Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Philosopher earns 14th retraction for plagiarism

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978-1-4020-3001-7Today, we bring you a case of a serial plagiarizer.

Martin W. F. Stone was a philosophy professor at the University of Leuven — by one account “widely admired and highly respected” — until 2010, when an investigation at the school concluded that his work is “highly questionable in terms of scientific integrity.” Over the past several years, he has racked up retractions, earning his 14th this spring, and spot #30 on our leaderboard.

Stone’s retractions were brought to our attention by philosopher Michael Dougherty, who found a notice for “Michael Baius (1513–89) and the Debate on ‘Pure Nature’: Grace and Moral Agency in Sixteenth-Century Scholasticism,” a chapter in Springer’s Moral Philosophy on the Threshold of Modernity.

The retraction notice says that the chapter

has been retracted at the request of the employer of the author at the time of writing, because it contains passages from the previously published manuscripts without acknowledging the source.

Dougherty is a co-author of “40 Cases of Plagiarism,” published in Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale, which suggests most of Stone’s work is problematic. He told us that along with a few colleagues, he has been trying to have the Moral Philosophy paper retracted since 2011; we’ve reached out to the editors to see why it was retracted now. (Dougherty’s name might be familiar to our regular readers — he’s also helped instigate retractions for a communications researcher who has been investigated for plagiarism.)

Stone’s former workplace has distanced itself from his work. A 2010 Times Higher Education article quotes Peter Marynen, vice-president for research at Leuven:

The university no longer considers these publications as being part of its scientific output and retracts its affiliation with them. All publishers and editors of publications of Martin Stone with a K.U. Leuven affiliation have been formally informed.

A letter sent to publishers notes that Leuven’s Commission on Scientific Integrity concluded that Stone’s conduct is “highly questionable in terms of scientific integrity.” (More from that letter later in the post.)

Dougherty is credited for initiating a retraction from Tijdschrift voor Filosofie. Here’s the notice, dated 2010:

On December 17, 2009, the Editorial Board received an e-mail from Prof. dr. Michael V. Dougherty (Ohio Dominican University), in which he demonstrated that serious plagiarism had been committed in an article published by our journal several years ago. The article in question, ‘Truth, Deception, and Lies. Lessons from the Casuistical Tradition’ by M.W.F. Stone, appeared in Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 68/2006, pp. 101-131. Extensive passages in this article (i.e. pp. 114-127) are copied verbatim or nearly verbatim from: Johann P. Sommerville, ‘The “New Art of Lying”: Equivocation, Mental Reservation, and Casuistry’, in: Edmund Leites (Ed.), Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 159-84. Although in his article Stone makes reference to Sommerville’s publication, he in no way makes it clear that large sections have been copied verbatim from it. Moreover, Stone has copied and paraphrased passages from the works of several other authors without using quotation marks or making adequate reference to these publications.

The notice explains that Stone used to have a role at the journal:

This case of plagiarism is particularly embarrassing, since the author, M.W.F. Stone, was a member of the Editorial Board of Tijdschrifi voor Filosofie. Since the discovery of the plagiarism, Dr. Stone has resigned from his functions at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and has also been discharged from his duties on the Editorial Board.

Here are the other papers by Stone that have been retracted over the course of the past few years (we have included dates from the notices, when we could find them):

Probabilism and Its Methods: Leonardus Lessius and His Contribution to the Development of Jesuit Casuistry” was published in 1999 in Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, and pulled for plagiarism in 2010. “Such plagiarism represents a serious assault on intellectual integrity,” a notice from the editor explains. It doesn’t use the word “retraction,” but it does specify that

the electronic version of the article will no longer be made available by Peeters Publishers. Furthermore, self-adhesive labels will be despatched to subscribers together with fascicule 86/1 [2010] of ETL. Subscribers are invited to attach the labels to the first and last page of the offending article.

The origins of probabilism in late scholastic thought: a prolegomenon to further study” was published in 2000 retracted in 2009 from Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie médiévales. The retraction notice explains that evidence of plagiarism is

overwhelming and irrefutable. Stone not only adopted the general structure of Kantola’s study [“Probability and Moral uncertainty in late medieval and early modern times” published by the Luther-Agricola-Society] and discussed the very same authors, but also copied numerous and extensive passages from Kantola’s book (mainly verbatim) without ever referring to Kantola and without having obtained permission to copy Kantola’s work. Apparently, only the brief intorduction, some transitional paragraphs, and the short epilogue were not taken from Kantola’s book.

The Angelic Doctor and the Stagirite: Thomas Aquinas and Contemporary ‘Aristotelian’ Ethics” was published in 2001 and retracted in 2011 from Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. The retraction notice, which is paywalled — tsk tsk — explains,

The retraction has been agreed due to significant overlap with previously published material.

“Augustine and Medieval Philosophy” was published in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine, a Cambridge University Press book, in 2001. It has been removed, as this notice explains:

The contents of this chapter have been removed for rights reasons.

The same notice now appears for “Scholastic schools and early modern philosophy,” published in The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy in 2006, as well as “The Care of Souls and ‘Practical Ethics’” and “Philosophy and Theology: The Latin West,” which both appeared in The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy. 

Aristotelianism and Scholasticism in Early Modern Philosophy” was included in A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, a book published by Wiley Online Library, in 2008. There’s no notice, but these words are stamped in red across every page and included in the title:


“In the Shadow of Augustine: The Scholastic Debate on Lying from Robert Grosseteste to Gabriel Biel” appeared in Herbst des Mittelalters in 2008, a book published by De Gruyter. It was  retracted with this simple notice:

Retracted for plagiarism

“The Nature and Significance of Law in Early Modern Scholasticism” appeared in A Treatise of Legal Philosophy and General Jurisprudence published by Springer in 2007. The chapter no longer appears in the book’s table of contents. The editors of the volume published a notice in another journal alerting readers to the plagiarism, and outlining their course of action:

In the first place, we are making the present announcement to the entire scholarly community.

In the second place, we are providing readers with the original sources from which the plagiarizing Chapter 14 of Treatise Volume 6 is copied, thus making it possible to find those sources and quote them if they need to, and also assess Mr. Stone’s plagiarism themselves.

In the third place, we have promptly notified the Treatise publisher, Springer, of this case of plagiarism, and we have put ourselves at the publisher’s disposal to do whatever is in our power to do in making up for Mr. Stone’s misdeed: This we are doing not only through this announcement, but also through any other initiative that may prove opportune, such as making this announcement available to appropriate websites and, even more so, providing in the future a second edition of Volume 6 of the Treatise carrying a new Chapter 14 written by a scholar who, unlike Mr. Stone, should be impervious to the temptations of plagiarism.

“Conscience in Renaissance Moral Thought: a Concept in Transition?” appeared in Renaissance Studies in 2009 and was retracted in 2010. The retraction note — which is paywalled, tsk tsk — lists the publications that it copied from:

The retraction has been agreed due to overlap with the following texts: Rudolf Hein, ‘Conscience: Dictator or Guide? – Meta-Ethical and Biographical Reflections in the Light of a Humanist Concept of Conscience’, in Bernard Hoose, Julie Clague and Gerard Mannion (eds.), Moral Theology for the TwentyFirst Century. Essays in Celebration of Kevin Kelly (London: T&T Clark, 2008), pp. 34–50; and Rudolf Hein, ‘Gewissen’ bei Adrian von Utrecht (Hadrian VI.), Erasmus von Rotterdam und Thomas More: ein Beitrag zur systematischen Analyse des Gewissensbegriffs in der katholischen nordeuropäischen Renaissance [‘Conscience’ in Adrian of Utrecht (Pope Hadrian VI), Erasmus and Thomas More: a contribution to the systematic analysis of the concept of conscience in the Catholic Northern European Renaissance] (Munster: LIT, 1999).

“Moral Philosophy and the Conditions of Certainty: Descartes’ Morale in Context” appeared in Metaphysics, Soul, and Ethics in Ancient Thought: Themes from the Work of Richard Sorabji published by Oxford University Press in 2005, and was removed from a 2010 edition of the book.

There are several chapters by Stone that have not been retracted, but to which editors have affixed notes explaining issues with the work. (It’s worth noting that publishers in the humanities are often not members of the Committee on Publication Ethics, and therefore often do not always issue the formal retraction notices that we see in the sciences.) Here are a sample of those chapters:

Editors of Quaestio published a letter from the the University of Leuven concerning “The Antiquarian and the Moderniser: Giovanni Lorenzo Berti (1696- 1766), Pietro Tamburini (1737-1827), and Contrasting Defences of the Augustinian Teaching on Unbaptised Infants in Eighteenth-Century Italy.” Though the paper itself remains unflagged, the letter notes that:

The Commission on Scientific Integrity of the K.U. Leuven (CSI) has investigated the allegation of plagiarism against Martin Stone, former Professor at the Higher Institute of Philosophy of the K.U. Leuven. The CSI has submitted a report to the Executive Board of the University with the conclusion that the conduct of Martin Stone is highly questionable in terms of scientific integrity.

It notes that Leuven Stone has resigned and that:

The K.U. Leuven no longer considers this publication as being part of its scientific output, and formally retracts its affiliation with this publication. The K.U. Leuven will accept any decision you will make about the status of this publication.

The K.U. Leuven sincerely apologises for this extremely unfortunate event.

Next, “‘Initium omnis peccati est superbia,’ Jean Gerson’s Analysis of Pride in his Mystical Theology, Pastoral Thought, and Hamartiology” was published in “In the Garden of Evil: The Vices and Culture in the Middle Ages,” by the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in 2005. The article isn’t retracted, but a note from 2010 by the volume’s editor and publisher alerts readers to plagiarism.

“Practical Reason and the Orders of Morals and Nature in Aquinas’s Theory of the Lex Naturae” appeared in Mind, Metaphysics, and Value in the Thomistic and Analytical Traditions, a book published by Notre Dame Press in 2002. A notice that appears on the book‘s site says that parts of the chapter by Stone:

have been subject to claims of plagiarism. The editor and publisher as a result cannot stand behind the noted material as originally contained in this volume. Interested readers can find original source material in Carlos Steele, “Natural Ends and Moral Ends According to Thomas Aquinas,” in Finalité et intentionnalité: Doctrine Thomiste et perspectives modernes, ed. J. Follon and J. McEvoy (Paris: J. Vrin, and Leuven: Peeters, 1992).

“Equity and Moderation: The Reception and Uses of Aristotle’s Doctrine of ἐπιείκεια in Thirteenth-Century Ethics” was published in Documenti e studi sulla tradizione filosofica medievale in 2006. The editors issued a note in 2012 alerting readers to plagiarism in the article. It explains, “We wish to inform our readership that elements of plagiarism have been identified in Martin F. W. Stone’s article,” and lists the works that were copied.

We were unable to determine Stone’s current whereabouts.

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  • Lee Rudolph June 8, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    About 3/4 of the way through this post, “It notes that Leuven has resigned” surely should be “It notes that Stone has resigned”. Although no doubt Leuven has unhappily become resigned to Stone’s behavior.

    • Shannon Palus June 8, 2016 at 2:45 pm

      fixed, thanks!

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