The Top 10 Plagiarism Stories of 2016

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Feb 27, 2017 8:00:00 AM

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2016 will undoubtedly be one of the most remembered and talked-about years for a long, long time.

While that’s certainly true for world events, it’s also very true for plagiarism. When it comes to academic and publishing dishonesty, 2016 was a banner year.

With that in mind, we wanted to take a look back at the year that was and, as we welcome 2017, get a preview of what is likely ahead.As usual, pairing such a list down to just 10 items is a challenge. In a year like 2016, the list could be much longer. But, in the end, these were our picks for the biggest plagiarism stories of 2016.

10: Nigerian President Plagiarizes President Obama

In September, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addressed his nation and announced a new push to eliminate “dishonestly, indolence, unbridled corruption and widespread impunity” in the country.

Unfortunately for Buhari, it turned out that at least one passage from the speech was plagiarized nearly verbatim from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Though Buhari quickly apologized and dismissed the aid who he said was responsible for the plagiarism, the scandal put more than a small crimp in Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign.

Fortunately for Buhari, the scandal seems to have largely subsided and, in the end, became little more than a footnote to his career.

9: Eilis O'Hanlon’s Plagiarism Ordeal

Ellis O’Hanlon is not a plagiarist. Instead, she and her partner, Ian McConnell, are authors who wrote under the pen name Ingrid Black and published a series of popular crime dramas.

However, O’Hanlon discovered an author on Amazon, going by the name of “Joanne Clancy”, was plagiarizing her work. She was releasing loosely re-written versions of O’Hanlon’s books as original pieces, with slightly altered titles.

After seeing Clancy plagiarize yet another book, O’Hanlon took action and filed a complaint with Amazon, who eventually sided with her and shuttered Clancy’s entire account. But, despite the successful conclusion, the ordeal took an emotional toll on O’Hanlon, who watched as much of her literary history was ripped off.

The story is a rare look at the emotional toll plagiarism can take on its victims, explaining why, to many, this is a very passionate subject.

8: WIRED Fires Reporter for Plagiarism

In what was one of the more “normal” plagiarism stories this year, Wired fired reporter Nic Cavell over allegations of plagiarism.

The allegations surfaced after Christina Larson, a freelance reporter in China, asked WIRED editor Adam Rogers for attribution for her work. This kicked off an investigation into Cavell, who had just started at the magazine for a six-month contract.

By the time it was over, the investigation involved both WIRED and Wired.com’s editorial staff. After looking at the four articles he had written, they only found issues with one but added editor’s notes to all four.

The scandal came just four years after WIRED completed a much more complex and high-profile plagiarism investigation of Jonah Lehrer. Those findings were published on Slate, which provided an independent analysis of the results.

7: Mexico's President Accused of Plagiarism

In August, Mexico’s President Peña Nieto faced allegations that nearly 29% of his 1991 law thesis was copied from other authors without attribution.

Nieto, for his part, was dismissive of the allegations saying that they were 25 years old and had no relevance today. He went on to say that he did not plagiarize and that he simply made “style errors” in the work.

For Nieto it was his second scandal from this team of researchers. Just two years prior, they had uncovered that he had purchased a $7 million home from a government contractor, sparking an integrity scandal.

At the time of plagiarism scandal, Nieto’s party, PRI, had a 23% approval rating. However, Nieto does not face reelection again until 2018 and remains President as of this writing.

6: The Kenny Florian Plagiarism Scandal

Kenny Florian is a former Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competitor who currently works as a commentator for the sport.

However, a January column he wrote for FoxSports.com drew unwanted attention when it was revealed that much his analysis for a the then-upcoming fight was taken verbatim from an earlier YouTube video.

Florian quickly issued an apology and reached out to the original creator directly. However, FoxSports.com still suspended Florian for the incident. It also sparked a slew of memes and backlash from MMA fans.

However, the incident likely reached its height when MMA competitor Dominick Cruz, after winning the fight Florian was covering, made a joke about the scandal in his victory speech.

Florian has since resumed his work and it seems that the scandal has been mostly put behind him.  

5: University of Hyderabad’s Plagiarism Scandal

India’s University of Hyderabad has had an extremely challenging year. In January the suicide of a student was widely blamed on the school’s administration and caste discrimination. Students began to protest the school’s vice-chancellor, Appa Rao Podile, seeking his resignation.  

Podile agreed to take a “long leave” but, when he returned in March, protests resumed again.

It was at that time that reporters discovered three papers he was listed as a coauthor on contained plagiarized passages. Published between 2007 and 2014, the text involved was relatively small but the allegations were enough to further fan the flames.

Podile admitted to the plagiarism but said that they were “mistakes” and that, in the future, he would use “appropriate software” to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

As for Podile, he remains very strongly embattled, with renewed calls for his removal coming just a few days ago.

4: Peruvian Presidential Candidate Faces Plagiarism Allegations

In January, Peruvian Presidential candidate Cesar Acuña was enjoying a strong performance in polls, however, as series of scandals began to weigh down his campaign and, eventually, he was barred from even running.

However, it was a plagiarism scandal that was likely most embarassing for Acuña early in his campaign. On the campaign trail, he had placed a heavy emphasis on education but several users on Twitter found evidence of plagiarism in his 2009 doctoral thesis.

As a result, his former university began investigating those claims and the National Jury of Electors announced that, if his PhD is revoked, it would have been considered a falsehood that could have barred him from the race entirely.

However, it ended up being a vote buying scandal several months later that got him disqualified. The investigations into his alleged plagiarism(s) continues.

3: South Korea’s Massive Plagiarism Scandal

The beginning of the year was dominated with news from South Korea. In January, the country faced a plagiarism scandal of epic proportions as some 200 professors from 50 universities faced questioning and possible criminal charges for their role book plagiarism.

The basic idea of the scandal was professors, as they came up for review or a new position, would work with publishers to get their names on books that they didn’t write. The publishers used it as a way to move unsold inventory and professors as a way to further their careers. Even the original authors were often complicit, hoping for good favor from the publishers in the future.

The story came just months after Korea’s Summer of Plagiarism, which saw several prominent authors and a newly-appointed Health Minister face allegations of plagiarism. All of this goes to show just how.

2: The New York Daily News Plagiarism Scandal

The New York Daily News found itself at the center of an unusual plagiarism scandal.

The story started when observers noticed that an April 19th article by reporter Shaun King bore a strong resemblance to an earlier article by The Daily Beast. This included several pieces of overlapping text, all used without citation, and even a typo found in the original.

However, the story took a strange turn when King took to Twitter and published timestampped emails of his submission, showing that he did not plagiarize. As it turned out, it was an editor at the paper, later identified as Jotham Sederstrom, who edited out the attribution as he prepared it to go online.

Sederstrom was fired for “unacceptable” mistakes.

The story was a powerful lesson for authors everywhere, keep careful notes and save previous drafts. You never know when they might prove you’re not a plagiarist.

1: The Melania Trump Plagiarism Scandal

Though it may not have been the biggest scandal in terms of text, the Melania Trump plagiarism scandal certainly took place on the largest stage possible and, as a result, dominated plagiarism headlines this year.

The scandal began as Melania Trump, the now first lady-elect, took to the stage at the Republican National Convention to give a speech on her husband’s behalf. However, it was revealed that portions of the speech were eerily similar to the 2008 speech that Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic National Convention in support of her husband, now-President Obama.

The story dominated the headlines and the blame eventually fell on Melania Trump’s speechwriter, Meredith McIver, who came forward to apologize. Though McIver attempted to hand in her resignation, Trump refused it.

The story ended up dying out and not playing a major role in the election. Still, it was a reminder that plagiarism can come up in the most unlikely of places and, when it does, it’s never a welcome surprise. It’s also a teachable moment for educators.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.




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