Jane Goodall’s ‘Seeds of Hope’ book contains borrowed passages without attribution

Jane Goodall, the primatologist celebrated for her meticulous studies of chimps in the wild, is releasing a book next month on the plant world that contains at least a dozen passages borrowed without attribution, or footnotes, from a variety of Web sites.

The borrowings in “Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder From the World of Plants” range from phrases to an entire paragraph from Web sites such as Wikipedia and others that focus on astrology, tobacco, beer, nature and organic tea.

(Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images) - Jane Goodall, the primatologist celebrated for her meticulous studies of chimps in the wild, is releasing a book next month on the plant world that contains at least a dozen passages borrowed without attribution, or footnotes, from a variety of Web sites.

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Goodall wrote “Seeds of Hope” with Gail Hudson, who has contributed to two other books by the 78-year-old naturalist. Hudson is described on literati.net as a newspaper and magazine editor, freelance writer, former spirituality editor for Amazon.com and longtime devotee of organic foods and holistic living.

“This was a long and well researched book,” Goodall said in an e-mail, “and I am distressed to discover that some of the excellent and valuable sources were not properly cited, and I want to express my sincere apologies. I hope it is obvious that my only objective was to learn as much as I could so that I could provide straightforward factual information distilled from a wide range of reliable sources.”

Goodall said she will discuss the issue on her Jane Goodall Institute Web site blog and will correct future editions.

The book’s publisher, Grand Central, said in an e-mail it was surprised to “hear of the assertions.” It added: “We have not formulated a detailed plan beyond crediting the sources in subsequent releases.”

Hudson said she had no comment.

Goodall joins a list of famous authors who have recently faced questions about material they included in their work. Often, the cause is speed and sloppiness in the research, sometimes performed by co-authors and abetted by technology that allows a writer to swiftly transfer passages from one place to another — and just as swiftly to forget it was done. An expert in botany invited by The Washington Post to review “Seeds of Hope” noticed some of the echoed passages, notified the editors and declined the assignment.

In “Seeds of Hope,” Goodall has crafted a passionate narrative about plants, their effect on our lives and her desire to preserve the natural environment. Her first-person reflections are full of her well-known charm and humanitarianism. It is when the book moves away from Goodall’s own stories to deliver background information on plants and their history that the instances of borrowing creep in. Goodall, whose reputation was founded on observations of chimps in Tanzania, acknowledges early in the book that her training in botany is limited. “I have spent a lifetime loving plants,” she writes, “even though I have never studied them as a scientist.”

Replicated quotes

In the book, Goodall extols the benefits of sustainable farming. She expresses her shock at learning of dangerous conditions for workers who harvest tea.

“According to Oxfam,” she writes, “a British nonprofit agency working to put an end to poverty worldwide, the spraying of pesticides on tea estates is often done by untrained casual daily-wage workers, sometimes even by children and adolescents.”

That paragraph appears word for word on the Web site of Choice Organic Teas, a company dedicated to ethical labor practices. Choice Organic Teas was selected in 2010 to carry the Jane Goodall “Good for All” brand on a new line of products, and it donates a slice of its profits to the Jane Goodall Institute.

Goodall explains the toxic dangers in some detail, writing: “Most of these chemicals — such as Aldrin 20E, Carbofuran 30, Endosulfan 35 EC, Malathion 50 EC, Tetradifon 8 EC, Calixin 80 EC — are listed as hazardous and toxic, and a number of them are banned in Western countries. Despite dangers of exposure to these poisons, the workers are frequently barefoot and in shorts rather than protected by recommended aprons.”

This material is replicated nearly verbatim from the same Web site page. Both passages also appear in nearly identical language on other organic tea Web sites and in the 2008 bookBig Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World” by Diane MacEachern. The language can be traced to a 2002 draft report, “The Tea Market — A Background Study,” which lacks an authorship credit.

“Seeds of Hope” contains language from Wikipedia in its discussion of 18th-century Philadelphia botanist John Bartram, who shipped boxes of seeds to Europeans. Goodall writes: “ ‘Bartram’s Boxes,’ as they came to be known, were regularly sent to Peter Collinson for distribution to a wide list of European clients.”

he Wikipedia entry reads: “Bartram’s Boxes as they then became known, were regularly sent to Peter Collinson every fall for distribution in England to a wide list of clients.”

Goodall marvels at the majesty of trees. “In ancient Egypt,” she notes, “the sycamore was especially revered — twin sycamores were believed to stand at the eastern gate of heaven through which Ra, the sun god[,] came each day.”

Nearly identical words are found on a Web site called “Find Your Fate,” which covers astrology, numerology, palm reading and matters relating to love and life.

The phrasing Goodall uses to describe the tobacco habits of Indians in South and Central America is very similar to what is found on a Web site of tobacco history. The boldfaced words in this passage from the book echo language on the Web site: “In South and Central America the Indians smoked tobacco in pipes of many shapes and sizes, often elaborately decorated. It was sometimes chewed or used as snuff to ‘clear the head.’ Tobacco was also used as a remedy for such varied conditions as asthma, bites and stings, urinary and bowel complaints, fevers, convulsions, nervous ailments, sore eyes, and skin diseases. Some tribes cultivate tobacco as an insecticide to protect themselves against parasites.”

High-profile cases of literary borrowing are leaping to view with increasing frequency. Jonah Lehrer not only reused his own material but also made up quotes, resulting in his departure from his job as a New Yorker staff writer and the pulping of two of his books. Time columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria was briefly suspended for using passages from another writer’s work in one of his columns. Questions of borrowing have touched historians Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin and novelist Ian McEwan. Publishers have taken the heat in some cases for their less-than-rigorous fact-checking of manuscripts.

Intent is hard to judge

Judging an author’s culpability in cases of literary borrowing is complicated, said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute and co-author of a book on press ethics, “Elements of Journalism.” Questions of intent, haste, carelessness, number and length of echoed passages all come into play.

Appropriating another author’s ideas as one’s own and inventing material and presenting it as fact are among the gravest literary lapses. Neither appears to have occurred in “Seeds of Hope.”

By academic standards, however, the content-copying of “Seeds of Hope” is unacceptable, said Lena Struwe, a plant biology professor at Rutgers and director of the university’s Chrysler Herbarium, who publishes a blog called Botanical Accuracy. If a Rutgers graduate student turned in a paper containing similar infractions, she wrote in an e-mail after reviewing the examples, the student would be reported to administrators, punished and possibly expelled.

“Seeds of Hope” has 19 pages of acknowledgments under the heading “Gratitude” but contains no end notes, bibliography or source references. In that section, Goodall thanks many people for their assistance on her journeys and for speaking to her about their work. Struwe believes Goodall has committed a breach of scientific etiquette by not providing detailed citations. Like all scientists, botanists rely on the work of their predecessors to create a clear portrait of the plant world, and precise references to formative work are essential in that process, Struwe said.

“Seeds of Hope” tells the tale of botanists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London germinating 200-year-old seeds preserved in the Millennium Seed Bank. The seeds were shipped from Cape Town, were seized by the British and spent time in the Tower of London before winding up at the bank. Goodall concludes the story with a comment she says botanist Matt Daws made to her: “If seeds can survive that long in such poor conditions, then that’s good news for the ones that are stored under ideal conditions in the Millennium Seed Bank,’ Matt Daws said to me.”

Virtually the same quote from Daws appears on the Gardens Web site in a 2009 article with the headline “Plant story — 200 year old seeds spring to life”: “If seed can survive that long in poor conditions, then that’s good news for those in the Millennium Seed Bank stored under ideal conditions.” Asked in an e-mail whether he ever had a conversation with Goodall, Daws replied: “To be perfectly honest I have no recollection of speaking to her.”

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