By Mike Doherty - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 0 Comments
Academic cheaters and plagiarists may not prosper, but they are inventive
Back in January, when Chris Spence, director of education of the Toronto District School Board, faced multiple allegations of plagiarism—including in his Ph.D. dissertation—he resigned without offering excuses. And where most would see this as a good thing, some committed cheats might feel he didn’t protest enough.
The tribunal decisions on those accused of academic offences at the University of Toronto are published online, and the excuses they document show an undeniable (if twisted) creativity. For instance, a certain “Mr. B”—names are customarily redacted—who was found in 2008 to have plagiarized a political science essay and forged a medical note to explain its lateness, claimed that, in a hurry to catch a plane, he’d given a friend (“E”) his essay and the note to submit; “E” had altered the note and printed the wrong document because of “some kind of animus toward him.” When “E” denied involvement, Mr. B said it was actually another person with whom he’d “had a fight.” He then claimed dyslexia had caused him to confuse names and dates, and the plagiarized work was, in any case, simply study notes.
Such ingenuity, flying bravely in the face of reason, makes for entertaining reading. Mr. B’s is one of a number of mind-bendingly convoluted cases (involving egregious and/or multiple offences, or accusations that a student denies in the face of evidence) published by the tribunal. The cases in a given year represent a miniscule percentage of the student body—a fact the U of T’s administration is keen to stress; they’re published to provide transparency, to act as a deterrent and to help the students’ lawyers learn precedence. And while vice-provost Jill Matus notes that “proactive education is probably better than showing the tribunal results,” the cases provide instructional descriptions of the lengths to which some students will go to avoid actually studying.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 10:12 AM - 0 Comments
The Globe and Mail has offered a threefold response today to the critics who have been raising a stir about Carol Wainio’s prosecution brief against Margaret Wente for the crime of plagiarism. Wente has written her own apologia; the Globe has made public an internal memo on the issue, written by editor-in-chief John Stackhouse; and Stackhouse has also used the paper’s media reporter, Steve Ladurantaye, as a ventriloquist’s doll for a short news item on the scandal.
Wente’s column does go through the motions of contrition, while leaving the distinct impression that she regards herself more as victim than perpetrator.
A blogger has accused me of substantively plagiarizing the column, and much else. The allegations have exploded in the Twitterverse and prompted harsh commentary from other writers, some of whom are characterizing me as a serial plagiarist. …I’m far from perfect. I make mistakes. But I’m not a serial plagiarist. What I often am is a target for people who don’t like what I write.
Imagine that: a columnist who is a target for people who don’t like what she writes! This may come as a shock to Margaret Wente, but the difference between her and other columnists is not that other columnists don’t have haters. The difference is that other columnists don’t keep handing their haters ethical ammunition by the crateload.
She may find, unhappily, that “I’m not a serial plagiarist” goes down in history as an example of this. Carol Wainio is slightly more free with the word “plagiarism” than most reporters and columnists would be, but Wainio caught Wente in what look like pretty clear, if minor, examples here, here, here (at the end, where Michael Barone’s words appear as her own), here (Joel Kotkin), and here (Steven Pinker). That’s just since late 2011. Having made the fast shuffle from “I’m not a plagiarist” to “I’m not a serial plagiarist,” where might Wente go next? “OK, I am a serial plagiarist, but I’ve never borrowed an entire column?” “I am a serial plagiarist but I bake a damn fine tollhouse cookie?”
Our collective instinct as a trade may have been to give Wente the benefit of the doubt up until now—her occasional difficulties with quotation marks being no secret—but when she says “There was no intent to deceive”, we must recall that last week she told Globe Public Editor Sylvia Stead that she didn’t remember reading the Dan Gardner column she stood accused of borrowing from. Hadn’t seen it, couldn’t pick Gardner out of a lineup, couldn’t see what the fuss was, etc., etc. Stead, as part of a supposed “investigation”, chose to accept this. Today, the party line has undergone a sudden change:
Columnists often write about the same subjects and often reach similar conclusions. That isn’t plagiarism. But there is a sentence from Mr. Gardner’s column that also appears in my column. The only explanation is that I put it in my notes, then put it in my column. That was extremely careless and, for that, I apologize.
One would think it was awkward for Stead that the cock-and-bull story she believed, and gave the stamp of moral authority to, held up for about 48 hours before collapsing in a wave of well-deserved internet ridicule which required the intervention of Stackhouse. Or the appearance of intervention, anyway. The obvious problems still left are twofold.
1) Stackhouse won’t tell us how he is sanctioning Wente, though he will say what he is not doing, i.e., letting her go. I don’t know that I would fire Wente for plagiarism in his place, though I am near-certain I would fire her for being pathologically unable to tell her own prose apart from quotations scribbled into her notes. (What say we give the real estate to someone who doesn’t have a tin ear and a crappy attitude?) The real point is that the Globe is giving us no practical indication whatsoever of how seriously it takes plagiarism, or of how Stackhouse proposes to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. It is literally all talk.
2) Stackhouse has dealt not at all with Sylvia Stead’s failure to detect obvious plagiarism when someone came up with overwhelming evidence against an old crony. His response, incredibly, was to make Stead fully independent of the person who had to bail out her behind and uphold some standards—namely himself. How is this supposed to solve the problem the Globe created by making a lifer the public editor? Have we got this straight…after that absurd display, he has decided to give her even more power?
Perhaps Stackhouse, by taking Stead out from under him in the chain of command, is offering some kind of tacit admission that he influenced her investigation. I cannot see any other reason to do it, but he is very welcome to give us a fuller explanation.
By Jesse Brown - Monday, September 24, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Because of the Internet. As Sabrina Maddeaux points out in the Toronto Standard, quality safeguards in newsrooms have disappeared. Fact checkers and copyeditors are scarce or non-existent, while any editors who haven’t been laid off must sign off on more copy more quickly than ever before. Legacy media institutions have been gutted by the disruptive effects of the Internet. Everyone is expected to maintain the same standards while working with a fraction of the resources. That’s simply impossible, and the fact that sloppy work sees print is an inevitable result.
But that’s just one part of it.
The Internet explains why plagiarism gets through more often than it used to, but it’s also the reason why plagiarism is so easily exposed. Tracking down a swipe used to be pretty tough. Fifteen years ago, if something you read in a column twigged as something you’d read before, how would you prove it? Unless you felt like spending a day (or a week) at the library, knee-deep in microfiche, you’d probably just let it go. Even if you were able to trace it back, the task of publicizing plagiarism would be daunting.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 8:10 AM - 0 Comments
In January, the Globe and Mail appointed longtime editor and correspondent Sylvia Stead its first “public editor”. What say we pause right there, before we go any further? The job of “public editor” is one most closely associated with the New York Times, which has had five different people doing the job since it created a post with that title in 2003—soon after the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal. The function of the public editor at the Times, as the title suggests, is to advocate for journalism ethics, fairness, and proper practice on behalf of the paper’s readership, dealing with concerns and challenges as they arise.
To that end, the Times—quite naturally, one would think—has always recruited people for the job who haven’t been associated with the Times for their entire adult lives, but who do have some knowledge of journalism and non-fiction practice. The first Times public editor was Daniel Okrent, a legendary book and magazine editor. The new one, Margaret Sullivan, has been associated with the Warren Buffett-owned Buffalo News since 1980.
The Times is probably careful about this because it created the “public editor” job in the wake of a serious credibility crisis. It could ill afford to choose somebody who had grown up in the Times cocoon and was an irrecoverable permanent hostage to old friendships, work relationships, and office politics. In fact, it would be fair for you, dear reader, to ask the question “Why would you?” Why wouldn’t you hire someone with some independent standing to represent the public, if you were serious about it?
Well: those last six words bring us to Ms. Stead’s remarkable papal bull, published Friday, concerning Globe columnist Margaret Wente. Continue…
By Richard Warnica - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 11:18 AM - 0 Comments
Ioan Mang, the education and research minister in Romania’s new government, resigned Tuesday after…
Ioan Mang, the education and research minister in Romania’s new government, resigned Tuesday after allegations surfaced that at least eight of his academic papers had been lifted, nearly entire, from other sources.
The allegations first began circulating on 7 May, just hours after Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a Social Democrat, announced the appointment of Mang and other ministers of the new government. Last week, former prime minister Emil Boc, of the Democratic Liberals, called for Mang’s resignation, dramatically waving the allegedly plagiarized articles and the original papers in front of television cameras.
The scandal has dismayed many Romanian scientists, who are already nervous that the incoming centre-left coalition government might reverse some of the energizing reforms that were introduced by the previous centre-right coalition to improve the country’s sluggish research system.
Mang is, or was, I suppose, a computer scientist. His political career in Romania is now over. But should he wish to restart it somewhere else, he might want to consider Alberta, where copying academic papers is somewhere above throwing money at homeless people on the list of acceptable political sins.
By macleans.ca - Monday, June 13, 2011 at 2:07 PM - 3 Comments
Graduating students outraged by plagiarism
The dean of the University of Alberta’s medical school is apologizing after students caught him plagiarizing a speech to the graduating class at the convocation banquet on Friday night. Students were apparently quick to notice the similarities between Dean Philip Baker’s speech and a medical school graduation address delivered by Dr. Atul Gawande at Stanford University in 2010. One attendee said his brother used his smartphone to find a copy of the original and was following along as Baker delivered the address. In an apology letter released Sunday, Baker admitted Gawande’s words “inspired me and resonated with my experiences,” adding “`I hope you accept my heartfelt apology and although you may not be proud of me as the dean of your school, please know that I am very proud of all of you.” The students, however, aren’t exactly eager to forgive him. “It was a blatant word for word copy,” said attendee Amy Christianson. “I just graduated with my PhD and if I did something like that, I would be expelled.”
By Andrew Potter - Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 12:56 PM - 8 Comments
From their website:
The Conference Board of Canada has recalled three reports: Intellectual Property…
The Conference Board of Canada has recalled three reports: Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Economy; National Innovation Performance and Intellectual Property Rights: A Comparative Analysis; and Intellectual Property Rights—Creating Value and Stimulating Investment. An internal review has determined that these reports did not follow the high quality research standards of The Conference Board of Canada.
Here’s the story
By selley - Monday, October 6, 2008 at 2:00 PM - 28 Comments
Must-reads: …Rex Murphy on our crummy debates; Chantal Hébert on the economy
Dear Mr. Prime Minister
A long-awaited biography of the Prime Miniser, and various other insults, plaudits and nuggets of advice.
“He has not introduced himself to Canadians,” an unidentified Tory comments of our Prime Minister, so please, allow The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson and Brian Laghi to do so at truly monumental length. (“Page 1 of 11?!” you might exclaim, having clicked on the link. Yes indeed, page 1 of 11.) It’s a very readable and interesting examination of the cipher that is our 22nd Prime Minister, and pretty much impossible to summarize, but if you ever wanted to know everything you didn’t know about him, this would be a damn good place to start.
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford projects her own views on arts funding—that it’s important, just like art itself, but perhaps philanthropy and self-sufficiency should play bigger roles—onto Stephen Harper, suggesting his comments about galas and the whinging artists who attend them were really meant as an argument against the idea “that Big Brother must be the only funder of the arts.” We think Harper’s smart enough to have said what he meant or to have clarified it afterwards, and while we welcome any discussion about arts funding, we’re sick of people espousing intelligent anti-subsidy arguments as if they were defending the Conservatives. It’s quite obvious to us that the Tories simply wanted us to be outraged that tax dollars helped out Holy Fuck.
By kadyomalley - Monday, October 6, 2008 at 7:26 AM - 71 Comments
UPDATE: Mystery solved! Turns out that it was Docksteader himself who wrote the speeches, and borrowed from his own work. According to his website, he was working for Canadian Alliance MP David Anderson at the time.
Hot off the National Newswatch aggregwire:
Only days after j-rad.ca’s revelation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apparent cribbing of Mike Harris’s notes, a new case of plagiarism from Harper’s stint as Leader of the Opposition has come to light, this time involving the writings of a prolific right-wing policy analyst.
The speech in question was delivered by Harper in the House of Commons in support of a motion calling for the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board. It contains passages that appear to be heavily copied from two columns authored by former director of the Centre for Prairie Agriculture Craig Docksteader and published in the organization’s online newsletter. (The Centre for Prairie Agriculture is now known as the Prairie Policy Centre; Dockstead is currently Operations Manager for another right-wing think tank, the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy.)
That makes three in just under a week – two of which surfaced only after the Liberals revealed that an “overzealous” former staffer had cut and pasted more than 800 words from a speech delivered by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard into his then-boss’ “eloquent” argument in favour of signing on with the Iraq coalition. Whether that same staffer – who has already been forced to resign from the Conservative campaign – will once again take the blame for putting someone else’s words into Stephen Harper’s mouth is, as yet, not known, but at this point, it’s hard not to wonder how many other examples of inadvertant lipsynching are out there, waiting to be discovered.
By selley - Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 6:38 PM - 23 Comments
I’ve cornered three plagiarists in my time, and each defended him or herself very…
I’ve cornered three plagiarists in my time, and each defended him or herself very differently. The first denied any malfeasance had occurred despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary; the second reacted quite politely, resignedly; and the third went completely mental, threatening to sue me and leaving long recitations about defamation law on my answering machine. The only generalization I can offer is that plagiarists are prone to bizarre, self-defeating arguments, including the following:
- There were no other words available in the English language with which to make the point in question.
- The original author of the text wouldn’t mind, or, I have a contractual arrangement allowing me to pass off the author’s work as my own.
- Perhaps a third party is the real author, and both I and the person you think I plagiarized simply forgot to add quotation marks.
- I was on a tight deadline.
- I’m not the only one who does it.
I always assumed these flailing rationalizations were simply the result of adrenaline rushing ill-advisedly to the aid of writing careers. But having seen various people repeat them, and others, on behalf of a plagiarist this week—not just war room staffers, but pundits—I don’t know what to think anymore. Just a few examples: Continue…
By selley - Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 1:38 PM - 28 Comments
Must-reads: …Rosie DiManno on the Ontario SIU; George Jonas on politicians; Dan Gardner on
The blunder from down under
In how many different ways can the Canadian commentariat miss the point of Stephen Harper’s 2003 speech on Iraq?
Stephen Harper “might be many things,” L. Ian MacDonald writes in the Montreal Gazette—such as?—”but the thought that he would knowingly plagiarize from another leader’s speech is a real stretch.” We tend to agree. But then, oddly, in the very next paragraph, we learn that MacDonald “know[s] something about Harper’s routine in speeches, which is that he writes most of the important ones himself.” So was this not an important speech? It’s what we’re left to believe, given that MacDonald’s intent is to accuse the Liberals—the Liberals, mind you, not the man who delivered a plagiarized call to arms in the House of Commons—of cheapening Canadian “public discourse” with “war room tactics and drive-by smears, to the detriment of us all.” All we can say is MacDonald’s freelance fee better show up on the Tories’ books as a campaign expenditure.
MacDonald and The Globe and Mail‘s Lawrence Martin agree on the political consequences of the Canberra Copycat affair, namely, that “the conspiracy theorists will be out in full force: Mr. Harper, then Opposition leader, was a puppet of G.W. Bush and John Howard, they will charge.” The theories will apparently get a little nutty, too, when they suggest “our foreign policy was drafted by right-wing Republicans”—Harper wasn’t in charge of foreign policy at the time, but hey, that’s the sort of thing conspiracy theorists do! Martin also agrees with MacDonald that “the Liberals yesterday were playing their hand too forcefully,” such as when they suggested “Mr. Harper should be expelled from his party.” But this is nevertheless a legitimate, “significant embarrassment,” Martin argues, and one that seriously damages Harper’s attempts to craft himself a more moderate image.
By Andrew Coyne - Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 12:13 AM - 126 Comments
1. If Harper had knowingly plagiarized, in Parliament, a highly-publicized speech by a sitting Australian Prime Minister, delivered just 36 hours before, it wouldn’t call into question his judgment — it would call into question his sanity. It was crazy enough when Joe Biden did it, a hundred million years ago (I’m estimating). But this was in 2003, well into the age of the internet. Is it really to be imagined, knowing everything we know about Harper, that he would be so foolish as to think he would not get caught?
2. Since when does Harper need to steal anyone’s words, or thoughts? He’s famously opinionated, and notably articulate. I’ve read his stuff over the years – newspaper articles, magazine pieces, speeches. He has an unmistakeable voice, a clear writing style, analytical sharpness. If he hadn’t been a politician, he’d have been a fine pundit. So if he wrote the speech in question, it would be an odd departure, to say the least, for him to suddently start borrowing whole paragraphs from another person, even ignoring point 1.
3. But of course, he didn’t write the speech in question, if we believe the confession of poor Owen Lippert. Certainly, it is more persuasive to me to think that as the newly elected opposition leader, with a million other things on his plate, Harper would have started using a speechwriter, rather than write them himself. I saw Bob Rae on the CBC puffing himself up over this, as if that were the scandal. Sorry, Bob: I’m prepared to think better of politicians who write all their own speeches, but I can hardly think ill of those who don’t, since that’s almost every politician there is.
4. So to believe this is a big deal, you have to ignore points 1, 2, and 3. That is, you have to think that Harper is insanely reckless, insecure enough about his own thoughts and expressions to steal someone else’s, yet not so insecure as to hire a speechwriter. And you have to think that Owen Lippert is lying, and that Harper is lying about Lippert.
Alternatively, you can believe that a harried speechwriter took a shortcut. In which case, how is that a reflection on Harper?
Looking at the speech he delivered, I’m just upset at being reminded how far he’s fallen since then. The Harper of 2003 supported a just war, and Canadian participation in it, forthrightly and without apology or equivocation — even if it was somebody else’s words. I’ve no idea how the Harper of 2008 would respond.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, July 11, 2008 at 4:35 PM - 0 Comments
Commenter Clarence reminds us that, as always, there’s a quote from the good years of The Simpsons that sums up how television works:
Roger Myers, Jr.: Okay, maybe my Dad did steal Itchy, but so what? Animation is built on plagiarism! If it weren’t for someone plagiarizing The Honeymooners, we wouldn’t have The Flintstones! If someone hadn’t ripped off Sgt. Bilko, there’d be no Top Cat! Huckleberry Hound, Chief Wiggum, Yogi Bear? Andy Griffith, Edward G. Robinson, Art Carney. Your honor, if you take away our right to steal ideas, where are they gonna come from? Her?
Marge: Uh… Um… How about “Ghost Mutt?”
The cool thing is how all of us, instinctively, can understand the difference between what is legally considered plagiarism and what is just “borrowing.” So while Roger Myers Jr. (son of the creator of Scratchy and the plagiarizer of Itchy) may say that The Flintstones was plagiarized from The Honeymooners, we all understand that that’s hyperbole: no one ever really thought that Jackie Gleason could sue Hanna-Barbera. But why is that, when everybody knew and acknowledged that The Flintsones is based on The Honeymooners?
Well, it’s because The Flintstones doesn’t actually take any of the actual specific details of the format of The Honeymooners. Even apart from the whole caveman thing, there’s not a single thing about the two formats that is exactly the same: Fred is not a bus driver, doesn’t threaten to hit his wife and doesn’t get insulted by her, lives in a suburban home instead of a cramped urban apartment. The Flintstones resembles The Honeymooners only in the most general things: both shows are about a fat working-class guy, his thin wife, and their wacky good-natured neighbour who gets into get-rich-quick schemes with the guy. But all those things are as old as the sitcom itself, so even in combination, none of them are enough to qualify The Flintstones as actual plagiarism. What The Flintstones did is what many if not most TV shows do: instead of borrowing the format of another successful work, it borrows its spirit. And you can’t copyright spirit, or inspiration, or concepts like “fat loudmouthed hero” and “get-rich-quick scheme.” The result is that you can make a show that is recognizably inspired by something else while still being, by any standard, an original work. Neat trick.
I’ll add finally that there are some real artistic advantages to the “same but different” approach, quite apart Continue…