Tuesday, January 18, 2005


I've decided to put up the controversial Tom Bissell Harper's excerpts, and ask for input from anyone and everyone as to whether this constitutes plagiarism. (I may also post at some point the "rules" which entering students at universities are required to follow.)

These quotes were posted on the ULA's thread at the Atlantic forum by "Ranger West," and were originally posted at Amazon by an unknown person. What is being compared are Bissell's "Chasing the Sea" essay from the April 2002 Harper's, and the book Ecocide in the USSR by Murray Feshbach.

Feshbach, page 1: "No other great industrial civilization so systematically and so long poisoned its land, air, water and people. None so loudly proclaiming its efforts to improve public health and protect nature so degraded both."

Bissell in Harper's: "No other industrial society so impartially poisoned its land, water, air, and citizens while at the same time so loudly proclaiming its efforts to improve human health and the condition of the natural world."

Feshbach 43: "Stalinist planning justified itself with a forthright slogan: 'We cannot expect charity from nature, we must tear it from her.'"

Bissell: "We cannot expect charity from nature," the Stalinists used to say. "We must tear it from her."

Feshbach 222: "Ranging beyond Moscow, they could have mentioned the surgeon in a distant part of the Russian Republic who told his colleague, the head doctor of a Moscow hospital, about regularly performing appendectomies with a straight-edge razor, as no scalpels were available."

Bissell: "Where surgeons were forced by supply shortages to perform appendectomies with safety razors rather than scalpels."

Feshbach 56: "Hence the stinging joke Soviets told about the likely results of a Red Army conquest of the Sahara: 'For fifty years nothing would happen. After that we would have to import sand.'"

Bissell: "Soviet joke: What would happen if the Soviet army conquered the Sahara Desert? For fifty years, nothing. Then it would run out of sand."

Feshbach 115: "In the Krasnoyarsk region, bordering Kansk, seventy factory directors were personally assessed during 1990 for discharging polluted water. The fee in each case was a mere fifty rubles, enough to buy two packs of imported cigarettes."

Bissell: "Where factory directors guilty of willfully discharging polluted water into the drinking supply were fined fifty rubles, enough for two packs of imported cigarettes."

Feshbach 134: "In those early years, some enthusiastic Soviets actually named their daughters Elektrifikatsiya (and their sons Traktor)."

Bissell: "Where people were so enthused over humankind's new technological prowess they named their daughters Elektrifikatsiya and their sons Traktor."

Feshbach 218: "They came, after all, from the ranks of a profession where the standing joke had doctors examining a patient asking one another: 'Well, shall we treat him or shall we let him live.'"

Bissell: "Soviet joke: Two doctors are examining a patient. One doctor looks at the other. 'Well,' he says, 'what do you think? Should we treat him or let him live?'"

Feshbach 260: "For at least several more perilous years, it will be easier to point to the size of the ecological danger than to define the most cost-effective ways to reduce it and to say with a hollow laugh, as the Russian Republic minister of health had in 1989: 'To live longer, you must breathe less.'"

Bissell: "Whose minister of health in 1989 advised, 'To live longer, you must breathe less.'"

Feshbach 267: "In 1990, however, the crowd carried not Gorbachev's portrait but signs that read: '70 Years on the Road to Nowhere' and in scornful memory of Nikita Khrushchev's boasts about overtaking American standards of living: 'Let Us Catch Up with and Surpass Africa.'"

Bissell: "The Soviet Union was a country where, in 1990, remembering Nikita Khrushchev's boastful promise to overtake and surpass American standards of living, angry, abused, and exhausted protestors marched past the Kremlin carrying placards that read: 'Let us catch up with and surpass Africa.'"

--There you have it. A lot of coincidences for one little essay. Again, I have to thank "Ranger West" (E.M.) for bringing this to my attention. Comments from all parties about this are welcomed.


King Wenclas said...

I've begun sending e-mails to leading lit-bloggers, editors, and other lit folk, requesting public comments about what I've posted on this thread. Let the literary community weigh in. I intend to send out many such e-mails in the next couple days, and will highlight those individuals and entities who don't respond. This is an attempt to find out if lit people do in fact have any independence-- enough to weigh in with a simple opinion. (I hope, of course, that everyone will respond, one way or another.)

Red-Kryptonite said...

Not surprising, seeing as Bissell wrote a sniffy piece, lauding his own inability to read Faulkner and James. The guy's a phony, and from this article, obviously lacks patience. Thus he brown-noses and swipes. Anyway, thought I'd pass this along in case you hadn't already read it.

Adam Hardin said...

By any Academic Standard, this is indeed plagerism. What makes it strikingly so, is the number of instances in which he has "stolen" from the other book. It isn't just one, but nine times.

Anonymous said...

Tom Bissell is speaking two times in New York, and several times in San Francisco. Here's the link http://www.primapublishing.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=0375422641&view=isbn_events

Can we get anyone there to alienate his audience. I would say attack him but he is beyond hope.

Beowulf-Poet said...

What, again, is controversial here? What are these sinister "coincidences"? Feshbach does not own facts about Stalin or the Soviet Union, nor presumably, does he have exclusive world-wide rights to Soviet jokes. Presumably the anecdotes that Feshbach's book is filled with were acquired from other sources. Was that plagiarism? Now, if there was a similarity in language or direct, unattributed quotation, perhaps you'd have a case, but Bissell's writing--whether you care for it or not--is altogether too stylized to be accused of that.

Now really guys, don't you think this is getting old? Isn't this, like, the third go-round on this "story" for you guys? Don't you think your energies would be better spent publishing crappy 'zines, writing beer-soaked manifestos, or resurrecting that Jack London fan club?

Anonymous said...

To Prophecy

Wenclas shows clear empirical evidence of Bissell plagiarizing Feshbach. it shows that one of thr kings of the Demi-Puppets is a fraud and lazy, and doesn't deserve the credit he gets. That him and his cronies suck so bad at writing and are so out of touch that they have to steal other people's work to write an article.
Another thing: He plagiarizes like a seventh grader doing a report on Abe Lincoln.
The only thing the demi-puppets can come up with to fight this allegation is, " but Bissell's writing--whether you care for it or not--is altogether too stylized to be accused of that."
What does that even mean 'stylized?' So if Kathy Acker would have put huge chunks of Ulysses in one of her books, and was accused of it she would have responded, "But my writing is so stylized, you know, because it's stylized." That's like saying a person can write out The Brothers karamazov but without any capital letters and say, "No, that's not The Brothers Karamazov, my writing is very stylized, so it isn't. It's the brothers karamazov."
"Don't you think your energies would be better spent publishing crappy 'zines, writing beer-soaked manifestos, or resurrecting that Jack London fan club?"
Those sentences imply one thing "Class-Prejudice." That is like saying to a black person, "go eat some watermelon and fried chicken." You have exhibited the philosophy guiding the demi-puppets, you think you are better than us, not because you are because we have proven time and time again how absurd, phony and cruel your behavior is. But you think you are better than us because of what you own, or some absurd bourgeoisie notion that God or your well bred DNA has made you better than us.
The Demi-puppets seem to have a God complex, because like God they think they are beyond resposiblity and do not have to answer when a question is asked. Even policians answer questions from the opposing sides, they might just answer with a lie, but at least they answer.
The literary world doesn't have a ULA problem, it has a demi-puppet problem.

Another thing; All Jack London needed to make a great piece of work was snow, a dog, and some real people. Bissell needs Feshbach to write a bad article.

Noah Cicero

Anonymous said...

Bissell deserves your scorn, but how about Harper's Magazine? Last May 31, Tom Scocca of the New York Observer wrote about another plagiarism incident at Harper's, about a year after it published the Bissell piece. Check it out. What a magazine!

Anonymous said...

To: "Prophecy"
From: Dictionary.com


n 1: a piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is presented as being your own work 2: the act of plagiarizing; taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own [syn: plagiarization, plagiarisation, piracy]"

What part of this do you not understand?

Tim Hall

Anonymous said...

Yeah, prophecy! Don't you know the whole publishing industry is a big joke, designed to keep down the True Writers?! It is clearly racist and classist to poke fun at the addled manifesto and swaggering aesthetic of a sad group of self-deluded "revolutionaries." Furthermore, you don't seem to understand that anyone who makes money selling books is a sucker who could be fighting the power by stapling together the crude drawings and sophomoric scribblings of that oppressed group known as Bad Writers. And you think our bitterness comes from not being published! Not being paid for our Art!?

Ohh what an elitist, racist, classist person you must be! Why, reading your post, I can't help but project all of my completely unrelated insecurities and paranoias onto it. It almost makes me think that maybe the reason I think there's a conspiracy in publishing is because there's no audience for my crappy writing. Stop it, you're hurting my feelings. And what nerve: you think it's wrong to make personally motivated, inaccurate smears on a person's character. What a racist thing to do. You know what that's like? It's like when a [insert reveallingly racist comment here that hilariously undermines my point]. That's what you're doing. Racist.

When the revolution is over, when the mighty houses of Midtown New York lie in smoking ruins and the our great nation of 'zines rise in their place, you and your ilk will be the first against the wall!

But first, comrades, may I turn our attention to Mr. Tim Hall. He has shamelessly plagiarized the dictionary in his last post! Did you write that dicitionary, Mr. Hall? Then how dare you use their words to define another word? To arms, brothers! Let us not rest until Mr. Bissell, Mr. Hall, and all those who would use research in their writing, are exposed for the frauds that they are!

To arms!!!

Jeff Potter said...

C'mon, no sense in being specious.

Here we have an article. If you read it and have read the other book then you think Hey, that guy ripped off the other guy! You'll be dismayed. You'll think, Gosh, I see people covering the same stories, but it's not like this!

That's all. It's just busting a guy for cribbing.

Anonymous said...

Beware of Adam C. Hardin! He's been attempting to ingratiate himself with you people and infiltrate the ULA for some time. He's made this perfectly clear on other sites and on his own short lived blog. (When he's not engaging in his notorious hatchet jobs on others in the zeen community.)Not sure what his motivations and goals are. Some sort of half-assed "expose" like Bissell's Believer article. Adam C. hardin is part of the establishment or at least pines to be and he worships at the feet of Pynchon, DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, and Eggers.

Karl and the ULA, keep up the good work and keep fighting the good fight.

King Wenclas said...

The anony-mice would have more credibility if they gave their names along with some of these posts.

Adam Hardin said...

The mistake you made was that you posted my middle initial, and I have only posted my middle initial at foetry as (adamchardin) where I have made alot of enemies pushing for civil suits against the fradulent contests as well as exposing C.D. Wright for mail fraud.

I don't think someone who has been trying to lanch civil suits is exactly a friend of the establishment. And I don't think there is any going back from that point. I have chosen my side.

If you have any links to back up your claims, you should post them.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous:

I, unlike your friend Tom Bissell, cited my source at the hed of my article.


Tim Hall

Anonymous said...

To cite as support in a debate on plagiarism a multi-source internet source is, well, a little rich, or naive, or both. It wouldn't get past fact-checking. Dictionary.com, which exclusively publishes definitions borrrowed from other sources, will not even stand by the definitions it publishes. That said, the definitions are perfectly accurate, and perfectly irrelevant.

Writers of narrative nonfiction are more akin to documentary filmmakers than they are to newspaper reporters or scholars. Imagine the voiceover in a David Attenborough documentary about birds pausing to attribute a fact about the whooping crane to an obscure ornithological study--or even to Birds of America. Yes, he'll identify his most important sources--those he interviews--as does Bissell in his piece. But not the countless documents he draws upon. If you want to go source hunting, browse any old issue of National Geographic, or for that matter any other magazine, or for that matter Birds of America. You'll have a field day. (The one Audubon guide I own credits its photographers but not the sources of its facts.) Harper's, which provides the sources for its Index, is if anything exceptionally conscientious. Few of the many magazines that stole the Index form from Harper's bother with citations.

This is not to say that magazine journalists never plagiarize, but where facts--as opposed to phrases and sentences--are concerned the line is a blurry one. Stolen language is easy to detect and judge, and the examples quoted by Bissell's critics show that he was careful to modify language. He leaves no phrase or sentence untouched. This goes well beyond capitalizing letters. Borrowed facts are a far harder case, especially given how deeply good narrative journalists (like Bissell; I'll admit it: I think he's good) immerse themselves in their research. Why stop at nine examples? Every fact in his piece came from somewhere.

Books, which can easily accommodate bibliographies but which are subjected to a far less rigorous fact-checking process than most magazine stories, are a totally different medium, and if you look at Tom Bissell's book Chasing the Sea, which grew out of the Harper's article, you will find Feshbach's book, along with 68 others (by my count), duly cited in his bibliography.