Monday, February 5, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt five)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

King’s dissertation attracted little attention until 1990, when scholars at Stanford University announced that substantial portions had been plagiarized. In his first draft, King copied most of the introduction verbatim from a book called The Theology of Paul Tillich. His problems seem to have been rooted in his use of note cards to organize information he gathered from books. In many cases, he copied verbatim from his source onto his note cards without creating a citation. He was especially weak when it came to citing secondary sources. He might read an author’s interpretation of a Tillich quote and then transcribe the quote and the interpretation onto a note card without taking note of the secondary source.

King’s approach to his dissertation, as the scholar David J. Garrow writes, may have been primarily a reflection of an awkward stage in life. He was a young dandy working to become a scholar, as his leadership of the Philosophical Club suggests. But he was only twenty-two years old when he entered the doctoral program. “Was the King of Crozer and BU actually a rather immature and insecure young man?” asks Garrow. “Was he a talented young preacher with no particular aptitude for scholarly creativity?”

King’s indiscretions, regardless of their cause, should have been caught. His advisers should have noticed King’s heavy reliance on a Boston University dissertation written three years earlier by a student named Jack Boozer. While acknowledging Boozer’s “very fine” dissertation in his introduction, King cited it only a few times while copying more than fifty sentences and relying heavily on its structure. Boozer and King had the same dissertation adviser, L. Harold DeWolf, yet DeWolf made few comments on King’s first draft while praising the writer’s “convincing mastery of the works immediately involved.”

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