Berkeley Panel Clears Professor of Plagiarism Allegations
A faculty investigative committee at the University of California at Berkeley has determined that Terrence Deacon, a professor there who was accused of plagiarism in an unusually public manner, did not commit academic misconduct.
The research misconduct allegations were levied by Michael Lissack, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence, on behalf of himself and two other researchers, Alicia Juarrero, a professor emerita at Prince George’s Community College, and Carl Rubino, a classics professor at Hamilton College. In addition to filing a complaint with Berkeley’s administration, Lissack also created a website detailing the works in question and tracking each instance of supposed plagiarism.
In response, Berkeley has taken the unusual step of creating a website detailing the committee’s findings, which exonerate Deacon. The committee’s findings state that overlap between one of Juarrero’s books and Deacon’s Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter was merely the result of two authors writing about the same topic. In other instances of alleged plagiarism, the committee found, Deacon’s works were actually published or submitted to the publisher before the supposedly plagiarized works were available.
The Berkeley committee also addresses Lissack’s assertion that failing to cite an important work in one’s field constitutes plagiarism. Calling this a “novel standard,” the committee argues that works by Juarrero, Rubino and Lissack also fail to cite previous research in their fields. The committee writes that neglecting an important work is not within the scope of plagiarism, generally defined as knowingly or recklessly using someone else’s words or ideas.
The committee’s report concludes: “Would it have been better if Deacon had read and cited Juarrero’s book? Yes.… Still, the failure to cite an earlier work with the same subject matter, even an important one, is not by itself research misconduct.”