Freely Quoting

Wired editor in chief Chris Anderson is in the opening rounds of a depressingly familiar plagiarism scandal, kicked off after Waldo Jaquith pointed out long passages from Anderson’s forthcoming book Free: The Future of a Radical Price that seem to be lifted straight from Wikipedia.

Jaquith was careful enough to seek comment from Anderson before posting his findings on the Virginia Quarterly Review’s blog. By way of explanation, Anderson says, you see, that all of this text was once properly footnoted, but that that sourcing was ditched “at the 11th hour,” at which point, he says:

… I went through the document and redid all the attributions, in three groups:

* Long passages of direct quotes (indent, with source)

* Intellectual debts, phrases and other credit due (author credited inline, as with Michael Pollan)

* In the case of source material without an individual author to credit (as in the case of Wikipedia), do a write-through.

Obviously in my rush at the end I missed a few of that last category, which is bad.

Assuming that’s what happened, that is still not much of an excuse. Some of the duplicated passages Jaquith identifies are so similar that honesty would require—and the reader would be better served by—actually quoting the material.

Unless the footnoted words are inside of a quote or an indented text box, the corresponding citation is only meant to provide readers with the source of the ideas or facts at hand—not to alert them that the actual words have been lifted.

In other words (what a relevant phrase!), merely footnoting that these passages were sourced to Wikipedia would not excuse taking the encyclopedia’s words whole scale. That seems obvious.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.