Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Politically motivated charges of plagiarism and things vanishing from the internet

There has been some discussion of whether or not a book titled “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan” by Rick Perlstein improperly borrowed from a book by Craig Shirley .
Within a post titled Was an Accusation of Plagiarism Really a Political Attack? by Margaret Sullivan, there is text questioning the motivation of the plagiarism charge

[Jeffrey] Toobin called the claim “a political attack on Perlstein dressed up as a journalistic ethics controversy.”

and a brief allusion to a citation issue

Mr. Brink also said that a number of elements combined to make the piece valid — the criticism, for example, about a paucity of primary sources in the book and the discussion about placing source citation not in the book itself but on Mr. Perlstein’s website. The article described “the growing practice of shifting endnotes out of print books and onto the web.” These factors, combined with the polarized reaction to the book and the plagiarism claim, added up to something newsworthy, the editors and Ms. Alter told me.

As a first matter, one needs to disconnect "plagiarism" from "political attack." For example, one suspects the charges against Senator John Walsh were politically motivated, but that motivation does not negate the plagiarism of John Walsh. Similarly, the charges against Glenn Poshard were politically motivated, but Poshard did plagiarize within his Ph.D. thesis.

As a second matter, the procedure of separating identifying endnotes/footnotes from the related text is problematic when the endnotes are placed on a pliable web and the related text is not. Things on the web can be changed, or simply disappear. Thus, putting endnotes onto the web is not all right.

Of vanishing things on the internet, IPBiz noted the disappearance of the "Rutgers is wrong" piece by Vai Sikahema in 2006, and later coined the verb "sikahema" for removal from the internet [ An issue with things posted on SSRN is that they can be later removed ("Sikahema'd"), for example, if the authors publish in a journal that prohibits internet posting (recall Dan Hunter's "Walled Gardens," ] [The article by Judge Mathesius that provoked the uproar seems to have vanished from the internet, likely another Sikahema.

A post at (Bob Ingle ) has a brief excerpt:

Take boat-rocker extraordinaire Superior Court Judge Bill Mathesius, a former prosecutor who was unafraid to speak his mind using colorful language and biting wit. Mathesius wrote a scathing article about former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, a political insider who never sat on a bench that wasn't in a park until Gov. Christie Whitman appointed her to the top court's top job. He described Poritz like this:

"The Chief swept in, clad in diaphamous tulle and a high-fashion shahtoosh. Her diamante' Harlequin glasses provided interesting accent. The picture collectively brought to mind a hint of mature Andrea Dworkin with a touch of Dick Cheney." He went on to suggest she took management tips from Kim Jong II, the North Korean dictator. ]


Even LEXIS will alter reported decisions without reference to the earlier, now altered, decision.


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