In comparison to 2012, 2013 was a very busy year for plagiarism-related news. It was a year with a slew of political scandals, developing issues in research plagiarism and even a few beloved celebrities finding themselves caught up in allegations of unethical writing.
However, much of the focus changed in 2013. Where 2012 was very journalism-oriented with the “Summer of Sin” and Jonah Lehrer, 2013 was much more diverse and featured plagiarism scandals from a variety of fields including politics, religion and filmmaking.
All in all, this made it very difficult to pick just five stories to cover. This list easily could have been a top 20 or more. However, the below were the five plagiarism scandals that had everyone talking in 2013 and will be remembered for a long time to come.
German Bundestag President Norbert Lammert and Taiwanese National Defense Minister Andrew Yang
Right in the middle of the year, two high-profile international politicians found themselves in back-to-back plagiarism scandals. First, Norbert Lammert, the President of the Bundestag, the lower house of Parliament in Germany, was accused of plagiarism in his doctoral thesis by an anonymous blogger. In Taiwan, Andrew Yang, the island’s newly-appointed Defense Minister, was also accused of plagiarism in a 2007 book by an opposition leader. However, where Yang quickly resigned his post, Lammert has held on to his post, though the investigation appears to still be ongoing.
Takeaway: International plagiarism scandals, especially when it comes to politics, are always unpredictable as the outcome is always based on the allegations being made, the political climate it’s taking place in and the local culture on matters of plagiarism. All in all, 2013 was a ripe year for such scandals, though often with unpredictable outcomes.
In March of this year, The Washington Post revealed that Jane Goodall’s then-upcoming book “Seeds of Hope”, a treatise about the importance of plants in biology, contained multiple passages that were lifted either verbatim or near-verbatim from other sources. Subsequent checks revealed many more instances of possible plagiarism in the book, much of it from less-than-reputable sites and blogs. Goodall emailed an apology to The Post and promised to respond to the allegations via her blog, however, no such post was made and the book was postponed to correct the errors. According to Amazon, it is currently slated for an April 1, 2014 release.
Takeaway: Much of the response to allegations against Goodall were not attacks or criticisms, but rather, defenses of Goodall and her work. This includes The Post, which, when making the initial allegations, did more defend than condemn her. One of the best known and most beloved names in science, Goodall’s reputation seemed beyond reproach, even though there was clear evidence of problems with her work. Nonetheless, she has been forced to push back the book a year to address the issues and it’s certain that, when it is released, the allegations of plagiarism will stick with it, putting a blight on work that Goodall says she was very passionate about releasing.
Marc Driscoll is a founder and pastor at the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the nation’s largest and most prominent megachurches. In November, he went on Janet Mefferd’s radio show, where the host accused Driscoll of lifting ideas in his book “A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?” Mefferd also posted on her site evidence that Driscoll had plagiarized passages in another book of his, “Trial: 8 Witnesses from 1 & 2 Peter”. However, just as the scandal was getting attention, the evidence was pulled down and Mefferd apologized to Driscoll on the air. Shortly after that someone claiming to be a newly-resigned staffer for Mefferd came forward and said she quit over the ordeal, saying Driscoll had pressured Mefferd into backing off. Eventually, Driscoll’s publishers finished their investigation of the claims and found that, while there were attribution issues in “Trial”, the other book involved, “A Call to Resurgence”, met industry standards.
Takeaway: The actual allegations against Driscoll were not particularly spectacular, just a few passages in a book and a few ideas in another. However, the fallout was very large, in particular in the religious community, partly because of Driscoll’s position as a polarizing religious and political thinker, but also because of the allegations he worked to silence the criticism against him. True or not, the scandal raised serious questions about journalism in matters of religion and those questions will not likely die away any time soon.
Actor Shia LaBeouf released a short film “HowardCantour.com” online. However, almost immediately after posting it, allegations began to rise that it was a plagiarism of a 2007 graphic novel “Justin M. Damianq”, written by Daniel Clowes. LaBeouf took down the film and apologized for the plagiarism, however, it was later revealed that that apology was lifted, in large part, from a response on Yahoo Answers. A further apology by LaBeouf plagiarized other apologies from Tiger Woods, Robert McNamara and Kanye West. Now, in addition to Clowes’ publisher considering legal action, another publisher is claiming that the actor’s mini-comic “Slate N Mate” borrowed heavily from a Benoi Duteurtre novel “The Little Girl and the Cigarette” and is considering legal action as well.
Takeaway: Plagiarizing a short film, often described as having used the graphic novel like a story board, was bad enough of an act. However, to plagiarize not one, but two sets of apologies pushes this to a new level. Even if LaBeouf is able to escape legal action, he likely won’t be able to escape the specter of the plagiarism allegations themselves.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul found himself in the middle of a major plagiarism scandal in October, after TV commentator Rachel Maddow accused Paul of plagiarizing verbiage from Wikipedia regarding the movie “Gattaca”. Paul initially defended himself saying that he gave credit to the movie, though he made no mention of Wikipedia. However, new allegations were found including other speeches, his books and other writings. Paul, over time, grew tired of the allegations and said he wished dueling were legal so he could challenge his accusers. In the end, Paul agreed to cite all of his speeches as if they were academic papers and has been doing so online.
Takeaway: As with Driscoll, Paul’s scandal is more about his response to it than the actual evidence against him. While it’s clear Paul did use portions of uncited text in various speeches and written works, it’s his desire to “duel” his opponents and his threats to quit politics that have lived on, even after the plagiarism allegations have been largely forgotten.
Predictions for 2014
In 2013, we saw the public conversation about plagiarism leave the field of writing to dive into movies, music and more. That trend is likely to continue in 2014, as plagiarism in various media goes beyond being just a legal issue and becomes an ethical one for the public to discuss as well.
However, in 2014, it’s unlikely we’ll see so many people making the mistakes of LaBeouf, Driscoll and Paul in their handling of plagiarism scandals. All three fanned the flames of their scandals by handling them ineptly and, most likely, the subjects of plagiarism scandals in 2014 will learn from those very public mistakes.
For 2014 though, Plagiarism is likely to still be an issue of rising importance. Public interest in plagiarism (and scandal in general) is still very high and that will keep news media focus on it, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. While this will help keep plagiarists running for cover, it also means that at least some will have mountains made out of molehills as the media try to find scandal where there is none.
However, the public will likely continue deciding for itself which plagiarists can be pardoned and which need to be blacklisted.