When Henrik Graham brought the source of Karl Weick's famous "anecdote of the map" to my attention, we took a close look at it together. Most people are familiar with the story: a detachment of soldiers used a map of the Pyrenees to find their way out of the Alps after a snowstorm. From this Weick famously concludes that "any old map will do" in situations that call for urgent action, and this has become a central tenet of the "sensemaking" approach to organization theory.
But Weick plagiarized the story from a poem written by Miroslav Holub and published in The Times Literary Supplement in 1977. (Holub provides Albert Szent-Györgyi as his source; Weick also plagiarizes this reference but misspells it Szent-Gyorti.) As Henrik and I discovered, Weick has been telling the story the same way since its first appearance in Weick's writing in 1982, and in all cases his method of citation (mostly the lack of any citation) makes it a clear-cut case of plagiarism.
After looking at the issue for some time, and discussing it with peers, we have now published our results in ephemera (volume 6, number 2, link to PDF file here). Ephemera's editors have, to my mind wisely, contacted Weick himself for comment. It appears in the same issue (link to PDF here) and it is an interesting document. I want to take a few moments to note my reactions to it.
The first thing it did was to remind me of the conventional definition of plagiarism, especially as stated by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams in their widely used manual, The Craft of Research.
You plagiarize when, intentionally or not, you use someone else’s words or ideas but fail to credit that person. You plagiarize even when you do credit the author but use his exact words without so indicating with quotation marks or block indentation. You also plagiarize when you use words so close to those in your source, that if you placed your work next to the source, you would see that you could not have written what you did without the source at your elbow. When accused of plagiarism, some writers claim I must have somehow memorized the passage. When I wrote it, I certainly thought it was my own. That excuse convinces very few. (167)It uncannily anticipates Weick's account of how the story made it into his own writing.
By the time I began to see the Alps story as an example of cognition in the path of the action, I had lost the original article containing Holub’s poem and I was not even sure where I had read the story. This occurred in the early 1980’s which was quite some time before internet search was a common form of inquiry. I reconstructed the story as best I could. I obviously had no idea whether the reconstruction was close to the original or not since I had no original in hand for comparison.As Booth et al. point out, this will not convince you if you have both Weick's version and Holub's "at your elbow". Consider:
Weick:It is far more likely that what has happened here is that a word-for-word transcription has found its way into Weick's prose because he forgot to mark it properly in his notes. That's the more common excuse, and it is one that the American Historical Association has apparently grown tired of hearing. Their standards (link here) now clearly say that:
The lieutenant suffered, fearing that he had dispatched his own people to death. But the third day the unit came back. Where had they been? How had they made their way? Yes, they said, we considered ourselves lost and waited for the end. And then one of us found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down. We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm, and then with the map we discovered our bearings. And here we are.
The lieutenant suffered: he had dispatched his own people to death. But the third day the unit came back. Where had they been? How had they made their way? Yes, they said, we considered ourselves lost and waited for the end. And then one of us found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down. We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map we discovered our bearings. And here we are.
(To emphasize the similarities, I have removed the line breaks from Holub's poem. You can read it in its original form in ephemera.)
The first line of defense against plagiarism is the formation of work habits that protect a scholar from plagiarism. The plagiarist’s standard defense—that he or she was misled by hastily taken and imperfect notes—is plausible only in the context of a wider tolerance of shoddy work. A basic rule of good note-taking requires every researcher to distinguish scrupulously between exact quotation and paraphrase.The most disturbing thing about Weick's response to our charges is that he doesn't take them at all seriously in terms of a breach of scholarly standards. In 1990, at roughly the time when a "helpful colleague" pointed out his mistake to him, he won the Academy of Management's Irwin Award for "contributions to scholarship". And yet, this distinguished member of the academic community, when confronted (for at least the second time) with his mistake, boldly declares that, "Other than to insert a footnote saying ‘source unknown’, I would not have done anything different were I in the same position today."
Now, I don't recommend such a method of citation to any of my authors. But Weick here does, which is more than unfortunate and, I think, somewhat shameful. If he had written "source unknown" it would today look like he was outright lying. (I stress the "look like": one of the troubles with plagiarism is that it makes people say the darndest things in their defense. I don't think Weick has really thought this response through and is, as both the AHA and Booth et al. predict, trying to talk his way out of it.)
Weick goes on to make the absurd claim that "I took no credit for inventing or discovering the story, and instead, used it as one among many examples to illustrate [a] general idea," when the truth is that that he in most cases gave no credit for the story (and thus implicitly, by all standards, took it) and in the two cases where he made some acknowledgement, mentions (but does not cite) Albert Szent-Gyorgyi as its "discoverer" or "inventor", Miroslav Holub as its "preserver", but no one (other than himself, by implication) as the story-teller, i.e., the crafter of the particular wording that appears in his text. Interestingly, it is precisely that credit, i.e., for mastery of the art of making "interesting verbal patterns", that Barbara Czarniawska (in Contemporary Organization Theory, eds. Jones and Munro, Blackwell, 2005: 274) has given to Weick. That is his lasting contribution to organization theory.
But the main point here is not which writer deserves credit. Avoiding plagiarism is about being up front with the reader about where your words come from, so that your reader can proceed on the same scholarly basis that you have. Without that respect for your reader, you don't have a serious interest in the academic community. And I think it is that effront to the (very supportive) sensemaking community that really sticks in my craw. In 1990, Weick should have recognized his oversight and made ammends by publicly acknowledging the shortcomings in his citation, ensuring it did not carry over into subsequent reprintings, and (it is odd to have to say this) by not doing it again. Sixteen years ago, he did none of these things.
Weick mistakenly believes that his references to Holub in the 1990 and 1995 appearances of the story are sufficient citation. But as Booth et al. point out:
You plagiarize even when you do credit the author but use his exact words without so indicating with quotation marks or block indentation.(Weick knows how to do this when quoting Pablo Neruda, for example, in Sensemaking in Organizations, p. 18-20.) The travesty here is that, while Weick may well get away with it, many others will not, including his students. Facing expulsion and, later in life, loss of tenure, they are being given some very bad advice in Weick's response.
Lastly, let me note that "this style of using stories," as Weick puts it, does not "displease" me, as he also puts it, because I "favor other forms of evidence". I simply insist on conventional forms of citation--minimal standards of scholarship.
Thus noted, for the record.