Jay Robert Nash

Author threatens to sue, deemed unfit as source

A Chicago-based producer of other encyclopedias (no, not Encyclopædia Britannica) has threatened to sue Wikipedia for copyright infringement, but has yet to provide any specific examples. However, revelations about misinformation in those encyclopedias, including some that made its way into Wikipedia, have prompted Jimmy Wales to call the author an unsuitable source in any event.

The source in question is Jay Robert Nash, a prolific author who primarily produces reference works and anthologies about crime. He is currently cited as a reference in a number of crime-related articles, most of which can be found by following the what links here feature. Although crime is his specialty, Nash has also branched out into other subjects, including with his 1976 book Darkest Hours: A Narrative Encyclopedia of Worldwide Disasters — From Ancient Times to the Present.

Nash connected to Lisbon earthquake misinformation

This latter work figured in an earlier incident in which Wikipedia's accuracy was called into question. The incident involved a Washington Post article that was criticized for mischaracterizing the actions of Catholic priests after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake (see archived story). Theresa Carpinelli, a Catholic radio host based in Ohio, took umbrage at its claim that "priests roamed the streets, hanging those they believed had incurred God's wrath." As part of a lengthy rebuttal, she investigated and guessed that the reporter had taken this information from Wikipedia.

When the reporter ultimately responded to her challenge, Carpinelli related that he defended his assertion by citing Nash's encyclopedia in support of it. The reporter quoted a passage that read, "Battalions of priests roved through the debris of Lisbon looking for heretics to burn". The Nash text mentioned in connection with this the tale of "an Englishman named Chase" who supposedly feigned unconsciousness to avoid their attention, according to an account published by Blackwood's Magazine in 1860 (oddly, more than a century after the event).

Carpinelli then went on to attempt a reconstruction of the research in order to dissect and debunk the claims. She determined that the account in question was that of Thomas Chase, and it had originally appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine in 1813. However, she said that she found nothing, either in this version or the later publication by Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, suggesting that priests targeted heretics for death or that Chase mentioned faking unconsciousness to avoid them. Carpinelli concluded, "To imply that this information came from Chase’s account in the Blackwood's Magazine, as Jay Robert Nash does, is simply false."

[Update: Although Nash referred to Chase in the same sentence, he did not explicitly state that Chase was his source as to the burning of heretics. Carpinelli has since backed off from her statement that Nash implied this, and Catholic Exchange, the site where it appeared, has apologized for it. Since Chase didn't mention priests, the possibility remains that Nash had another source for the passage about priests burning heretics. Carpinelli indicated that she did not check Nash's entire bibliography, but further investigation by The Wikipedia Signpost located a second possible source—which, however, also fails to support Nash's description. See here for details.]

It seems plausible that Nash's inaccuracy may have fooled not only the reporter, but also the contributor who originally added the same information to Wikipedia. This addition happened in October 2003, a time when citing sources was not emphasized as strongly on Wikipedia, so the ultimate source has never been precisely identified. However, Wikipedia editors are often fans of encyclopedia-type reference works in general and have been known to use these as a resource for transferring information into Wikipedia, so it may well have come from Nash. [Update: As noted on the talk page, Carpinelli points to a website as an intermediate source for the Wikipedia article, but the site clearly appears to draw its information from Nash.]

The offending passage was removed from the Wikipedia article in question, 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and with considerable additional work, it became a featured article in April 2005. Carpinelli herself, who started out quite critical of Wikipedia's response, said that the article "is now so well-written and well-balanced that even I am impressed."

Other issues with Nash

Nash has won "Best Reference" citations from the American Library Association for four of his books, including Darkest Hours. However, he has repeatedly said that his books are seeded with misinformation, including incorrect facts and nonexistent people, so as to catch those who "steal" from his work. Librarian Sally G. Waters, writing for the Library Journal, called his work "fascinating yet flawed" and recommended that it be used only for background research, verifying the information based on the sources in Nash’s bibliography. In the Journal of American History, Richard Maxwell Brown also noted the "numerous errors, omissions, inconsistencies, and anomalies" in Nash’s encyclopedias.

More recently, Nash has claimed that Wikipedia has violated his copyright by either copying or plagiarizing the content for many of its crime-related articles. He has stated on several occasions that he is compiling a list of examples in which Wikipedia allegedly infringes on his work. An actual list has not been provided at this point and so far as is known, no Wikipedia content that infringes on Nash's work has yet been identified by him or anyone else.

Jimmy Wales commented that he would be happy to remove any instances of copying if pointed out, but called Nash's books unfit as sources for Wikipedia regardless of any legal issues. "Nash's work should not be relied upon," Wales concluded, on the grounds that the deliberate insertion of errors "makes it unsuitable as a reference anyway."

Nash once filed a lawsuit against CBS for producing an episode of Simon & Simon with a plotline based around his notion that bank robber John Dillinger was not killed by the FBI in 1934. (Nash focused two separate books on his theory, which has won little acceptance from historians.) His claim of copyright infringement was dismissed on summary judgment, a ruling upheld by an appeals court. The court compared Nash's writing to "speculative works representing themselves as fact" and concluded that he could not claim a copyright on his analysis of historical facts, only his expression of them. The court added that Nash should not be surprised at the result, pointing out, "His own books are largely fresh expositions of facts looked up in other people's books."

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== Flaws in Encyclopaedia ==

I've started to collect the flaws, fake entries and every other tidbits of false facts present in JRN's litterature so that we can prove that his papers aren't of any encyclopaedic importance and utility. You can see it at Flaws. Lincher 15:18, 26 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]

WP article

Could whoever dug up the facts on JRN's background add them to the article or at least provide the sources so someone could expand it? Gamaliel 16:51, 26 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]

The appeals court decision is Nash v. CBS, Inc., 899 F.2d 1537 (7th Cir. 1990). --Michael Snow 17:27, 26 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]


The pages that cite Nash as a reference should probably all be tagged as unverified so that readers and editors are alerted to potential errors and can fix them.--nixie 07:01, 28 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]

Further checking

After looking through the bibliography of Darkest Hours, I was able to track down another source Nash apparently used for his account of the earthquake and aftermath. This is They Went to Portugal, a book in which writer Rose Macaulay collects a number of narratives from British visitors to Portugal throughout history. She devotes a section to the earthquake and reprints or retells the accounts of several contemporaries.

One of these is the British envoy, Abraham Castres, whose tale Macaulay mostly summarizes in her own words. She only mentions one thing remotely relevant, which is that "Rapine and murder were all about, though being firmly dealt with". The general tale suggests that people were fleeing the city and the streets of Lisbon may have had criminality running rampant, but no indication that Catholic priests or the Inquisition were involved.

Macaulay also provides a letter from Thomas Jacomb, a merchant who wrote a diary/letter covering several weeks from the earthquake onward. He has more specific information relevant to the issue. For December 3 he mentions friars burying the dead, as well as a general pardon of prisoners (which may not have helped the crime situation, but perhaps one must also wonder who would have stayed to guard them otherwise). Also, Jacomb gives the most relevant account yet relating to the Inquisition: "The Jews who were in the Inquisition and in a few days an Act of Faith was to have been published for them so suffer now tyed on Horses and sent with a guard to Coimbra, several of whom I saw pass the Ferry Boat at Sacavem."

Not a pretty picture, but I don't think it supports the characterization Nash seems to have turned it into. First of all, the idea of "priests rov[ing] through the debris looking for heretics to burn" doesn't square with the account. This is not talking about the Inquisition picking people up after the earthquake; it's about dealing with the problem of those who had already been taken into custody prior to the earthquake (from Jacomb's account, my interpretation is that the civil and ecclesiastical authorities elected to take contrasting approaches here). As to the auto da fe, there are several issues. One is that burning at the stake (or hanging, or other capital punishments) was not necessarily the sentence to be imposed, as even the Jewish Encyclopedia notes. Another is that we do not know how well Jacomb understood what was behind the things he saw. The Jewish Encyclopedia gives the date of the last auto da fe in Portugal as 1739; if that is correct, Jacomb may have interpreted what he saw based on an anachronistic understanding of the Inquisition's practices. I'm not sure if it can be sorted out whether this was to have been an auto da fe, but I would expect in any case that at such a late date historically, executions were not going to be the outcome.

There were, as has been discussed elsewhere, executions related to the criminal activity after the earthquake. Jacomb relates on December 13 that several people were hanged "for Robbing and Plundering" and mentions someone confessing to arson. In general, it seems the contemporary accounts are consistent that such measures were being taken for law enforcement, but there's no indication yet that perceived heretics were targeted or somehow blamed for the earthquake.

So it appears that Nash's colorful story is still misleading and inaccurate. Carpinelli has indicated that Chase didn't feign unconsciousness to avoid roving priests. It would seem Nash may have put Chase together with Jacomb's account, misinterpreted both, and taken the literary license of turning this into battalions of priests on the hunt. With such a tenuous basis in reality, Nash's version is better described as a work of fiction. --Michael Snow 05:42, 19 May 2006 (UTC)[reply]

Nash connected to Lisbon earthquake misinformation

  • I just wanted to bring to your attention that I have made some changes to the entry on Jay Robert Nash because it has come to my attention, and I have noticed some errors. Also, I want references to my articles removed, because my articles have been removed from the Internet. I made an assumption when I wrote my Parts 3 and 4 articles, which you have quoted from in this article, and I wanted to bring the matter to your attention, especially since the links won't work. Through mutual agreement between myself and Catholic Exchange, Catholic Exchange has pulled my articles off the Internet. I am not sure at this point if we are going to correct them and replace them, or just write a correction. Basically, when Jay Robert Nash wrote in his "Darkest Hours" on page 339 that "Battalions of priests roved through the debris of Lisbon, looking for heretics to burn, such as the previously mentioned Chase, who, to avoid their attention, pretended to be unconscious as he lay sprawled in the Terreiro de Paco;..." I made the assumption that Nash was referring to his previous mention of Chase on page 337, where he says: "An Englishman named Chase was quoted by 'Blackwood's Magazine' in 1860, a century after the catastrophe (upon the discovery of a letter he had written his sister)..." I therefore assumed that Nash's allegation about the priests was from Thomas Chase's eyewitness account, published in "Blackwood's Magazine." When I checked "Blackwood's," as well as "The Gentlemen's Magazine" and found Chase in the “Terrio do Paco,” and “…determined to feign insensibility…”, but no mention by Chase of an experience concerning priests, I wrote: "To imply this information came from Chase's account in the 'Blackwood's Magazine,' as Jay Robert Nash does, is simply false." Since I did not check every reference in his bibliography, and since Nash was not implying anything - I only assumed that - my editor and I have mutually agreed to remove what I wrote until corrections can be made. I also labeled Nash's claim, which I only assumed he was taking from "Blackwood's Magazine," "erroneous and misleading." I apologize to you for any inconvenience, but I wanted to let you know of my error.Polycarp7 19:06, 20 May 2006 (UTC)Polycarp7 19:12, 20 May 2006 (UTC)Polycarp7 21:46, 20 May 2006 (UTC)[reply]
  • I also wanted to mention that I believe the original source for the Wikipedia nascent 1755 Lisbon earthquake article of October, 2003, was the book "The Astrology of the Macrocosm," which has an entry on the Lisbon earthquake. The entry from this book, published on the web at [[1]]is virtually identical to the nascent Lisbon article. I also obtained the book through interlibrary loan, in order to see if the book had a footnote. It did not. The book was published in 1991, has nothing in it's bibliography showing any scholarly secondary work on the Lisbon quake, or even any eyewitness accounts. Nothing in the bibliography by Jay Robert Nash, either. There are only 13 libraries in the entire country that have the book, so it too a couple of months to get. But I do believe the Lisbon entry from the book, published on the web, is where the information from the October, 2003 Wikipedia article on the Lisbon quake originated. Polycarp7 19:25, 20 May 2006 (UTC)Polycarp7 21:09, 20 May 2006 (UTC)[reply]
    • That may well have been an intermediate source, especially considering the shared mistake of 1775 as the year. Comparing the excerpt from McEvers and Rosenberg against Darkest Hours, though, it seems clear that they got the information from Nash. Not acknowledging it is in line with their sloppy work, but most everything in that excerpt matches up with Nash's account. Virtually every fact (30,000 dead in two minutes, all of the same cathedrals named - they say "six" where Nash uses "half-dozen" - 18,000 collapsed buildings, 70,000 library volumes, 10,000 dead in Morocco, a 60-foot tidal wave) is precisely the same in Nash. The parts that provide color, like the Cays de Prada, Vesuvius, and even the chanting of the Introit also come from Nash. The same three painters are mentioned, although 200 artworks is changed to "hundreds". They go into the same detail about the areas reached by the shock waves, although they say Finland where Nash actually has the Gulf of Finland. Basically, if you remove from Nash's version the passages quoting people like Chase as well as the discussion of what the king and Pombal did afterward, keep most of the rest, and give it a haphazard reorganization, the McEvers/Rosenberg version is what you might end up with. --Michael Snow 06:06, 23 May 2006 (UTC)[reply]
  • This is very interesting! I had not compared the two works side by side, but as you have shown, it is highly probable that Nash may have been the source for the astrology book's rogue priests. I've been intrigued from the beginning as to how the "hanging" allegation began, since it was very unusual for the State to use that method of execution on individuals "relaxed" to them from the Inquisition. I was fairly convinced that it came from a misunderstanding of Voltaire's satire, "Candide," (which has Pangloss hanged for comically trivial offenses) as being actual fact, rather than satire. The other possibility for the "hanging" could, of course, be a reading into the images (I believe they are German, from shortly after the quake) showing priests present while some individuals are hanging. I suppose the different methods, "burning" (Nash) to "hanging" (McEvers) was why I didn't look seriously at Nash's book as a source, but your extensive comparison shows that it is more likely than I thought. It's entirely possible that McEvers just combined the King's hanging with Nash's priests burning, and came up with hanging priests. Another thing I find curious: the similarities between "priests roved the debris" and "priests roamed the city/streets." Roamed could have easily evolved from roved. Pure speculation, but interesting. Thank you for this insight, Mr. Snow!Polycarp7 13:37, 25 May 2006 (UTC)[reply]
    • I agree that the change from burning to hanging is probably a conflation of the executions that actually took place (hangings for looting and arson) with Nash's tale about priests looking for people to burn. Nash mentions hangings too, so I doubt that McEvers/Rosenberg looked very far beyond his book for this excerpt. --Michael Snow 16:14, 25 May 2006 (UTC)[reply]


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