Monday, April 18, 2005


Chris Selley has caught Calgary Sun editor Licia Corbella in a nasty bit of plagiarism, and notes:
I can't honestly say I'm surprised. When you spend your entire life parroting right-wing talking points you read somewhere else, sooner or later you're bound to regurgitate one verbatim.

Yep--like or dislike Ms. Corbella's columns, that is an incontrovertibly good point.

I will take issue with his second example (in the update), though. I don't know that writing, "...each additional $1 in the price of oil, or 10 cents in the price of gas, brings another $99 million into provincial government coffers" can really be construed as stealing someone else's original writing. I've seen that tidbit frequently: to me it's less anecdote, and more mathematical reality (although it is kind of appalling that she couldn't reword it a little more uniquely).

I will note that Liz Nickson was pulled from the rotation at the National Post for what is essentially an identical infraction to that of Corbella's first. (Scott Taylor, on the other hand, was hired after committing a worse one).


At 12:34 p.m., Blogger Chris Selley said...

I don't think you're going to convince me that the absolutely identical words "brings another $99 million into provincial government coffers" aren't plagiarism. The mathematical reality of something doesn't change the obligation to either phrase it uniquely or put it in quotation marks.

At 2:33 p.m., Blogger Matt said...

Yeah, maybe I'm overly forgiving because of my distinct impression that the word "coffers" is mandatory under the Sun stylebook, any time they mention government finances.

At 2:43 p.m., Blogger Paul said...

If the phrase was copied as suggested, then it's a bit of plagiarism.

Oops. That should be, "... then it's 'a bit of plagiarism,' in the words of Jerry Aldini."

Nah, I don't buy it. You copy an essay, that's plagiarism. You copy a paragraph without citing your source, that's plagiarism. Having a phrase that's literally identical is suspect, but without further evidence is not conclusive and the benefit of the doubt is owed.

It isn't an original idea to say that this particular condition brings so much money into the government treasury: it's simple research. Copying the writing style for a phrase doesn't diminish the original author. At least, not in this instance.

After all, the principle is clear that you don't cite The New Oxford English Dictionary for everything you ever write. Let's remember what plagiarism is all about before we accuse someone of performing it: it's about passing off someone else's work as one's own. And if this particular phrase defines one's work, the author's family is going to starve. Immortal words they are not.


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