The ravages of BuzzFeed’s Benny Johnson – This story has catalyzed a lot of debate about both the nature of plagiarism and the nature of (largely non-journalistic) Internet reporting. Benny Johnson, a 28-year-old writer for BuzzFeed, who has produced a tremendous amount of quirky content for the site, has been found to have lifted phrases and sentences from a diverse array of sources, from Wikipedia to the New York Times, to Politico, to the National Review, and many more. Initially BuzzFeed defended him, but after 40 or so instances were found, Johnson lost his job. Ironically, Johnson recently accused another writer of plagiarism. While some have dismissed this case as insignificant, especially because of the prominence of Wikipedia in the mix, the fact that plagiarism is centered on the way people express things beyond basic facts that cannot be expressed in too many different ways, it doesn’t seem so insignificant to me. And given the other instances of plagiarism that have made the news lately, clearly we need to be having this discussion for a good long while.
The list evidences a lack of discrimination by Johnson — not merely in simply grabbing stuff verbatim, but grabbing it from all kinds of sources. There are four interpretations of his actions: Very brazen, very lazy, very ignorant, or very entitled. Or perhaps a blend of the four.
The frequency of pilferings from Wikipedia suggests he viewed the site as an open-source document. Another theme: He pulled stuff from the Federal Register for his piece on the president’s swag gifts; from a “government website” for his post on “25 Amazing, Official White House Petitions”; from a U.S. Senate Web site for his piece “24 Delightful Inauguration Firsts,” a post that, according to the BuzzFeed editor’s note, should have credited that Web site “as the source for almost all of the information in this piece”; from the U.S. Botanical Garden for the piece on the giant flower — all of which suggests that Johnson felt entitled to material created with the help of his tax dollars. –Washington Post
New York Times Reporter Lifted Text From Wikipedia, Too – On the heels of the Johnson case comes this emerging investigation into New York Times writer Carol Vogel, who also seems to be using Wikipedia as a purveyor of free prose for public use without credit. Facts are still emerging here, but this isn’t the first time Vogel has failed to credit sources.
Vogel doesn’t have the strongest record of proper sourcing: In 2013 she took flak from Modern Art Notes’ Tyler Green on three separate occasions for neglecting to credit other outlets who broke art-world stories.
To their credit, the Times is paying more attention this time. In an email to Gawker, spokesperson Eileen Murphy wrote: “We’re aware of the situation and are looking into it.” –Gawker
Unforced Errors – Last week, Slate’s Ben Rothenberg reported on sports writer Neil Harman’s verified plagiarism of numerous passages from the current Wimbledon yearbook. Rothenberg notes that he reviewed the past three yearbooks and has found more than 50 unattributed passages, more than half from The Guardian, others from the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and other major publications. Harman, a past president of the International Tennis Writers Association who has co-authored a book with Andy Murray, was not exactly punished, or even censored, by Wimbledon:
By the end of this year’s tournament, which was contested from June 23 to July 6, the 2013 annual had been removed from the Wimbledon bookshelves. It has also been removed from Wimbledon’s online shop. The book should have disappeared from circulation long before that. Months earlier, as first reported today in the U.K. magazine Private Eye (the article is not currently available online), Wimbledon employees had learned that the author, Neil Harman, had plagiarized large swaths of the 2013 book. Regardless, the title remained on sale until just before the tournament’s end, when the All England Club was confronted by a writer whose work had been pilfered. Harman, who had written the Wimbledon annual for 10 consecutive years, was not assigned that task for 2014. He did, though, still write a piece on Andy Murray for the tournament program. In addition, Wimbledon allowed him to keep his credentials, and invited him to attend the tournament’s exclusive Champions’ Dinner. The club also failed to notify writers whose work they knew had been plagiarized. –Slate
Sixth-Grader May Have Stolen Credit For Marine Biologist’s Lionfish Research – This may be the most disturbing story of all to me, because while a science project of a sixth grade child is at the heart of the controversy, it’s clear that an adult who should have known better — namely her father — should be garnering the attention, that is, the scrutiny. And one of the things that is most frustrating to Zack Jud, the scientist who conducted the highly original and under-recognized research, is that if he calls out the girl, he looks like a jerk. And because her father’s name is on one of the research papers, despite having not at all been involved in the actual research, there’s a patina of legitimacy to his daughter’s research focus.
Stories of lead researchers stealing the work of their grad students is not uncommon, but this represents a major twist. It seems that in this case, a proud parent (and close friend of a college professor) encouraged his daughter to conduct a science fair project that was largely based on the work of that professor/friend’s graduate student. Arrington’s science fair project seems to have been inspired by the work of a grad student, Zack Jud, who published very similar results back in 2011 — work that Arrington’s father was an author on. –i09
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