Cheater? Local author charges Professor Edlich
Tales of plagiarism are all the same. Mid-article, mid-book, mid-paper, or mid-sentence, something goes wrong: A writer– overcome by forgetfulness, laziness, or sheer dishonesty– lifts a few phrases or passages from another writer– and eventually pays the price.
Payments vary. High-profile historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose watched their credibility disappear. Alex Haley– when confronted with charges that lengthy sections of Roots were lifted from Harold Courtlander's 1966 book The African– settled the allegations with $650,000. At the University of Virginia, an epidemic of copying in Louis Bloomfield's "How Things Work" course cost a number of students their diplomas.
But what about those borrowers who aren't made to pay?
Albemarle County resident Emily Tucker remembers arriving at the home of then-UVA Medical School professor Dr. Richard Edlich clutching a copy of Edlich's 1998 book, Profiles for Success. Tucker had highlighted un-attributed passages which closely resembled sections of an article she had written for Albemarle magazine, and she wanted an explanation.
"Thank you for pointing out my error," Tucker remembers Edlich saying stiffly before showing her to the door. That was it. No apology note; no retraction; no payment.
Three years later, Tucker is still wondering whether she should have pursued the matter in court.
The plagiarism was inadvertently discovered when Carol Taylor, a former Broadway singer and friend of Tucker's, asked the writer to help promote the most recent book written by Dr. Edlich, who happened to be Taylor's husband.
Then an eminent University of Virginia Medical School professor of plastic surgery and biomedical engineering, Edlich boasts an impressive list of accomplishments. He has published several books, including Medicine's Deadly Dust, an influential work on the danger of using corn starch to make latex gloves easier to wear.
Profiles for Success: Lessons in Teaching, Healing, Curing and Living was Edlich's crowning volume, a how-to guide on successful living in Edlich's own words, "an invitation to teach yourself and others to live a self-actualized and empowered life and transform the culture of our society from emotions of fear to those of love."
Adorning the back of the book is a painting of Edlich as a modern-day Don Quixote– complete with a windmill in the background.
Tucker said she'd take a look at the book and offered her support in publicizing it. "I was somewhat flattered," says Tucker. "I'm not a well-known writer."
Taylor gave Tucker a copy of Profiles for Success. Tucker read through initial portions before putting the volume aside. The inspirational book just didn't resonate with her.
"I couldn't get into it," Tucker explains.
A few weeks later, Tucker snuggled into bed and again picked up Profiles. "I started to flip through the book, and I came across the passage about Fred Nichols," said Tucker. "It was just unbelievable."
A passage from a chapter entitled "Surgeon's Transformation" described watercolor artist Fred Nichols, whom Tucker had profiled for Albemarle magazine in 1997. Edlich's book contained direct quotations from Tucker's piece as they had appeared in Albemarle. Tucker's phrasing and word-choice echoed throughout Edlich's page-long passage.
Stunned by the familiar prose, Tucker jumped out of bed. "I realized, 'I wrote this!'" she says. "It was almost like being in an automobile accident."
For example, in Tucker's article, "a Fred Nichols painting is an ambassador for Central Virginia." In Edlich's book, "Fred Nichols' body of work serves as an ambassador for the beautiful state of Virginia to the rest of the world." [See sidebar for more examples. –editor]
Profiles for Success cites a total of 56 different sources; 32 of those titles refer to work authored or co-authored by Edlich. Tucker's article is neither mentioned in the body of the text nor footnoted.
"I'd never had anything like this happen before," Tucker says. "I just couldn't believe it."
Tucker contacted Albemarle editor Hilary Swinson with her fears that she had been plagiarized. "I have written to Vandamere Press to express my concerns over your use of these materials," Swinson wrote in a letter to Edlich. "I think at the very least, Ms. Tucker and Albemarle magazine deserve an apology, as well as credit in future printings of the book."
Swinson and Tucker received no reply from the author or from the its publisher, Florida-based Vandamere.
Still hoping to resolve the matter, Tucker visited Dr. Edlich's home, highlighted passages in tow.
"I said, 'Dr. Edlich, it seems that my article is in your book,'" Tucker recalls. Tucker says Edlich was livid that Tucker had discussed the matter with Albemarle's editor, allegedly because the magazine was on the verge of running an article about him.
Tucker considered taking legal action, but her attorney advised that pursuing the case would cost more money than it was worth. As Swinson puts it, "Principle matters, but it would have been more distress to pursue it than it was worth."
Tucker agrees that financial remuneration was far from her mind. "I was more hurt. He wouldn't have done this to Rita Dove or John Grisham. I'm nobody, and he's a big doctor," Tucker says. "If it was good enough to copy and put in the book, then it is good enough to acknowledge," she adds.
Tucker, formerly a state certified ethics instructor who has taught the National Association of Realtors' code of ethics to licensed realtors, says that the episode has made her more aware of ethical considerations and of course, of plagiarism in particular.
"It's made me more conscious of the magnificence of the ideas and words of my fellow writers it comes from somebody's mind and lands on paper, and it's really of great value," she says.
Edlich, who now lives in Oregon and retains the status of Professor Emeritus at UVA, declined to speak specifically about the incident. "In fairness to everybody, I really don't feel that I should comment on this allegation or legal matter," he said.
Edlich did, however, offer his thoughts on the University of Virginia honor code. While UVA faculty are not required to sign the university's honor policy, Edlich says, it is difficult for faculty to escape the honor code's presence. "It is integrated it's part of being on faculty," he said.
In medical school, the policy is intuitive, he says, because "there's only benefit in telling the truth. Cheating would be counter-productive to the end result."
It has been more than three years since the incident was first brought to Tucker's attention. Should Edlich's shyness on the alleged transgression be excused? Few would deny that Edlich's lifetime accomplishments as a physician are impressive. In addition to publishing numerous research articles, Edlich has worked to eliminate the use of hazardous corn starch-laden latex gloves and to promote emergency 911 lines in the state. He was honored with the Alumni Association's distinguished Professor Award in 1985.
In a poem included in Edlich's volume, Freeman Suber, a former student writes, "In your rising example I strive, / hoping to find a glimpse, / of myself."
A subsequent edition of Edlich's book compresses all mention of Nichols into a single paragraph with no hint of Tucker's words, but Tucker has been unable to shake rising feelings of injustice.
"It pointed out to me how easy it is for writers to be plagiarized," she says. "I guess you don't expect it to happen to you, particularly with someone associated with University of Virginia. I hold the University to a higher standard than others."
Tucker wants to put the episode behind her, but in the future, she says, she'll handle things differently. "If it ever happens again, I would take court action," she says, "if for no other reason than just to reinforce myself as a writer."