[Vision2020] 08-06-04 Daily News: UW prof: Pastor 'made a mistake';
As Wilson critics cry plagiarism, historian believes problems with
citation not malevolent
Art Deco aka W. Fox
deco at moscow.com
Sun Aug 8 15:27:03 PDT 2004
UW prof: Pastor 'made a mistake'; As Wilson critics cry plagiarism, historian
believes problems with citation not malevolent
University of Washington history professor Robert McKenzie says his criticism of
a local pastor's scholarship has been somewhat exaggerated.
McKenzie, a Civil War scholar referred to on local Internet listservs as "Dr.
_________ ," unintentionally became snarled in an ongoing debate between some
Moscow residents and Moscow Christ Church pastor Doug Wilson.
McKenzie said his concerns about the content of "Southern Slavery: As It Was,"
co-written by Wilson and Louisiana pastor Steve Wilkins, weren't meant for
public consumption. Nevertheless, McKenzie said his private correspondence with
Wilson about unattributed passages in the controversial booklet ended up in the
hands of Wilson's harshest critics.
Retired University of Idaho professor Nick Gier wrote letters to local
newspapers, accusing Wilson and Wilkins of plagiarizing "long passages" from
"Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery," written by
economists Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman.
Wilson refused to speak to the Daily News, but responded to recent attacks
through his Web log, an online journal.
"As some may recall, a booklet that I co-wrote with Steve Wilkins entitled
Southern Slavery: As It Was was the center of some hubbub last February. What
some may not realize is that Canon Press pulled the title from their inventory
around the time of that controversy," Wilson wrote. "This was not because we
were embarrassed by the thesis of the booklet, but rather because someone had
informed us that there were some real problems with the footnotes and citations.
We pulled the booklet immediately, revised it, and it is now awaiting
re-publication ...I am posting this now because some of our local Banshees have
got wind of all this and have raised the cry of plagiarism (between intermittent
sobs of outrage)."
McKenzie agreed that Gier and other critics' allegations against Wilson and
Wilkins were a bit extreme.
"I don't know Doug Wilson. I raised these concerns out of prudence and
judgment," McKenzie said. "This has nothing to do with character. I've
communicated with Doug Wilson privately to avoid this character attack. I don't
agree with these implications that Wilson is a thief or that this was
Engerman, a professor of economics at the University of Rochester in New York,
said in a phone interview with the Daily News this morning that he has concerns
about Wilson's and Wilkins' use of his book.
"There are really two issues to be concerned about," Engerman said. "First of
all plagiarism is always an unfortunate thing in an academic setting. It's
something that is always disturbing. The other concern is often when people take
quotations it is taken out of context than what it was meant to say. My
co-author and I never intended this book to be a defense of slavery."
Engerman has received a number of e-mails from Moscow-area residents,
highlighting the passages Wilson and Wilkins used from "Time on the Cross." At
first blush, Engerman said, it certainly appears his work was misused and taken
out of context.
"I'll have to check with my co-author about this," he said. "We will discuss
what to do or if there is any action we can take from here."
McKenzie said he wasn't sure what to make of Wilson's and Wilkins' booklet when
it was first brought to his attention in the late 1990s.
"I would have to say I disagree with just about everything in it," McKenzie said
of the publication. "I teach 19th century history. I teach Civil War history.
I'm also a Christian. I'm a member of a reformed church that happens to be of
the same denomination as Christ Church. I actually, after some consideration,
went to the elders in my church and asked them what I should do. I have to come
to the defense of another Christian brother, and believe that he made a
McKenzie said he first contacted Wilson by phone several years ago after reading
"Southern Slavery: As It Was."
He had never read Wilson's or Wilkins' works before, but something seemed
familiar about their brief synopsis of pre-Civil War slavery.
"Although some masters were brutal, most were not ..." Wilson and Wilkins wrote.
"No plantation owner wanted sullen and discontented slaves who did just enough
to keep them from getting whipped. They wanted devoted, hard working,
responsible slaves who identified their fortunes with the fortunes of their
Fogel and Engerman provided almost the exact argument, word-for-word, in their
book more than 20 years ago.
McKenzie raised a number of concerns with Wilson's and Wilkins' scholarship.
First, the authors based so much of their booklet on "Time on the Cross," a work
that has been harshly criticized as historically inaccurate. Second, Wilson and
Wilkins failed to attribute several passages they took from Fogel and Engerman,
"The concerns I have raised go to the authors' understanding of American
history - concerns that a lay person is not going to be able to understand,"
McKenzie said. "The implications made about plagiarism are very complicated.
There actually are several sections that do have footnotes but no quotations. I
do believe it is sloppy, but it wasn't malevolent. A professional historian
would be totally humiliated."
McKenzie said Wilson was extremely embarrassed and readily admitted the mistake
once McKenzie gave him the specific passages that were not attributed.
"Wilson didn't even write that part of the book, Wilkins did," McKenzie said.
"Wilson could have blamed the whole thing on his sloppy co-author, but he
didn't. I've read his responses to this on the Internet, and he absolutely is
being square with everyone. I want to be above reproach on this."
Wilson wrote on his Web journal that he was completely responsible for the
errors in scholarship.
"The circumstances of this recent blowup are such that I have to make a
fundamental distinction in my responses. Out of the tumult of the last several
years, this is the first issue where those attacking Christ Church have a
substantive point," Wilson wrote. "For all reasonable people who are watching
this, it is important for all the surrounding controversy to have this for its
context. There were some embarrassing and egregious errors in the citations of
Southern Slavery, and the fear of God requires that all of them be openly
acknowledged, with no spin control. And so there it is. The lumps on our head in
this exchange are richly deserved."
McKenzie said it wasn't his intention to raise such a public discussion of the
"I think this is a messy situation. I've taught at a university for 16 years and
nothing I've done has ever affected anyone outside the university, until now,"
McKenzie said. "All of the sudden I'm the mysterious Dr. X. I have to say I'm
somewhat amused by all this, despite the seriousness of the situation. Doug
Wilson made a mistake. It's really a tiny thing. Ultimately, any further debate
should focus on the accurate history of slavery in the United States. Slavery
still resonates in America. It is something that is profoundly important even
Daily News staff writer Leila Summers contributed to this story.
Alexis Bacharach can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 234, or by e-mail at
abacharach at dnews.com.
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