Brian VanDeMark: Accused of Plagiarism




In April 2013 Mr. VanDeMark asked that we take down this page, noting that an article by Yale University historian Daniel Kevles in the New York Review of Books exonerated him in 2003 from the charge of plagiarism.  In the article, VanDeMark noted, that Kevles wrote that " 'something like half' of the allegations were reasonable paraphrases and the remaining ones were 'not important.' " We agreed to draw attention to Kevles's piece.


On Saturday May 31 the New York Times reported that Brian VanDeMark, a tenured associate professor of history at the United States Naval Academy, was allegedly guilty of plagiarism.

According to the Times more than 30 passages in VanDeMark's new book, Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb (Little Brown), are"identical, or nearly identical" to those found in four other books written by Richard Rhodes, William Lanouette, Greg Herken, and Robert Norris.

Mr. Norris told HNN that"in none of the examples on the four lists [of parallels published on HNN] is there a footnote to our books, not a one." He noted that the book contains copious footnotes and in places correctly lists the source of quotations from Herken and Lanouette.

From the account in the NYT:


The similar passages, which do not appear in quotations or with footnotes, were first identified by two of the authors after one was asked by The New York Times and the other by The Los Angeles Times to review the book,"Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb" by Brian VanDeMark and published by Little, Brown.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr. VanDeMark, who was a co-author with Robert S. McNamara of the best-selling memoir"In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam" (Times Books, 1995), said he was confident that"detached readers would find a majority" of the passages that were identified by the authors were"reasonable paraphrases." But he added that"a minority should, and will, be reworded or credited in a footnote."...

The first author to discover Mr. VanDeMark's apparent borrowings was Mr. Herken, a curator and historian at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. Mr. Herken, the author of"Brotherhood of the Bomb," was asked by The Los Angeles Times earlier this month to review"Pandora's Keepers."

By that time Kirkus Reviews, which reviews books before they are published, said of"Pandora's Keepers," in part, that"Though less well written than Richard Rhodes's `Making of the Atomic Bomb,' VanDeMark's study does a good job of exploring the culture of science, especially the science involved in making weapons and the moral dilemmas such work occasions." Publisher's Weekly lauded Mr. VanDeMark for bringing the nine men who built the first atom bomb"engrossingly to life."

But when he sat down to read the book on the weekend of May 16, Mr. Herken had a different view."I didn't see anything new here," he said."Then I started reading some more and recognized some things I had written."

"I was sort of transfixed," he added."It was almost disbelief."

Mr. Herken said he called The Los Angeles Times to say that he could not review the book because,"I think it's a work of plagiarism."

Robert Norris, author of Racing for the Bomb: Gen. Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man (Steerforth Press, 2002) was asked by the NYT to review VanDeMark's book.

[Norris]wrote to ask Mr. Herken if he thought the book was worth reviewing. Mr. Herken told Mr. Norris of his suspicions and asked Mr. Norris to keep a careful eye out for his own prose and scholarship interspersed in Mr. VanDeMark's book.

"Lo and behold," Mr. Norris recalled in a telephone interview,"within a half-hour after I have the book, I check the Groves' quotes and begin to turn up the list."

VanDeMark is the co-author of Robert McNamara's memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. His website indicats that he"assisted Clark Clifford with his bestseller, Counsel to the President." He has been at the Naval Academy for a decade. Little Brown released the book three weeks ago and according to the NYT has indicated it has no immediate plans to withdraw it. (The official publication date is June 2, 2003.) 15,000 copies were printed.


June 3, 2003

From the NYT, June 3, 2003:


Little, Brown yesterday withdrew a book about the creation of the atomic bomb after four authors complained that more than 30 uncredited passages in it were identical or nearly identical to passages in their works. Michael Pietsch, the publisher of Little, Brown, said the company had taken the unusual step of recalling the book,"Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb," from bookstores because"after speaking with the author, we agreed there were errors in the book that justified withdrawing it." Mr. Pietsch said that the author, Brian VanDeMark, an associate professor at the United States Naval Academy, would"make any necessary revisions" and that the book would be reissued later but only in paperback.

October 29, 2003

From the Washington Post, Oct. 29, 2003:


A U.S. Naval Academy history professor accused of plagiarism lost his tenured status and his pay was cut after a board of his peers concluded that he had committed acts of "gross carelessness" in his book about the atomic bomb, the academy's academic dean announced yesterday.


The three-member investigating committee found that Brian VanDeMark's book "Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb" "included a number of instances of improper borrowing and inadequate paraphrasing, and that these improprieties constituted plagiarism," Dean William C. Miller said at a news conference. The committee also found that the borrowing was the result of carelessness and not deliberate.

Miller said that effective yesterday, VanDeMark, a professor at the academy since 1990 and once considered a rising star, lost the tenure he earned in 1998 and will be on probation for at least three years, after which he may reapply for tenure. VanDeMark's status was also reduced from associate professor to entry-level assistant professor, and his annual salary was cut from $73,317 to $63,043. He also will be required to correct the instances of borrowing in "Pandora's Keepers" before it is republished. The book was recalled by its publisher, Little, Brown and Co., soon after the allegations were publicized in late May.

VanDeMark, 43, declined interviews yesterday but issued a statement through the academy in which he said: "I reiterate my personal responsibility and accept accountability for my unintentional mistakes....t of secondary sources."

The announcement ends VanDeMark's spell in academic limbo and allows him to resume teaching core courses at the academy in the spring semester. The academy began an investigation into the accusations immediately after they were published by the New York Times. Miller said that the investigation, conducted by his fellow history professors, was completed by late June or early July and that VanDeMark took nearly a month to respond.

After that, Miller was left to render his decision, bearing in mind that VanDeMark, like all of the academy's civilian faculty, is a federal employee and entitled to protections afforded civil servants.

Miller said that he spent much time pondering whether the plagiarism had been deliberate. "I relied very heavily on the judgment of the professors we used to consider this inquiry," he said, and they found that "the whole approach to documenting the sources of the book was flawed," pointing to sloppiness rather than purposeful theft. The academy did not release the text of the report on the grounds that it is part of VanDeMark's confidential file.

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