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Plagiarists are in the habit of lying

Amy Hundley writes in the New Yorker about a notorious recent case of unacknowledged literary quilting:

I [Hundley] was the editor at Grove/Atlantic to whom Quentin Rowan’s novel “Appearance and the Park” was submitted (“The Plagiarist’s Tale,” by Lizzie Widdicombe, February 13th & 20th). Widdicombe writes that the editor in question thought that “its plot was too close to that of another of the house’s books, ‘My Idea of Fun,’ by Will Self,” and I can only assume that this explanation came from Rowan. In fact, Rowan had lifted a passage nearly verbatim from Will Self’s novella “The Sweet Smell of Psychosis.” It was an especially delicious one, in which Self describes the media denizens of a particular bar. I recognized it immediately and informed his agent that he’d plagiarized it. Writing a plot similar to a successful novelist’s—something that can arise innocently—is very different from plagiarizing. Appropriating and remixing someone else’s work while acknowledging sources is also very different from attempting to pass off that work as one’s own. Rowan seems determined to communicate that he was never caught at his game until now, and that, somehow, publishing enabled him in his pathology. But he chose to plagiarize, and he’s lying about it now.

Once someone is outed as a plagiarist, it makes me less likely to trust anything else he writes. It’s pretty scary—or, should I say, it’s pretty “meta”—how Rowan now is apparently lying about how he lied about his lying. Shattered glass, indeed.

I’m glad that such things don’t happen in academic statistics. I’m pretty sure that if a statistician were caught plagiarizing, he’d give an immediate and sincere apology and do his best to make restitution for any public funds expended when he was plagiarizing instead of doing real research.

11 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    Zombieman does not get sarcasm. He will look up on wikpedia, it’s his homepage

  2. Bill says:

    “Shattered glass, indeed.”
    I have no idea what that phrase means. Could someone explain that? Does it have something to do with repairing broken glass?

  3. Aram says:

    When I went to college, one of the candidates for class president turned out to have copied his platform from a candidate a few years earlier. These things were mostly boilerplate (“I’ll improve the career fair, have more social events and do a better job in communicating with the university administration.”) so he probably figured no one would notice.
    But the best part is that his apology copied lines from Clinton’s famous Lewinsky apology!
    I think the line was something like
    ” [what I did]… was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.”

    I really hope he was laughing as he wrote that.

  4. John Mashey says:

    I’ve had occasion to talk to plagiarism experts in last year or so, and I have been told that quite often, it’s not an isolated act, but part of a series where someone gets tin the habit. That’s anecdotal, but certainly true of the series most familiar to me. That one has 4 PhD dissertations, 7 articles, a patent, several talks and a report to Congress. By definition, I cannot know, but there may well be more, simply because some publications are not readily available. The main author and his lawyer insist there has never been any plagiarism.

    • Andrew says:

      Yes, I suppose that once a person realizes that he can discharge his responsibilities (as he sees them) by cheating, it’s hard for him to go back to the heavy lifting of writing things for himself.

  5. jrkrideau says:

    Almost as hard to take is reading a paper that looks pretty well done and then reading a paper by the same author, albeit on a different topic, that you are almost certain is complete nonsense. Well it was complete nonsense.

    Was the author just out of his depth on the one topic? I’ve had this happen a couple of times and it makes one question the author’s overall competence.

    BTW, no implications of bad behaviour just poor analysis or interpretation, and a lack of familiarity with the overall literature.

    Nothing like what Johm Mashey is referring to as far as I can see.

  6. […] Plagiarists are in the habit of lying (andrewgelman.com) […]

  7. […] have occurred and that the perpetrators remain in place. At least Quentin Rowan admitted it (sort of). Some of the others out there seem to be taking the Chris Rock […]

  8. […] had the impression that plagiarists tend to be repeat offenders. (Here’s an extreme case.) Once people found single cases of plagiarism from Frank Fischer and Ed Wegman, […]