Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Fine Example of Plagiarism?

I was reading a recenty published article today at work that came from a technical magazine, and it started with a quote from Socrates that I found very interesting. Here is the quote "The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external characters and not remember of themselves." I thought it was an interesting idea that learning to read and write might be considered a bad thing because you don't have to exercise your mind as much for trying to remember things. It sort of also reminded me of the advent of the calculator and how people say it is also a bad thing because people no longer do math in their head.

So, since I found the quote interesting, I was thinking of writing about it here in my blog. But, since the quote came from a technical computer article, I wanted to verify its authenticity. So, I did a quick Google search on the quote and came up with a very surprising result. Only one result was returned for the search and this led to an article written in 1998 for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. As I started to read this article, I made a very shocking discovery. The first half of the article from the technical magazine was word-for-word taken from this article from 1998! Check for yourself - here are the links to the two articles:

The original from 1998

The "copy" from 2005

NOTE: I contacted the editor of the magazine and author of the suspect article and did hear back from him. He claims it was an accident - he often saves links to articles he finds interesting and in this case he thinks he must have accidentally saved the text of the article a long time ago. Then, more recently he came across this saved text and thought it was something he had written. At least, that's his story. He said he will be
updating the article
to correct this mistake. (In fact, the article has now been corrected. For historical purposes, I saved a copy of the original "bad" article to demonstrate the similarity between the two pieces.) In any case, even if what the author states is true and it was an honest mistake (and I tend to try to always think the best of people), it was very very careless work. An author should be especialy sensitive to issues of plagiarism and should not carelessly copy-and-paste an article's text for future reference without saving the information about where it came from.