In his most recent post Dimitri Rotov shares some thoughts by publisher Ted Savas on the recent plagiarism scandal involving Fred Ruhlman and the University of Tennessee Press.
According to Savas:
As for plagiarism: I see it all the time in manuscripts, so what Carmichael is talking about I can’t say. I can often spot it in casual reading. Maybe I have a good radar for that. Goodwin got off; Ruhlman won’t. I have confronted several authors over the past couple of years regarding a wide variety of submissions. Some apologize (falling back on the Goodwin/Ruhlman non-defense defense), others never respond, and a few are so clueless they ask what plagiarism means!
It’s not clear to me at all what Savas means when he says that he sees it [plagiarism] all the time. The more interesting question is what we are to do with an observation from a publisher who deals mainly with non-academic titles. This is not meant in any way as an insult since I think that Savas provides an excellent service for those Civil War enthusiasts that are interested in well written and thoroughly researched campaign and battle studies as well as for those who wish to write them. My point is that Savas’s comment should perhaps be considered in the context of who is submitting manuscripts for consideration at his shop compared with who is submitting to academic presses.
Dimitri goes on to comment on peer review and cites a question that I posed in my original post on the Ruhlman case:
Kevin Levin had asked why University of Tennesse Press did not send the Ruhlman MS to Andersonville author Marvel for comment. I have two problems with that. First, it makes new writing hostage to old reputations (more on this in a minute). Second, if you don’t have the in-house expertise to evaluate a manuscript like this yourself, yours is a house of generalists susceptible not only to plagiarism but trash.
I am not going to pretend to understand the peer review process that goes on within academic presses. That said, I have had extensive experience with academic journals and my guess is that the process is similar and rightfully so. Now I know that Dimitri looks at Civil War publishing as a collection of little cabals which are somehow steered by sinister minds such as James McPherson and Gary Gallagher. I’ve submitted numerous manuscripts to journals – most of which have been rejected – and those that have made it through the first round have all been sent to experts in the field. All of them have come back with comments that attest to the expertise of the reviewer involved. There may indeed be an element of a gate-keeper mindset, but that isn’t necessarily troubling. In fact, it may be just what the system needs. Remember, most academic presses and journals send their manuscripts out to at least three reviewers which means that the kind of mentality that Dimitri is so concerned about will have little chance to do any damage.
Dimitri also cites an interview between former North and South magazine editor Keith Poulter and Civil War Talk Radio host and historian Gerry Prokopowicz:
If you agree with the idea of shopping new manuscripts to the established experts, I urge you to listen to Gerald Prokopowicz
interview Keith Poulter, former editor of “North & South” magazine. Poulter, like any editor, rejected a lot of work. However, there was a category of work the content of which he was not sure about. Was it revisionism? He describes a system by which he would send such submissions to subject matter experts. Gerald astutely asked how many of these got through this expert screening process. Poulter answered none. That would be zero among (IIRC) 40 such.
Now is this supposed to support Dimitri’s earlier claim that peer review renders new ideas beholden to old reputations? All that comes out of this exchange for this reader is that N&S magazine has a pretty good peer review system in place. Hell, I’ve had a couple of manuscripts rejected by them, and with every rejection I received some helpful feedback.
Perhaps it would help if the questions being asked or criticisms being leveled stemmed from some first-hand experience with the process itself.