‘A fig leaf that doesn’t quite cover up’: Commission says philosopher engaged in ‘unacknowledged borrowings’ but not plagiarism

A philosopher with a double-digit retraction count did not commit plagiarism, according to a report released this weekend by France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), where the researcher is employed.

Magali Roques has had 11 papers retracted from seven different journals, most of which referred to plagiarism in their notices. But as Daily Nous, which was first to report on the CNRS findings and which has been writing about the case for some months, notes, the commission says Roques’ “writings contain ‘neither academic fraud nor plagiarism properly so called.’” The report differentiates “plagiarism properly so called” from “unacknowledged borrowings,” evidence of which the commission found.

According to the report commissioned by CNRS:

On the one hand, it is undeniable that MR has been the victim of an injustice, because her accusers have fashioned and diffused, wrongly, if not with ill intent, the shameful image of a ‘serial plagiarist’, who composed all her writings simply by copying what others have written (see ‘Philosopher Revealed as serial Plagiarist’ [multiple updates], Daily Nous). On the other hand, it is also equally undeniable that the whole body of work in English published by MR is seriously flawed by the regular presence of bad scholarly practices, by what might be called a sort of active negligence, which, although not a matter of academic fraud, cannot be excused. 

The report continues:

In her defence, MR cites various reasons to explain the deficiencies noted in her articles in English. Some of them (such as ‘youthful errors’ and a lack of awareness about plagiarism) did not do much to convince the Commission. The Commission did, however, accept her lack of assurance in writing English as a credible reason for MR’s frequent borrowings of technical terms and formulations from authoritative studies published in the Anglophone world. Moreover, trying to forge an academic career in an ever more competitive world, MR seems to have engaged in a race to publish, writing many articles in English at breakneck speed, but cutting corners in a number of her publications, in the method, quality and rigorousness of her research. The Commission accepts that MR’s explanations are sincere and in good faith, yet it wishes to emphasize strongly that unacknowledged borrowings, even if they are accidental, involuntary or incidental, are unacceptable according to the academic standards recognized in the area.

Asked for comment from Retraction Watch, Roques said she “may give [us] a statement” if we sent a draft of our post ahead of time, which we said was a violation of our editorial independence. Roques said her decision was because of a “large amount of falsehoods that have circulated about my case since last Fall.”

Roques later emailed:

Please don’t comment or divulgate any piece of information concerning this case that has not been double- or tripled-checked, by asking the relevant authorities (publishing houses, comittee for scientific integrity, author accused….), given that the case is not close and that a large amount of false pieces of information has circulated on the web and in private conversations since last Fall. A proper scientific controversy – if there is to be one – can take place only on the basis of confirmed data.

Michael Dougherty, who was one of the people who made the allegations, told Retraction Watch:

The CNRS report is a fig leaf that doesn’t quite cover up. The report fails to mention that many retractions have been issued for plagiarism in this case and that two journals have published lengthy editorials with representative examples of the plagiarism.

Dougherty, who has played a key role in multiple cases of uncovered plagiarism over the years, added:

The presence of verbal gymnastics in the CNRS report provides a further confirmation that problems of research and publication integrity persist in the field of medieval philosophy. The CNRS report compares unfavorably with the work of journal editors who have addressed the matter in print clearly, and who have issued lucid retractions for the plagiarizing texts unflinchingly and without euphemisms.

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5 thoughts on “‘A fig leaf that doesn’t quite cover up’: Commission says philosopher engaged in ‘unacknowledged borrowings’ but not plagiarism”

  1. The CNRS “verbal gymnastics” do include this nugget of truth:

    “Moreover, trying to forge an academic career… MR seems to have engaged in a race to publish….”

    Her ‘forging’ an academic career is exactly what this concern is all about. Plagiarists or not, PhDs who are, or pretend to be, stupid shouldn’t be PhDs.

  2. I suspect this use of the word “forge” comes from a mistranslation from French to English. In French “forger” is the job of a blacksmith (forgeron) and means make, build, create in the most literal way. There is no implication of faking as with the English word.
    So that nugget of truth from the CNRS report is most likely involuntary.

    1. All editions (from 1694 to the present) of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie français (now handily on-line for free) include a secondary, figurative, pejorative use of “forger”: inventer d’une manière fantaisiste ou dans l’intention de tromper, “to invent in the manner of a fantasist, or with the intention to deceive”. The Oxford English Dictionary (also on-line, but not free, alas) confirms this use in English as early as Chaucer. But of course you are right that contemporary uses of “forge[r]” in the two languages interchange the primary and secondary definitions.

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