Scandals and Scoundrels

Scandals and Scoundrels: Seven Cases That Shook the Academy

Ron Robin
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 289
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnpmc
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  • Book Info
    Scandals and Scoundrels
    Book Description:

    Ron Robin takes an intriguing look at the shifting nature of academic and public discourse in this incisive consideration of recent academic scandals-including charges of plagiarism against Stephen Ambrose, Derek Freeman's attempt to debunk Margaret Mead's research, Michael Bellesiles's alleged fabrication of an early America without weapons, Joseph Ellis's imaginary participation in major historical events of the 1960s, Napoleon Chagnon's creation and manipulation of a "Stone Age people," and accusations that Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú's testimony on the Maya holocaust was in part fiction.Scandals and Scoundrelsmakes the case that, contrary to popular imagery, we're not living in particularly deviant times and there is no fundamental flaw permeating a decadent academy. Instead, Robin argues, latter-day scandals are media events, tailored for the melodramatic and sensationalist formats of mass mediation. In addition, the contentious and uninhibited nature of cyberdebates fosters acrimonious exposure. Ron convincingly demonstrates that scandals are part of a necessary process of rule making and reinvention rather than a symptom of the bankruptcy of the scientific enterprise.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93815-1
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Scholarly Scandals: Why Do They Happen?
    (pp. 1-28)

    In 1956 the American historical establishment suffered an embarrassing moment when George Kennan published his inquest of the infamous Sisson documents. This compilation of top-secret reports, letters, and memoranda—purchased and circulated in 1918 by Edgar Sisson, a special representative of the American Committee on Public Information stationed in Petrograd during the Great War—provided documentary evidence that Russia’s Bolshevik leaders were paid agents of the German General Staff. Kennan pronounced the Sisson documents forgeries and, in the process, impugned leading members of the American historical profession for aiding and abetting a major case of intellectual fraud.¹

    Kennan’s accusations focused...

  5. PART I. SCANDALS IN HISTORY
    • ONE Plagiarism and the Demise of Gatekeepers
      (pp. 31-56)

      In the fall of 1990, the career of the renowned historian and media star Stephen Oates spun out of control. Oates, a popular scholar both within academia and among the general public, was accused of multiple acts of plagiarism, the cardinal sin of the historical profession. His ordeal commenced at a scholarly conference, where fellow scholars accused him of incorporating the prose of others in his well-received biography of Abraham Lincoln. Well before the Lincoln scandal died down, Oates found himself confronted with charges of purloining prose in his biographies of William Faulkner and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well.¹...

    • TWO The Noble Lie: “Arming America” and the Right to Bear Arms
      (pp. 57-84)

      A proofreader rebels. While combing through the galleys of a history book entitledHistory of the Siege of Lisbon, a proofreader subverts the narrative by inserting a single word:not. Instead of the official version of the founding of the Portuguese homeland, which states that the crusaderswillaid the Portuguese in expelling the Moors from Lisbon in 1147, the proofreader inverts the foundational myth of his nation. The altered text now reads that the crusaders willnotcome to the aid of the Portuguese. José Saramago, the author of this magisterial tale, argues that the proofreader’s ostensibly revisionist version...

    • THREE “A Self of Many Possibilities”: Joseph Ellis, the Protean Historian
      (pp. 85-110)

      “Late in his life,” the literary scholar Milton Cohen observed, F. Scott Fitzgerald revealed “two juvenile regrets—at not being big enough (or good enough) to play football in college, and at not getting overseas during the war.” Fitzgerald compensated for this romantic void by immersing himself in “Princeton football lore and World War I history,” creating protagonists of great athletic skills and military prowess, as well as by indulging in “childish waking dreams of imaginary heroism,” on the playing fields of Princeton and the battlefields of France.¹

      In June 2001, the renowned historian Joseph Ellis acknowledged that he, too,...

  6. PART II. SCANDALS IN ANTHROPOLOGY
    • FOUR The Ghost of Caliban: Derek Freeman and “the Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead”
      (pp. 113-137)

      In 1983, Derek Freeman, a New Zealand anthropologist, became an instant media star, with appearances on the front page of most major metropolitan newspapers and magazines—including cover stories inTime,Life, and theNew York Times—and commercial TV. Freeman achieved celebrity with his sensationalist debunking of Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, social reformer, and symbol of the revolution in sexual mores, gender relations, and child-nurturing practices in midcentury America. In his somewhat belated critique ofComing of Age in Samoa, Mead’s famous 1928 study of adolescence in a premodern, non-Western society, Freeman claimed that Mead’s portrayal of a trouble-free,...

    • FIVE Violent People and Gentle Savages: The Yanomami Controversy
      (pp. 138-165)

      In the summer of 2000, a sensational e-mail hurtled through cyberspace, igniting in the process one of the most acrimonious controversies of academic wrongdoing in recent years. In their electronic communication, Cornell professor of anthropology Terry Turner and his University of Hawaii colleague, Leslie Sponsel, advised the chief officers of the American Anthropological Association of a pending book documenting “sheer criminality and corruption . . . unparalleled in the history of anthropology.” Written by journalist Patrick Tierney, the book accused senior American academics working in the rain forests of South America of being the protagonists of a “nightmarish story—a...

    • SIX The Willful Suspension of Disbelief: Rigoberta Menchú and the Making of the Maya Holocaust
      (pp. 166-192)

      In 1992, a contemplative Western world marked the Columbian quincentenary of the much-maligned “discovery” of the New World. Rather than inspire a celebration of the spirit of Western progress, the anniversary generated somber reflections on the dark side of Western expansionism and its devastating effects on the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In this general atmosphere of atonement and self-reflection, the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous Guatemalan civil rights activist. The award acknowledged the historic injustices inflicted upon indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, and offered at least symbolic penance for sufferings past and present....

  7. PART III. THE NECESSARY SCANDAL
    • SEVEN Science Fiction: Sokal’s Hoax and the “Linguistic Left”
      (pp. 195-218)

      In 1996 the trendy cultural journalSocial Textissued a special edition dedicated to the “science wars,” a highly charged debate associated with the postmodernist skepticism of the sciences’ valorization of objective knowledge. Leading this attack was an army of cultural scholars often associated with the burgeoning science and technology studies programs—who saw the modernist pretension of pursuing a rational, scientific understanding of the natural world as a dangerous fantasy and a socially repressive enterprise. These intellectual skeptics interrogated the underpinnings of scientific objectivity, at times dismissing the achievements of science as nothing more than politically informed figments. Their...

    • EIGHT What Do the Scandals Mean?
      (pp. 219-234)

      In the early 1970s, the southern Philippine island of Mindanao achieved brief fame when prominent media reports heralded the “discovery” of the Tasaday people. These isolated, primitive island dwellers were reputedly one of the last extant remnants of a Stone Age culture. The “gentle” foragers apparently had no word for war or conflict, nor had they developed any type of weaponry for personal safety or for hunting. They allegedly lived in total harmony with each other and with nature, living on plants and small animals. Dubbed by some as “palaeo-hippies,” they appeared to disprove theories of genetically imprinted recourse to...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 235-266)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 267-277)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 278-278)