Philosopher Revealed as Serial Plagiarist (multiple updates)
A researcher specializing in medieval philosophy has plagiarized the writings of a number of scholars in several of her published works, according to an editorial in Vivarium, an academic journal of medieval and early-modern philosophy.
The philosopher, Magali Roques, currently holds the position of “chargée de recherches” (research fellow) at Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), which, according to a source, is “the highest and most demanded position you can get as a junior academic in France.”* She previously held fellowships at the University of Hamburg and the University of Helsinki. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Tours.
Vivarium has retracted three of her articles:
- ‘William of Ockham’s Ontology of Arithmetic’ (2016)
- ‘William of Ockham on the Instant of Change’ (2017)
- An ‘Introduction’ (2017) to an issue of the journal
(The last of these was co-authored; the journal explicitly notes that the contribution of the co-author has not been called into question.)
The instances of plagiarism were first brought to the attention of the journal this past summer by Pernille Harsting, who previously played a role in uncovering the massive plagiarism of Martin W.F. Stone (who also worked in medieval philosophy) over a decade ago. During the journal’s investigation, Roques came forward and admitted to plagiarizing.
In their article about the retractions, the editors, Christopher Schabel (Cyprus) and William Duba (Fribourg), write about the negative effects of plagiarism and the reasons for publicizing it:
We do not enjoy performing our duty. For marginal fields such as those served by Vivarium, we have seen from experience that the damage wreaked by plagiarism extends to institutions, bringing vulnerable positions, departments, and institutes to the attention of administrators eager to let the rationale of collective punishment direct the evisceration of budgets in Social Sciences and the Humanities. Our colleagues in adjacent fields will seize upon public cases of misconduct as an opportunity to reallocate scarce resources in their favor, thereby ensuring that those who previously lost out to plagiarists in competition for fellowships and positions lose out once again. Yet we believe that it would be worse for the field were we to ignore the accusations, cast doubt on the charges, and claim that the damage done were minimal…
[T]he practice of academic stealing is constantly evolving alongside the countermeasures deployed to catch it, and making public the methods and techniques used in contemporary cases of unattributed copying should help future editors and scholars identify the cases that we collectively missed.
They then proceed to provide detailed evidence of the plagiarism, providing side-by-side comparisons to Roques’ articles with the works from which she stole material. Here are two of the several examples they provide:
The editors write that Roques’ plagiarism “extends far beyond the pages of Vivarium.”
In light of this investigation, other writings by Roques have been called into question. One work elsewhere, “Ockham on the Parts of the Continuum,” originally accepted for publication in Volume 5 of Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy, has been withdrawn, and sources say that other retractions will be announced soon.
The authors revealed to have been plagiarized by Roques so far include: Jonathan Barnes (Geneva), E.J. Lowe (deceased), Susan Brower-Toland (Saint Louis), Can Laurens Löwe (Purdue), Cecilia Trifogli (Oxford), Stephen Read (St. Andrews), Norman J. Kretzmann (deceased), Paul Spade (Indiana), Simo Knuuttila (Helsinki) and Anja Inkeri Lehtinen (independent), Paloma Pérez-Ilzarbe (Navarra), Niko Strobach (Münster), Edith Sylla (NC State), Ludger Jansen (Münster, Rostock), Glenn Kessler (Virginia, Maine), and the writers of the Wikipedia entry on “nominalism“.**
* Update 1: the original version of this post mistakenly identified Roques as a post-doc at CNRS; she instead holds a permanent research position, and this has been corrected in the body of this post.
The source for this information adds, “this makes the whole story even more shocking as she was, I think, the sole philosopher recruited by the CNRS for a junior position last year.” (This is struck through because it was contradicted by a commenter.)
**Update 2: This list originally included not just the author of a chapter from which Roques plagiarized but also the the three editors of the volume in which the chapter appeared; that was a mistake and those editors have now been removed from the list.
Update 3 (11/13/20): I added another screenshot of the plagiarism detailed by the editors of Vivarium.
Update 4 (11/13/20): Another article by Roques has been retracted: “The Identity Conditions of Matter According to William of Ockham,” which was published in Volume 6, Issue 2 of Epekeina in 2015. A brief retraction notice is here. The retraction notice includes neither the name of the author nor the reason for the retraction, but I have received a report from a reliable source that includes an annotated version of the article detailing multiple instances of plagiarism. Authors plagiarized by Roques in this article include: Marilyn McCord Adams, Richard Cross, Mauro Dorato and Matteo Morganti, Steven French, Peter King, David P. Lang, Cynthia MacDonald, Armand Maurer, L. Nathan Oaklander, Claude Panaccio, and Robert Pasnau.
Update 5 (11/15/20): An article by Roques published in the journal Archives d’histoire doctrinale et litteraire du Moyen Age in 2018, “Must the Relation of Substantial Composition Be a Mode? William of Ockham’s Answers,” has been retracted. There is no explanation provided for the retraction, but it is listed as such on the issue’s table of contents.
Update 6 (1/9/21): Roques’ “Contingency and Causal Determinism from Scotus to Buridan,” a chapter in the edited collection Contingency and Natural Order in Early Modern Science (Springer), has been retracted. One of the co-editors of the volume, Rodolfo Garau (Herzog August Bibliothek) writes, ” the volume was blind-refereed by two external reviewers; Roques’ article was read, and commented upon, by me and the other editor. We were all in good faith in considering it as an original piece.”
Update 7 (1/18/21): An annotated version of Roques’ “Contingency and Causal Determinism from Scotus to Buridan,” mentioned in the previous update, which details the plagiarism in it, is here (and the bibliography of plagiarized sources is here). Here’s a sample of four consecutive pages from it:
Authors plagiarized by Roques in this piece include Marilyn McCord Adams, Elizabeth Anscombe, Mario Bunge, Stephen Brock, William J. Courtenay, Ariane Economos, Gloria Frost, André Goddu, Menno Hulswit, Hester Goodenough Gelber, Harry Klocker, Sukjae Lee, Armand Maurer, Jeffrey K. McDonough, John Marenbon, Kenan B. Osborne, Margaret J. Osler, Robert Pasnau, Pasquale Porro, Kara Richardson, Tad M. Schmalz, Eileen F. Serene, J. M. M. H. Thijssen, Cecilia Trifolgi, and Rega Wood.
UPDATE 8 (3/2/21): The journal Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales has retracted two Magali Roques articles it had published: “Crathorn on Extension” and “Ockham and Bradwardine on Propositions De incipit et desinit“. A note from the editors explaining the retraction is available for download here. (Note: this update was originally published on February 3rd but was accidentally deleted later that month.)
UPDATE 9 (3/3/21): Responding to an inquiry about Roques’ plagiarism, Rémy Mosseri, the Research Integrity Officer at CNRS, writes:
Having traced the history of the charges, and compiling, as main parts, the elements of accusation and replies written by Mrs Roques, an investigation committee, composed of non-French specialists, has been named by the CNRS president, in order to analyze the case into details.
He also drew my attention to principles relevant to the investigation, here and here. He also noted “the need for strict confidentiality during the procedure, and the presumption of innocence.”
UPDATE 10 (6/26/21): A CNRS Commission has issued a report on this matter. See the updates on that post for information about other instances of plagiarism that have been detected.
Hi, I don’t want to make this worst, but it appears this person got a permanent position at the CNRS in 2019 (i.e, she’s not a postdoctoral fellow). I do not know whether she got tenured in 2020, but it is highly possible. I would be interested to know what the CNRS will do now and whether it will take plagiarism seriously.Report
Can someone explain how such obvious plagiarism is neither detected by referees nor by editors, esp. in what seems to be quite a narrow field?Report
I actually don’t think it’s all that surprising that this kind of plagiarism might go overlooked for some time, even in a relatively niche field. Because academic philosophers are expected to have a working knowledge of many theoretical positions within their area of expertise, the best strategy for researching is to read lots of articles/books but only focus on remembering the major claims, arguments, and counter-arguments (as opposed to ‘minutiae’ like the exact way the author summarizes the claims of others, their description of the debate they are engaged in, etc.). So, I suspect that while many of us could easily summarize the main ideas presented in any of the philosophical books/articles we read within, say, the last year or two (or longer if it’s a publication we think about a lot), we would be hard pressed to *consistently* match small, isolated pieces of exposition found in these publications to the works from which they were taken, or even recognize that we had read these passages somewhere before.Report
Pro tip for those who might try to plagiarise William of Ockham: when you submit your manuscript to the journal, the editor will probably think “wait a minute, why is this living person writing in 14th century Middle English?” And then the author had better have a VERY good reason for doing that!Report
Except of course that Ockham wrote in Latin… 🙂
This all is very sad. But it’s also very sad that the state of academe nowadays is such that it would motivate an otherwise bright, hard-working young professional to do such a thing.Report
How do you know that this researcher would have acted otherwise were the state of academe better ?Report
What makes the plagiarism more difficult to be detected is the name switching stuff. Suppose that her reviewer is an expert only specialised in Ockham, then the reviewer might not be so familiar with all secondary literatures about Gregory of Rimini.Report
“We do not enjoy performing our duty.”
Having busted student plagiarists, I know this feeling all to well.Report
Earlier today I was chuckling over the thought of using some obscure passage from a famous philosopher as a writing sample in grad apps. The fact that a something more brazen was seriously tried and was (for a time) successful is astounding to me.
At least she had the goodness to plagiarize a Wikipedia entry and give me a good laugh. Bleak, but funny.Report
This is both sad and enraging. Giving the current state of the french job market (the cnrs being one of the rare places where committees consistently try to hire purely based on merit, and not on… other factors), this is very sad and enraging for all unemployed and precariously employed young french academics.
A correction, though: she was not the sole junior philosopher recruited this year, as there was another one. The CNRS, these days, recruits 1-2 philosophers every year, for research-only positions that are VERY sought after (to say the least).Report
@jacques vollet Because I don’t think she is an inherently malevolent person?
There is, especially in the European “eternal postdoc”-system an enormous pressure on people to publish — publish every year, a lot. (It’s like eternal US pre-tenure, except that you have to compete for a new job / grant every 2-3 years.) Especially in medieval philosophy, serious works takes a *long* time, even if you already have the skills to do it. (This is partly true of all the history of philosophy, but medieval seems worse for some reason.) You can’t just skim through a medieval manuscript the way you would do a contemporary metaphysics paper, and think about it, and then write. You have to struggle through the handwriting; if you are lucky, the work has been edited, so you only have to struggle through the Latin. But it takes time, because these medievals wrote a whole lot, and you can’t really say anything interesting without reading a huge amount of it.
All this is to say: the expectation that someone would produce original research in medieval philosophy at such a pace that would result in 1-2-3 papers every year, is illusory, and makes people desperate.Report
Of course, this person is probably not inherently malevolent (I don’t know her personally). But this is compatible with having a particular tendency to cheat (the fraud seems massive). Actually, I reacted to your post just because I have the impression that many people are much more willing to excuse stealing ideas than, for example, stealing money. I think they greatly underestimate the bad consequences of stealing ideas (in particular on those who got these ideas).Report
Yes, I agree that intellectual stealing is just as bad as money stealing. I was not trying to make excuses, just trying to understand the behavior. It is a really sad and bad thing.Report
It seems a bit strange to explain her action by referring to the enormous pressure to publish, given that there are thousands of young academics subjected to the same kind of pressure, in France and elsewhere, and that (to the best of my knowledge) 99% do not plagiarize the work of others (it might be less than that but I would be very surprised if the real number was below 95%). So, even though the pressure might be necessary for plagiarism to occur (even that is far from certain), it’s obviously not sufficient for plagiarism, and does not even make plagiarism likely. At best it makes it a bit more likely to happen. The most relevant explanatory factors are elsewhere (I don’t know where, but I suppose in a mix of institutional factors – not enough deterrence? – and individual psychological factors)
This is not to say that the plagiarizer has to be a bad person. Some people can cheat and have other admirable moral qualities.Report
@Durandus, I know, I also know these people and did not see it either — don’t think anyone did. I don’t know if any of it has to do with the language question (again, not as an excuse but part of trying to understand).Report
@Durandus (yes, it’s a bit weird chatting here, esp. since your name is more telling than mine… If you are whom I think you are, we missed you at the paleo group today).
I don’t know, and I’m puzzled by it too. The CNRS is doing an investigation by her request, and maybe we’ll know more when it’s done. My most charitable reading of the situation is that yes, she is perfectly capable of doing original research on her own, but perhaps not at the rate that’s expected at certain places these days, and she valued her career more than her integrity. (But I also only met her at conferences, so don’t know her very well.)
Anyway… I agree that it is very bad for the field, and shocking for most of us. But I still can’t stop feeling sorry for her, as a person.Report
Very shocking! Puzzling, though. I do not know the A personally but I’ve had a cursive look at the papers in question and they look like interesting and solid pieces of scholarship, plagiarism notwithstanding. But what kind of plagiarism is that, I wonder: the editors mention the “strictest definition of plagiarism” and that does sound like a very strict one, as, in my best judgment, most of the pilfered passages, lengthy though some may be, seem to describe fairly common views and nothing very original, so that I’m not sure the interest and integrity of her argument is altered by her fault. That is not to excuse the A, obviously, since this is, any way you look at it, gross misbehavior, but I’m not sure it’s plagiarism either, at least not of ideas or original theses. I am curious what this CNRS investigation will reveal, as it looks like there might be more than meets the eye behind this case.
On another note, I think the least Daily Nous could do is ask the A or the CNRS for reaction: I, as well as others I’ve spoken to, am disturbed by this, especially with such a clickbait article title…Report
Justin Smith is abslutely right. Mea culpa. could I please ask Justin to delete my comments in this thread? Again very sorry for what I might have said about any person involved in this.
[I’ve removed your previous comments. — JW]Report
@tzimiskes: By saying that their findings “meet the strictest definition of plagiarism”, the editors mean that they meet the *narrowest* definition of plagiarism, i.e. the one that would be met by the smallest number of cases. So, contrary to your insinuation, the point is that *nobody*, not even someone who is comparatively relaxed about such things, could possibly fail to identify this as plagiarism. (It would have been clearer if they’d said that it meets *even* the strictest definition.)
You also say that you’ve had a cursory look at the papers and “they look like interesting and solid pieces of scholarship”. Of course they do – that’s how they managed to get past peer review! The point is that, on closer inspection, they turn out not to be pieces of scholarship at all. The lesson to be learned is not that it’s possible to produce good research in the history of philosophy by e.g. copying what someone else has written about Gregory of Rimini and replacing ‘Gregory’ with ‘Ockham’ throughout. It is that it’s possible for peer reviewers to give a free pass to fake scholarship if it is cobbled together from bits and pieces of genuine scholarship.
The underlying problem is that due diligence in a peer review is strongly disincentivized in modern academia. It takes time and effort, and it comes at the expense of work that would bolster the reviewer’s CV and make the bean-counters happy. As I see it, the only way out of this mess is to stop evaluating researchers by counting their publications. Not only would this free up some time for peer reviewers to do their job properly, it would also stop so many under-researched papers (never mind plagiarized ones) from being submitted in the first place.Report
It will be highly interesting to find out the line of action CNRS will take regarding the researcher’s position. Even if this would be a case of inadvertent, bona fide plagiarism, it (at the very least) seems obvious that the researcher has gained notable competitive advantage through plagiarism regarding the CNRS job. This particular aspect of this case will be of great interest to all the precarious philosophers out there desperate for decent jobs. I hope you follow the case at least to the point of CNRS’s decision (whenever it may be forthcoming) and, if possible, report the outcome and its grounds.Report
This is becoming more embarrassing every day — we have reached the exorbitant number of TEN publications of Roques’ to be retracted for plagiarism. It is shameful that in such a tragic shortage of positions for young scholars the CNRS can still employ someone with this track-record. And it is unbelievable that someone could decide to advance in the career in such an amoral and unscrupulous way, leaving behind many colleagues who had the integrity of not committing plagiarisms. I want to hope for the good of the system that something will be done: otherwise the CNRS as an institution, and even the entire discipline, will totally lose credibility.
@Justin, do you have any update on what is happening on that front?Report
I second M. Ross’ question.Report
See Update 9.Report
CNRS has nominated its investigation committee (see update 9) more than 3 months ago when most if not all relevant information had already been acquired. Do we have any update? Report
Springer has just published a corrigenda for a chapter of Roques’ in J. Pelletier, M. Roques (eds.), The Language of Thought in Late Medieval Philosophy. The correction reads: “The original version of this chapter was inadvertently published without the following acknowledgement: This chapter is an abridged translation from Chapter 2 from Roques M. l’Essentalisme de Guillaume d’Ockham. Vrin, 2016.” It is curious how many things happen inadvertently these days. And always to the same person!
Other corrigenda to Roques’ will be published on Bochumer Philosophisches Jahrbuch für Antike und Mittelalter 23. The corrigenda appear to be already online but the link is currently broken.Report
To be fair to Springer, they managed to inadvertently lose an article they had asked me to write, and then accepted, for an Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning) during production, before adding it to the on-line version – but then later further managed to inadvertently lose it again when they updated the platform (https://science-education-research.com/unintentionally-padding-the-publications-list/). So, it is not beyond belief.Report