Terry Deacon is a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley. I have blogged about the accusation of plagiarism (using Alicia Juarrero’s ideas without citing her) against him. In addition to the website accusing him of plagiarism, there is now a website at berkeley.edu (UC Berkeley) meant to restore his reputation. It contains the report of a UC Berkeley committee that concluded there was not enough evidence to be sure Deacon had gotten certain ideas from Juarerro, whom he had heard talk about them. Except in one instance, they could also not conclude the opposite — that he did not get certain ideas from Juarrero. There wasn’t enough evidence to be sure of that, either.
The new website attempts to discredit Michael Lissack, one of Deacon’s accusers. Here, in its entirety, is how the website describes Lissack:
Michael Lissack was formerly a managing director of a Wall Street municipal bond department. In 1998, the SEC issued an order finding that “Lissack willfully violated” federal securities laws and “that he undertook such conduct with an intent to deceive.” According to the New York Times, later that year, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office charged Lissack “with using the Internet to harass executives at his old firm.” Media reports indicated that Lissack subsequently pled guilty to second-degree harassment. Lissack’s web site identifies him as the founder and executive director of the Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence (ISCE), as well as “the ISCE Professor of Meaning in Organizations, and a serial entrepreneur.” His posted CV states that he received a BA from Williams College, an MBA from Yale School of Management, and a Doctorate of Business Administration from Henley Management College.
Okay, maybe that’s relevant. Here’s what’s also true:
[Michael Lissack] is notable as the whistleblower who exposed a yield burning scandal in the 1990s, whereby financial firms made illegal profits from the structuring of U.S. Government investment portfolios associated with municipal bonds. . . . In 1994 Lissack exposed a major yield burning scandal on Wall Street. The issue was eventually settled by a number of firms for over $200 million, to which Lissack was entitled to at least 15% per federal whistleblower laws. Lissack used some of these funds for charitable purposes including endowing a professorship in Social Responsibility and Personal Ethics at his alma mater Williams College.
I asked Lissack for comment on the committee report. He said, “By publishing the report the way they did and building a permanent web site they have ensured that anyone who attempts to treat Deacon seriously will read Juarrero and that was in many respects the goal.”
My expertise is too far from Juarrero’s and Deacon’s work for me to judge if the many similarities might be a coincidence, as Deacon claims. [Update: Juarrero has explained the reason for alleging plagiarism to me and I now agree, the similarities are no coincidence. I will post about this again.] I am sure, however, that Juarrero was right to be very upset that her work wasn’t cited.
I know the feeling. When I was a graduate student, at Brown University, I did several experiments with rats on the cross-modal transfer of time discrimination — the first such experiments in animals. They showed that rats had something like a concept of time. After I left graduate school and became a professor, my graduate school advisor, Russell Church, and a new graduate student, Warren Meck, essentially copied one of my experiments and the underlying theoretical idea. Needless to say it was not a case of independent invention. I had told Church about my experiments, which were done in his lab. I published my results before they published theirs. In spite of this, Meck and Church gave me as little credit as possible consistent with citing my work. Their introduction doesn’t mention my work — as if they had thought of their experiments without my help.
Strangely enough, I happened to be in Church’s office, visiting him, when the issue of the journal containing the Meck and Church paper arrived. I took the journal out of its brown paper cover. I looked at the table of contents. I saw their article, which I had not known about. (I wonder why.) I started to read it. I saw that, in the introduction, it didn’t mention my work. “Why did you do that?” I angrily asked Church. To get more credit, he said.
In my experience of academia, powerful people often take credit for what less powerful people have done. The discovery of streptomycin, for which the powerful person received a Nobel Prize and the less powerful person did not, is an example. In the Terry Deacon case, Lissack has helped outsiders decide who deserves credit for what.