Electronic Citations in Print Books

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Aug 6, 2014 2:01:14 PM

Page Six at The New York Post is reporting on a plagiarism dispute between two authors, each of whom have published a biography of President Ronald Reagan.

Craig Shirley, who wrote the book “Reagan’s Revolution”, claims that Rick Perlstein plagiarized his work at least 45 times in his new book “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan”.

President_Reagan_1981According to Shirley, the plagiarism extends to both the prose of Perlstein’s book and to facts contained within it. Shirley’s lawyer in a letter to Perlstein’s publisher, Simon & Schuster (S&S), says “We think it is unlikely that Mr. Perlstein even could have completed his book without Mr. Shirley’s book.”

To be clear, Perlstein’s book does mention Shirley’s work. In his acknowledgements, Perlstein says “Craig Shirley saved me 3.76 months in research.” Perlstein’s book also cites Shirley’s book more than 100 times in its footnotes, which are posted on the Web.

According to S&S, “We have examined Mr. Shirley’s claims, found them to be entirely without merit and responded to him accordingly.”

S&S went on to say that “Any superficial similarities are de minimis.” De minimus is a copyright term meaning that the infringer’s alleged use is so insignificant as to not qualify as an infringement.

But while many of the elements of the dispute are familiar, including questions about how to correctly cite a source and how much one must change a passage to make it a true paraphrase, what has gotten the most attention is Perlstein’s footnotes, or rather, lack thereof in physical form.

Perlstein’s book is completely devoid of footnotes of any type. Perlstein and S&S made the decision to not print the footnotes and, instead, host them on a website. According to Perlstein, this decision was made to keep the already-lengthy book (over 800 pages) a reasonable length and not add pages that, he felt, few used.

This method certainly has his benefits. Since many of the sources cited in the book are web sites, posting the footnotes online makes the links clickable and more easily searchable. However, as Matt Lewis questioned Perlstein over Twitter, it also means that citations can be changed over time and limits the audience for the citations as even fewer are likely to follow a link for additional information.

While this means Perlstein, or another author, could correct legitimate errors, he or she could also cover up poor citation or even plagiarism.

But the bigger problem is that books are, more or less, permanent. Web sites, however, are not. Though it’s trivial to maintain a web site for a lengthy period of time, sites crash, servers fail and web pages go dark. It’s very likely, in fact almost certain, that copies of this book will long outlive Perlstein’s electronic footnotes.

Still, as publishers look to cut printing costs, the moving of footnotes online may make sense in some cases, even if it is a controversial move. As Perlstein noted, few people use the footnotes to a book and they are generally seen as pages that can’t be read. However, those who do use the footnotes are, often researchers who are trying to get additional information and have a strong need for those notes.

However, this is one debate that might be headed off by the shift to digital publication. The benefits of doing so with a printed work, saved pages, lower printing costs, clickable links, etc. don’t apply to digital publishing. A Kindle book with 900 pages costs the same as one with 800 to reproduce and the footnotes can be made clickable and searchable in digital versions.

Though it’s unclear if Perlstein’s footnotes are added to the digital versions of his book, they should be, as they should for all electronic books.

While Perlstein’s approach might be an interesting thought experiment for print publication, it is almost irrelevant in the age of digital publishing. When every book functions similarly to a web page, having the footnotes on a separate one simply doesn’t make sense.


The opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of iThenticate.



Tagged:  Current Events

Tennis and Plagiarism

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Jul 30, 2014 11:00:00 AM

Neil Harman is known as one of the greatest writers and journalists in the tennis world. Not only has he served as The Times of London chief tennis correspondent since 2002, he’s been awarded the Sports Journalist Association “Sports News Reporter of the Year” and is a former president of the International Tennis Writers Association.

iStock_000004210396SmallUntil recently, he was also responsible for writing the yearly book “Wimbledon: The Official Story of The Championships”, a coffee table book that recaps the previous year’s tournament and is sold both at the Wimbledon gift shop and online.


Tagged:  Current Events

Chris Spence Case Mired in Legal Issues, Delays

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Jul 22, 2014 9:55:00 AM

Last month, former head of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Chris Spence, asked the University of Toronto, his alma mater, to drop its ongoing investigation into his potential plagiarism in his dissertation. According to Spence’s lawyers, the case has taken too long and he noted that his dissertation had been run through a plagiarism checker without his permission.

Both, according to him, are violations of school policy.


Tagged:  Current Events

The Principals of Plagiarism

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Jul 7, 2014 9:00:00 AM

Steven Strachan snapped up headlines this month due to his plagiarized yearbook address.


Tagged:  Current Events

Serbian Minister Faces Familiar Allegations

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Jun 24, 2014 3:00:00 PM

Earlier this month, three professors who currently teach in Britain, claimed that Nebojsa Stefanovic, Serbia’s Interior Minister, plagiarized in his doctoral thesis, which he defended at Megatrend University’s Faculty of Business Studies in June of last year.

The professors used iThenticate to perform their analysis and published the allegations on a site named Pescanik, which translates to “Sandpit”, only to have the site go down after being hacked and blocked. However, the allegations remained online long enough to attract public interest and with it an investigation by the Serbian Parliament.


Tagged:  Current Events

Chris Spence Asks for Plagiarism Case to Be Dropped

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Jun 17, 2014 3:30:00 PM

Chris Spence, the former head of the Toronto District School Board, which is the largest school board in Canada, is asking the University of Toronto, where he received his Ph.D, to drop its ongoing investigation to plagiarism in his dissertation.


Tagged:  Current Events

CNN Fires Editor Over Repeated Plagiarism

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Jun 3, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Earlier this month, CNN posted an editor’s note on their site stating that they had terminated Marie-Louise Gumuchian after discovering some 50 of her articles contained plagiarized materials, including 128 incidents of plagiarism in total. Gumuchian worked for about six months as an editor at CNN out of the London Bureau, where she reported on news from Africa, the Middle East and Europe.iStock_000005307207_Small

According to the note, CNN learned of the plagiarism after an editorial review of an unpublished story turned up issues. CNN then investigated further and found at least 50 other articles with issues, prompting them to terminate Gumuchian’s employment and edit or remove the offending stories.


Tagged:  Current Events

Plagiarism Allegations Haunt Controversial Welfare Report

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on May 30, 2014 10:10:00 AM

In Maine, Republican Governor Paul LePage has announced that he is seeking to withhold more than $400,000 owed to the Alexander Group, a consulting firm that was promised $925,000 to draft an evaluation of the Maine welfare system.


Tagged:  Current Events

Annette Schavan Surrenders in Fight to Save Her Ph.D

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Apr 29, 2014 2:29:00 PM

 According to Kai Kupferschmidt at Science, the plagiarism saga of former German Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan has reached a conclusion as Schavan is giving up her legal bid to keep her Ph.D.

Schavan found herself in the center of controversy in late 2012 when an anonymous blogger and part of the Vroniplag Wiki posted an accusation that she had plagiarized portions of her dissertation, written in 1980. Schavan was then a key member of Angela Merkel’s cabinet and a high-ranking figure in German politics.


Tagged:  Current Events

Japanese University to Evaluate All Science and Engineering Theses

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Apr 17, 2014 4:27:00 PM

According to Yomiuri Shimbun at The Japan News, Weseda University’s Graduate School of Advanced Science and Engineering has begun an investigation into all of the doctoral theses that have been written for it to determine if any had been plagiarized or suffered from other ethical lapses.

The investigation comes after the controversy surrounding Haruko Obokata, who earned her doctorate at Wesada University and then went on to work at the RIKEN institute, where she claims to have discovered anew way to create stem cells. However, her work has come under fire as accusations of plagiarism and difficulties replicating her results have raised questions about the research.


Tagged:  Current Events