Uneoth.com

The News Source You've Been Waiting For

Technology

Months later, publishers still sorting out plagiarism mess

This week, Simon & Schuster finally published “The Book of Animal Secrets: Nature’s Lessons for a Long and Happy Life,” the highly anticipated book by USC’s Dr. David Agus whose release was suspended after the manuscript was found to contain numerous instances of plagiarism.

The new version of the book differs subtly from the one originally slated for March, with multiple sections revised and reworded. But there is one conspicuous difference: the removal of a passage in the acknowledgments praising Agus’ former collaborator, Los Angeles writer Kristin Loberg.

“The Book of Animal Secrets: Nature’s Lessons for a Long and Happy Life” by Dr. David B. Agus

(Courtesy of David B. Agus M.D., Simon & Schuster)

“We have been working together for thirteen years, and I enjoy every moment we spend together,” Agus had initially penned to the person who co-wrote “The Book of Animal Secrets” and his three previous titles. “You are an amazing partner, an insightful thinker, a remarkably talented writer, and a good friend.”

Agus, an oncologist at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and chief executive of the Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine, was not the only high-profile figure to have credited Loberg with his books’ success.

“The collaboration I have had with my partner and friend, Kristin Loberg, has been truly special,” CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote in the acknowledgments of his 2021 book “Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age.”

“We should all be lucky enough to have a real mind meld with someone like Kristin, who immediately understood what I was trying to convey and always helped me get there,” Gupta wrote of Loberg, who went on to produce two more volumes with him. “She is the very best at what she does, and quite simply, this book would not have been possible without her.”

For years, Loberg was a prolific and sought-after ghostwriter of health- and wellness-themed nonfiction books, a standout in the niche industry of wordsmiths who quietly craft books for authors who lack the time or experience to pen their works alone.

Between 2006 and 2022, the Los Angeles native was credited on 45 titles, nearly all released by the so-called Big Five, the handful of publishers that dominate the U.S. book industry. Books with her shared byline sold millions of copies and garnered coveted bestseller designations from Amazon and the New York Times.

Publishers often introduced her to authors seeking a writing partner, according to Loberg’s former clients and her own previous interviews.

“If the publisher, of all people, is the one doing the recommendation, that’s kind of the gold standard,” said Dan Gerstein, CEO of the agency Gotham Ghostwriters.

That changed abruptly in March. A review by The Times of Agus’ four books with Loberg found significant plagiarism: not just a recycled turn of phrase or a few missing attributions, but entire paragraphs and pages copied and pasted verbatim from blog posts, news articles and other sources.

Her two other best-selling clients, Gupta and celebrity talk show guest Dr. David Perlmutter, issued public statements saying they had reviewed their books and likewise found plagiarized material in their titles.

“I accept complete responsibility for any errors my work may have contained,” Loberg said at the time in a statement that acknowledged “allegations of plagiarism” and apologized to writers whose work was not properly credited.

Publishers pledged to review all of her books and take corrective steps where necessary. In the nine months since, they have been quietly cleaning up an editorial mess that some industry observers say is partly of their own making.

Three books by Dr. David Agus: "The End of Illness," "A Short Guide to a Long Life," and "The Lucky Years"

A Times investigation of books by Dr. David Agus found more than 120 passages that are virtually identical to the language and structure of previously published material from other sources.

(Los Angeles Times)

Simon & Schuster said it has released updated versions of six books by Agus and Gupta with the problematic passages either reworked or excised. Loberg’s name is scrubbed from the credits and acknowledgments in the latest editions on Amazon’s Kindle store.

Hachette Book Group released new electronic versions of the four books Perlmutter wrote with Loberg, including the bestselling “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar — Your Brain’s Silent Killers.” Loberg’s name no longer appears in those books either.

“It seems like what they’re doing is something of a stealth new version, where they are letting corrected ones replace the ones with plagiarism relatively quietly,” said Jonathan Bailey, owner of the copyright and plagiarism consultancy CopyByte in New Orleans. “While this is much better than doing nothing, it would be much better to have first pulled the books from sale and then replaced them with clearly marked new editions.”

Representatives for Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Macmillan did not respond to multiple queries about the outcome of promised reviews of Loberg’s books. They also declined to comment on whether they have made any changes in their editorial processes.

Neither Loberg nor her attorney responded to requests to comment for this story.

It’s unclear how plagiarism of this scale evaded notice for so long. In addition to outside sources, Loberg frequently borrowed sections from her projects with other clients. The result was a sort of ouroboros of wellness content across multiple books.

For instance, multiple passages from Dr. Michael F. Holick’s 2010 “The Vitamin D Solution: A 3-Step strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problem” and 2011’s “Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged” by dietitian Ashley Koff and fitness trainer Kathy Kaehler appeared in Agus’ 2012 bestseller “The End of Illness.”

Parts of “The End of Illness” surfaced the following year in Perlmutter’s “Grain Brain.” A decade later, a long passage on diabetes from “Grain Brain” appeared nearly verbatim in the original version of “The Book of Animal Secrets.”