Discoveries of Plagiarism Continue Online. In Other News: Water Still Wet

Plagiarism is still newsworthy, especially when it comes time to take a look at the side by side comparisons.

Seeing comparisons side by side isn’t just eye opening, it’s also kind of stunning when you consider that IT’S THE INTERNET AND YOU’LL GET CAUGHT FOR THE LOVE OF CRAP.

First up: Chris Anderson‘s Free, the sequel to Long Tail, which describes how acts of generosity in product distribution may create profit.

RUH ROH. Seems Anderson lifted material from Wikipedia, as the Virginia Quarterly Review accounted in detail. Their research was compounded like an orgasmic interest rate by Ed Champion who provides a buffet of examples as to where much of Anderson’s book text originated:

A cursory plunge into the book’s contents reveals that Anderson has not only cribbed material from Wikipedia and websites (sometimes without accreditation), but that he has a troubling habit of mentioning a book or an author and using this as an excuse to reproduce the content with very few changes — in some cases, nearly verbatim….

EXAMPLE TWO

In a subsection called “The Three Prices,” Anderson writes about Derek Sivers’s “reversible business models,” but entire paragraphs from Sivers’s “Reversible Business Models” August 2008 blog post have been recycled with very few modifications.

Anderson, P. 32: “In China, some doctors are paid monthly when their patients are healthy. If you are sick, it’s their fault, so you don’t have to pay that month. It’s their goal to get you healthy and keep you healthy so they can get paid.”

Sivers: “In China, some doctors are paid monthly when you are healthy. If you are sick, it’s their fault, so you don’t have to pay that month. It’s their goal to get you healthy and keep you healthy so they can get paid. ”

Anderson, P. 31: “In one instance, he told his class at MIT’s Sloan School of Business that he would be doing a reading of poetry (Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass) but didn’t know what it should cost. He handed out a questionnaire to all the students, half of whom were asked if they’d be willing to pay $10 to hear him read, and the other half of whom were asked if they’d be willing to hear him read if he paid them $10. Then he gave them all the same question: What should the price be to hear him read short, medium, and long versions of the poem?

Sivers: “Professor Dan Ariely told his class that he would be doing a reading of poetry, but didn’t know what it should cost. He handed out a price survey to all students, but secretly half of the surveys asked if they’d be willing to pay $10 to hear him read, and the other half asked if they’d be willing to hear him read if he paid them $10!

“Those who got the question about paying him were willing to pay. They offered to pay, on average, $1, $2, $3 for short, medium, long readings.”

Not to toot my own horn, but lemme grab it and make that funny sound with my lips that’s sort of like a fart but not quite: Yo, Chris. You missed the second part of my advice on internet relationships: Generosity and AUTHENTICITY are the best currency for anyone marketing anything on the Internet.

Authenticity is not lifting crap from Wikipedia.

But wait, just when you thought we were done, from Wikipedia to Celiac disease we go!

First, ever met someone with gluten intolerance, or Celiac disease? It sucks so impossibly hard, I can’t even tell you. It’s brutal because gluten hides out in a TON of foods.

Book CoverAllegations of plagiarism, however, are not so much with the hiding. Elisabeth Hasselbeck has been accused of copright infringement in a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts federal court. Susan Hassett, who published her book, Living with Celiac Disease (note: profoundly unfortunate website ahoy) independently, alleges that Hasselbeck lifted verbatim phrases and lists from Hassett’s book, as well as the names and order of the chapters.

TMZ has a PDF of the letter sent on behalf of Susan Hassett, and I have here a PDF of the complaint filed in federal court. (Thank you anonymous).

Both documents list examples, from the chapter names to specific passages. Further, the TMZ letter states that Hassett posted on the ABC News website a “blog” (sic) indicating that she’d mailed a copy of her book to Hasselbeck over a year prior to the release of Hasselbeck’s book, and had noted how much the books had in common. Her post was removed.

According to the AP, Hasselbeck said in a statement that she worked “diligently and tirelessly” on her book about Celiac disease, and that the claims are “without merit.”

While I haven’t seen a blogger take on the side-by-side comparison of Hassett’s book and Hasselbeck’s, the comparison work on Anderson’s is just jaw dropping. What the hell, people? How is it that the wily internet is all over the obvious similarities, and the author blames the troublesome nature Wikipedia editing, and the process of deciding whether or not to footnote while the publisher calls the whole mess “an unfortunate mistake.” They still plan to release the book 7 July:

Anderson added that the errors were “a lot less” than VQR suggests.

“Take away the properly attributed quoted to the New York Times and others in the passages, the proper nouns and the random words that appear in sentences that are obviously my own, and the errors look a lot more limited,” he said in his email. “That’s no excuse – Wikipedia should have been cited, and will be in the electronic editions and online notes, but it’s more of a footnoting/attribution problem, and one that will be fixed before publication in all but the hardcover edition.”

You’re goddam right it was an unfortunate mistake, and once again, I and others are wondering why this happens again and again. In other words, someone isn’t doing their goddam job, and it’s not just the writer.

Perhaps it’s time to amend my statement, “IT’S THE INTERNET: you will get caught” to “It’s the internet! Do you really think we’re THAT gullible?!” As one commenter at VQR pointed out,, if Anderson’s book is all about the power of “Free,” how about that book hits stands for “free?”  How about it, Hyperion?

Color me surprised: radio silence.

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    CupK8 says:

    It’s the internet! Do you really think we’re THAT gullible?!

    T-shirt?

  2. 2
    Caroline says:

    The Hasselbeck claim is bogus. If you read the comparisons, there’s nothing close. The only thing suspicious is that they both used “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” which I think we can all agree is too common a phrase to indicate plagiarism. (The use of “isles” is the lawyer’s typo, btw—it’s spelled correctly in Hasselbeck’s published book.)

    And gee, both have lists of symptoms that are similar? Well, could that be because the symptoms of celiac disease don’t just magically change when someone new writes a book on the subject? It’s called scènes à faire.

  3. 3

    If you ask me, which you didn’t, the problem starts in schools. Unless we have more stringent, and stringently enforced, plagiarism regulations students learn that it is, if not acceptable, at least overlooked. I caught one of my students blatantly plagiarizing (sophomore at a large University in California) and wasn’t allowed to expel him. In fact, I wasn’t even allowed to fail his paper. Despite the UC regulations on the subject.
    ~ Gail

  4. 4
    Catherine says:

    At the school where I teach, plagiarism is reported by the teachers, but usually swept away depending on the administrator that gets the discipline referral. Because, you see, if they get DISCIPLINED for the plagiarism, it ruins their chances of getting into the Honor Society, and we wouldn’t want to ruin those chances.

    ARGHHHHH!

  5. 5
    Jocelyn says:

    I’m wondering how widespread plagarism (and/or failure to credit citations) was before the internet made it so easy to catch.  A lot of the people who are getting caught right now seem old enough that they would have gone to school before teachers got in the habit of saying “er, that doesn’t sound like my student’s phrasing, why don’t I run this sentance through a search engine?”

    No professional writer can claim that they don’t know when to cite or use quotation marks on materials or ideas coming from other people, I’m not saying these people don’t know any better.  I’m saying, maybe they’ve been copying other people’s work for so long that they honestly have forgotten that it’s wrong.  It’s just become a part of their writing process.  Horribly unprofessional.

    In other news, how much do you want to bet that this guy wrote the book thinking “I’ve got to find a better source for this info than Wikipedia, or middle school english teachers will laugh at me” and then just never did?  Or forgot that he needed to?  Horribly unprofessional and kind of hilarious.

    Spamword: reason86 – there’s a reason I use a consistant and uniform research and note-taking methods for all professional papers.  It prevents me from plagarising Wikipedia and looking like an idiot.

  6. 6
    Dayle says:

    Because Wikipedia is soooooo reliable!

    When I worked as an editor for a scholarly publisher, I had to fight with authors about plagiarism all the time. And who were these plagiarizing authors?

    College professors.

    So yeah. The problem does start in schools…

  7. 7
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Given the proliferation of this recently, I’m guessing that there must be a widespread belief that anything on the Internet is fair game.  (Or maybe they really think we ARE that gullible.)

  8. 8
    Jennifer says:

    When my husband taught college, he used to be so frustrated with the plagiarism of his students.  In one class he had four students pull material verbatim from the internet.  He got even more frustrated when he found the college was not consistent in their punishments of the students for the same crime in the same class.

    None of the students seemed to understand that what they did was wrong.  No one had ever told them WHY plagiarism was bad and you have to cite your sources, etc.  They’d been given instructions on how to cite, but never why it was important.

  9. 9

    Not to minimize the seriousness of plagiarism as a problem, but I find myself a trifle bemused by the notion of someone’s having plagiarized Wikipedia on two counts.

    First, Wikipedia isn’t a fixed-text entity—it’s perfectly possible for the text of a given entry to be changed over time (and indeed, a particularly sneaky plagiarist might well change an entry’s text himself after borrowing that text for another purpose).  On the flip side, someone with a grudge might conceivably edit a Wikipedia entry, inserting the text of someone’s offline work in order to create the false appearance that the offline work had been cribbed.  And I don’t entirely trust Wikipedia’s internal revision-tracking to be able to properly unravel the truth where this sort of chicanery occurs.

    Second, I can’t help but think that sooner or later, we’re going to see an accusation of “but you stole that text from Wikipedia” refuted by the simplest and most elegant possible defense: “No, I didn’t!  I wrote that Wikipedia entry myself!”

  10. 10
    Liz says:

    If you ask me, which you didn’t, the problem starts in schools. Unless we have more stringent, and stringently enforced, plagiarism regulations students learn that it is, if not acceptable, at least overlooked.

    At the school where I teach, plagiarism is reported by the teachers, but usually swept away depending on the administrator that gets the discipline referral. Because, you see, if they get DISCIPLINED for the plagiarism, it ruins their chances of getting into the Honor Society, and we wouldn’t want to ruin those chances.

    *banging head against wall*  It is not the schools’ fault that people plagiarize.  I’m sorry, but most of the people that are out there plagiarizing things have been out of school for years, and those students that plagiarize do get caught and do face the consequences.  I know of 2 people in the same poli sci class that were caught plagiarizing the professor’s notes and they both were given F’s.  There is even special software that professors must use to check for plagiarism called turnitin.com.  Maybe it is only those schools that have the problem.

    And even if it is a widespread university conspiracy that allows idiot undergrads to plagiarize through reinforcement, people should know instinctively that copying someone else’s work (especially doing so verbetim) is wrong—this is something taught in the 1st grade.

    BTW, it doesn’t surprise me that that bitch Elizabeth Hasselbeck would plagiarize something.  She is way too lazy and way too stupid to write an intelligible sentence let alone a book about something that doesn’t have to do with how wrong us liberals are about everything from the non-existence of Santa Claus to the Operation Iraqi Freedom (originally Operation Iraqi Liberation).

  11. 11
    Lori says:

    First, Wikipedia isn’t a fixed-text entity—it’s perfectly possible for the text of a given entry to be changed over time

    This is true, but like everything else on the internet, Wikipedia is cached. It isn’t difficult to look at the date of the last change and then find a cached page from before that to see what it said.

    Also, Wikipedia records changes and who made them so if someone where trying to create a case of faux plagiarism it wouldn’t be too hard to detect that.

    Detecting changes made in order to cover up plagiarism might be more difficult. Because of the cached pages it’s easy to find but only if you know that you need to look.

  12. 12
    snarkhunter says:

    I’m wondering how widespread plagarism (and/or failure to credit citations) was before the internet made it so easy to catch

    Very. Veryvery. Coleridge, for example, was an inveterate plagiarizer.

    The second Anderson example really isn’t that bad. I’d argue it’s a sloppy paraphrase, and not an example of plagiarism.

  13. 13

    On reading the lawyer letter from Ms. Hassett’s attorney, I have to agree with Caroline; the cited comparisons in that case are completely unremarkable.  They clearly demonstrate that both books cover the same subject, but they completely fail to demonstrate that Ms. Hasselbeck appropriated text from Ms. Hassett’s book.  (OTOH, they do give some indication of why a professional publisher might not have been interested in Ms. Hassett’s book.)

    A further observation on that one: if Ms. Hassett’s attorney is correct in presuming that the Hasselbeck book is the product of a ghostwriter, then the fact that Ms. Hassett sent a copy of her book to Ms. Hasselbeck is not material unless it can be shown that Hasselbeck sent that copy along to the ghostwriter.

    On the basis of the supplied documents, Ms. Hassett’s complaint is highly unlikely to go anywhere.

  14. 14
    Sam says:

    As much as want to stomp a mudhole in Hasselbecks ass for her “view” on just about everything on the planet, it looks like a pretty weak case there. The chapters are the most damning, but I don’t think that is going to be enough here.

    Damn.

  15. 15
    AgTigress says:

    Second, I can’t help but think that sooner or later, we’re going to see an accusation of “but you stole that text from Wikipedia” refuted by the simplest and most elegant possible defense: “No, I didn’t!  I wrote that Wikipedia entry myself!”

    Indeed.  I have occasionally repeated myself in print without citing the original published text under my own name.  I don’t believe one can plagiarise oneself.

  16. 16
    SarahT says:

    What an idiot. In the days of Google, it’s so easy to trace these things back to their original source. Why would someone take the risk?

    Although I don’t buy the excuse of unintentional plagiarism, I find myself vetting my own blog posts to make sure I’ve cited all my influences and sources. Between Twitter and so many interesting blogs, it’s all too easy to forget where you originally read something, or who had the idea first. I know this is not quite the same as copying someone’s text word for word, but I think you do have to be careful.

  17. 17
    SarahT says:

    Aargh! I pressed “submit” too soon.

    @AgTigress I’ve also copied parts of what I wrote on one blog and pasted it on another or on my own. If I’m repeating exactly what I’ve just written, it seems daft to reformulate the whole thing again, particularly when I wrote it in the first place. If I do copy & paste my own words, I generally preface it with something like: And as I wrote at so and so’s blog…

  18. 18
    Lori says:

    I don’t believe one can plagiarise oneself.

    I suppose that technically one can’t plagiarism from oneself, but in some contexts you can get in trouble for doing so.

    In my Masters program we face discipline under the anti-plagiarism rules for copying from ourselves. Work done for the program, especially the required thesis, is supposed to be original work for the project. If we reuse earlier work we are considered to be cheating.

    I don’t know if there are non-academic situations that would be the same. I suppose it would depend on the agreement that a writer had with a her/his publisher.

  19. 19
    Tina says:

    This is so ironic to me.  Back when I was an undergrad (when dinosaurs walked the Earth) I had a prof pull me in and suggest that he believed I had plagiarized a paper.  His reasoning?  “No freshman writes like that.”  I had to define every word I used to prove that yes, I actually wrote like I had swallowed I dictionary.  Thankfully, I grew out of that!

    But what stuck with me was the genuine horror I had that anyone would actually suspect me of something like that.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I personally wouldn’t get the “bang” I need/want out of writing if it wasn’t my own work – good, bad, or indifferent. 

    -Spam text:  problem33.  Hm.  I think there’s a message here somewhere…

  20. 20
    Jessica G. says:

    For once, I think I’ll side with the authors on both of these. As much as I dislike Hasslebeck, this doesn’t look like plagiarism, just a similar topic. And I do believe Andersen’s explanation. It was well worded and I think expressed enough outrage and apologeticness (is that a word?) for me to think it’s the truth.

    Now citing Wikipedia? Now that’s a whole ‘nuther ball game.

  21. 21

    Plagiarism must be taken more seriously, particularly in the field of education and with our leaders.  I know that dissertations are tough to do, what with everything else that is going on in your academic life, but it part of the requirements for your degree.

    In the case of Elizabeth Hasselbeck, she’s fried.  Unfortunately for her, she even picked up the misspellings in Susan Hassett’s book (isle for aisle), ones that wouldn’t have been spotted by spellcheck.  That mistake alone will see her lose the courtcase.

  22. 22
    Val says:

    @AgTigress and @Lori

    Lori is right, you can indeed plagarism yourself, particularly in academic situations. Essentially if it’s been published before it is NOT fair game, even if you wrote the original article. For instance, if you write a paper that’s published in X journal you cannot use the same words/paragraphs in an article for Y publication because they are basically already owned by X.

    Its confusing, but I’ve had to reword myself more than once in order to avoid getting into trouble. Which sucks because there’s only some many ways to say, ‘past research indicated blah, so the assumption of blah is utilized here’. Ugh.

  23. 23
    kinseyholley says:

    If everyone majored in English, then they’d know how to take the substance of someone else’s work and rephrase it substantially enough that it’s not plagiarism. 

    You can’t do this with fiction, of course, so the Janet Daileys of the world are screwed.  But that’s why, when Anderson or Doris Kearnes Goodwin or any other nonfiction writer gets caught, I’m disgusted.

    No one expects a nonfiction writer to depend entirely on facts he/she discovered all by themselves or to discuss only those theories they developed all on their own.  Everyone understands that works of history, sociology, technology, whatever, draw upon the research and ideas of others.  So, you read that doctors in China don’t get paid when their patients get sick.  How hard is it to put that into your own words?  And to list the author of the original article in your bibliography?

    It’s the laziness of it that angers me – the whole “I’m a big successful author now so I don’t have to pay attention to niggling details like other peoples’ work.”

    And the idea that you had so many notes that you got confused, or it just found its way into your manuscript w/o your noticing, is bullshit as well.  A nonfiction book is just a really, really big research paper – it still has to be put together one chapter at a time.  If you’re not even doing that yourself, and you’re not reading every word of it yourself, then it’s not your book and your name shouldn’t be on it.

  24. 24

    Ms. Tucker: regards the isle/aisle misspelling, Caroline upstream indicates that that’s a typographical error in the complaint, and that “aisle” is spelled correctly in the Hasselbeck book as published.

    It may be just me, but if I were going to file a lawsuit for plagiaristic copyright infringement, I’d hire an attorney careful enough not to base a significant element of his lawyer letter on his own secretary’s tyop….

  25. 25
    Liz_Peaches says:

    Technically I’m not sure copying from Wikipedia is illegal (isn’t it open source?)
    I’m not saying it’s right, and it’s certainly not advisable, but I don’t think they can take it to court.

    I’ll point to this book on Amazon selling for over a hundred dollars, all content copy/pasted from wikipedia down to the dead links:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/613000608X/ref=ox_ya_oh_product

    The “publisher” is called Alphascript, and they specialize in “copyleft” material—read: stolen from internet

  26. 26

    I would note that many of the concepts/chapters cited in the complaint also appear in my handy-dandy “Living Gluten-Free for Dummies” by Danna Korn (handy Kindle edition on the iPhone), including a section on shopping along the perimeter of the store, a description of celiac, restaurant dining (including the special card), traveling, maintaing a GF kitchen, symptoms, detailed descriptions of what can be eaten, and, yes, raising GF kids.

    Korn (or her editor) spelled “aisle” correctly, for what it’s worth!

  27. 27
    Tasha says:

    I think part of the problem is a misunderstanding of the term “public domain.” Most people assume that “available on the Internet” means “in the public domain” and are stunned to hear that no, “widely available” and “in the public domain” are two different things.

  28. 28
    hapax says:

    Tina:

    But what stuck with me was the genuine horror I had that anyone would actually suspect me of something like that.

    Ohhh, yeah.

    I had a similar experience in college, but not a case of “too good” writing—this was actually my fault, but through ignorance, not malice.  (I screwed up proper citation of translations through a secondary source). 

    My prof, fortunately, was VERY kind, believed my stammered explanation, and while noting that technically I could be called up before the Academic Judicial Board and *expelled*, he was just going to give me the opportunity to re-submit the paper and take a reduced grade.

    I spent the rest of the day shaking in shame and horror—not at the bullet I had dodged, but at my own culpability in this most heinous of sins. 

    I find the insouciance of these writers and their defenders to be in some ways more shocking than the original crimes.

  29. 29
    AgTigress says:

    Lori is right, you can indeed plagarism yourself, particularly in academic situations. Essentially if it’s been published before it is NOT fair game, even if you wrote the original article. For instance, if you write a paper that’s published in X journal you cannot use the same words/paragraphs in an article for Y publication because they are basically already owned by X.

    But one wouldn’t use the same words of course.  If one did, one would obviously have to set them as a quotation, as well as citing the source.  When I wrote ‘repeat myself’ I meant simply presenting the same hypothesis, opinion or interpretation that I had originated myself and published, in different words, elsewhere.  I would not use the precise words I have published elsewhere even if they first appeared in a book whose entire text is my own copyright, but I see no legal or moral reason why I should not repeat the substance of what I said in such a case.  If that were illegal or immoral, it would mean that nobody could dare to make the same point more than once.

    The copyright ownership of papers or articles can vary.  Certainly the copyright of academic papers in scholarly journals will usually be the publisher’s, but there are many variations, particularly in the ‘popular academic’ field, or in multi-author edited books, in which individual authors may sometimes hold the copyright of their contribution.

  30. 30
    SarahT says:

    I didn’t mean re-submitting academic work and claiming it was brand new. I was referring to copying and pasting my own words on blogs when discussing the same subject. I wouldn’t do that for an entire comment, but I have done it for the odd paragraph when I wanted to say essentially the same thing but didn’t have time to reformulate it. I don’t think this can be considered plagiarism.

    I know I had to sign all a form when submitting my post grad thesis guaranteeing I hadn’t previously submitted it elsewhere and gained a degree. I also had to do this for a few academic articles.

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