Harvard Clown School?

A scholarly scandal broke out last week at the Harvard Law Review, involving its publication of a bizarre student-written essay, or "Note," which inaccurately describes, and misuses for "politically correct" ideological purposes, a statue dedicated to Irish genocide victims by the president of Ireland -- a statue located just 100 feet across the street from the Review offices, and visible outside its windows.

The Note is remarkably unoriginal for a scholarly publication such as the
Review: for example, copious amounts of material are lifted from the work of philosopher Peter Singer, possibly to the point of plagiarizing from his work.

The situation has received extensive blog coverage, together with extensive commentary on all sides, on Above the Law, a blog run by Yale Law school graduate David Lat. See here (May 21), here (May 23), and here (May 28).

The bizarre Note has also been covered by The Volokh Conspiracy (a multi-author law professor blog), through a post by law professor David E. Bernstein, also a Yale Law School graduate (here), and through numerous comments on the post left by readers.

Recent summaries of some of the points covered in the debate over the Note can be found here, here, here, and here.

The situation has become so notorious that one of the most widely read bloggers in the world, law professor Glenn Reynolds (“Instapundit”), has even suggested a name to capture the absurdity of this scholarly scandal at the
Harvard Law Review: “Statue-Gate.”

The plagiarism aspect of the debate over the student’s bizarre Note was addressed, among other places, in an Above the Law comment here.

Posting an anonymous response, this blogger responded that a student lifting material “from another book meets the normal scholarly standard at Harvard,” given that "Harvard law professors have been stealing from books written by other people for years -- at least 2 or 3 professors recently were caught doing it (actually, the students who ghostwrote their books apparently did it, but of course the professors had to shoulder the blame)” (here).

In response, a commentator dismissed out of hand the idea that the student’s Note could be part of a “trend” at Harvard Law School, asserting there was no basis for my complaint, and that no such trend existed (here).

This blog post (and perhaps future blog posts on this blog) constitute this blogger's further response. It sets forth the considerable evidence in support of the conclusion that there is, in fact, a serious plagiarism problem at Harvard Law School.

More generally, it appears that Harvard Law School is rapidly becoming a haven for non-merits-based, “politically correct” legal writing, of which the student’s bizarre Note appears to be a representative example. On Professor Bernstein’s post regarding this latest Harvard Law Review scandal, this blogger commented generally about the rapid deterioration of scholarly standards at Harvard Law School, here. The "Harvard Clown School" blog is being launched in support of that commentary, as well as in support of the comment this blogger made on Above the Law.

* * *

Harvard Clown School, as the law school located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, might appropriately be renamed (to borrow a colorful reference recently made by Washington, D.C., attorney and blogger Stuart Buck in one of the blog discussions of the student’s Note) has led the field in the production of plagiarism for years.


This circus was launched by Harvard law dean Roscoe Pound, a notorious plagiarist, as Professor Brian Tamanaha reported in findings which were covered by law professor Brian Lieter on his blog in 2005, here.

Even though one of Harvard Law School's main academic buildings is named after Dean Pound (Pound Hall), apparently no one at Harvard Law School has bothered trying to dispute that he was a plagiarist.


The torch was passed to Laurence Tribe, a student at Harvard Law School at the end of Pound's life. In 1985, Tribe had a first-year law student named Ronald Klain ghostwrite large sections of a book he published as sole author, on the selection of Supreme Court Justices. (This point isn’t in dispute; Klain's law school friends witnessed him ghostwriting the book, and confirmed it in interviews conducted by Legal Times in 1993, which did an article on Klain.)

In 2004, after the Boston Globe quoted Tribe's concern about the "problem of writers . . . passing off the work of others as their own," a law professor contacted The Weekly Standard
and suggested it examine Tribe's 1985 book as an example of that very problem.

The Weekly Standard (in an article written by Joseph Bottum) found that significant chunks of Tribe's 1985 book (apparently the parts ghostwritten by Klain; Tribe hasn't identified any other ghostwriter) had been copied out of a 1974 book by noted historian Henry Abraham, with only minor rewording, and with no credit given to Abraham for these parts of his book's text.

Rather than defend his 1985 book against this attack, Tribe admitted to wrongdoing but, as law school dean (and politically liberal) Lawrence Velvel established through a series of blog posts and memos to Harvard administrators and faculty members, no punishment was imposed (not even a statement posted on the school's website), thus indicating that Harvard deems it acceptable for its law professors to have their books produced for them by student ghostwriters, even when those ghostwriters plagiarize material from the works of other scholars.

Indeed, today Tribe retains the title of "University Professor," Harvard's highest scholarly honor (a title unfortunately conferred shortly before his plagiarism scandal occurred; presumably he would not qualify for the honor today).

Weekly Standard article, 9/24/2004
Free Republic, 9/24/2004
Stuart Buck, 9/25/2004
Jeremy Blachman (HLS), 9/25/2004
Baseball Crank, 9/26/2004
Amber Taylor (HLS), 9/26/2004
Power Line, 9/26/2004
Glenn Reynolds ("Instapundit"), 9/27/2004
Brian Leiter, 9/27/2004
Harvard Crimson, 9/27/2004
Stuart Buck, 9/27/2004
Amber Taylor (HLS), 9/27/2004
Civil War Bookshelf, 9/27/2004
Clayton Cramer, 9/27/2004
Boston Globe, 9/28/2004
Amber Taylor (HLS) 9/28/2004
David Frum, The Right Coast, 9/28/2004
Timothy Noah, Slate, 9/28/2004
Vox Popoli, 9/28/2004
Free Republic, 9/28/2004
Bookslut, 9/28/2004
Houston's Clear Thinkers, 9/28/2004
Ralph Luker, History News Network, 9/29/2004
Cavalier Daily, 10/1/2004
Boston Globe, 10/3/2004
Harvard Crimson (editorial), 10/7/2004
Cavalier Daily, 10/7/2004
The Record (HLS) (article), 10/7/2004
The Record (HLS) (satire by Aaron Houck), 10/7/2004
The Record (HLS) (editorial), 10/7/2004
Boston Globe, 10/17/2004
Harvard Crimson, 10/18/2004
Richard Posner, Art. III Groupie, 10/23/2004
The Record (HLS) (Fenno satire of Michael Fertik and Dan Richenthal), 11/4/2004
"Booknotes," C-SPAN (historian Peter Charles Hoffer), 11/21/2004
Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker, 11/22/2004
New York Times, 11/24/2004
Dean Velvel, 11/29/2004
Dean Velvel, 12/15/2004
Dean Velvel, 12/17/2004
Dean Velvel, 1/26/2005
Harvard Crimson, 2/16/2005
Harvard Crimson, 4/15/2005
Harvard Crimson (editorial), 4/19/2005
Dean Velvel, 4/19/2005
Dean Velvel, 4/22/2005
Dean Velvel, 4/28/2005
Eric Rasmusen, 4/29/2005
Harvard Crimson, 5/2/2005
Dean Velvel, 5/9/2005
Stone Heads, 11/8/2005
Dean Velvel, 1/25/2006
Dean Velvel, 4/21/2006
Shots in the Dark, 4/24/2006
Dean Velvel, 1/16/2007
Dean Velvel, 2/5/2007
Self-Absorbed Boomer, 7/25/2007
Michael Dorf, 10/4/2007
Dean Velvel, 11/29/2007
Lawrence B. Ebert, IPBIZ, 1/30/2008
Lawrence B. Ebert, IPBIZ, 3/24/2008

In another scholarly scandal likewise hoisting Tribe on his own petard and exposing him as a hypocrite, in 2005 the National Review published a detailed article (by Ramesh Ponnuru) which took as its starting point Tribe's strongly expressed view that for scholars to be "caught falsifying as fact what was, in truth, fantasy — either about their own lives or about the events there were chronicling" would be "the cardinal sin for any scholar."

The National Review caught Tribe doing just that. It showed that in a 2003 law journal essay, Tribe concocted a fictional account of his first U.S. Supreme Court argument, misrepresenting his role in that 1980 case by falsely claiming to be some sort of "hero" of Ninth Amendment jurisprudence.

Tribe took credit for supposedly having had the courage to make certain Ninth Amendment arguments which were, in fact, pressed much more vigorously by other lawyers who were involved with the case than they were pressed by Tribe. His entire account was a fantasy, refuted by the written record of the briefs and the transcript and audio of the oral argument.

Tribe's response did not dispute the substance of the article, consisting instead of personal attacks on Ponnuru and the National Review, distortions of what the National Review's article had said, and an embarrassing factual mistake related to on what date that article was published.

"How to Be a Hero of Liberty," 2/25/2005
Tribe letter and Ponnuru reply, 4/11/2005

Tom Veal, 3/2/2005
Tom Veal, 3/4/2005
Eric Rasmusen, 3/7/2005
Tom Veal, 3/14/2005
Volokh Conspiracy, 3/27/2005


In a case similar to Tribe's, in 2004 Harvard law professor Charles Ogetree published a book on the history of racial desegregation efforts which lifted, verbatim, six paragraphs of historical discussion from a book on the same subject by a Yale law professor, Jack Balkin. There was no conceivable defense to the verbatim copying, without credit; it was blatant plagiarism.

Olgetree's explanation, which came out in dribs and drabs, partly through him and partly through surrogates like former Harvard president Derek Bok, was that several law students had helped him produce the book, and that these student ghostwriters had inserted part of the text of Balkin's book into the wordprocessing file of his book, intending to rewrite the material (i.e., to obscure the lifting of Balkin's work), but forgetting to do so.

Just as with Tribe, Ogletree was never punished for the uncredited use of student ghostwriters even though the ghostwriters, like Tribe's ghostwriter(s), had plagiarized material from another scholar. Despite the many questions raised by Ogletree's initial, somewhat cryptic, statements on the matter, the usually talkative Ogletree has said little if anything further on the matter despite persistent questioning by those concerned about the lowering of scholarly standards represented by the Ogletree case, particularly law school dean Lawrence Velvel.

02138 Magazine, 11/2007
Ogletree statement, 9/3/2004
Boston Globe, 9/9/2004
Lawrence Solum, 9/9/2004
Dean Velvel, 9/10/2004
Weekly Standard, 9/10/2004
Boston Globe, 9/11/2004
Margaret Soltan (satire), 9/11/2004
Margaret Soltan (satire), 9/11/2004
Airing of Grievances, 9/12/2004
Harvard Crimson, 9/13/2004
Harvard Crimson, 9/13/2004 (editorial)
Volokh Conspiracy, 9/13, 2004
Stuart Buck, 9/13/2004
Margaret Soltan, 9/14/2004
Dean Velvel, 9/14/2004
Eric Rasmusen, 9/14/2004
The Record (HLS), 9/24/2004
Baseball Crank, 9/14/2004
Point of Law, 9/14/2004
Roger Clegg, 9/14/2004
Volokh Conspiracy, 9/14/2004
Dean Velvel, 9/29/2004
Dean Velvel, 9/30/2004
Dean Velvel, 10/4/2004
Dean Velvel, 10/5/2004
Dean Velvel, 10/7/2004
Dean Velvel, 11/10/2004
Dean Velvel, 11/10/2004
Dean Velvel, 11/11/2004
Dean Velvel, 11/16/2004
New York Times, 11/24/2004
Dean Velvel, 11/29/2004
Judge Arthur Gilbert, 12/14/04
Michael Dorf, 10/4/2007
Dean Velvel, 11/29/2007

Two years after the initial plagiarism/ghostwriting scandal involving Ogletree, the Harvard Crimson reported that most of a paragraph on page 103 of his 2004 book describing the work of W. E. B. Du Bois had been lifted (without attribution) from a 1996 book from Professor Roy L. Books of the University of California, San Diego, a civil rights expert.

Specifically, four sentences of Ogletree’s book were copied, with minor rewording, from four sentences which appear on pages 129-30 of Brooks’s book
(though Ogletree’s condensed version of Brooks’s text omits some of Brooks’s detail). The four sentences in Ogletree's book appear in exactly the same order as they appear in Brooks's book.

Despite repeated efforts by the Harvard Crimson to contact Ogletree for comment (at his home phone and cell phone, and by e-mail), the typically media-friendly Ogletree was for some reason unavailable to address this further example of the plagiarism in his book committed (apparently) by his student ghostwriters. In the 19 months since the Harvard Crimson published its article, Ogletree has failed to address this matter.

Harvard Crimson, 10/27/2006
New York Times, 10/28/2006

Someone blogging under the name “R.O. Denver" (presumably a pseudonym), who may well have been the original source for the Crimson story (which cited “an anonymous email tip”), posted shortly after the story ran comprehensive coverage, including photos of the relevant pages of both the Ogletree and Brooks books, here.

In the final post on the blog, "Denver" notes a further bit of evidence that Ogletree’s book was produced by inexperienced student ghostwriters: it misquotes the only source cited by Ogletree which was not cited in Brooks’s book (i.e., the only original research done in support of the analysis of W. E. B. De Bois). Ogletree’s book quotes a 1970 article in the Journal of Black Studies as saying that W. E. B. Du Bois “called for ‘full access to the American dream on terms not left to the caprice of a racist majority.’” In fact, the 1970 article states that Du Bois demanded “full access to the dream and the melting pot, on terms not left to the caprice of a racist majority.” See here.


Then there is the almost laughable case of Alan Dershowitz. His notorious practice is to decide on his "scholarly" conclusions without doing any research, to write up his analysis accordingly, and to then assign someone on his motley crew of research assistants (whom he hires almost at random) to fill in the citations to back up the conclusions he decided to reach. Dershowitz's "ass-backwards" (the term used by one of his own assistants) scholarly practices were described in a magazine article published a few months ago by Harvard grad Jacob Hale Russell in a Harvard alumni magazine, 02138, which you can read here.

Dershowitz's ass-backwardness got him in trouble when he was working on a 2003 book, A Case for Israel, part of which described the history of Israel. As was later proved through a copy of an advance uncorrected proof of the book sent out to reviewers, in instructions in his own handwriting, Dershowitz assigned Holly Beth Billington (J.D., Harvard Law School, 2004) the task of copying the footnotes from a 1984 book on the history of Israel by Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial, into the manuscript of his own book. See here.

In relying so heavily on the Peters book, apparently Dershowitz was unaware that it had been denigrated by the international scholarly community, which does not regard it as a serious piece of scholarship. If fact, it has been exposed as a hoax; just Google "Joan Peters" and "hoax." See, e.g., here and here.

Some of the footnotes copied from the Peters book were long textual footnotes, so that the result of Dershowitz instructing Billington to copy the foonotes of the Peters book into his book, as one reviewer described it, was an "orgy of plagiarism," with Dershowitz committing "wholesale, unacknowledged looting" of research from the Peters book addressing the same subject. Specifically, 22 of the 52 endnotes to the first two chapters of Dershowitz’s book were lifted straight from Peters' book, without attribution. These 22 endnotes contain not just the citations from Peters’ footnotes, but also extensive quotations from the cited sources set forth in Peters’ footnotes. For an extensive summary, see here.

Thus, like Tribe and Ogletree, Dershowitz used a student ghostwriter who copied material verbatim out of another author's book (indeed, in a handwritten note he instructed her to do so). But unlike Tribe and Ogletree, Dershowitz has refused to admit and apologize for wholesale copying from another book which is obvious to anyone who bothers to study each source side by side. Instead, he has engaged in a campaign of obfuscation and evasion of questioners, and villification of his accusers.

Dershowitz’s initial response to criticism of his copying from Peters was to say he had done nothing even remotely questionable. Among other things, he represented that while writing the book he had independent knowledge of the underlying sources based on his earlier research, and he stated it was hardly surprising he and Peters would cite some commonly consulted sources. In the radio interview in which he first confronted the charges, Dershowitz stated that while he of course had read Peters’ book, which "anybody writing a book on the Middle East would" do, he had also read "independently probably 30 or 40 other books which use the same quotes, they’re very extensively used . . . ." See, and listen, here.

Dershowitz also accused his critics of being ideologically opposed to him and made various ad hominem attacks on them. These ad hominem attacks apparently backfired, energizing Dershowitz’s critics and leading them to investigate further. Ultimately Dershowitz’s claim that he’d done nothing wrong, but had merely cited some commonly consulted sources which he’d found in 30 or 40 other books, sources which Peters had happened also to cite, was challenged with "smoking gun" evidence obtained from a reviewer of Dershowitz’s book. This reviewer had kept the advance uncorrected proofs he’d been sent by the publisher, and the reviewer forwarded them to the scholar who had first noticed Dershowitz’s plagiarism, Norman Finkelstein.

These advance uncorrected proofs contained Dershowitz’s own handwritten note to his research assistant, Holly Beth Billington, explicitly directing her to copy Peters’ footnotes into the manuscript of his own book (an instruction which was, of course, completely contrary to his earlier statements about how he'd put together his book). The note read: "Holly Beth: cite sources of pp. 160, 485, 486 [of Peters’ book], fns 141-45."

Only after these advance uncorrected proofs were discovered to be in the hands of his critics did Dershowitz then assert, with characteristic chutzpah, that the advance uncorrected proofs somehow actually supported his claim of innocence, which raises the question why he did not produce them earlier. See here.

It would seem plausible to assume Dershowitz would not have initially denied lifting Peters’ footnotes, and would not have stated he just happened to find the same commonly cited sources in 30 or 40 other books he’d read, if he had realized his publisher had sent to book reviewers advance uncorrected proofs containing "smoking gun" evidence in his own handwriting proving Dershowitz's initial statements false.

As if all of this wasn't enough to establish both Dershowitz's plagiarism, and his various fabrications in an effort to cover it up, further evidence that Dershowitz lied in an effort to cover up his plagiarism can be found in the fact that the footnotes in Peters’ book contain various mistakes in the quotations and citations, and use ellipses in the quotations, and the very same mistakes appear in the endnotes of Dershowitz’s book — showing conclusively that, just as Dershowitz instructed Billington to do, Billington copied Peters' lengthy textual footnotes into the manuscript verbatim (errors and all), and neither Dershowitz nor Billington nor anyone else on his work crew even bothered to check the original sources to see whether the quotations and citations to them in Peters’ book were accurate.

California attorney Frank J. Menetrez, who h0lds both a J.D. and a Ph.D (in philosophy) from UCLA, has focused on these identical errors in the Peters and Dershowitz books in his recent and exhaustive study of the evidence concerning the plagiarism charges against Dershowitz. Menetrez's conclusions are devastating to Dershowitz's position. For example, after careful study, Menetrez concluded that the quotations in Peters' book, and in Dershowitz's book, from the Oxford University edition of The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, each contain the same 20 errors. Specifically, "Dershowitz's version reproduces every one" of the 20 errors in Peters' quotations of Twain (plus, Dershowitz "adds a few errors that Peters did not make"). See here.

As Menetrez concludes:

"The cumulative weight of these identical errors strikes me as considerable. I do not see how Dershowitz could, purely by coincidence, have precisely reproduced all of Peters' errors if he was working from the original Twain. Rather, the only reasonable inference seems to be that he copied the quotation from Peters. But Dershowitz does not cite Peters as his source for the quotation. He cites only Twain."

In sum, Dershowitz had a research assistant copy material from Peters' book into the manuscript of his book, without crediting Peters for it, and then he lied about it, on multiple occasions, using multiple stories, over a period of years. As of February, 2008, when Menetrez published his analysis, apparently Dershowitz had never responded to this evidence, which was first raised in October, 2003 (as Menetrez summarizes). Instead, he has engaged in elaborate evasions to avoid addressing this evidence even though, as Menetrez summarizes, a Harvard student doing what Dershowitz did would be guilty of academic misconduct.

Despite persistent efforts by Menetrez to obtain a statement by Harvard Law School associate dean of academic affairs Catherine Claypoole, and the director of its communications office, Mike Armini, neither was willing to indicate whether Harvard had even investigated this evidence of academic misconduct by Dershowitz.

* * *

Such as the state of "scholarship" at Harvard Law School. In light of these recent events, it might indeed properly be renamed “Harvard Clown School.”

Its professors are permitted to use student research assistants to ghostwrite their books for them and are not disciplined for doing so. Even when the students copy material from other books into their manuscripts (either verbatim or slightly reworded), without attribution, there is no punishment -– even though a student doing the very same thing as part of his or her own course work would face punishment.

Is there any other law school in the nation of which this can be said?

No. Only in Cambridge is a law school circus like this in town.

Harvard Clown School.


Wahrheit said...

Great work.

Nice mask.

I'm going to post a link over at Top Law Schools.com and see if the fur flies...

business attorney tampa said...

This is very well-written, Dunc! By the way, I noticed it's been a long time since your last post. Did you completely abandon this blog? I hope you return and revive this awesome website.

Shane McHale, business attorney tampa