When you’re an Ivy League professor who writes a sloppy, error-ridden, yet prize-winning book, you don’t expect a bunch of nonentities to crawl out of the woodwork and call you on it. It won a prize, after all.

Thus, Charles Armstrong, author of Tyranny of the Weak (a book about North Korea) was clearly caught off guard when some dude with some weird Hungarian name who teaches at Korea University complained that Armstrong seemed to have made up some of his sources and plagiarized parts of his text and other stuff like that. Armstrong went right on the attack:

I have, as far as I know, never offended him. I’ve known him for years, and appreciate the work he’s done. His book appears in my bibliography. I don’t understand why he would come after me this way.

Must be professional jealousy.

Plus it’s all the nonentity’s fault because he didn’t follow proper academic protocol:

Dr. Szalontai never communicated his concerns or criticisms directly to me prior to these various posts on different blogs. Why direct communication, a common professional courtesy and practice in academia, was not the preferred form of expression remains a mystery.

Another scholar, commenting on this response, noted:

The Columbia professor attributes improper academic conduct to Szalontai. That tells you all you need to know. … [N]o honest scholar who had accidentally lifted dozens of items from a colleague would dream of scolding him for not complaining courteously enough.

But Armstrong is not through transferring blame to others. He also – like so many haughties before him – blames the servants.

The book’s narrative was constructed through multiple transfers of notes, some made by my research assistants and others done by myself. This too, in retrospect, may have resulted in some inaccuracies.

You just can’t get good help these days!

Armstrong tried most of the traditional techniques people try when they get themselves into his position: He painted himself as a victim of mysteriously malign forces; he attacked the messenger; he attacked his research assistants. The only (very popular) move he didn’t try was the bit where you reveal that while writing the book your wife died, your cat died, you suffered recurrent bouts of impotence, and you developed a drug addiction. He didn’t go for that one.

Anyhoo. He just gave back the prize.

Some commentary from one of his colleagues at Columbia.

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3 Responses to “Tyranny of the Strong”

  1. Bernard Carroll Says:

    Yes, one can always throw underlings under the bus.

  2. wayward Says:

    Never understood the practice of using a substantial amount of a research assistant’s writing without giving them co-authorship. Not just to be nice, but to give them some skin in the game — if they plagiarize, fabricate, or falsify, it’s their name on the publication too.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Am I glad that you pointed out that Charles Armstrong is a jerk. Honestly, Tyranny of the Weak? It’s really tyranny of the strong over the weak because of social Darwinism, which promotes bullying.

    It’s ironic that strong people that weak ones are tyrannical when they’re the real tyrants themselves. Whether anyone likes it or not, there will always be weak people in the world an that no one can force anyone to be strong.

    Seriously, I’m so tired of that “only the strong survive” bullshit. Well, screw all who think that way!

    As my dad once told me when I was an eighth grader, we all have to accept our weaknesses. And he’s right. Unfortunately, he’s hypocritical about it, which pisses me off so much that I want get back at him for being my worst enemy on Earth just as I want to get back at all the damn bullies who picked on me.

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