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BC professor recycled ideas, society finds

Several book passages are cited

A Boston College theology professor, the Rev. William W. Meissner, committed a "serious breach of professional and scholarly standards" by recycling another professor's ideas in a recent book on psychoanalysis without acknowledging their source, according to the Boston Psychoanalytic Society, which investigated the book's scholarship last year.

Several passages in Meissner's book, "The Ethical Dimension of Psychoanalysis: A Dialogue," published in 2003, closely echo the phrasing and ideas in "Psychoanalysis and Ethics" by Ernest Wallwork, published in 1991.

A yearlong investigation by the Society's ethics committee found that Meissner, university professor of psychoanalysis at BC, "excessively paraphrased" Wallwork and borrowed his ideas without attribution. The committee asked Meissner "to take appropriate steps to correct the public record."

According to the book's publisher, however, neither Meissner nor Boston College have informed him about the finding.

Meissner was traveling out of state yesterday. Through a BC spokesman, he declined to discuss the society's finding with a reporter, but denied any wrongdoing.

In a statement, BC spokesman Jack Dunn said: "William Meissner. SJ, MD, is one of the nation's most respected experts on psychoanalytical theory and the author of more than 285 publications, including 27 books. He adamantly maintains that he has not engaged in plagiarism, that his book gives ample and appropriate credit to the author bringing these charges, and that the allegation raised against him is baseless."

The eight-member ethics committee of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute undertook the investigation after receiving a complaint from Wallwork, a professor at Syracuse University.

Reached this week at his office in Washington, D.C., Wallwork, a religion professor who taught at Yale and Wellesley before joining the Syracuse faculty 22 years ago, said he discovered the books' similiarities after being asked to review Meissner's newly published book for a medical journal two years ago. He said he saw numerous passages in Meissner's book that were "almost identical" to passages in his own book. He said he wrote to Meissner and Joseph Quinn, dean of BC's College of Arts and Sciences, in July 2003, including a comparison of passages from the two books, but never received a reply. He also wrote to the publishers of both books, but neither pursued the matter, he said.

Quinn did not return a call from the Globe yesterday.

Frustrated, Wallwork says he then sought an opinion from the Boston Psychoanalytic Society, a local group affiliated with the American Psychoanalytic Association. In a statement dated Nov. 18, 2004, the Society's ethics committee summarized its conclusions.

"The Committee agreed unanimously that Dr. Meissner's book . . . contained some passages that excessively paraphrased or borrowed ideas from Dr. Wallwork's book . . . without adequate or appropriate citation or acknowledgement," read the statement, released yesterday by the society. "The Committee concluded that this represented a serious breach of professional and scholarly standards. The Committee unanimously found this to be unacceptable."

Wallwork, who is also a practicing psychoanalyst, said that Meissner's book should be withdrawn from the market and that the reason for the recall should be publicized by the book's publisher, State University of New York Press.

"I'm very saddened that an eminent scholar like William Meissner should find himself in this situation," Wallwork said in an interview yesterday.

The interim director of SUNY Press, James Peltz, said yesterday that he was not aware of the Boston society's investigation or its finding and would need to review it before he could determine what action might be taken. An initial investigation of Wallwork's complaint, undertaken by the publisher soon after the book's publication in 2003, did not turn up any evidence of unethical behavior, he said. After that review, Peltz said, the publisher "didn't see grounds for action on our part."

"Wallwork was cited 21 times in the index and was noted in the preface as having influenced the book, so our position was that any errors in attribution were unintentional," said Peltz. "He made every effort to attribute where necessary."

Meissner, 73, a Jesuit priest, earned a degree from Harvard Medical School in 1967 and also holds degrees from Woodstock College and St. Louis University. He held a license to practice medicine in the state from 1968 until 1997, when he asked to have his license retired, according to a spokeswoman for the Board of Registration in Medicine, who found no recent complaints against him. On the website for BC's psychoanalytic studies major, he is listed as having taught a course, "Introduction to Psychoanalysis," during the fall semester.

A colleague of Meissner's who asked not to be named said the professor chose not to defend himself during the ethics committee investigation last year because of his strong feeling that the charge was baseless.

The practice of Freudian psychoanalysis lies at the center of both professors' books, each of which discusses how Freud's ideas relate to ethics. The books contain chapters on some of the same psychological topics, including determinism, hedonism, narcissism, and object love.

While some overlap of ideas is to be expected in any works that treat the same topics, close comparison of the texts yields several instances where sentences from Wallwork's book appear to be slightly altered and reused by Meissner.

"Any contention that Freud was unequivocally committed to hard determinism will run afoul of the kind of statements found in 'The Ego and the Id,' " Meissner writes on page 96 of his book.

"The contention that Freud unequivocally believed in hard determinism is significantly undermined by statements such as that in 'The Ego and the Id,' " wrote Wallwork a dozen years earlier, on page 67 of his book.

"Freud regarded the love commandment as not only not doing much good, but as a source of great unhappiness," Meissner wrote on page 171 of his book.

"Freud's final criticism of the love commandment is that trying to live up to its unrealistic requirements is a significant source of unhappiness," Wallwork wrote in his book, on page 203.

Two other instances of scholarly borrowing have generated headlines recently at Harvard Law School, where last fall the high-profile professors Laurence H. Tribe and Charles J. Ogletree each acknowledged borrowing material from other scholars without properly acknowledging their sources.

In Ogletree's case, the school investigated and found "a serious scholarly trangression." The resulting discipline was not disclosed.

At BC, Dunn said there has been no previous allegation of academic dishonesty against a faculty member in his six-year history at the school. According to the school's statement, BC is supporting Meissner.

Jenna Russell can be reached at

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