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Missing Attribution in Controversial Book

July 28, 2008

A think tank is today publishing allegations that a prominent, controversial book released by the University of Pennsylvania Press about terror networks has two key passages that are plagiarized. While saying that the allegations are overblown, the press director said via e-mail that future editions would have attribution for the passages.

The allegations come from Public Eye, a publication of Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank. Chip Berlet, a senior analyst for the group, makes the allegations as part of a broader critique of a much discussed book called Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century. Marc Sageman, the author and a counter-terrorism consultant, argues in the book that too much of a focus on al Qaeda misses the reality that terrorism has become decentralized, with various groups being inspired more than directly led by those who plotted the mass killings of 9/11. The book has received extensive press coverage and has been seen by many as significant.

One passage that Berlet cites from Sageman states: “A global conspiracy theory is different. It is comprehensive in nature and points to the existence of a vast, insidious, and effective international network designed to perpetrate acts of the most evil sort.” Berlet finds this awfully similar to a passage by Richard Hofstadter in the essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," in which he wrote that "the central preconception [of the paranoid style is a belief in the] existence of a vast, insidious, preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network designed to perpetrate acts of the most fiendish character."

The other passage from Sageman in dispute states: "The leaderless social movement has other limitations. To survive, it requires a constant stream of new violent actions to hold the interest of potential newcomers to the movement, create the impression of visible progress toward a goal, and give potential recruits a vicarious experience before they take the initiative to engage in their own terrorist activities." Berlet compares this to a passage from an essay by Simson Garfinkel, who is an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School: "Causes that employ Leaderless Resistance do not have these links because they are not organizations: They are ideologies. To survive, these ideologies require a constant stream of new violent actions to hold the interest of the adherents, create the impression of visible progress towards a goal, and allow individuals to take part in actions vicariously before they have the initiative to engage in their own direct actions."

Berlet wrote to Sageman to ask about the lack of attribution and Sageman replied via e-mail as follows: "I did read Garfinkel's online article. It was good, but had some flaws. One of them was the quote he referred to. Garfinkel refers to an idea. Ideas do not have any power by themselves. Ideas did not fly into the twin towers, people did. I refer to behavior, and use the Skinnerian idea that reinforced behavior is likely to flourish, while lack of reward will extinguish it. To continue a behavior forever, one needs a random reinforcement schedule. If this is plagiarism, so is Garfinkel's claim. This is one of the basic ideas of behaviorism, and people are free to use them at will. Each time we see the sun move in the sky, we do not refer to either Ptolemy or Copernicus."

Via e-mail Garfinkel expressed mixed feelings about the situation. "Really, the amount that was copied is minor," he wrote. "But the fact that the author copied from both me and someone else --- and that he pointedly neglected to reference either of us --- is odd and not in keeping with his academic reputation, which is quite good." He added that, although he has held Sageman in "high regard," he strongly disagreed with his new book. "I do not think that it accurately describes the attacks that Europe has experienced since 9/11, or the attempted attacks in the US that were publicly disclosed after they were averted," he wrote.

Eric Halpern, director of the Penn Press, said that "we take allegations of this sort seriously" and that officials at the press had consulted with Sageman. Halpern characterized Barlet's article as "hyperbolic," but he acknowledged that the attribution would have been appropriate. What these passages really reflect, Halpern said, is "the case of an author, working at deadline, failing to cite two works from which he paraphrased two sentence fragments."

Sageman did not respond to e-mail requests for a comment.

Halpern said that future editions of the book would have "citations to the original works from which the paraphrased material was drawn."

 

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