Book by leading biologist Lewis Wolpert withdrawn from sale for plagiarism

via UCL
Lewis Wolpert, via UCL

A 2011 book by Lewis Wolpert, one of the world’s leading developmental biologists, has been pulled from shelves for plagiarism.

The Guardian reports that the book, You’re Looking Very Well,

…has been found…to contain more than 20 passages that have been taken directly from academic papers, websites and Wikipedia with no indication that they were penned by any author other than Wolpert himself. The book has now been withdrawn from sale.

The newspaper notes that this was not Wolpert’s first plagiarism offense:

Wolpert has faced a previous claim of lifting paragraphs from other people’s work. An investigation last April into a review copy of his forthcoming book Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man? also found passages taken from uncredited sources, leading to publication being suspended shortly before its release date. The book was rescheduled for release in May this year.

Wolpert’s publisher, Faber and Faber, sent The Guardian this statement:

I acknowledge that I have been guilty of including some unattributed material in my last book to be published, You’re Looking Very Well (2011) and in the initial version of my yet unpublished book Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?. This lack of attribution was totally inadvertent and due to carelessness on my part. It in no way reflects on my publishers, Faber and Faber, and I take full responsibility. When downloading material from the internet as part of my research, and coming back to it after a gap of maybe weeks or sometimes months, I simply did not recall that I had not written these passages myself. It is my sincere hope that no damage was done to any individual by the inclusion of any of these passages.

“I am grateful to the journalist who drew these lapses to my attention, and would like to stress that I would never ever knowingly claim someone else’s material as my own.

Of note: In a 2011 review of the book in The Guardian, Will Self wrote:

there is something rather rushed about all this – almost as if he wanted his book to stay fit and active, the better to aspire to posterity…

Hat tip: Jules Montague

9 thoughts on “Book by leading biologist Lewis Wolpert withdrawn from sale for plagiarism”

  1. The idea that you should write by essentially putting others’ work into your own and then later editing it is appalling… so I took to the googles!

    This guy really likes to re-use his own stuff! If you search for “Is science dangerous…” you can find essays in:

    The European Science and Scientists between Freedom and Responsibility
    The Journal of Medical Ethics
    Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
    Journal of Molecular Biology

    If the words are not entirely conserved, the titles and the analogies mostly are. There are, in fact, whole paragraphs lifted from one to the other. Typically the other works are not mentioned in each derivative. It’s as if he loves this essay so much, he sends it out every five or so years, perhaps with minor update?

    In the book “Understanding Depressing” he rips paragraphs out of his “Depression in an evolutionary context” article. While it’s cited, it’s not clear that whole paragraphs are lifted.

    Is this sloppy? Is this “I wrote it, I can publish it as much as I want?” In fairness, this isn’t passing off the same study as having been done twice… if all editors and copyright holders were aware it’s not illegal. Some of his writings also seem to have possible uncited paraphrases.

    I would not be surprised if we see him again here! I have to say though, I’m really confused by this…

  2. Unfortunately this does not happen with all published books. There have been others demonstrated to contain copy/paste paragraphs that were left untouched.

    1. True, but the times are a changin’ (Bob Dylan). The book trade is getting aware of the problem. We have to thank Jonah Lehrer for that development. His misdeeds single handedly let them hear the alarm bells.

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