mr. Thorp has conducted some extensive research surrounding McClellan’s September 13, 1862 telegram to Lincoln and I would encourage him to share his findings at this time. 

Throughout our debate, Mr. Sears has stated his case in support of the 12M version of McClellan’s September 13, 1862 telegram and I have stated mine in favor of the 12 Midnight document.  I will not re-hash things in these, my closing remarks. Any who wish to know Mr. Sears’s or my views have now simply to go back and read our various exchanges on this site.  As for McClellan’s sent copy, I’m certain that, if ever found, the document will be time-marked 12 Midnight.  The evidence is simply too overwhelming for it to have not been so marked. I would suggest to Mr. Sears that a jury of our peers has already begun delivering its verdict and I am referring to Dr. Tom Clemens’s and Mr. Scott Hartwig's respective works in which both of these prominent historians support the 12 Midnight scenario. In closing, I’d like to thank Mr. Sears for the opportunity of publicly debating this very controversial matter. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to Dimitri Rotov for hosting the debate on Civil War Bookshelf. 

-- Maurice D’Aoust

Guest Post: Gene Thorp offers "A brief clarification for Mr. Sears"

I would like to state clearly that I did not and do not agree with Mr. Sears that finding McClellan's original Sept. 13 Trophies telegram is theonly certain way to settle the time-stamp issue. If it can be conclusively shown that McClellan did not receive the Lost Order before noon, then it would also mean that he could not have reported it to Lincoln at noon.

The misrepresentations from Mr. Sears below about what I have and have not written on this subject are truly astounding. They are generally as accurate as his claim that the word "Midnight" on the Sept. 11 telegram is somehow written under the Official Records stamp.


Gene Thorp
Washington Post Cartographer

Guest Post: Stephen Sears' second postscript on the McClellan telegram

Stephen Sears  offers this Postscript II on the McClellan telegram and the Lost Order:

In a phone conversation with Gene Thorpe some time since, he and I agreed that the only certain way to settle the question of the sending time of McClellan’s telegram to Lincoln on Sept. 13 was to have McClellan’s original sending copy. Did he time-mark it 12 M (noon) or 12 Midnight? For my Papers of McClellan book (1989) I searched for this elusive sending copy, and I know Mr. Thorpe has too. No luck so far.

The whole matter therefore comes down to what happened starting at 2:35 a.m. on Sept. 14 at the War Dept. telegraph office in Washington. In the absence of McClellan’s sending copy, the primary copy of the Lincoln telegram is the operator’s received copy. I maintain he did his job capably. That is, he correctly copied McClellan’s 12 M time mark on the file and carbon copies and on the copy for Lincoln. Someone added “idnight” to Lincoln’s copy. As explained earlier, by the logic of the case I believe it was the president himself. I further believe, knowing George McClellan as I do and knowing the situation on Sept. 13, he would never have sent his exuberant Lincoln telegram at midnight, an hour after his dark and gloomy 11 p.m. telegram to Halleck.

Mr. D’Aoust claims the War Dept. operator did not do his job—for some inexplicable reason (and not for the first time) he changed McClellan’s 12 Midnight time-mark to 12 M on the file and carbon copy and the Lincoln copy. Then an unidentified someone added “idnight” to the Lincoln copy, but not to the file and carbon copies. Then between 11 and 12 o’clock that night, a very worried McClellan abruptly became exuberant and composed the Lincoln telegram.

None of this—the dolt operator, a hyper General McClellan—makes sense to me. Despite being accused as a fabricator of facts, I think the facts supporting a noon telegram are correct and relevant.  And that’s really all I have to say on the subject. If there is a jury out there, I’d like to hear their verdict.

-- Stephen Sears


Guest Post: The McClellan telegram, a response from Maurice D’Aoust

Maurice D’Aoust submitted the following in response to Stephen Sears's March 30th post. "Once again, for ease of reference I have addressed each of Mr. Sears’s points individually."

SEARS:  To argue that McClellan’s Sept. 13 telegram to Lincoln, announcing the finding of the Lost Order, was sent at midnight rather than noon, Mr. D’Aoust offers two supposed proofs demonstrating that the Lost Order did not reach McClellan in time for him to telegraph Lincoln at noon. A third supposed proof, by Gene Thorp and laid out in an appendix to the post, attempts to show how a telegram sent at midnight was erroneously labeled noon in the records, and what lesson is to be drawn from that.

D'AOUST:  How can Mr. Sears possibly refer to two primary source accounts confirming the 27th Indiana's 12 noon arrival as "supposed" proof?  The first of these proofs is from a Battles and Leaders article, (vol. 2, p. 603) in which Silas Colgrove writes "The Twelfth Army Corps arrived at Frederick, Maryland, about noon on the 13th of September, 1862. The 27th Indiana Volunteers, of which I was colonel at that date, belonged to the Third Brigade, First Division, of that corps."  The second primary source is from Antietam chronicler Ezra A. Carman when he writes, "Williams Corps arrived near Frederick and halted about noon, very early noon, and this agrees with the recollections and papers of this author."  See Thomas G. Clemens, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Vol. 1: South Mountain, p. 280 in this regard. Then there is the evidence contained within the message itself surrounding the taking of Catoctin.   I'll reserve my comments regarding Mr. Thorp's evidence until later in this response.    

SEARS:  The heart of the matter is this: Just because no sending copy of the Sept. 13 telegram in McClellan’s handwriting has been found—and I have looked long and hard, far and wide—Messrs. D’Aoust and Thorp and their advocates say the dispatch was tampered with or messed with in the telegraphic process. I say the telegraphic process worked just fine (except for unavoidable delay) and exactly as it was supposed to. 

D'AOUST:  Absolutely no one suggested Lincoln's copy was "tampered with" or "messed with."  These are entirely Mr. Sears's words.  As I've already stated, the time stamp was amended by someone in order to correct the telegrapher's "12M" error.  The evidence confirms that whoever amended the document was absolutely correct in doing so.

SEARS:  To begin with, I find no factual, confirmable evidence disproving the telegram was sent at noon, so, obviously, the Lost Order reached McClellan before noon. But Mr. D’Aoust persists, and his evidence deserves a hearing. He claims the 27th Indiana did not get to where the Order was found in time for Corp. Mitchell to do the finding before noon. But Charles B. Dew, writing in the Journal of Southern History, used the Samuel Pittman papers to show that Silas Colgrove, the 27th’s colonel, carried the Lost Order to Twelfth Corps headquarters, last stop before it went to McClellan, before noon. Pittman was General Alpheus Williams’s aide, identified the Order’s handwriting as authentic, and is a sound witness. Ezra Carman heard from the courier (urged by Pittman to ride fast) who delivered the Order, saying he left for army headquarters about 9:30 a.m. (No reliance can be placed on Jones’s regimental history of the 27th Indiana. It is riddled with errors, such as the canard that Mitchell was illiterate.)

D'AOUST:  The "confirmable evidence" that disproves the telegram was sent at noon has  been there all along for Mr. Sears to find. He has simply chosen to ignore it. The evidence confirming the 27 Indiana did not reach Frederick until noon is comprised of two primary source accounts from two participants who were there when these events took place. As for Charles B. Dew's article, I assume Mr. Sears is referring to Dew's "How Samuel Pittman validated Lee's 'Lost Order' Prior to Antietam: A Historical Note" in which, as one reviewer puts it,  "Dew uses Stephen Sears and James B. McPherson's books to synthesize a description of the event."  Is this the article Mr. Sears is referring to? Ezra Carman, considered to be the foremost expert on the Battle of Antietam and who was also present when these events took place, had this to say about Pittman's account: "[i]n this he was evidently mistaken, accounts generally agree that Williams Corps arrived near Frederick and halted about noon, very early noon, and this agrees with the recollections and papers of this author."  Have either Messrs. Sears or Dew bothered to investigate Carman's conclusion on this matter or have they simply chosen to deem Carman a liar? For that matter, why do they also completely discount Colgrove's Battles and Leaders 12 noon account?  Finally, should two sources (Carman's and Colgrove's) not trump one (Pittman's)? Tom Clemens, editor of a three volume work on Caman's papers, has confirmed to me that Carman received no such correspondence from anyone purporting to be the courier.  In fact, it does not appear anyone truly knows who the courier was, there being several theories. I must now make a point of obtaining a copy of Jones's "error riddled" book and wish to thank Mr. Sears for that heads up.             

SEARS:  Next, Mr. D’Aoust claims that McClellan’s telegram, saying the Catoctin range was in Union hands, could not have been sent at noon since that feat was not accomplished until 2 p.m. There is, however, cavalryman Pleasonton’s 11 a.m. dispatch to McClellan (McClellan Papers) saying he is “4 miles west of Frederick” at the Catoctins. That was good enough for McClellan to add that extra bit of good news to his noon telegram to Lincoln.

D'AOUST:  Fact: Catoctin pass was not taken until 2 p.m.  Fact:  In his 12 Midnight telegram, McClellan correctly informs the President that he has possession of the Catoctin pass being that, by then, he truly was in possession of it. Not so at noon. Mr. Sears suggestion that Pleasonton's 11 a.m. dispatch was "good enough for McClellan to add that extra bit of good news" to a supposed 12 noon telegram to Lincoln is an entirely unsubstantiated, if not preposterous, fabrication on his part and is undeserving of even the slightest consideration.    

SEARS:  To repeat, if there is demonstrable proof—as I contend there is—that the telegram was sent at noon, all arguments that the Lost Order could not have gotten there “in time” are nulled.

D'AOUST:  And what demonstrable proof does Mr. Sears offer? 1. An Official Records stamp on the 12M War Department copy. The same stamp as is found on the clearly erroneous September 11th telegram to Halleck.  2. A preposterous and entirely unsubstantiated fabrication with which to counter the Catoctin reference. 3. One account (Pittman's) with which to contradict two others (Colgrove and Carman) regarding the time of the 27th Indiana's arrival.  Mr. Sears must know that postulation and fabrication do not cut it as far as "demonstrable proof" is concerned. Hard, primary source evidence is what is required and this I have provided as support for the 12 Midnight telegram.    

SEARS:  Finally, Messrs. D’Aoust and Thorp appear willing to rest their case on . . . well, quicksand. That is, McClellan’s Lincoln telegram was sent at midnight; that the belief it was sent at noon is due entirely to a  Washington War Dept. telegraph operator who was a dolt, who made repeated blunders that have muddied the historical waters ever since. I, on the other hand, find the man entirely capable. He did his job exactly as he was supposed to do and expected to do.

Mr. Thorp displays a McClellan-Halleck telegram sent Sept. 11—two days before the Lost Order telegram—that he claims is time-marked by McClellan 12 midnight. But that dolt of a War Dept. operator marked it 12 M instead of 12 Midnight as he was supposed to do and required to do. Now, that’s not just one major mistake, that’s two major mistakes, perhaps three: 1) Not writing down the time-mark as sent; 2) writing 12 M, the flat-out wrong abbreviation for midnight; or 3) somehow misreading midnight as meridian or as noon and therefore rendering it 12 M, telegraphese for noon. The Official Records compilers saw 12 M and for emphasis rendered it 12 noon in OR 19.2:252.

D'AOUST:  Apparently, Mr. Sears has had a change of heart since writing those last words and I am referring to his "A Mystery Solved" postscript in which he now suggests that the telegram to Halleck was, in fact, time marked "12 Midnight" (something Mr. Sears previously
argued McClellan would never ever do.) He is also suggesting that the telegraph operator did transcribe it as "Midnight" but that the "idnight" portion was covered up by a  "stamp wielder" resulting in the OR compilers misrepresenting the time mark as "12M" in the OR. Mr. Sears claims that the "idnight" is clearly visible in the National Archives microfilm and that it is even visible in Mr. Thorp's copy. I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Sears is seeing things and say this for several reasons.  Firstly, I've looked at Thorp's "illustration" and see absolutely nothing after the M (see the attached blow-up of that section of the telegram.) What I do see is the down-stroke of the letter "g" from the word Middleburg above.  That down-stroke  extends down into the area of the stamp and is clearly visible.  Why can I see this under the stamp and yet I can see no other writing?  Why is that?  Because there is nothing else there.  Secondly, Mr. Thorp has confirmed to me that he personally viewed the same microfilm as Mr. Sears did in the National Archives reading room and that he made a digital copy from that very same microfilm.  Suffice it to say that Mr. Thorp looked the image over very carefully and never saw any "idnight."  But wait, there is more.   Based on that phantom "idnight" under the stamp, Mr. Sears now claims the telegrapher "faithfully copied the sender’s time-mark 12 Midnight" and that "the War Dept. operator was entirely competent on Sept. 11."  Let' now watch Mr. Sears's case sink and ultimately disappear beneath the quicksand.

While at the National Archives Mr. Thorp, was, under the watchful eye of two National Archives staff members, given the opportunity to view and actually hold Halleck's received copy of the September 11th telegram and there is even a picture of him holding the document for all to see.  And what time-stamp did the "competent" telegrapher specify on Halleck's copy?  . . .  "12M"!   So much for Mr. Sears's "A Mystery Solved" theory.  So where does that leave us?  With a "sent" copy clearly marked 12 Midnight and a received copy clearly marked 12M.  Conclusion, the telegrapher failed to faithfully copy the sender's time-mark and did so again two days later. 

SEARS:  To stay with the Sept. 11 telegram, it’s in a dispatch book in the McClellan Papers. (The McClellan-Lincoln telegram, not an official message, is not recorded in a dispatch book.)  This telegram is not in McClellan’s handwriting; he did not break telegraphic protocol by writing 12 Midnight on it. It was dictated (it’s a routine message), and McClellan cannot have read it or he would have seen it corrected from 12 Midnight to standard 12 or 12 p.m. on the copy. (It’s in the proper chronological order in the dispatch book.) As noted in my earlier post, McClellan was careful about telegraphic protocol.

D'AOUST:  As mentioned above, Mr. Sears in his "A Mystery Solved" postscript, has now changed his mind regarding McClellan not breaking "telegraphic protocol by writing 12 Midnight on it [the September 11th telegram to Halleck.]" 

SEARS:  Next, Mr. Thorp would have us believe this same dolt of an operator two days later did exactly the same stupid thing! That is, on Sept. 13 he deciphered a second 12 midnight telegram from McClellan, made the same series of blunders for whatever reasons of his own, and turned it into a 12 M telegram. Then “somebody” at the telegraph office “corrected” the operator’s 12 M copy made for Mr. Lincoln by adding “idnight” . . . but for whatever reasons of his own did not similarly correct the office file copy and carbon.

D'AOUST:  Well, yes, that is exactly what Mr. Thorp would have us believe and in this he is absolutely correct.  Halleck's received copy proves conclusively that the telegrapher did precisely that on September 11th.  As for the September 13th 12 Midnight telegram, the evidence is overwhelming in proving that the telegram could not possibly have been written at 12M and therefore, that the telegrapher did make "the same series of blunders" and turned that message into a 12 M telegram.   Thankfully someone caught the error in time and added the "idnight" on Lincoln's copy.

SEARS:  I cannot find a single confirmable fact in this scenario. It’s pure speculation, and I have to say, simply beyond bizarre.

D'AOUST:  It is a confirmable fact that the September 11th telegram was time-marked 12 Midnight as evidenced by the sent copy.  It is also a confimable fact that Halleck's copy has been erroneously time-marked 12M and again I refer to the image of Thorp holding that very document.  That there is no writing whatsoever behind the "copied" stamp on the erroneously deciphered War Dept. copy of the September 11th message to Halleck which is also a confirmable fact.  Anyone who looks carefully will see nothing after the "M."  It is also a confirmable fact that Lincoln's copy of the September 13 message is time-marked 12 Midnight.  The evidence supporting the 12 Midnight time-mark are also confirmable facts.  What am I  missing, I ask Mr. Sears?  

SEARS:  What actually, factually happened at noon at Frederick was this: McClellan was handed the Lost Order, delivered by a courier from General Williams and Lieutenant Pittman at Twelfth Corps headquarters, confirmed as authentic by Williams’s covering note. It was a Eureka! moment for McClellan. The scales fell from his eyes. He finally knew what to do. He had before him a telegram from the president, sent at 4:10 the previous afternoon (McClellan Papers), reading “How does it look now?” He promptly replied, time-marking his telegram 12 M, for meridian or noon. 

D'AOUST:  Close but no cigar. What actually, factually happened shortly before 3 p.m., at Frederick was this: McClellan was handed the Lost Order, delivered by a courier from General Williams and Lieutenant Pittman at Twelfth Corps headquarters, confirmed as authentic by Williams’s covering note. It was a Eureka! moment for McClellan. The scales fell from his eyes. He finally knew what to do. He had before him a telegram from the president, sent at 4:10 the previous afternoon (McClellan Papers), reading “How does it look now?”  McClellan being too busy with critical military matters waited until late that night, at Midnight, to be precise, before responding to Lincoln's inquiry.  For all we know, the telegraph was still down that afternoon and evening thus preventing McClellan from writing earlier. Then again, McClellan was in the habit of writing such messages late in the night. In any event, he replied to Lincoln's message at Midnight, hence why the message was time-marked 12 Midnight.   

SEARS:  What actually, factually happened in the early morning hours of Sept. 14 in the War Department telegraph office was this:  A perfectly competent operator routinely took down McClellan’s Sept. 13 12 M  telegram to Lincoln, labeled it received at 2:35 a.m. [14th], made one copy and carbon marked 12 M for the office, and one marked 12 M for the president. When Lincoln was handed the telegram and saw the 2:35 a.m. received time, he figured two and a half hours about right for a telegram to reach him (not knowing of the telegraphic delays), and altered 12 M into 12 Midnight, no doubt for clarity in understanding events. It’s an essentially simple story. It meets McClellan’s telegraphic protocol, meets the professionalism of the War Dept. telegraph office. And most of all, it meets the confirmable facts.

D'AOUST: What actually, factually happened in the early morning hours of Sept. 14 in the War Department telegraph office was this:  A not so competent operator took down McClellan’s Sept. 13 12 Midnight  telegram to Lincoln, labeled it received at 2:35 a.m. [14th] and arranged to have it delivered to the President.  Someone, we will never know who, having realized that the time designation was wrong, added the "idnight."  As part of the clerical function, a War Department copy and carbon copies were subsequently made, all erroneously marked 12M.  It’s an essentially simple story. It meets all logic and most of all, it meets the confirmable facts (the two accounts re the 27th Indiana's arrival time and the Catoctin aspect and finally, Messrs. Thorp's and Clemens's discovery re the September 11th message to Halleck.) 

SEARS:  (And no, Mr. D’Aoust, I did not “suppress,” as you accusingly put it, the Lincoln Copy when I saw it some thirty years ago. I left it right where it is, in the Lincoln Papers and microfilm, for all to see and ponder.)

D'AOUST:  One definition of the word suppress includes " To keep from being revealed, published, or circulated."  I'd say that pretty well fits the circumstances.  That is not to suggest that Mr. Sears is in any way guilty of any malicious act but having said that, he, at the very least, owed it to his readers and to history to immediately reveal the existence of the Lincoln copy.  It was simply too controversial of an issue for it to have been left  "right where it is."  I know this, most who read this exchange will know it, and even Mr. Sears must know it.   

SEARS:  Here is a transcription of the McClellan-Lincoln Sept. 13 telegram. It needs to be considered in this context. On Sept. 12 McClellan writes his wife he can’t figure out where the enemy is or what he is doing. Then just before noon on the 13th (after a warm welcome by the ladies of Frederick), he is handed the Lost Order. Immediately, in obvious excitement, he telegraphs the president. For George McClellan, this is positively giddy. Then compare this with McClellan’s 11 p.m. telegram to Halleck, (OR 19.2:281-82, too long to transcribe here). It is a very sober document. He is facing 120,000 Rebels led by Lee in person, aiming for Pennsylvania. He expects a “severe general engagement tomorrow. . . . I have the mass of their troops to contend with & they outnumber me when united.”

D'AOUST:  The McClellan-Lincoln Sept. 13 telegram needs to be considered in this context. On Sept. 12 McClellan writes his wife he can’t figure out where the enemy is or what he is doing. Then just before 3 p.m. on the 13th he is handed the Lost Order. Almost immediately, he sends a copy to Pleasonton with instructions to confirm its contents.  Pleasonton returns one and a half to three hours later with a quasi confirmation. By 6:20 McClellan has formulated his plan and issued his orders to Franklin.  I've already commented on how Mr. Sears is reading too much into the variances between McClellan's messages to Halleck and Lincoln that night. 

I submit that it is beyond imagining that McClellan could have sent the September 13, 1862 telegram to Abraham Lincoln at 12M and that it is time to permanently dispel that myth.

To the President                Hd Qrs Frederick Sept 13th 12 Midnight

     I have the whole Rebel force in front of me but am confident and no time shall be lost. I have a difficult task to perform but with Gods blessing will accomplish it. I think Lee has made a gross mistake and that he will be severely punished for it. The Army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for a great success if the plans of the Rebels remain unchanged. We have possession of Cotocktane. I have all the plans of the Rebels and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. I now feel I can count on them as of old. All forces of Pennsylvania should be placed to cooperate at Chambersburg. My respects to Mrs. Lincoln.
     Received most enthusiastically by the ladies. Will send you trophies. All well and with Gods blessing will accomplish it.

              Geo B. McClellan