Of Politics and Plagiarism

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So, Rand Paul plagiarized some passages from the Wikipedia entry on Gattaca (and earlier plagiarized some bits from the entry on Stand and Deliver). As sins of politicians go, this doesn’t quite rank up there with warrantless wiretaps or torture, but it is still a sin — the sort of sin that will get you an “F” in my course, and (if I have my way) get you expelled from the university.

Paul’s response to questions about his little scandal seem to be the typical politician move of trying to say nothing that’s completely false, and almost saying the truth, while trying to deflect the criticism by making it seem that the issue is about something else entirely.

On the one hand, Paul is (almost) admitting to plagiarizing when he says “We did . . .”, and when he says that proper citations would be required if the speech were published. He also claims that Maddow et al. are making a mountain out of a molehill, which is an admission that there is at least a molehill there.

But on the other hand, his attempt to deflect criticism by saying that he “gave credit to the people who wrote the movie” is an example of a red herring. He plagiarized because he took someone else’s words and presented them as his own. No one supposes he pretended to write the movie. This is a transparent attempt to misdirect, and it’s not intellectually honest.

Further, when he says “Nothing I said was not given attribution to where it came from,” he steps over the line from evasion into falsehood. (Perhaps it was just slip in a live interview, but it’s false nevertheless.) The words came from Wikipedia, and he did not attribute them to Wikipedia.

Is it making a mountain out of molehill? One could try to make the case, and Paul does, that a speech isn’t quite the same thing as a published piece of writing. But it’s not likely to be very convincing. In a speech you aren’t going to cite page numbers and publishers, but it doesn’t take much to say ” . . . as wikipedia says . . . ” and that’s what intellectual honesty requires.

But bottom line is pretty simple: Don’t plagiarize. Period.


[UPDATE: Paul’s plagiarism problem may be worse than we thought.]

Stephen Colbert has some fun with Paul’s plagiarism below the fold:

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