Thursday, June 25, 2009

The concept of "write-through"

A story in the LA Times discusses plagiarism charges leveled against Chris Anderson and mentions the concept of "write-through" :

On Tuesday [June 23] afternoon, Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired magazine and author of the 2006 bestseller "The Long Tail," received an e-mail warning that his new book, "Free: The Future of a Radical Price," was to be challenged.

On the blog of the Virginia Quarterly Review, a leading literary journal, Waldo Jaquith was about to post the results of an examination into the book, which Hyperion will publish next month. Jaquith had found several passages in the book that appeared to closely match Wikipedia entries without crediting the online encyclopedia as the source. Anderson e-mailed right back.

Minutes later the story -- along with a mea culpa from Anderson -- was online under the headline, "Chris Anderson's 'Free' Contains Apparent Plagiarism."

The LA Times article gave Anderson's explanation for the problem:

This omission, Anderson says, was not deliberate. It was a mistake.

Typically, the passages Anderson took from Wikipedia would be accompanied by a footnote or end note in standard citation format. For Web pages, citations include a date and time -- a time stamp -- indicating exactly when the Web page was accessed. Anderson disagreed with his publisher about the citation format to use in the notes.

"I made the decision to nuke the notes because we couldn't come up with a compromise citation form," Anderson said by phone Wednesday afternoon. "I thought time stamps looked silly in books and my publisher insisted on time stamps. I made the decision to nuke the notes entirely -- and then to integrate the attribution into the text, which I -- " he took a breath, "then screwed up."

In an effort to take the information from Wikipedia and remix it in his own language -- a process Anderson calls a "write-through" -- several passages were left unaltered, and without any credit to Wikipedia. For Anderson, the worst part is that it was Wikipedia that was shortchanged, because the site has been the target of frequent criticism about its accuracy as a source.

IPBiz notes that there is a separate issue with Wikipedia. One doesn't know "who" wrote the entry in the first place. This enables a sort of self-plagiarism/ghost-writing thing, as was done by Ward Churchill (who had the audacity to ghost-write under someone else's name, praising Churchill. Whether the "someone else" was completely aware of the plan was unclear). Fark also discusses some of this problematic aspect of wikipedia, wherein one can ping pong between wikipedia and somewhere else.

See also

fark wrote: Incidentally, one of the more surprising things I discovered while researching the articles for this book is that a number of them exactly mirrored a Wikipedia entry on the same subject. I didn't find any exact copies of Wikipedia in the articles in this book, but the structure often was the same and used the same citations in the same places. If I had to guess, I'd say that half of all the "original" articles covered in this book are Wikipedia entry rewrites. If not more. It certainly makes me wonder about the rest of the articles I didn't research. Wikipedia accuracy concerns aside, that's just not cool. Or perhaps that's how the Wikipedia articles were generated in the first place. Due to the obscurity of certain details in some of the articles, and the fact that none of those details showed up in a Google search on the same subject, I am more inclined to believe reporters borrow heavily from Wikipedia, and not the other way around.


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