SAW, SWA, SWIPE – Academic integrity and the AWRI

by Dudley Brown

Irina Santiago-Brown photo by James Braund / Wine Enthusiast

The Judgment of Solomon is a story from the Hebrew Bible in which King Solomon of Israel ruled between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child. Solomon revealed their true feelings and relationship to the child by suggesting to cut the baby in two, with each woman to receive half. With this strategy, he was able to discern the non-mother as the woman who entirely approved of this proposal, while the actual mother begged that the sword might be sheathed and the child committed to the care of her rival. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judgment_of_Solomon

What is Plagiarism?

Many people think of plagiarism as copying another’s work or borrowing someone else’s original ideas. But terms like “copying” and “borrowing” can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to “plagiarize” means:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward. 

https://www.plagiarism.org/article/what-is-plagiarism

OR, WATCH THIS:

My wife, Dr. Irina Santiago-Brown, wrote the Sustainable Australia Winegrowing (SAW) system as part of her PhD between 2011 and 2014. Irina’s PhD from the University of Adelaide was (to the best of our knowledge) the first PhD ever awarded in Sustainability in Viticulture. It is still the reference work on sustainability systems, assessment methods and indicators. 

During that time, she was the beneficiary of more than $400,000 of levy and taxpayers funding to develop this important research. McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Industry Association (MVGWTA) released this fully web based system as SAW with Irina’s participation and approval in 2014. As is required when using someone else’s work, MVGWTA publicly acknowledged Irina’s authorship.

Some years later, Wine Australia employed an outside expert to review two systems, the Entwine system and SAW, and to recommend one to be adopted as the national sustainability system for the wine and wine grape industry. SAW was recommended as the preferred sustainability system and later transferred from MVGWTA to the Australian Wine Research Institute for industry wide adoption and implementation under the direction of Dr. Mardi Longbottom of the AWRI. This report is not available for review despite our request. However, while the AWRI tells this story somewhat differently, that both were chosen. It matters little. Logically, had the report chosen Entwine, SAW would not be acknowledged as a source of the current system.

The AWRI subsequently changed the name to Sustainable Winegrowing Australia and published an adapted version of SAW on its website in 2019 that says it “builds on the strengths of the previous Entwine Australia and Sustainable Australia Winegrowing (SAW) program.”

I won’t bore anyone with the details of what is published there because to do so is expressly prohibited by the terms of use published on the SWA site. I would publish those unusual terms here but, yeah, you get the point. And to describe or explain all of the ways that SWA has apparently used Irina’s work is, you got it, secretive and quite unusual in the world of sustainability systems for obvious philosophical reasons.

The salient point is that at no point in time has the AWRI or SWA acknowledged that Irina alone wrote the SAW system and that SAW is the result of her published academic research. In short, they appear to have apparently borrowed heavily from and utilised her work in published form for the last year. 

Given the bruising fight and reputational damage Irina suffered in getting SAW recognised as an “equivalent” system to Entwine at the hands of the Winemakers Federation Association’s (now called Australian Grape and Wine – “AGW”) WINEC Committee which included Dr. Longbottom and Ms Gioia Small in 2014 (and after), Irina backed away from continuing her research and publishing these past five years. She has also prevented me from writing about it. 

Then came #2020. The year from hell that has changed all of us in some way. In Irina’s case, it was the realisation that the possibility of a traditional career she had in her areas of interest was terribly compromised by this lack of recognition of her work. And, that she had nothing to more to lose as her good name and work had been erased from the story of sustainability in the Australian wine industry by the premier research institution in Australia with the tacit support of Wine Australia and AGW. 

And, that she wanted to get back to writing independently about her research. However, if she approached a publisher claiming to have written the basis for the national sustainability system, there is no record of attribution by SWA. No publisher in their right mind would consider her credible. So Irina approached the AWRI’s Managing Director Dr. Mark Kristic to try to resolve this amicably.

In order to keep this as short as possible, she wrote him an email explaining the effects of terrible treatment she had experienced as a result of a pattern of behaviour by the AWRI and its employees and that this present lack of recognition for her work was consistent with that pattern. Further, Irina demanded recognition for her work and a meeting to discuss what that recognition for her work should look like. Finally, she posed a dilemma for Dr. Kristic to consider which is: either SAW should be recognised by the AWRI and SWA as her original work or that her PhD was fraudulent because SAW was one of the four documents that made up her thesis and that she is prepared to have that determination made either way. Solomon would understand.

Dr. Kristic responded in a seemingly sympathetic way and a meeting over coffee was had Thursday 24 September. In that meeting Mark disclosed that there were some big announcements coming up in the next few weeks and that this might be a good time to address this omission including recognition for “all the other contributors.” We found this last phrase odd but hey, we were trying to be reasonable. 

He also admitted that AWRI chose to only acknowledge the contributions of organisations rather than individuals and that no individuals are acknowledged in SWA. This is an academically indefensible position which he seemed to recognise later by suggesting they were “working” on acknowledging the “rich diversity” of contributors. Or, the AWRI is proposing the end of academic citation as we know it. Attribution must always occur at the time of publishing for obvious reasons. It is never an afterthought. Has the AWRI ever published any of its own research – aside from SWA – without attribution of the individuals involved? Ever?

However, we made one demand clear – that the AWRI publish a press release to major wine media worldwide acknowledging Irina’s original and novel research that underpins SWA today so that her contributions could never be “erased” again. We left the meeting knowing that we were understood and understood that this upcoming announcement would be a good vehicle for this to occur. 

Then, in a follow up email sent 28 September Dr Kristic mentioned that Irina’s work would be recognised on the acknowledgement and references pages of SWA as part of recognising many organisations and other people who also made contributions. Taken together with the verbal understanding we had, it seemed like a good start to a process of reaching a solution amicable to us.

The following day, 29 September, the big announcement Dr. Kristic mentioned was made by the AWRI – a press release (https://www.awri.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Sustainability-trust-mark.pdf) announcing a new “trustmark” for SWA to be used by participants in SWA on their websites, bottles, etc. This included quotes from the heads of Wine Australia, Australian Grape and Wine and Dr. Kristic. Nowhere was there any mention of Irina or her contribution. Irina was, once again, devastated. And any belief in the good faith understanding we thought we had to that point evaporated. 

After trying to quell our disappointment and anger, I wrote a letter on Irina’s behalf demanding that Dr. Kristic provide a written plan to do as we requested (and thought already we had agreed to) by close of business 2 October. He responded in a disingenuous way by not acknowledging our principal demand by pretending not to understand it and that he would attend to it when he came back from personal leave. 

We replied and reiterated our demand. To resolve this matter, all he had to do was say in writing he would do as agreed. He did not write that because they will not do that. A disappointing outcome but for us it is better to know sooner rather than later as Irina’s chain of disappointments with respect to the acknowledgement and use of her work is already quite long. 

On 7 October, Dr. Kristic replied offering “That AWRI issues a public statement acknowledging all those people who have made a significant contribution in the evolution and development of the current SWA program. While we recognise that Irina has played an important role in the development of the SWA program through her PhD research and her involvement with MVGWTA and SAW, to not recognise others who have also made a significant contribution to the sustainability agenda in Australia would be negligent and inappropriate. This would include recognition of those involved with MVWTA Generational Farming (the pre-runner to SAW), SAW, CRCV EMS program, EMS Yarra Valley, Yalumba Vitis program, WFA Entwine, etc.” 

So, not recognising Irina’s contribution before we demanded that the AWRI acknowledge her work was completely cool but to not recognise all of these other people and programs that made significantly smaller contributions to SWA is suddenly “inappropriate and negligent”? The hypocrisy (and the reality bending narrative employed) is breathtaking.

Remember that the AWRI’s own press release quoted prior that SWA “builds on the strengths of the previous Entwine Australia and Sustainable Australia Winegrowing (SAW) program”? Where was AWRI’s concern for all these other contributors just a year ago when they were handing out recognition? From just this example, it seems that their concern for reputations is uneven and inconsistent.

Suffice it to say, this offer and the language used to diminish Irina’s sole authorship of a primary source (by AWRI’s own published words) for SWA only served to inflame the situation.  Our personal view is that this a continuation of the AWRI’s long campaign to diminish and dilute Irina’s work, contribution and reputation. 

What makes this even worse than in the past, is it is now being done by the Managing Director of AWRI (not just a middle level employee) who has now acknowledged that what has occurred for the past year is “negligent and wrong.” Worse, he also seems to acknowledge that this is an accepted pattern of using un-referenced source material from many sources for SWA and not an oversight. Or, he’s just trying to diminish Irina by bringing others into a new narrative. Which is it? Solomon would understand.

One of the many ironies here is that SAW began as a peer reviewed system as the viticultural content of the system (the system and content are distinct entities) was written by community members in McLaren Vale (including Irina) to ensure it reflected industry best practice not local peculiarities. It was also done to address justifiable concerns expressed by local organic and biodynamic growers that the value of their certifications wouldn’t be watered down by participating. Nowhere does SWA claim to have ever been peer reviewed despite AWRI being an elite research institute where the standards of academia (including peer review) are usually consistently applied. 

Another, from the public portion of the AWRI website, is the listing of members of SWA and the year they joined. Some big names in the industry go back to 2009 and 2010 despite there not being a sustainability system anywhere in Australian viticulture except a nascent and incomplete system called Generational Farming in McLaren Vale prior to 2014.

These long time members appear to have been members of Entwine, an environmental management system (EMS) accredited by Freshcare (principally used by horticulturists and groceries), which is not a sustainability system. How can they have been members of a sustainability system that didn’t even exist? Playing fast and loose with facts and professionally understood terminology is not what the world expects from the AWRI.

Another indication that SWA may just a re-badged SAW changed to comply with Entwine is that it appears that Freshcare is accepted as an “equivalent” accreditation pathway for some members despite not even being a sustainability system! This was the entire point of the debate between SAW and Entwine in 2014 that ended with the WINEC Committee of Entwine authorising the redaction of an auditor’s report.(For the uninitiated, this was such egregious behaviour that WFA had to hire a retired judge to explain this wasn’t breaking the law.) Entwine was an environmental management system that only addressed the environment and was thus just one portion of what SAW offered (a triple bottom line sustainability program). Logically, the reverse can’t also be true. 

If my understanding is correct, there are completely different rules and pathways for certification for different members but just one “trustmark” to unite them all. And, this possible discrepancy is, perhaps, the biggest reason for all for the secrecy. And, a reason to question this system, its management and governance much more closely than has been done to date by a national wine industry that relies on the systemic integrity of SWA. All of these examples leave the door open to cries of “greenwashing” to the detriment of the entire national industry. 

So, our next step of trying to obtain redress for Irina is writing this article. It is necessary because a major institution appears unable to just do the right thing. Maybe this is because it won’t address deeply rooted inconsistencies for what appear to be political considerations and / or out of fear of bad publicity. Or, perhaps, they fear any admission will create further liabilities so they choose to defend the indefensible and hope to overpower us or wear us down. Or, possibly, all of the above. It’s quite a pickle for them to be in right down to the people involved. Ironically like 2014, huh? 

The question that keeps coming up is why would they take such personnel and policy risks after the horrible publicity of 2014? Don’t management and the Board have adequate information, standards or risk mitigation procedures? How can something as straightforward and easily solved as this put the good name of so many other outstanding researchers at risk? 

Irina and I realise we’ll soon be viewed as the troublemakers, not the victims of a dysfunctional culture of management and governance of Australia’s premier research institute where egos appear to trump the rigorous demands of academia. Where the fight for every scrap of recognition drives the culture because their careers and funding depend on it. 

SWA, this enormous new national sustainability system has no sources, no authors and no credit given to any person. Organisations don’t write, people do. It’s like it wrote itself, voila! Unless, of course, another organisation that does not wish to be acknowledged wrote it for the AWRI. That would be worse still. 

If it is Dr. Longbottom’s work, she should be acknowledged. If it is based on Irina’s authorship of SAW, Irina should be acknowledged. If Dr. Longbottom or her team plagiarised Irina’s work, they should face the discipline standard for such academic infractions. You don’t need a PhD to understand the rules or penalties of plagiarism. Solomon would understand.

There is no possibility that the AWRI misunderstood the ramifications of the use of another person’s original work absent detailed acknowledgement. Work is original or it is not. We shouldn’t have to beg the AWRI to just acknowledge the obvious. Until now, we weren’t even asking for an apology because we know the egos involved are, likely, incapable of that. Now we are insisting on it..

And here is Irina, once the golden child of viticultural academia, who received the highest possible praise for her ground-breaking PhD on Sustainability in Viticulture written by a female, immigrant, person of colour in a second language in under three years while she worked a part time job to educate the overwhelmingly white, mostly male Australian wine industry about how they could improve the industry from the ground up through grower self-improvement and education. Maybe it was just to good and obvious an idea for them to accept and celebrate.

The woman who gave up a high-level career in government in Brazil because she wanted to make a contribution that could benefit the world. The woman who spent her life savings to try to make that dream a possibility and came that close to succeeding only to thwarted by her own industry. If history is any guide, not one of the many who are in a position of power who knows this is all true will stand up to defend her. 

Does the Australian wine industry somehow think that #MeToo and #BLM aren’t problems for us? Have we learned nothing? Why has Irina never even received a single phone call to use her unparalleled expertise in developing a national sustainability system? Why is all of our investment in her education and work just tossed aside? Wasn’t this the point of Wine Australia making the investment in the first place? Who is this mob afraid of? Will the AWRI’s primary funding body, Wine Australia, or anyone else hold these people to account?

We’ve seen the movie. We know how it ends. We know it doesn’t help our business. Or bring us any joy. As Irina’s husband, I will stand by her, and up for her, to the death regardless of whatever is thrown our way.

We’ve seen what a retired white conservative judge hired for purpose can do to someone’s reputation by never interviewing them when they are a central part of an investigation. What the Australia wine establishment will do to protect its own regardless of truth or consequence. Sadly, the only thing learned by industry governance participants in 2014 was that they’d be backed in no matter what they did wrong. 

“Why do this?” you might ask. Because the entire industry has had a superior alternative with SAW in place since 2014. The auditor saw that then. Wine Australia saw that and hired a third party to evaluate our best choices and make a recommendation. The third party who chose between the systems saw that. Everyone saw that, except the AWRI and their program manager. Why?

As a levy payer in McLaren Vale, I’m stunned the McLaren Vale Association gave away a superior system they could control in return for SWA. It’s like swapping a Benz for a car with a home built tray top on back. What written assurances did they receive in return that they system would be no worse? Any?

As an industry we are out of time for dancing around a few fragile egos while climate change is accelerating its impact on all of our businesses and us. How out of touch are these bodies with the reality on the ground? Resolving the real issue here is to the ongoing benefit of the whole industry and is the only responsible option. 

Also as an industry, we are in a great position to make enormous changes rather quickly and relatively inexpensively while maintaining a unique position to educate those who make the big decisions about our economy (consumers of our high-end wines and leaders of government, finance and industry are a nearly perfect overlapping Venn diagram). SAW helped us do that from the bottom up. We saw what a difference it made in McLaren Vale.

To do that nationally, we have to embrace the scientific method and peer review, not our biggest levy payers or egos, in (re)building our once sterling sustainability system. Truth be known, to have the highest sustainability standards in the world is a comparative and competitive advantage for us. It is much easier for us. But, you need to understand the world of sustainability systems to know that. Why the secrecy and complications?

The beauty of the simplicity of SAW was that growers immediately saw the benefit and participated willingly. Famous viticulturist and former WGGA Chairman Vic Patrick bought two copies the first time he saw an early workbook because it was so easy for his team to use to improve. 

Anyhow, having published this, the next step for Irina and me will likely be calling our lawyer, at our expense in the middle of the worst business climate imaginable for a boutique wine producer, to take on a Goliath with all their taxpayer and levy-funded lawyers to try and get Irina’s good name back for her to use. Unless of course, they decide to do the right thing finally.

Or, maybe, we’ll end up on the low cost path and just have a retired judge paid for by the AWRI explain how somehow this isn’t exactly plagiarism and the ducks will just paddle on as they have since 2014. 

Or, that Dr. Mark Kristic does the right thing and issues a press release as requested and takes action to rescue SWA from the morass of contradictions it has created for itself and apologise in writing.

Or, even crazier, the industry is startled into actually doing something truly great instead of what it’s doing now.

In any case, the word “TrustMark” has a whole new meaning for us. Solomon would understand.

For the curious, here is the link to the University of Adelaide’s easily discoverable Academic Integrity Policy: https://www.adelaide.edu.au/policies/230/?dsn=policy.document;field=data;id=239;m=view.

I was unable to find the AWRI’s similar policy on their website.

Also, if you would like to read Irina’s frequently cited work and easy to read work on sustainability systems, you can find them here: https://www.inkwellwines.com/publications