Copy, paste: Jaquith catches best-selling plagiarist
Put a blog in Waldo Jaquith's hands, even a literary magazine's blog, and there's no telling what can happen. Last week, the Virginia Quarterly Review employee called out Wired editor and best-selling author Chris Anderson on VQR's blog for lifting whole passages from Wikipedia and other sources for Anderson's new book "Free: The Future of a Radical Price," something many other reviewers, including New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, appeared not to have noticed.
The post came with a mea culpa from Anderson–- he was told before-hand that his book was going to be challenged–- who claimed that it was a mistake and that he and his publisher had "forgotten" to cite the passages.
Jaquith's post made an immediate impact, having generated 177 comments to date from people–- including Anderson–- arguing about the nature of plagiarism in the digital age, and it has led to scads of follow-up stories including articles in the New York Times, The Guardian, Fast Company, and the New York Post. The LA Times said Jaquith's challenge "framed the Internet content debate."
Ironically, one of the themes of Anderson's Free concerns the nature of free content available on the Internet. Anderson continued to explain and apologize on his own blog.
"This is entirely my own screwup, and will be corrected in the ebook and digital forms before publication," Anderson wrote. "VQR rightly spotted that I failed to cite Wikipedia in some passages...This was sloppy and inexcusable, but the part I feel worst about is that in our failure to find a good way to cite Wikipedia as the source we ended up not crediting it at all."
So was Jaquith satisfied?
"I’m not comfortable saying whether I was satisfied with his response," Jaquith writes on his blog on June 23. " I’ve got my reporter cap on, and it’s not my job to be satisfied or not."
However, Jaquith does mention the most frequent objections to Anderson's response found in other media reports, namely his defense of "writethrough," or rewriting Wikipedia passages, strikes Jaquith as "a euphemism for covering up plagiarism."
In an email to the Hook, Jaquith notes that VQR has "pointedly avoided passing any judgment on Anderson's explanation, because we don't want people's perceptions of these facts to be colored by our opinion."
"The really good news here," writes Jaquith, " is that a wide-ranging, interesting, valuable discussion is taking place across the internet about what plagiarism is, about Wikipedia's role in the dissemination of facts, and about the thesis of Anderson's book." ("Also," he notes, "I've gotten really good at spelling 'plagiarism.'")
Still, Jaquith, who has since spoken with Anderson about the fall-out, seems willing to give him some benefit of the doubt, as in this June 25 comment to FishbowlNY.
"I'm not able to peek into his motives, but you'd have to be mentally ill to do this on purpose," said Jaquith, "To assign malice to this would mean something was seriously wrong with him."
Jaquith says the quote is accurate, but a bit out of context.
"The point that I was making is that I cannot believe that anybody in Anderson's position would plagiarize intentionally," he writes. "Malice isn't up for debate here, at least from my perspective. Unfortunately, that quote came off as if I was describing the guy as mentally ill. Quite the opposite."