Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Sloppy Scholarship?

The Dutch academic world is still in shock over the immense fraud by Diederik Stapel. One week ago, the term “slodderwetenschap” was introduced to the Dutch language as translation of “sloppy science”. Science and scholarship should be exact and meticulous. Scholars and scientists should stick to the rules and be fully transparent on their findings and the ways in which they have obtained them.

Of course, we all know examples where scholars are less than exact in their references and in the way they treat their sources. Only today, we have come across a striking example of this type of scholarship. The dissertation of José M. Jané Coca, “Ser hallado en Él.” La reciprocidad intersubjetiva entre Pablo y Cristo. Un estudio exegético-teológico de Flp 3 (Tesi Gregoriana Serie Teologica 157; Rome: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 2008), contains at least one case of plagiarism.

In chapter 1 the author deals with “Mysticism in Paul”. Footnote 53 of this chapter contains a typo that is no doubt due to parablepsis (and perhaps a not fully active command of the beautiful German language). It quotes Rudolf Bultmann as follows: “Gerade das, was die Mystik macht, kann man nicht übernehmen, ohne den Glauben preiszugeben.” The correct quote, however, would have added the words “zur Mystik”: “Gerade das, was die Mystik zur Mystik macht, ...”

A search in various libraries eventually disclosed the source of the typo. It is also found in Daniel Marguerat, “La mystique de l’apôtre Paul”, in: Jacques Schlosser (ed.), Paul de Tarse. Congrès de l’ACFEB (Strasbourg, 1995), 307-329. Footnote 2 on page 310 corresponds exactly with the text of Jané Coca’s note 53 (p. 28).

This observation made us aware that there might be more at stake here. And yes, there is more at stake. Let us mention a couple of examples by giving the Spanish text first (Jané Coca), followed by the French original (Marguerat):
  • “Pero ¿cómo el cristianismo ha superado la aporía que constituía la muerte del Maestro y la no realización de su profecía apocalíptica? Schweitzer responde: por la mística” (Jané Coca, p. 26).
  • “Mais alors, comment le christianisme a-t-il surmonté l’aporie que constituaient la mort du Maître et la non-réalisation de sa prophétie apocalyptique? Schweitzer répond: par la mystique” (Marguerat, p. 309).
(Note the singular “constituía” against the plural “constituaient”. Is this sloppy translation as well?)
  • “Esta es la continuidad que presenta A. Schweitzer: el mundo nuevo esperado por Jesús no se ha disuelto como un sueño en la cruz; la resurrección, vector del mundo nuevo, ha introducido en el mundo una dinámica de muerte y de vida en la que se encuentra el creyente que vive ‘en Cristo’” (Jané Coca, p. 26).
  • “On perçoit la continuité que pose Albert Schweitzer: le monde nouveau attendu par Jésus ne s’est pas dissous comme un rêve à la croix; la résurrection, vecteur du monde nouveau, a introduit ici-bas une dynamique de mort et de vie, où se trouve entraîné le croyant qui vit ‘en Christ’” (Marguerat, p. 310).


  • “La genialidad de Pablo, pues, sería esta conversión de la concepción apocalíptica de Jesús en un programa de pertenencia mística a Cristo, que realiza desde el interior la redención esperada por el hombre de Nazaret” (Jané Coca, p. 26).
  • “Le coup de génie de Paul aurait donc été cette conversion du scénario apocalyptique de Jésus en un programme d’appartenance mystique au Christ, qui réalise par l’intérieur la rédemption espérée par l’homme de Nazareth” (Marguerat, p. 310)


  • “Se oponen a la tesis los que rechazan la escatología consecuente del Jesús histórico, pero también los que se indignan viendo degradado al rango subalterno el debate paulino sobre la justificación por la fe, sin hablar del anatema lanzado por la teología dialéctica contra la idea misma de una mística neotestamentaria, considerada como el apogeo de la tentativa religiosa de captar a Dios” (Jané Coca, p. 28).
  • “Car la thèse fail l’unanimité contre elle: s’y opposent ceux qui rejettent l’eschatologie conséquente du Jésus historique, mais aussi ceux qui s’indignent (avec raison) de voir dégradé au rang subalterne le débat paulinien sur la justification par la foi, sans parler de l’anathème lancé par la théologie dialectique contre l’idée même d’une mystique néotestamentaire, considérée comme l’apogée de la tentative religieuse de capter Dieu” (Marguerat, p. 310).
To this last passage, Jané Coca attaches his footnote 53 mentioned above, which contains a citation by Barth (in French!), a citation by Bultmann (in German!), and a reference to a book by Van Cangh. All this comes directly from Marguerat’s footnote 2; only the reference system is adapted.

The very fact that the author (?) quotes Barth in French (“Le mysticisme est un athéisme larvé, ésotérique”, with the source: “Dogmatique I/2/2, 111”), just as Marguerat had done, is another tell-tale sign of plagiarism. One would expect the original German or a Spanish translation ...

Admittedly (and ironically), Jané Coca refers to Marguerat in his next footnote, no. 54 (“Cfr. D. Marguerat, La Mystique, 310-311”), but this reference is of course not nearly enough. The entire preceding passage contains neither blockquotes nor quotation marks. Therefore no reader without exact knowledge of Marguerat’s work would suspect the origin of what amounts to more than a full page of faithful translation.

We did not check the rest of this dissertation, but this (mis)use of the work of Daniel Marguerat makes us fear that the book may contain more of this. Who knows what would happen if the author were a German politician?

Conclusion: by translating, without proper attribution and marking-up, important passages from Marguerat’s article, Jané Coca obviously commits an act of plagiarism. That is sloppy scholarship, in one of its manifestations. By copying also Marguerat’s error, and leaving a Barth quote untranslated, it becomes even more than sloppy scholarship. It is sloppy plagiarism.

Jan Krans
Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte

2 comments:

Philip King said...

If I'm reading the abbreviations correctly, Barth's Dogmatique was released in a French translation in 1954, in Geneva:

http://books.google.com/books?id=otlrRFf-G3AC&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&dq=%E2%80%9CLe+mysticisme+est+un+ath%C3%A9isme+larv%C3%A9,+%C3%A9sot%C3%A9rique%E2%80%9D&source=bl&ots=t7hx7AHgQK&sig=9Ne18Lsg9d4VnZpSjVssqoNM-PA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6-7AUMD5JOLdyAGJrIE4&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%9CLe%20mysticisme%20est%20un%20ath%C3%A9isme%20larv%C3%A9%2C%20%C3%A9sot%C3%A9rique%E2%80%9D&f=false

Dirk Jongkind said...

So much for the Bologna process ...