Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New York Times Plagiarism Case

Just a quick note on Maureen Dowd's plagiarism of Josh Marshall. TPM (the plagiarized site) has the details. The issue at this point seems to be whether it's a "big deal" or not.

I want to point out that the correction turns what was previously presented as Dowd's analysis into a quotation of existing commentary. It comes to have the same function as the preceding paragraph rather than the one that follows.

In academic writing (and, I would argue, in opinion pieces) that is a big deal. It is not just the failure to attribute the idea to Josh Marshall that is important. It's the failure to acknowledge that it isn't part of your own analysis. I think that's why she chose the "a friend gave me the line" excuse. In its original form, the paragraph was clearly not supposed to be citing another's commentary but presenting Dowd's.

I think the correction is a bit too minimalistic in this light as well. She should have corrected to it to read, "I agree with Josh Marshall when he says..."

In academic writing it is very tempting to turn a quote into your own prose, i.e., passing from the literature review to your own contribution a bit sooner. But it's also very, very wrong.

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