Plagiarism and Personality?
Mark & Carol The Editors, September 5, 2012
How might type development affect judgment lapses that result in plagiarism? Can we use our understanding of type to address this problem?
Two high-profile journalists were recently removed from their posts for reasons of plagiarism—New Yorker staff writer Jonah Lehrer, and Time editor-at-large and CNN host Fareed Zakaria. On July 30, Lehrer, an author on topics in neuroscience and behavioral psychology, acknowledged that he invented quotes for Bob Dylan in his recent book on creativity, after another journalist exposed the fabrication. Thanks to Marci Segal for alerting us to this topic with her LinkedIn discussion thread. On August 10, Zakaria was suspended by Time magazine and CNN for lifting parts of a story from another journalist’s work, without attribution.
Both journalists had a history of plagiarism accusations. In January of this year, an Editor’s Note was appended to one of Lehrer’s New Yorker articles pointing out that some of its quotations were the work of another journalist. And in 2009, Zakaria was accused of plagiarizing an article in the Atlantic (The New Newsweek—Now With Less Reporting).
What can be done to discourage plagiarism in the type and depth psychology communities? Can the self-knowledge that typology brings help us to become more respectful of intellectual property? Have you had experiences with plagiarism that might help us understand the problem?
Hans Richter, “Visionary Self-Portrait,” 1917
Many writers get inspired by the bestselling books and try to use the ideas and themes used by its writer to create a similar book. However, it would be better to maintain the originality because even the slightest effort of plagiarizing can be disclosed with the help of duplicate checker tool.
I’m not sure we can draw type development conclusions from a sample of two writers who have plagiarized. I think it’s more a case of new technology with its no-rules and no-oversight blogging seeping into traditional reporting. I’m from the old-school type of journalism, which emphasized ethics and attribution and two or more reputable sources before publishing anything. That results in holding a story until all fact-checking is complete.
Today’s rush to be first – and the technology to post in seconds instead of days – means that writers might not double-check their facts and their sources; and editors might let things slide. Further, editors typically check and double-check the work of junior writers, and ethical conversations routinely take place around errors they find (hopefully before an article appears in print). But the editors of Lehrer and Zakaria probably trusted their reputations and didn’t add extra fact-checking. (Some columnists hire their own fact-checkers or depend on interns to avoid this sort of thing …)
I also wonder if technology itself helps us to detect plagiarism more easily than in the past – and helps us to plagiarize more easily? When it’s so easy to find material online, it’s really important to go to the original sources – and to have a system for tracking your sources. Even with attribution, a quote of a quote of a quote often results in mistakes. And then, if you’re cutting and pasting from other sources, it’s really easy to forget to document your sources unless you have a really good system (both for the research tracking process and ethical review).
Everywhere you look, it seems the ethical line is getting blurred. Here’s another example—a crime writer who posts reviews of his own books under fake names:
I wonder about the ethics of asking friends to write reviews of one’s book, while reciprocating by reviewing the friends’ books. Is there an ethical way to get one’s book reviewed, without planting reviews by self or others?