Literature critic and book editor at Morgenbladet
It is not acceptable to paraphrase page up and page down from the work of others without proper reference.
This is a debate post. Opinions in the text are at the writer’s expense.
Spring 2019 reviewed I the book “A Sami world history” written by author and journalist Hugo Lauritz Jenssen in Morgenbladet. The title of the review was “A theft of knowledge”, and my claim was that Jenssen made fraudulent use of other people’s work.
The problem was not plagiarism in the strictest sense, ie pure transcript, but that strikingly long and many analyzes, series of arguments and stories in the book were taken from others. The footnotes were also not designed to make the reader aware of the extent of this.
By parallel quoting from Jenssen and his sources, I argued that this represented a theft of knowledge.
Cathrine Baglo, the author of the most important of the books Jenssen leaned on, commented on the matter as follows: “I recognize my observations, my analyzes, my historical divisions, my own formulations and many of my points.”
In a recently published essay in Aftenposten, Simen conveys Sætre Jenssen’s experience of this review (he “was killed”), at the same time as Sætre asks: “But what rules had Hugo Lauritz Jenssen actually broken?” Sætre cannot possibly take this question very seriously.
In recent decades, we have had a number of debates about quotation customs in popular historical representations. The most intense of them was about Karsten Alnæs’ “History of Norway”, and in 2005 it resulted in a 300-page report.
The report’s “professional concept of plagiarism” – which is a recommendation derived from the historians’ own guidelines – is actually stricter than I am comfortable with. But there is no doubt that it is meant to apply to the type of popular history Jenssen has written. It also includes fraudulent paraphrasing. In my opinion, the term plagiarism, which most people probably associate with pure transcript, should be used with caution.
In my opinion, the term plagiarism, which most people probably associate with pure transcript, should be used with caution
I found it necessary to nuance – hence the concept of knowledge theft. Then Sætre is concerned that there are no clear rules, and he may be right. But there are clear norms, as well as an ongoing conversation about these, and the fact that cases like this are so rare, indicates that the norms work for the vast majority of.
The kafka-like tale
The way Sætre portrays Jenssen in this interview-based essay must also be commented on.
In order to make his Kafkaesque story (that someone must have given a false testimony against Hugo Lauritz Jenssen, for one morning he was arrested without having done anything wrong) go up, Sætre draws a picture of Jenssen as a « engineer son from Mo i Rana »who reacts with paralysis when he receives criticism.
These tactical stagings can hardly be understood as anything other than an attempt at disclaimer
But in the essay’s own presentation of Hugo Lauritz Jenssen’s academic weight, we can also read the following: “He had written for Dagens Næringsliv for 35 years and written twenty books.” One of these books was nominated for the Brage Prize.
These tactical stagings can hardly be understood as anything other than an attempt at disclaimer. In all other contexts, it would be natural to describe Hugo Lauritz Jenssen as an unusually experienced author.
Finally, it is worth noting that Jenssen says he “would have written the book like that anyway” – he wanted to “tell the story journalistically”. But I have never seen any definition of journalism that indicates that it is acceptable to paraphrase page up and page down from other people’s work without proper reference.
Neither in 2019 nor now does Jenssen respond to the examples of dishonesty that I documented. On the other hand, he succumbs to sweeping statements that no one can possess knowledge.
But that is unfortunately not true when we talk about long stretches with reproductions of other authors’ original analyzes and findings.
Fortunately, the knowledge is there for free on loan for anyone who wants to, all you need to do is tell where you got it from and how to use it.