A professor and star historian pinned for plagiarism

The star historian Laurent Turcot was pinned for plagiarism and called to order by his university last fall, but escaped sanctions.

Professor in the history department of the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières (UQTR), Mr. Turcot is regularly invited by the media. At Radio-Canada as at TVA.


The star historian (in the center) on the show Salut Bonjour, in 2018.

Courtesy picture

The star historian (in the center) on the show Salut Bonjour, in 2018.

For the government corporation, he produced, among other things, a podcast entitled Fan d’histoire in which he discussed with personalities such as Guylaine Tremblay and Guy A. Lepage. On YouTube, he hosts a channel called History will tell us which has more than 375,000 subscribers.


Laurent Turcot (left) on the program Tout le monde en parle in 2020.

Courtesy picture

Laurent Turcot (left) on the program Tout le monde en parle in 2020.


Laurent Turcot's YouTube channel has over 375,000 subscribers.

Screenshot

Laurent Turcot’s YouTube channel has over 375,000 subscribers.

It was in the summer of 2021 that an anonymous complaint was filed with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), a federal granting agency.

The complaint was about his book Sports and leisure: a history from the origins to the present day, published in 2016 by Gallimard editions.


Laurent Turcot

He criticizes the publisher

SSHRC alerted UQTR, which deemed the complaint “admissible” and formed a committee of three academics to investigate 13 passages of the book.

In front of him, Mr. Turcot defended himself as follows: his book had been prepared from course notes, which included sentences copied elsewhere without reference.

He also maintained that in the back and forth with the editor, he or he may have inadvertently, while trying to “air out” the text, remove footnote references, quotation marks and references.

The verdict of the UQTR committee, which came down in October, was that there was indeed a “breach of responsible conduct in research”.

In an “official letter” addressed to Mr. Turcot sent to the Log by UQTR, Vice-Rector for Research Sébastien Charles writes: “Some quotes in your book are not presented as such […], which constitutes plagiarism. »

“Extremely serious”

However, “in light of all the facts”, it was decided that Mr. Turcot would not be sanctioned. There “was no deliberate and malicious use” of plagiarism, the committee ruled, in a report to which the Log had access (but a passage of which is redacted).

In interview with The newspaperMr. Charles maintains that the allegations of plagiarism are “extremely serious” and that the professor showed a “lack of rigor in the creation and editing of the book”.

Hence the “official letter” to Mr. Turcot reminding him of “the importance of rigorous work in the preparation of [ses] publications”.

Joined by The newspaper twice, Laurent Turcot admitted that “some mistakes were made”, but insists: all this was done without “bad faith”.

The University summoned Mr. Turcot to contact his publisher “to agree on corrective measures”. Gallimard subsequently confirmed to us that corrections would be made in a reissue.

“Use all or part of another’s text by passing it off as one’s own or without indicating the references”, according to the regulations of the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières.

THE RESULTS

FOR STUDENTS

  • “Course failure
  • “The suspension of the program for one or more sessions for a maximum duration not exceeding 24 months
  • “Temporary or permanent exclusion from the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières”, according to the establishment.

FOR TEACHERS

  • Penalties vary. In 2012, UQAM recommended the dismissal of Professor Robert Robillard, from the Accounting Department. An outside expert had determined that he had plagiarized. In 2014, an arbitrator ruled that a six-month suspension was enough, which the Superior Court upheld the following year.

In Turcot’s book

“A place par excellence of sociability in all classes of society, the Parisian café of the 19and century also finds a place of choice in French literature: from the most posh to the most modest, none has escaped the meticulous description of the spirit that animated them. A place where one sees and where one is seen, a spectacle in itself, it is a kind of theatre. »

original excerpt

“A place par excellence of sociability in all classes of society, the Parisian café of the 19and century has found a place of choice in French literature: from the most posh to the most modest, none has escaped the meticulous description of the spirit that animated them. Place where one sees and where one is seen, spectacle in itself, it is a kind of theater [sic]. »

SOURCE: Laurent Portes, “Cafés, bistros, caboulots…”, 2013, digital article on the Gallica site of the BNF

In Turcot’s book

“The golden age of balls is in the middle of the century and the establishments that organize them are not only places of sociability; they also lend themselves to physical relaxation, even to sporting achievement. Evidenced by the unleashing of the “gallops”, the “polka”, or the “French cancan”, the “eccentric” flights of famous dancers such as Grille d’Égout or Valentin le Désossé. High places of dance are essential such as the Mabille ball, the Closerie des Lilas, the Moulin Rouge, or the Moulin de la Galette. »

original excerpt

“The golden age of the ball is in the middle of the century […] a place of sociability; it also lends itself to physical relaxation and even sporting achievement. Evidenced by the unleashing of the “gallops”, the “polka”, or the “French cancan”, the “eccentric” flights of famous dancers such as Grille d’Égout or Valentin le Désossé. […] High places of dance are essential such as the Mabille ball, the Closerie des Lilas, the Moulin Rouge, or the Moulin de la Galette. »

SOURCE: Paul Gerbod, “About Parisian leisure in the 19th century”), French Ethnology, Volume 23, No 4, 1993, p. 616

In Turcot’s book

“Of some 230 charioteers and agitatores listed, there is only one coachman of free birth. »

“In twenty-four years of career, he won no less than 4257 races. »

original excerpt

“Of some 230 charioteers and agitatores listed, there is only one coachman of free birth. »

“In 24 years of career, he participated in 4257 races. »

SOURCE: Jocelyne Nelis-Clément, “Circus professions, from Rome to Byzantium: between text and image”, Cahiers du center Gustave Glotz, vol. 13, 2002, p. 274

He pleads the error “in good faith”

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In a first interview with The newspaperLaurent Turcot had denied any responsibility for the plagiarized passages in his book.

In a second call, the academic admitted that “errors” may have been made by him among others.

“We are always responsible for our text,” says Mr. Turcot.

He insists that he never wanted to “appropriate” the work of others.

This complaint stems, according to him, from a vendetta on the part of a “colleague” who has “harassed” him for seven years.

“He attacked me physically and verbally! “, he launches.

The elimination of quotation marks and references, in the incriminated passages, is explained according to him in most cases.

These are “course notes” transformed into a “synthesis book”, “general public”, he insists.

Moreover, it was halfway through the course on the history of sport and leisure that he decided to turn his notes into a book. From then on, he would have been “more precise” in what he noted.

lawyer letter

In several of the cases raised, Mr. Turcot believes that the publisher is responsible for the problem, since the quotation marks were indeed there, he swears, in the initial version of the manuscript. He did not send this to the Log as we requested.

On March 23, he instead sent us a letter from his lawyer Jean-François Bertrand in which he tries to explain 13 cases:

  • For three passages copied from a website, Mr. Turcot maintains that they in fact came from previously published books, books that he had consulted and that he quotes elsewhere in his work. But these three notes would have unfortunately disappeared during the editing work, he argues.
  • Seven other passages copied and used without quotation marks come from works cited elsewhere in Sports and leisures, he argued. Mr. Turcot sees this as proof that he did not attempt to conceal his sources.
  • According to our analysis, for the other three excerpts, Turcot could not provide any clear explanation.

When he learned that a complaint had been filed against him, the historian maintains that he acted quickly. In August, he published an expanded bibliography on a website (laurentturcot.ca) including the 13 missing references. In his eyes, this “set things right”.

In the eyes of the editor responsible for Laurent Turcot’s book, the faults that the University accuses the professor of are only “blunders”.

“All of this is disproportionate to the fault committed,” said Sophie Kucoyanis, head of the Folio History collections at Gallimard, when contacted in Paris.

In his eyes, it is also a “shared fault”.

“The author, thinking he was doing the right thing, cut quotation marks and sources that weighed down the subject and the publisher did not realize this type of cut. So there is shared fault because the author should not have done that. And the publisher should have seen it. »

In addition, “no author or publisher” of the plagiarized works has addressed any “complaint about this book”, she underlined.

Laurent Turcot says the University combed through his book and found no additional instances of plagiarism.

“These are the only 13 cases,” he insisted.

He specified that the UQTR has “the software which makes it possible to see where the parts of the book come from”.

At the vice-rectorate for research, however, the operation has been put into perspective.

“To sift, it is perhaps a bit strong”, replied the vice-rector Sébastien Charles.

Moreover, the file sent to Log included the 13 cases of plagiarism analyzed by UQTR. But there was added to these a 14th, more precisely a paragraph with no footnote and very similar to the extract from a website not mentioned by Mr. Turcot in his book.

Additionally, on March 23, The newspaper received another anonymous submission exposing a similar case in connection with another website. It is therefore a 15and potential case of plagiarism.

Witnesses of similar cases? Write to me confidentially at antoine.robitaille@quebecormedia.com

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