Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Webmaster's Note: Tomislav Markus never intended to plagiarize from Integral Ecology, but due to his limited mastery of the English language tried to give a faithful summary of the content of this book by using the authors' exact words. It would have been better to put these sentences between quotes. Hargens and Zimmerman considered this to be a (minor) case of plagiarism, so in the new version of his review Markus has paraphrazes this section in his own words, so as to amend this issue. We apologize to the authors of Integral Ecology for this unfortunate misunderstanding (FV).
Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Integral Studies Department and Program Director of two Master of Arts degrees (Integral Psychology and Integral Theory) at John F. Kennedy University. He is the founder and Executive Editor of The Journal of Integral Theory and Practice (JITP). He is currently the most published author applying the Integral model to a variety of topics and fields. Sean serves as an integral coach and consultant through his business Rhizome Designs (www.rhizomedesigns.org).
A Case of Plagiarism on www.IntegralWorld.net
A week before Frank Visser posted up Tomislav Markus' critical review of my co-authored book Integral Ecology (Integral Books, 2009) Markus contacted me by email, introduced himself, and provided me with a copy of his review “Pitfalls of Wilberian Ecology”. It was a generous act of reaching out and connecting with a fellow author, and I was happy to hear from him and even more excited to read the review even while anticipating a hard-hitting perspective. I was not disappointed – Markus takes sharp aim at aspects of the book and is quite critical of many of its key assumptions. The review contains several important points that are worthy of discussion. It is always interesting to see how individuals engage a book like Integral Ecology, which is so large it contains many trajectories.
However, there are a few things about the review that struck me as problematic. First, there were many sentences and even paragraphs in the first few pages that I believed verged on plagiarism. At many points I thought I was reading my own writing. I realized that I would have to double check with the book and the cover jacket, but it did seem odd to me to have this experience. This view I felt was reinforced by the fact that his writing later in the review has a very different tone and feel, as if the review has two different voices. Second, there are many places where he ascribes views and positions to Michael and me that are not our views. Obviously, it is our responsibility to be clear in these matters and in many cases I feel we were in fact more clear than Markus' interpretation would suggest. Thus, it feels as though he mistakes his interpretation of our view for our actual view beyond what would be justified by a close reading of our text. In short, he exhibits little subtlety in discussing our views before presenting his own. Lastly, I found his critical tone to be unreflective and lack nuance, in that in many places he actually used an absolute tone and made big claims to critique what he perceived in our book to be an absolute tone and big claims. I feel that the power and insight of some of his critiques are short-circuited by his style and tone, which in my view detracts more than it adds.
The review seems less about creating an interesting debate, exchange, or “scientific conversation” and more about driving home some points that he holds very dear to his own theorizing and philosophizing (e.g., “bio-social discontinuity”). The frequent citations of his own work, an unusual practice in a book review, suggests that his real interest is taking the opportunity to present his own views. Thus, his review sets up a dynamic that prevents him from really engaging Michael and me. Consequently, there is little in his review that is very compelling to respond to beyond trying to clarify our position and minimize the more unfortunate misrepresentations. In other words, aside from a few interesting points here and there the majority of his review invokes in me a desire to defend – not engage, a desire to clean up a mess – not add to a conversation, a desire to do “damage control” not mutual inquiry. Ironically, if we chose not to respond to such a review, we would run the risk of being viewed as being like Wilber and ignoring our critics (never mind the quality of the critic or the value of the criticism).
Before turning to the issue of plagiarism, I would like to remark about one of Markus' complaints in particular, namely, that we did not present an integral approach to ecology that criticizes Ken Wilber's version of integral theory. This is a legitimate complaint, so far as it goes, but had we taken this route, the book would have been much longer than it already is (800+ pages). Admittedly, we could have offered some additional endnotes and sections that highlighted limits and controversies around Wilber's theorizing. It will be important for us to do this as we continue to articulate our version of integral ecology. However, our stated goal in the book was to see how far Integral Theory (à la Wilber) could be taken toward developing an integral ecology. I think that we got pretty far (philosophically, theoretically, pragmatically). Obviously, however, more books and essays should be written from Wilberian and non-Wilberian perspectives in order to explore how Integral Theory and other versions of integral can be applied to ecology. Michael and I make clear that we regard this as an initial foray into integral ecology, by no means as the last word.
When I responded via email to Markus and presented the concerns laid out in paragraphs two and three above he adamantly denied any hint of plagiarism. In fact, he seemed offended that I would accuse him of such an academic sin. His position, as best I can tell, is that the first part of any “scientific review” should represent the book and the author's arguments. While agreeing with this claim, I would like to emphasize that academic protocol requires a person to insert quotation marks around any direct quotes (i.e., whenever three or more words from a text are used exactly as they appear in the original source) by another person, even if those quotes are being used to present the authors own views. In light of Markus' response, I thought I might have really missed the mark so I began to reexamine the first two pages of his review to see if my suspicions of plagiarism were unfounded. Unfortunately, what I discovered was worse than I had originally suspected. In total I found almost a dozen sentences that were copied word for word, comma for comma, apostrophe for apostrophe from the book (see excerpt below). In a few cases he would omit one word or change one word but the structure and language of the sentence remained totally intact – way beyond a mere three consecutive words. Thus, it does not even appear as though he tried to paraphrase our writing. Even when he cites pages 168-9, 173, 478 at the end of the third paragraph he fails to provide the required quotation marks for the last sentence of that paragraph, which is a direct quote. After I reviewed two pages I gave up my effort, concluding that there were likely other examples of plagiarism of our book in the remainder of his review.
The last thing I want to do is disregard Markus' review completely by pointing out his failure to follow appropriate academic citation procedures. Though this fault combined with his lack of subtlety in presenting our views and the unreflective critical tone that characterizes much of his review make it a hard sell for serious engagement. Nevertheless, I still find important points in what he is saying and I will engage those at some point when I do a review of the reviews in coming months. However, the plagiarism is so extensive that it raises questions about the scientific and academic credibility of his review (and other writings for that matter – some of which are posted on this website). After all, if he did not feel that what he was doing is plagiarism, then one could ask whether it is his usual style to borrow generously from other authors, while failing to provide appropriate citations of their work. In this case, I would like to give him the benefit of doubt and accept his implied contention that he was merely seeking to represent the book as accurately as possible in the opening pages of his review. But such an accurate representation is readily accomplished without wholesale copying (without citation) of what the authors say.
So authors for www.IntegralWorld.net, please be careful to avoid even naïve or “honest” plagiarism – even if it is done in service of those for whom it is plagiarized from. These kinds of situations impact the credibility of entire websites like “Integral World” and can prevent some of the valuable work being showcased here from getting a proper hearing in more academic or scientific contexts. And readers please be on the look out for such suspect scholarship and bring it to the attention of the author or Frank Visser so we as a community can minimize and avoid such embarrassing occurrences. Acts of academic negligence like this affect us all, especially those of us who want to deepen the conversation and build a reputable academic discourse around Integral Theory.
Excerpt below from Tomislav Markus' “Pitfalls of Wilberian Ecology” (pp. 2-3)
Note: Bolded words are identified plagiarized sections of Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World. These plagiarized sections come from the jacket cover (inside flap), and pages 7, 11, 20, and 168-9.
An integral approach means that all four spheres have to be taken into account and not only the two objective spheres, as modern science and many critics of modernity (from romantics to contemporary radical ecologists) did. But Integral Ecology puts heavy emphasis on the subjective and intersubjective dimensions, even on some kind of nature mysticism. Integral Ecology is a consequence of the widespread demand that human interior dimensions – personal experience and culture – receive appropriate acknowledgement. For the authors, Integral Ecology is the study of subjective and objective aspecs of organisms in relationship to their intersubjective and interobjective environments at all levels of depth and complexity (Integral Ecology, 168-9, 173, 478).
Integral Ecology is defined as the mixed methods study of the subjective and objective aspects of organisms in relationship to their intersubjective and interobjective environments. As a result Integral Ecology doesn't require a new definition of ecology as much as it provides an integral interpretation of the standard definition of ecology, where organisms and their environments are recognized as having interiority. Integral Ecology also examines developmental stages in both nature and humanity, including how nature shows up to people operating from differing worldviews. Integral Ecology troes [sic] to unite valuable insights from multiple perspectives into a comprehensive theoretical framework—one that can be put to use right now.
The framework is based on Integral Theory, as well as Ken Wilber's AQAL model, and is the result of over a decade of research exploring the myriad perspectives on ecology available to us today and their respective methodologies. The authors argue that to characterize the field adequately and to develop plausible solutions to environmental problems, many different points of view must be represented, including not only the natural and social sciences, but philosophy, religion, cultural norms and values, as well -- perspectives that belong to first-person experience, as in the case of people offering personal testimony about the consequences of environmental hazards. This is not relativism, however, because some perspectives are more coherent and better than others.
The authors argue that Integral Ecology avoids „gross reductionism“ (the reduction of all reality to objective phenomena) and „subtle reductionism“ (the reduction of all interiors to interobjective phenomena) and organizes all perspective into one coherent whole. Subjective and intersubjective dimensions must be interpreted on their own terms and not reduced to (inter)objective phenomena. Dozens of real-life applications and examples of this framework currently in use are examined, including three in-depth case studies: work with marine fisheries in Hawai'i, strategies of eco-activists to protect Canada's Great Bear Rainforest, and a study of community development in El Salvador.
Tomislav Markus's Note: Authors of reviewed books are often complaining that a reviewer mis-constructed their position and put into their mouth what they didn't say. This danger is especially possible in this case, where prof. Esbjoern-Hargens and prof. Zimmerman use very specific terminology. So, my intention was, by using their own words (in some sentences or part of sentences), to get a maximally correct presentation of their fundamental position, statements and methodology. If plagiarism was my intention I would never sent an e-letter, with the review and a notification where it would be published, to prof. Esbjoern-Hargens at the same time as Frank Visser. In the second letter to prof. Esbjoern-Hargens, after his first accusation about "plagiarism", I expressed suprise and shock for this accusation of plagiarism and explained clearly my intention (but, obviously, in vain).