Thursday, May 23, 2013
The Quicksands of Plagiarism
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes
Published: September 06, 2012
Every writer knows the meaning of plagiarism, though I’m rather fond of the definition offered by
Plagiarism - the presentation or submission of another's work as your own.
There you have it, succinct and to the point. But the author of the definition, perhaps considered that such a dry line needed additional explanation to clear any possible doubt, so he/she continues:
This includes summarizing, paraphrasing, copying, or translating words, ideas, artworks, audio, video, computer programs, statistical data, or any other creative work, without proper attribution.
Plagiarism can be deliberate or accidental. It can be partial or complete. No matter which, the penalties are often similar. Understanding what constitutes plagiarism is your first step to avoiding it.
Over the past few days I’ve followed the scandal befalling Fareed Zakaria, one of the most acerbic and respected pens in the United States of America. Mr. Zakaria is a Time editor and CNN GPS host.
On the current issue of Time Magazine, Fareed Zakaria published a column about gun control, where readers were quick to point out striking similarities with an essay in the April 22nd issue of The New Yorker written by Jill Lepore. You can check Ms. Lepore’s article
to compare with Mr. Zakaria’s
Plagiarism is so blatant on Mr.Zakaria’s prose that he issued at once the following statement on his
Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column on gun control, which was also a topic of conversation on this blog, bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore's essay in the April 23rd issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time and CNN, and to my readers and viewers everywhere.
The theft was so obvious and indefensible that Time Magazine stepped forward, so there wouldn’t be any doubt that they won’t tolerate such unprofessional behaviour, even from their star reporters. Here’s the
from Ali Zelenko, a spokeswoman for Time:
“TIME accepts Fareed’s apology, but what he did violates our own standards for our columnists, which is that their work must not only be factual but original; their views must not only be their own but their words as well. As a result, we are suspending Fareed’s column for a month, pending further review.”
Ouch! I’ve selected the guilty paragraphs, not to rub salt in Mr. Zakaria’s wounds, but to illustrate the fact that changing a few words here and there cannot disguise plundering the work of another writer.
In “The Case for Gun Control” from
Time’s August 20
Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history in Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic. Laws that banned the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813. Other states soon followed: Indiana in 1820, Tennessee and Virginia in 1838, Alabama in 1839 and Ohio in 1859. Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas (Texas!) explained in 1893, the "mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man."
Compare that with this from Jill Lepore's "Battleground America," which ran
in The New Yorker on April 23
As Adam Winkler, a constitutional-law scholar at U.C.L.A., demonstrates in a remarkably nuanced new book, “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” firearms have been regulated in the United States from the start. Laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813, and other states soon followed: Indiana (1820), Tennessee and Virginia (1838), Alabama (1839), and Ohio (1859). Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas explained in 1893, the “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.
The next two paragraphs don’t fare any better. Here is Zakaria’s:
... Robert H. Jackson, said the Second Amendment grants people a right that "is not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state." The court agreed unanimously.
And here is Lepore’s:
... Furthermore, Jackson said, the language of the amendment makes clear that the right “is not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state.” The Court agreed, unanimously.
Next, Zakaria writes about a quote from Chief Justice Warren Burger:
Things started to change in the 1970s as various right-wing groups coalesced to challenge gun control, overturning laws in state legislatures, Congress and the courts. But Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by Richard Nixon, described the new interpretation of the Second Amendment in an interview after his tenure as "one of the greatest pieces of fraud--I repeat the word fraud--on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."
And here’s Lepore’s original paragraph in The New Yorker:
According to the constitutional-law scholar Carl Bogus, at least sixteen of the twenty-seven law-review articles published between 1970 and 1989 that were favorable to the N.R.A.’s interpretation of the Second Amendment were “written by lawyers who had been directly employed by or represented the N.R.A. or other gun-rights organizations.” In an interview, former Chief Justice Warren Burger said that the new interpretation of the Second Amendment was “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
Non-fiction is a different animal from fiction. In the previous paragraphs, two writers relate the same events, and they must cite the same characters, the same figures, the same dates and perhaps similar outstanding points. But the way these are presented, the emphasis and overall storyline betray the individualism of the writer: the way he or she sees or interprets the events. This is unique, or should be.
Regardless of the apologies or the excuses after having been caught with one hand in the cookie jar, plagiarism is inexcusable.
website lists the following description for “plagiarism” on the Online Etymology Dictionary.
1621, from L. plagiarius "kidnapper, seducer, plunderer," used in the sense of "literary thief" by Martial, from plagium "kidnapping," from plaga "snare, net," from PIE base *p(e)lag- "flat, spread out." Plagiary is attested from 1597.
Where the words “plunderer” and “thief” are expressed clearly, without recourse to euphemism.
The Internet has changed the literary arena, and I must say for the better in this respect. The World Wide Web brims with information on every possible topic of humanity’s knowledge. But such prose is not free to steal or plunder; it has an owner: its creator.
From this fracas I’m left with a bittersweet taste, as I ponder not how someone with the phenomenal talent of Mr.Zakaria could plunder the work of a colleague, but how could he entertain such a patronizing attitude; the preposterous pride to believe he wouldn’t be caught.
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