A critic with more than two dozen retractions can’t seem to stop plagiarizing

A mysterious lit and film critic who built a significant portion of his career using the words of other scholars instead of writing his own appears to be attempting a second act.  

Last year, Richard-Lawrence Etienne Barnett, who has lost more than two dozen papers for plagiarism, published a book called “The Adversarial Text,” which appears to have a rather cozy relationship with four of his retracted articles. The apparent purloinment was first reported by Volker Schröder, a scholar of French and Italian at Princeton University who has been following the Barnett case for the better part of two decades.

In 2001, Schroeder found that

between 1990 and 2000 Barnett had also managed to recycle an essay on Corneille three times, as well as two essays on Racine (one in English, the other in French) three and five times, respectively – always changing the titles and little else. While not totally inconsistent with certain usages of academic publishing, this case of systematic self-plagiarism struck me as unprecedented and noteworthy.

In 2014, another academic, Michel Charles, outed Barnett on an even broader scale, showing that

35 articles published by Barnett since 1999 in 10 different journals were verbatim copies of 19 essays originally written by others

That expose led to a spate of retractions, including 13 articles in a Hungarian journal called Neohelicon. Four of those papers comprise a large chunk of “The Adversarial Text.”

According to Schroeder:  

Modestly, the book makes no mention of the previous publications of these essays; instead, in inimitably Barnettian fashion, it cites numerous other books and articles, recent or forthcoming, whose existence is difficult and perhaps impossible to verify.

Of a piece with the Barnettian mystique is that the man doesn’t seem to have an official position that we can find. In our 2014 post, we wrote:

It’s not clear who Barnett is or what he does. He is listed at several places around the internet as the provost of for-profit college the University of Atlanta, but the U of A administration website doesn’t include his name.

We emailed Barnett for comment but have not heard back.

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