July 26, 2014

The news in plagiarism.

1. Buzzfeed apologizes for 41 incidents of plagiarism found in a review of 500 posts written by Benny Johnson. Johnson, we're told, was a "creative force," but he was apparently not creative enough to reword his source material sufficiently to keep his job at Buzzfeed, which seemed to be to collect material from elsewhere and to present it in listicles like "7 Miracle Babies To Warm Your Heart Today."

2. The NYT surprised some people by muckraking plagiarism from 7 years ago by a Democrat, John Walsh, a U.S. Senator from Montana who's running this fall to keep the seat he got by appointment. The Times has what WaPo's Fact Checker calls a "nifty graphic" showing how much Walsh ripped off in his final paper for his master's degree from the United States Army War College.  Is the NYT choosing its investigative targets in a nonpartisan way or is this an effort to preempt an attack by his GOP challenger? When Walsh got his appointment to the seat Max Baucus had suddenly vacated, the NYT called it "a move Democrats hope will improve their chances of retaining the seat in what is expected to be a fiercely fought election this November." Baucus had been central in the Obamacare legislative process, and Walsh was an unknown but he had military credentials... that don't look so good anymore. (The WaPo Fact Checker (Glenn Kessler) examines Walsh's lame excuse — unfamiliarity with citation form — and gives it 4 Pinocchios.)

3. The media is so hot to see young females excel in science that it pushed a little girl so far into the limelight that her game of presenting a study of lionfish as her own original research caught the attention of the scientist who actually did the study and he spoke up. The girl's dad — one D. Albrey Arrington — was a courtesy co-author on that published study. And now a father's support of his daughter's science ambition doesn't look as NPR-ready as it did when NPR murmured admiringly over the little girl. Listen to the audio at that link. I had to turn it off a few seconds after the girl began speaking, because of the insufferable tone of her scoffing at the dumb scientists who were looking in the wrong places: "So I was like, 'Well, hey guys, what about the river?''" Ugh.

4. The New Yorker had a nice long piece on Joe Biden — "The Biden Agenda/Reckoning with Ukraine and Iraq, and keeping an eye on 2016" by Evan Osnos — and amidst all the admiration, it had to dredge up the old plagiarism stories. When he was a law student, Biden "was caught lifting five pages of a law-review paper but told administrators it was ignorance, not malice. ('I hadn’t been to class enough to know how to do citations.')" I wonder if Senator Walsh got the idea for his lame excuse from Biden. Having gotten caught committing plagiarism in law school, Biden should have taken care never ever to plagiarize again, but Biden is not the careful type. In 1987, while running for President (and simultaneously chairing the Senate committee that wrecked Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination), Biden lapsed from quoting the British politician Neil Kinnock to speaking as if Kinnock's childhood had been his own, "talking of 'my ancestors who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after twelve hours.' There were no coal-mining ancestors.... He was getting a reputation as a pompous blowhard, and Congressional staffers circulated a spoof résumé with Biden’s picture and accomplishments, including 'inventor of polyurethane and the weedeater' and 'Member, Rockettes (1968).'"


SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Biden is excelling at his current job, however: insurance for POTUS against impeachment and removal-by-any-other-conceivable-means.

At that, none better.

Birkel said...

So Buzzfeed and a Montana senator share the same level of ____________. Honesty? Integrity? Intellect?

And Joe Biden is not smarter than a 6th grader.

J Lee said...

You know, if Biden had been a member of the Rockettes, he could claim transgendered status now, which would give him a big (and shapely) leg up against Hillary or Elizabeth Warren in the 2016 presidential primary race.

Michael K said...

Biden is such a creep that even his hair plugs are ashamed. His treatment of Justice Thomas should have ended his career.

Virgil Hilts said...

Favorite Biden quote: "The next Republican that tells me I'm not religious, I'm going to shove my rosary down their throat."

garage mahal said...

Nothing on the serial plagiarism from Rand Paul?

richard mcenroe said...

"(The WaPo Fact Checker (Glenn Kessler) examines Walsh's lame excuse — unfamiliarity with citation form — and gives it 4 Pinocchios.)"

So has Walsh moved on from his claim that it was PTSD that caused him to commit plagiarism? Or should we all be thankful he only had 14 pages' worth of PTSD before we send him off to Congress to backstop Harry Reid?

richard mcenroe said...

Oh, it gets better. Look at the chain of succession and you'll pray God fasting no moody loner with a handgun catches up to Obama and Biden.

The Vice President Joseph Biden
Speaker of the House John Boehner (pre-alcoholic coma, approximately three hours in office)
President pro tempore of the Senate1 Patrick Leahy "Hey, what's a few dead spies?'
Secretary of State John Kerry "All right, so, I shot a baby, fine but I'm entitled to this seat."
Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
Attorney General Eric Holder
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker
Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro
Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson (acting)
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh (Jeb?) Johnson

Read more: Order of Presidential Succession | Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0101032.html#ixzz38aJm6S7Z (don't wanna plagiarize so I'll cite my source)

JoyD said...

I read that article. Is that all you got from it? Why are those the highlights you selected for your readers?
I haven't stopped by here for a while, and I had forgotten, it's all about throwing chum into the murky waters.

Your commenters will have fun, no doubt. Then maybe shop on Amazon.

Birkel said...

If Rand Paul has plagiarized something in a written document -- a school science project, a dissertation, senior thesis or his own autobiography -- please provide the citations.

No credit can be awarded for unattributed parts of a speech unless it is a direct quote of significant length.

Anonymous said...

Ans: This is NYT's effort to preempt an attack by his GOP challenger.

In October, NYT will co-ordinate an October surprise on his challenger. NYT will endorse the plagiarist saying it's more important for Dear Leader's party to retain the Senate. Extremist Republicans will take away Sandra's condoms, will undo gay marriages, women will die from coat hanger abortions, will kill off brown babies crossing the Rio Grande, worse of all, will cut off your welfare checks. There is already a plagiarist a heart beat away ... What difference, at this point, does it make that another plagiarist gets to the Senate? Voters must ask themselves: is a plagiarist who fakes his scholarship worse than a fake Indian woman who plagiarizes other people's ancestry? Haven't we all been plagiarist one way or other? Haven't we all repeated other people's ideas...

The Crack Emcee said...

"I had to turn it off a few seconds after the girl began speaking, because of the insufferable tone of her scoffing at the dumb scientists who were looking in the wrong places: 'So I was like, 'Well, hey guys, what about the river?' Ugh."

Hey, whites celebrate Christopher Columbus "discovering" this land, where people were already, so - despite the white's surprise her father encouraged her cheating - it's a white tradition to behave this way.

Whites would know that, if they studied slavery instead of nonsense,...

The Crack Emcee said...

'So I was like, 'Well, hey Queen Isabella, what about The New World?' Ugh."

Biff said...

So, Buzzfeed fired a guy for being...Buzzfeed?

Biff said...

richard mcenroe said..."Oh, it gets better. Look at the chain of succession"

Nothing ever has given me greater temptation to stock up on canned food, cigarettes, and ammunition than that comment...and I don't smoke!

John Lynch said...


Plagarism is an academic and artistic concept. It does not belong in politics. The idea that moving a couple words around makes a piece of writing OK is crazy. It's the same meaning either way. For politicians that's what matters.

Politics isn't about making sure students are doing their own research or about original creativity. It's about making decisions between unpopular choices.

Plagiarism matters when it reflects on the character of the plagiarist. It matters when they are a writer or an academic. Politicians.... big deal. Churchill and Kennedy, and Lincoln for that matter, lifted speeches from others all the time. They sounded good. That's all they need, as politicians. Get over it.

Anonymous said...

I do not have problems with Walsh or Biden. The real mistake was that press that was supposed to vet them, did not.

The press continued their exaggerations, elevating, enabling. Yes, the press enabled them.

The same way the press is enabling Hillary for 2016, and how it enabled Obama for 2008.

By not vetting them. By not asking hard questions.

By not finding what Obama had actually done, on his own. His individual accomplishments, not titles, etc. OWN WORK.

They did not.

They are not doing for Hillary.

So, I would blame Press for not vetting Biden and Walsh academic credentials.

damikesc said...


It's a question of integrity. Lowering expectations hasn't produced better politicians.

John henry said...

Crackemcee said

"whites would know, if they studied slavery..."

Shouldn't you study slavery yourself? whenever we have discussions here about it you seem butt ignorant of the history of slavery in general and the history of sub-Saharan African/American slavery in particular.

When I have visited your blog, you seem even more ignorant of slavery than you seem here.

I have studied slavery I'll be happy to discuss it with you anytime, anywhere. When I have tried in the past, you seem to go all quiet and shit.

(Ignorant does not mean stupid. It just means that you don't seem to know about a subject)

But more on point, what does knowledge about slavery have to do with plagiarism? Especially in this case?

John Henry

John henry said...

So Ann, how do you handle plagiarism in your classes?

And how do you define plagiarism?

Me, I define plagiarism as any words in a paper that are not clearly identified as someone else's. Since I focus on business writing, that is not necessarily a footnote but it is quote marks and an attribution. As long as I get that, I am fairly broadminded about specifics of attribution.

In my classes, ANY plagiarism automatically earns an F on the paper. No exceptions. It may lead to getting dropped, with an F and no refund, from the class.

I make this abundantly clear on the first night of class as well as in my syllabus.

I also have a guideline, that not more than 5-10% of any paper should be someone else's (attributed) words.

John Henry

John henry said...

re Walsh's paper:

In addition to the plagiarism, which should earn an automatic retroactive F, I have a couple other problems.

Length is one. Seems to me that 15 pages is pretty short for a Master's Thesis. I teach MBA classes and I routinely assign research papers in my courses. (1 per semester in addition to short, 2 page max, papers most class sessions) These normally run 15 pages or so.

The other thing is the quantity that Walsh did cite that was other people's work. Seems like a high percentage of the paper was not his, even if it had not been plagiarized. My rule is 95%, or so, of any student writing must be the student's own words. The other 5% or so can be quotes from others for illustration.

Even without the plagiarism it still seems rather light for a thesis. (Unless he is an Ed school student)

John Henry

Ann Althouse said...

@John I use a proctored exam, so I don't see how plagiarism could happen.

John henry said...


I just use regular inclass exams but had never thought about plagiarism on them. I guess someone could memorize whole chunks of other people's stuff and plagiarize that way. Don't see how a proctor would prevent that.

I was thinking about written assignments such as case studies, reviews, reports or the like.

Do you not do those in your classes?

Ann Althouse said...

I only use an exam, and the student wouldn't know what to memorize. My questions are too specific and focused on texts that can't be predicted and I give no credit for material that is not responsive to the question. I'm hardcore about that and they know it.

Ann Althouse said...

I am forced to grade on a required curve, so anyone successfully cheating is hurting other students. I can't let that happen.

holdfast said...

Biden and Walsh didn't know how to do citations? Both were on their SECOND degrees! Ok, so Biden may not have known how to do perfect Blue Book legal citation yet, but if he didn't learn how to do basic attribution during his undergraduate degree than he's even stupider than he seems. And Walsh - an Army Officer is supposed to live an honor code - if he can't even live up to a basic academic code then he has no business leading men in combat.

Zach said...

Plagarism is an academic and artistic concept. It does not belong in politics. The idea that moving a couple words around makes a piece of writing OK is crazy. It's the same meaning either way. For politicians that's what matters.

Plagiarism is not the same thing as missing attribution. Plagiarism is claiming other people's work as your own.

There is no set of quote marks or footnotes that would make Walsh's paper not be plagiarism. The conclusions of his thesis are lifted from someone else's paper! That doesn't stop being plagiarism just because you add a footnote saying which paper you stole it from. Your professor would rightly insist that you write your own paper with your own conclusions.

Simple example the other way: when I was writing my thesis for my comprehensive exams (the equivalent of a Masters thesis), I included several figures which were taken from the papers I was writing about. It was clear from the context that I had done so (scanned figures from pre-internet papers don't look anything like a figure made by a modern program), but I didn't know you were supposed to add "(figure taken from XXXX)" to the caption when you do this. My professor gently pointed this out, and I submitted a new draft with the correct citation format. It was not a case of plagiarism, precisely because it could be fixed by the addition of a footnote.