July 27th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

TRADE: Sugar industry study backs failed policies, not new solutions

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: SA Govt to ignore Drug Summit call for harm minimisation?

ICC: a clarification (letter)

It's a cruel world ... (letter)

Welfare equity? (letter)

Islam and Australia (letter)

COMMENT: After Cheryl Kernot - character is important in public life

ASIA: Hong Kong: deflation and Big Brother

BIOETHICS: It's fact - life begins at fertilisation

COMMENT: Liability insurance and the abortion industry

COMMENT: How to uphold Australian 'culture' - plagiarise

BOOKS: 'ALIVE: The True Story of the Andes Survivors', by Piers Paul Read

COVER STORY: Why the Kashmir conflict won't go nuclear

EDITORIAL: The maternity leave morass

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Telstra sale splits minor parties - but will it be enough?

Government should act to secure super savings

MEDICAL SCIENCE: Nerve cells used in spinal cord regeneration trial

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Empty vessels at the old corral / Short-termism

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How to uphold Australian 'culture' - plagiarise

by R.J. Stove

News Weekly, July 27, 2002
A desire to shield the less worthy specimens of one's race is natural . . . One may even take a certain glory in that one is able to protect them from outsiders. - Belloc

Well, in July 2002 the protection which David Robinson, before and during his Monash University vice-chancellorship, had exploited with Lisztian mastery - in the hope of concealing his three-decade-old appetite for plagiarism - collapsed all around him.

Unrepentant to the last and with his superannuation fund intact, Robinson went for the high-jump, helped along by such comments from colleagues as "How can I . . . even straightfacedly draw [anti-plagiarism rules] to the students' attention, until and unless the vice-chancellor resigns?" (The Weekend Australian, July 13-14, 2002).

That it took a British periodical, The Times Higher Education Supplement, to reveal in depth Robinson's mania for stealing whole chapters from other academics should surprise no-one.

Anybody whose job has ever involved explaining to would-be magazine contributors just why their thefts from Internet sources - complete with the original websites' uncorrected typos - are in fact unpublishable will be aware that our history swarms, even by other Third World countries' standards, with plagiarists who have gone either largely or wholly unpunished.

The antics in this regard of Robert Hughes and Thomas Keneally (expounded by Peter Ryan in the May 1997 Quadrant) should by now be so drearily familiar as no longer to need citation.

Let it simply be noted here that Hughes' biographer Andrew Riemer has done his utmost to trivialise the former's pilferage. At least Michael Warby, by contrast, admitted in public the nature and gravity of his sins against scholarship's requirements (Adelaide Review, April 2000).

Perhaps more intrinsically momentous (and far less widely celebrated) than Hughes' and Keneally's feats are the achievements of such heroic figures in plagiarism's annals as Helga Kuhse: another Monash alumnus, from the quaintly named Centre for Human Bioethics, who in Quadrant's October 1990 issue was shown to have been - let us put it as tactfully as possible - weirdly cavalier in her failure to acknowledge the resemblance between her prose and that of philosopher Sue Uniacke.

In her resultant, shall we say, authorial identity crisis Kuhse upheld a grand antipodean tradition: one which in previous decades had witnessed such virtuosos as La Trobe sociology professor Ron Wild ("author" of An Introduction to Sociological Perspectives, which in 1986 had to be withdrawn from circulation by its embarrassed publishers Allen & Unwin) and Humphrey McQueen ("author" of A New Britannia, exposed by Max Teichmann in the May 1971 Australian Left Review for its filching of unpublished doctoral thesis information, not to mention chunks from Australia's Music: Themes of a New Society by the University of NSW's Roger Covell).

Given that Covell's book ranks with the most renowned tomes in Australian academic history, we must assume that McQueen was as much a fool as a knave in imagining he could steal from it undetected.

Of course, in partial defence of Kuhse, Wild and McQueen it can be objected that plagiarism is not confined to Australia; that recent American intellectual life has been rocked repeatedly by plagiarism scandals; and that America's per capita plagiarism rates might surpass ours, not least because so much more money hinges on cultural jockeying in the USA than here.

Fair enough. But all this ignores the chief difference between the two countries' approach to the crime: which is that in America it can be openly discussed, is openly discussed, and actually leads to serious punishment for the perpetrators.

Ask the now disgraced Stephen Ambrose, whose uncredited purloinings (from fellow American historians Thomas Childers and Jay Monaghan) The Weekly Standard spelled out on January 14, 2002.

Ask beleaguered defenders of the once-lauded "therapist" Bruno Bettelheim, now best known as "Borrowheim" after The Washington Post (February 7, 1991), Newsweek (February 18, 1991) and The Creation of Dr B (a devastating 478-page account from 1997 by former Nation editor Richard Pollak) demolished his pretensions to the most basic intellectual candour.

Ask Steven Spielberg, whose weepie Amistad owed so much to an obscure novel by one Barbara Chase-Riboud - itself scarcely a monument to originality - that even before its release earned its director the permanently humiliating tag "Stealberg" (Time, November 24, 1997).

Where is the Australian equivalent to such whistle-blowing? The very act of asking the question provides the answer to it. Will the sheer scope of David Robinson's malefaction - getting caught out once is bad enough, but getting caught out thrice really does evoke Lady Bracknell's famous words – encourage future whistle-blowers, let alone ensure a cutback of even one taxpayer-supplied dollar from the funding of arrant thieves?

Perhaps, but probably not till the day that the campuses involved are inundated with flying pigs.

Eventually it might, repeat might, be possible to demand that Australian educrats not only crack down on plagiarism, but make some token acknowledgement that Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University exists. Still we mustn't rush matters.

After all, if they condescended to read Newman's analysis, they might even realise that the whole "free compulsory secular" mentality of pedagogical mass-conscription - on which unexamined myth they depend for their whole survival - is indeed the oxymoronic cheat, guaranteeing uncontrolled intellectual corruption, which some of us have known for years that it was! And where would this discovery leave them?

  • R.J. Stove

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