A few weeks back, news broke that the University of Georgia Press was pulping a short-story collection by Brad Vice called The Bear Bryant Funeral Train after it came out that one of the stories, “Tuscaloosa Knights,” included passages plagiarized from Carl Carmer’s Stars Fell on Alabama.
Now writer Robert Clark Young has recapped the case in New York Press, and also uncovered other suspect passages in Vice’s book. The story “Report from Junction,” writes Young, “contains passages that are similar to material appearing in The Junction Boys, Jim Dent’s nonfiction book…. What is curious about Vice’s thefts from Dent is that they don’t even pertain to Bear Bryant or the football team, but consist of the most peripheral of descriptions, material that Vice could have found in other sources or easily rewritten in his own words.”
But not all of the lifted passages in “Report from Junction” are quite as damning as the “Tuscaloosa Knights” examples. In some cases, it would appear that Vice has lifted information more than prose. (From Dent’s book: “They [screwworms] would sometimes screw themselves into the brain and then exit through the eyeballs.” From Vice’s: “[T]he maggots will most likely screw themselves into its brain … before they exit back through his eyes.”)
To be sure, Vice’s clear-cut plagiarism in “Tuscaloosa Knights” has forfeited any benefit of the doubt he might have otherwise enjoyed. But this “second case” might remind some readers of a New Yorker article on plagiairism that Malcolm Gladwell wrote late last year.
In “Something Borrowed,” Gladwell recounts how he learned that playwright Bryony Lavery had borrowed several wordings from his articles for one of her plays — but in some cases, he found it hard to work up much outrage. “She didn’t copy my musings, or conclusions, or structure,” writes Gladwell. “She lifted sentences like ‘It is the function of the cortex — and, in particular, those parts of the cortex beneath the forehead, known as the frontal lobes – to modify the impulses that surge up from within the brain, to provide judgment, to organize behavior and decision-making, to learn and adhere to rules of everyday life.’ It is difficult to have pride of authorship in a sentence like that. My guess is that it’s a reworked version of something I read in a textbook.”