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Top Plagiarism Scandals of 2012

Posted by Jessica Gopalakrishnan on Dec 18, 2012 3:25:00 PM

For matters of plagiarism, 2012 will be a year that will live in infamy. With a “summer of sin” that spilled well over into the autumn and winter months It was certainly not a quiet year when it comes to plagiarism.

But with the year finally coming to a close and 2013 on the horizon, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was and see not only what the highlights (or lowlights) of the year were for plagiarism but also the impact that these events are likely going to have in the coming years.

To do that, we brought in Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today to go over his top 5 plagiarism stories of the year. In addition, during the video you will hear about two “notable incidents” and his predictions for what is coming to the field of plagiarism in 2013.

Watch the webcast video:

Top Plagiarism Scandals of 2012 from Turnitin on Vimeo.

Top 5 Plagiarism Scandals of 2012


Politicians Romanian Prime Minister Ponta and German Education Minister Schavan

Plagiarism is not limited to academia and publishing. This item is two stories in one, namely two high-profile politicians, one in Romania and one in Germany, who were accused of having plagiarized their dissertations. What’s interesting about these two cases is that, if you look at the Schavan’s case, the politician involved wrote her doctoral thesis in 1980 and it’s coming back over 30 years later to potentially harm her career.

Takeaway: Scholarly misconduct and mistakes made in the past are like a shadow over you and can come back to bite at any time. Today, it’s getting easier and easier to detect plagiarism, and everyone is becoming more educated about how to find academic and scholarly mistakes.


Columnists Margaret Wente and Fareed Zakaria

Both of these cases happened around the same time, and both followed similar arcs but with one major difference. Conservative Canadian columnist Wente was found to have unattributed copy-and-pasted verbatim material in older articles, and liberal columnist Zakaria in more recent writing. In both cases the columnists were called out, but the difference was the response of the publications. The Globe and Mail circled around Wente and offered support to her and defend her versus launching an investigation and communicating to the public. This caused a great deal of scrutiny to be targeted at both the publication and Wente herself. In the Zakaria case, Time Warner suspended him immediately and reacted strongly, blunting the impact of the allegations. 

Takeaway: In the end, both publications completed their investigations and both columnists have continued in their careers. However, the real damage may have been done to Globe and Mail for the way they handled Wente’s missteps.


Judge Joel Groves

Many times plagiarism isn’t brought up in the legal field, mostly because often there isn’t much room for creative expression when writing legal documents. This particular case started with a tragic case about a family and their child. The family sued the British Columbia Women’s Hospital and Health Care Center and won a large judgment. When the hospital read Judge Groves' decision, they discovered that the judge had lifted a large part of his ruling from the plaintiff’s filings. The hospital then filed an appeal, claiming that the plagiarism indicated that the judge did not handle the case properly and that he was biased against the hospital. The case has now gone to the Supreme Court in Canada and a ruling is expected in 2013.

Takeaway: Depending on how the Canadian Supreme Court rules, this case could have a very strong impact on how judges approach and reuse content from the parties in a case, both in Canada and the US.


Senator Sotto

Senator Sotto is a prominent Senator in the Philippines and, in 2012, he gave a several speeches about a human reproduction bill. However, it turns out that several of his speeches were plagiarized from various sources including Robert Kennedy and several US bloggers. The bloggers have filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee in the Senate and there are many who are outraged about the plagiarism, to which Sotto is not apologetic. The controversy is still unfolding and the case has brought the topic of plagiarism to prominence in a country that has not dealt with it in this light and may break new grounds.

Takeaway: This case has created an interesting and healthy debate about the importance of not plagiarism and publishing ethically. The end result is the Philippines are facing the challenge head on and changing the dialog about plagiarism in all of southeast asia.


Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer was a well-known science journalist and had a meteoric rise to success. He wrote for leading publications such as the New York Times, The New Yorker and Wired Magazine. Earlier this year, it was reported that parts of his columns in the New Yorker were being repurposed from his earlier work (selling his work twice). What’s interesting about this case was that, when those initial allegations were filed, there was a huge debate with many questioning if had done anything wrong and wondering if the scandal was overblown. For a time, it looked like Lehrer was going to escape the self-plagiarism and citation issues, but then it was discovered he was fabricating many parts of his work, such as interviews, quotes (particularly quoting Bob Dylan), etc. Lehrer, under pressure, resigned from The New Yorker and other publications dropped him. However, Wired Magazine continued to keep him on staff while they investigated and finalized their decision. In the end, Slate Magazine posted results of Wired’s investigation, which involved a sample of 18 of Lehrer’s column, and all but one had ethical issues, including plagiarism, fabrication, self-plagiarism.

Takeaway: This was a fascinating case because of the dialogue that it got people to have and the lessons that were learned. Lehrer was so well known and so popular and the case got people to have conversations about all the areas of plagiarism, particularly less-known “grey area” topics like self-plagiarism, and the role misconduct plays in journalism.



Top Plagiarism Scandals of 2011