A Justice Primer: The Investigation

Late last week, Canon Press released a statement with the findings from their investigation into the plagiarism in A Justice Primer. To refresh our memories, the original statement they released back in December was:

Canon Press has investigated the charges of plagiarism and improper citation in A Justice Primer, and it is abundantly clear that the editor and co-author, Randy Booth, plagiarized material in multiple instances from a number of different sources. Such negligence and editorial incompetence is a gross breach of contract and obviously does not meet Canon Press’s publishing standards. As such, we have discontinued the book, effective immediately. Refer to the author statements below for more information. We would like to specifically thank Rachel Miller for bringing this to our attention so we could take the necessary steps to immediately correct such a serious error.

Apparently they have now changed their minds about portions of this statement. There are three main points that they make in the new statement. First, they claim I had help with my original article that I didn’t cite. Second, they claim that my colleague and I have a personal animosity towards Doug Wilson and that bias negatively affected the research. And third, they claim the plagiarism wasn’t intentional, was mostly citation errors, and was really not such a big deal after all. I would like to address each of these points in turn.

First, Canon Press has “discovered” that Valerie Hobbs helped me with my research. Valerie and I have worked and published together in the past, and I did ask her to help me.  I did all of my own research, and the material I published in my article was my own work and my own findings. Valerie had a small, but much appreciated role in my research.

Here’s how the research process went. While preparing to write a review of the book, I discovered some passages that seemed odd. I decided to check if they were original to the book or from some other source. Because the book is only available as a hard copy book, and not electronically, I had to type up the quotes I wanted to search. Then I ran various quotes from the book through a commercially available plagiarism software. When I discovered plagiarized material in A Justice Primer, I wanted to be careful that my research was accurate.

Because large portions of the book were taken from Wilson and Booth’s blog posts, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t missing something. I didn’t want to say it was plagiarism by Wilson or Booth and have it actually be that someone had plagiarized their work. So, I discussed my findings with Valerie. She offered to run the quotes through the academic/research software she has access to as a professor and researcher. She did not turn up any additional plagiarism. What she found was consistent with what I had already discovered.

So there’s the big secret. Valerie double checked my work for accuracy. Since the findings were truly mine, I didn’t see any need to cite her assistance. But I am very grateful for her help. If Canon Press had bothered to ask me during their investigation, I would have happily supplied that information to them.

Second, Canon Press now seems to believe that because I have a history of writing things critical to Doug Wilson my findings are suspect. Doug Wilson himself addressed that very issue when he publicly thanked me back in December. He noted that while we have had our disagreements, he was thankful for my work in this matter.

It was no secret that I read A Justice Primer with the intention of critiquing it. I said so in my original post. It is absolutely true that I disagree with Doug Wilson on many theological matters. That doesn’t change the facts that I presented in my article. I was very careful in my discussion of the plagiarism not to speculate who had done the plagiarizing. Canon seems to think that I knew Booth was responsible and didn’t say so so that I could implicate Wilson. That is not true.

As I’ve said before, much of the book was taken from blog posts that Wilson and Booth had written over the last 10 years. However, there were large portions of the book that did not seem to come from either blog. The book itself gives no indication who wrote which portions or that Booth was the editor. When Canon released their first statement that Booth took full responsibility for the plagiarism, I agreed that Booth was likely the one responsible. But, because I could not know for certain who wrote what at the time of my post, I refrained from speculating. It would have been unfair to either author to do otherwise.  And ultimately, as Doug Wilson has said regarding plagiarism:

But with all said and done, the person whose name is on the cover of the book is responsible to put things completely right if a problem surfaces. He may not be guilty, but he is always responsible — as basic covenant theology teaches us.

Lastly, the recent statement by Canon Press appears to say that the problems in A Justice Primer aren’t really that bad. It was unintentional. There were “citation errors.”

Let’s consider that for a moment. Before I published my article on the plagiarism, I presented my findings to 5 seminary and university professors. I wanted to know what they thought of the significance of what I’d found. All of them said it was plagiarism. They said that if they had done it, they would have been in trouble with their university/seminary/academic community. They also said that if one of their students had done the same the student would face disciplinary action including expulsion. Plagiarism is serious business.

What do universities say about plagiarism? Here are a few university statements. I’ll start with the one from Greyfriars’ Hall, the ministerial program in Moscow. New Saint Andrew’s uses a very similar statement:

Students must avoid plagiarism, misrepresentation, misappropriation of the work of others, or any other form of academic dishonesty, whether intentional or the result of reckless disregard for academic integrity (see “Plagiarism” in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers, sixth edition, p. 74 [5.2]). Such academic dishonesty may be grounds for disciplinary action by the instructor and Greyfriars’ Hall administration up to and including dismissal from Greyfriars’ Hall. (emphasis added)

This one is from the University of Sheffield:

Plagiarism(either intentional or unintentional) is the using of ideas or work of another person (including experts and fellow or former students) and submitting them as your own. It is considered dishonest and unprofessional. Plagiarism may take the form of cutting and pasting, taking or closely paraphrasing ideas, passages, sections, sentences, paragraphs, drawings, graphs and other graphical material from books, articles, internet sites or any other source and submitting them for assessment without appropriate acknowledgement. (emphasis added)

Here’s one from Duke University on what constitutes “unintentional plagiarism“:

Unintentional plagiarism is plagiarism that results from the disregard for proper scholarly procedures.

Examples of Unintentional Plagiarism:
Failure to cite a source that is not common knowledge.
Failure to “quote” or block quote author’s exact words, even if documented.
Failure to put a paraphrase in your own words, even if documented.
Failure to put a summary in your own words, even if documented.
Failure to be loyal to a source.

Or this one from Baker College on the difference between intentional and unintentional plagiarism:

Intentional plagiarism is copying someone’s words or ideas without citing them, in order to pass them off as your own (in other words, cheating).

Unintentional plagiarism is accidentally leaving off the required citation(s) because you don’t understand the rules of citation and plagiarism.

Going back to Canon’s statement, I didn’t speculate in my article as to whether or not the plagiarism was intentional. It’s certainly possible that Booth unintentionally plagiarized in places. In his own statement, he said he wasn’t aware that he had to cite dictionary definitions. And failure to put Tim Challies’ words in quotation marks or as a blockquote could also fall under this category, since there was some attempt at citation near that passage.

However, the chapter on Shimei is still hard to explain. Whole sentences and paragraphs were taken from the two sources and weaved together without any indication where the material came from. It’s hard to understand how that happens accidentally. But either way, intentionally or unintentionally, all of these are still plagiarism, by definition.

According to the academic statements above, if a student commits plagiarism, he or she will face discipline whether the plagiarism was intentional or unintentional. No one but Randy Booth knows if he intended to commit plagiarism or not. And in the end, it doesn’t matter. Either way the material was plagiarized.

For example, it’s plagiarism if an author takes information from another website and publishes it on his own blog without linking or attributing the original source:


Left column: Randy Booth Right column: Creation.com

And again, material taken from another website without attribution is plagiarism:


Left column: Randy Booth Right column: Creation.com

It’s also plagiarism to take words from another source, change them slightly, and use them as your own without citation:


The left-hand side of the image below comes from page 130 of Doug Wilson’s book, Fidelity, published in 1999. The right-hand side comes from page 777 of the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery edited by Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III and published in 1998.


I hope that Canon Press and the authors involved will be more careful in the future with their citations. I also think it would have been wise for Canon to have kept to their original statement on the plagiarism in A Justice Primer. It was clear and concise. I don’t believe their current statement has done them any favors.

36 thoughts on “A Justice Primer: The Investigation

  1. Cicero says:

    Someone on Doug’s blog suggested that the definition of plagiarism needs to be changed due to the existence of plagiarism detection software. Changing the law to fit the ruler, rather than the ruler conforming to the law.


  2. Carmon Friedrich says:

    Because my courses at Liberty University were completely online (which is becoming more and more common today), the college made sure I understood inside and out what constitutes plagiarism. The penalties for it were stiff. I had to write not once, but several times, about that topic, to make sure I understood how serious it was to cross that line. I’m sure they are concerned about their accreditation status if they do not clamp down on it.

    Here is one sample of what I wrote on it. Note that LU even considers re-using your own work as plagiarism (which is why I asked before about republishing blog posts):

    “There is some confusion about what constitutes plagiarism. For example, are the idioms I use in this post examples of unethical copying? Should I cite them since I borrowed them from elsewhere? Even Shakespeare was a plagiarist in the strictest sense of the word (Posner, 2002), but since he repaid his pilfering by giving us so many idioms, maybe all’s well that ends well. Plagiarism is serious stuff, though. Liberty University’s Code of Honor defines plagiarism as “the intentional failure to give sufficient attribution to the words, ideas, or data of others that the student has incorporated into his/her work for the purpose of misleading the reader.” It can also involve cheating, improper citations and quoting, or resubmitting one’s previous work (Liberty University, n.d.). Students and other writers must consider that not only is plagiarism stealing from others–whether taking their hard work for one’s own benefit, or gaining undeserved trust–but it is a direct sin against God to falsify one’s work for unearned gain, a violation of the eighth commandment (“You shall not steal,” English Standard Version, Ex. 20:15) and the ninth commandment (“You shall not bear false witness,” Ex. 20:16). The Bible says that any sin is against God Himself (Ps. 51:4), which reminds us that we should carefully examine our behavior as students to make sure we are pleasing God in all we do, and not dishonoring His name.”


    • Sarah says:

      I don’t think republishing blog posts is considered self-plagiarism (a difference between academic and non-academic work), however, I think the fact that the book is largely republished blog posts tells you about the quality of the research they did (virtually none).


      • Erp says:

        One reason for citing one’s own earlier work if reused in all academic papers is establishing clear priority. For instance A writes a paper with only minor distribution so it isn’t well known, B plagiarizes it, A writes a new paper using her first paper but without citing it (or stating at the beginning that this is a rework of the earlier paper). B accuses A of plagiarism of his paper and initially the accusation looks true (A in the second paper is presenting ideas as new that appeared in B’s earlier paper).


  3. Sara says:

    Rachel, this type of response from Canon (Doug Wilson) is classic NPD behavior on display. Good for you for sticking to your intellectual guns. When dealing with Wilson, you’ll unfortunately always need them. Keep up the good work!


  4. Terri Rice says:

    Anyone every raise a toddler? From Canon Press “investigation” “committee.”

    “Our ‘investigation’ found that:

    4. Fourth, Canon Press has since discovered that Rachel Miller was being mean to us.

    6. Sixth and very importantly, as Randy Booth stated, ‘I didn’t meeeaaan to.’

    7. Seventh, although we kept the book up on Amazon for an extra month+ in the hope of getting that last buck out of the book, we now, about 6 weeks later have removed it from Amazon. Up until then, we had ‘remaindered’ it and we did in fact get more money off the sale of the book. But not it’s gone from Amazon. Really. Cross my heart.

    8. Finally, now that there is actual verifiable software out there to catch us red-handed, we are gonna stop plagiarizing as best we can. Promise. Cross my heart.

    Thank you for forgiving us; and remember, if you don’t forgive us, you are bitter.”


    • Dave A A says:

      “8.Finally, Canon Press has determined to take a number of steps to redouble our efforts…”
      Among the steps we (meaning me– Nate Wilson– writing this with Dad’s help, which is bad if Rachel does it, as if I’m some faceless corporation) are/am not mentioning here is making sure Dad actually READS the books he *writes* in the future, before I publish them.


  5. Valerie Hobbs says:

    Every researcher worth their salt gets help of some kind from another researcher, and much of that help isn’t cited (such as proofreading, editing, advice). That is common practice. It is astonishing to think that anyone at Canon believes Rachel did something questionable in not citing me. My role was so minor I would have felt embarrassed by a citation.
    Rachel has high ethical standards, and it shows. Canon’s latest post does them no favors. As one colleague said to me, “these are desperate, desperate people.”


  6. rosejhuskey says:

    Thank you very much for this update on plagiarism and the Kirk boys who happily are involved with scamming the public. It is unimaginable that Randy Booth could confuse his mundane clap trap with well written text . Would anyone believe Jethro Bodine if he claimed to be the author of “House Made of Dawn” ?

    An accurate description of the problems Canon Press (loved Doug dipping his toe into the plagiarism pond thank you especially for including that) I think is found in the quotation below.

    “A storyteller makes up things to help other people; a liar makes up things to help himself.”
    ― Daniel Wallace, The Kings and Queens of Roam, Touchstone; Reprint edition (July 8, 2014)

    Rose Huskey


  7. Julie Anne says:

    Isn’t Canon Press special in that the plagiarism wasn’t that bad ? This is the typical entitlement that we see from narcissists. Every single one of my school papers is put through software to detect plagiarism. Every professor at my college who requires written assignments goes over how important it is to cite sources and not plagiarize. It’s ridiculous that Doug Wilson and his ilk think that the rules don’t apply to them.


  8. Joe says:

    What’s so disconcerting is that Wilson and his crew seem oblivious to his very obvious dereliction of pastoral demeanor. He now might as well be Joseph Smith… Dare we criticize the Lord’s Anointed? An unintentional smear on the whole Reformed movement, rendered by one of its stars. Meanwhile the punchy political blog posts from Moscow continue unabated… It’s like a 5 point calvinist Donald Trump.


    • Dave A A says:

      He’s posted 6 articles so far today (not yet noon in Moscow) and 16 (3 featuring images of Trump) since he linked to the Justice Primer update on Monday! Perhaps he’ll devote this afternoon to sermon preparation?


  9. Gracie says:

    I’m an academic. We teach our students that you have to track sources All The Time. You don’t take notes for your own use without full cites, because if you are going to use those notes later you have to have the citation available.

    I don’t know anything about sermon preparation, so I’m not going to judge Randy Booth’s note taking for sermon purposes. But for a book that claims to be scholarly? I co-author. I read and consider every sentence my co-author writes, and that what she does with my contribution as well.

    I also have colleagues read and comment on drafts. They do not get citations for this. They get thank yous.


  10. Lydia Strickler says:

    The definition of plagarism and what must be done to avoid it was pounded into our heads in freshman composition – you know, the 102 class! No excuse for those claiming to be scholars!


  11. elizabeth kerr says:

    I have seen un-cited references to other people’s written words in many printed books (Bible study guide books, inspirational books, and others) written by famous Christian pastors and Bible study teachers and wondered why the Christian publishing companies let them get away with it. I wrote to one author asking her for the bibliography that had been omitted from her study guide on Revelation. She had included a list of footnotes but it did not cover all the other writers’ material that she had included in her book; her office sent me back a copy of the list of footnotes with a letter saying that it was the bibliography! She claimed to have studied through most of the commentaries on Revelation when writing her study guide, but I wonder ….
    We need to have integrity for the sake of God’s kingdom; He does not want us to be known as liars and thieves.


  12. Darrel says:

    Wilson’s supporters are really playing the liberals’ game on this one, and I don’t see him calling anybody out on it.

    On his blog comments and elsewhere, there are suggestions that:

    * We need to redefine plagiarism (because our guy got caught doing it, and he’s a really good guy and so it’s bad that he got caught), or:

    * Somehow de-stigmatize it (because plagiarism is really not THAT bad), or:

    * What is in the person’s heart somehow cancels out the bad behavior the person commits. This is especially true of pastors, who can apparently use their sermon notes for any purpose they wish, and it’s just mean that people are being so picky about this!

    (I have the utmost respect for the pastoral office and can’t even imagine my pastors getting caught up in something like this.)

    I am familiar enough with Wilson’s writings to know that these assumptions are assailed against over and over in what he teaches, though not necessarily in his actions. (I am thinking more broadly than strictly academic honesty.)

    The modern Liberal mindset is all about helping people avoid personal responsibility for their failures, and it’s tragic, actually, that Wilson’s supporters are lately so quick to go there.


  13. Danny Murphy says:

    Plagiarism is coveting, stealing, and lying in a single act – a trifecta of sin. Rachel discovered plagiarism in a book published by Canon Press, and now the publisher is hell-bent on discrediting her. Surprise, surprise. Plagiarists and their publishers frequently regard their sins as minor mistakes, and they hate, more than just about anything, being exposed for what they’ve done. They seem to think their status entitles them to do things other people aren’t allowed to do and to special exemptions when they get caught.

    Once upon a Sunday morning, the pastor of the church I was attending read one of my old published writings as part of his sermon. Unfortunately, he was reading from a mega-pastor’s bestseller which included a footnote that omitted my name. Evidently, neither the author nor any of the people at the well-known Christian publisher who worked on the book knew that a footnote is supposed to include the original author’s name. When I informed my then pastor that I had written the piece, he didn’t even believe me. The publisher did correct the footnote after I brought the citation error to their attention.

    I later discovered that an even bigger mega-pastor had used the same bit for a video skit that got over 100,000 views for his organization and was reproduced and recorded in videos by many other churches who, in turn, attributed the bit to Rev. Humongous. When I contacted Rev. Humongous’s Church, his lawyer lied to me and treated me like a bum. Then I found the same bit in a book by Rev. Humongous with no attribution. Then I contacted his well-known Christian publisher. Then they added a footnote. I never did get an apology from Rev. Humongous or his disgusting lawyer.

    Writers who make use of other writers’ work are required to give proper attribution. Pretenders who take credit for things they didn’t write are detestable. So are publishers who wage a counterattack when confronted with plagiarism by one of their authors.

    On the upside, I’ve been inspired with an idea for a book: Steal This Sermon. (I’ll be sure to give the late Abbie Hoffman credit for two thirds of that title.) Can I get an Amen on that? Preferably from an ethical publisher.


  14. JFS says:

    MATTHEW 23:23
    MSG “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?

    Inadvertent missed citations are kind of like commas and semicolons are they not?
    We will all have to give accont of ourselves. I would not be to proud of this Rachel.

    So, besides the missed citations, what did you think of the book?


    • Law Prof says:

      “We will all have to give accont of ourselves. I would not be to proud of this Rachel.”

      JFS: Indeed, we will all “give an acccont [sic] of ourselves”, and I dare say the one who exposes the evil should be in a better position on that day than the one who perpetrates it or plays the sycophant by supporting it.


  15. Sarah says:

    This just in: Doug says it was “an amplified uncited quote” not plagiarism, on the facebook post on his wall for the post “Anatomy of Plagiarism.”

    Turns out, according to Doug, all that matters is that he put quotation marks around it.


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