Gifted Hands:

The Ben Carson Story.

“Either the chancellor doesn’t understand plagiarism, or it was intentional.”

The local paper and some faculty and students at the University of Nevada Las Vegas are trying to attract some general attention to the state’s latest education-related embarrassment:

[T]he agency that oversees higher education in the state lifted large parts of an early draft of a think tank’s report word-for-word…

Their complaint features the Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor because he’s the one who should have humbly acknowledged when the story broke that his organization acted hastily in using another person’s writing (the writing seems to have been circulated in a routine, not-for-quotation, preliminary way), especially in the context of competitive bidding for state funds.

Plus, news-cycle-wise, it’s less than optimal that only a few weeks ago the system’s highest-profile university – UNLV – barely managed to fire a highly esteemed and compensated professor who has been plagiarizing pretty much everything he writes for about thirty years. The plagiarism was pretty well known… pretty well documented… but until the Chronicle of Higher Education began using a yellow highlighter on this guy, UNLV dragged its ass.. And even then, a member of the reviewing committee argued that he shouldn’t be fired!

Throw into the Nevada higher education mix that the only thing you consistently hear about universities there is that some jerks want to build a billion dollar football stadium (‘Kim Sinatra, senior vice president and general counsel for Wynn Resorts, said, “A billion dollars is a lot of money. If we want to spend a billion dollars on UNLV, is it a stadium?”’), and, well, nuff said.

“Plagiarism within a university and a higher education system reflect[s] poorly on Nevada, which is desperately trying to improve its reputation on many fronts, including education.”

Of course this local columnist is right that the state of Nevada has a jaw-droppingly bad ed rep; but she errs in assuming even a non-desperate effort to change this.

UD has for years followed the states of New Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada (UD‘s Big Four) as they run their primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools into the ground.

Not one of these states seems to know how to run schools, much less care about running them.

Nevada in particular – entertainment capital of the world – is all about building The World’s Largest 800 Million Dollar University Football Stadium and stuff like that. It’s clear the state doesn’t even know what universities are. Or – again – care. The center of its world is Las Vegas.

Las Vegas. Nevada’s tax base relies on drawing stupid people to the state, and it’s done a bang-up job. State leaders understand there’s, uh, negative utility in drawing smart people.

So who can be surprised that no one there knows what plagiarism is, much less knows that you shouldn’t do it? The same local columnist expresses amazement that the University of Nevada Las Vegas for years housed a high-profile professor who has been loudly called out as a plagiarist since “his 1990 doctoral dissertation at [the] University of Toronto.” She seems surprised that UNLV seemed disinclined to do anything about this guy until the Chronicle of Higher Ed did a big story about him. A commenter at Retraction Watch notes:

UNLV management were probably too busy hushing up scandals with the basketball team to worry about something as trivial as plagiarism on a massive scale…

The columnist seems just as surprised that the Nevada System of Higher Education “copied large sections of [a Brookings Institution] draft report and submitted it to legislators as NSHE’s own proposal.” Why not?

Re-location and translation costs

[Mustafa] Marrouchi primarily stole from works published in the London Review of Books and would often change just a few words, specifically words with British spellings to American spellings.

“UNLV English professor Mustapha Marrouchi was fired last month after a university review found he plagiarized the works of 18 people.”

Wow. High roller. Only in Las Vegas.

Background here.

“Never inside, I didn’t lie in my heart!”

Blanche DuBois’ desperate response to Mitch’s inquiry as to her self-representation in A Streetcar Named Desire is pretty much the last button the caught-red-handed plagiarist can push. After you’ve failed to blame it on vague and treasonous “assistants,” or on your drug addiction, or overwork, or an obscure psychological condition, you may simply find yourself where the head of the school of journalism at Sciences Po, no less, finds herself. I “forgot to mention certain papers, but never voluntarily,” said Agnes Chauveau, but here she’s up against the fact that few human acts are more voluntary than plagiarism – especially the career plagiarism that has apparently been uncovered in her case.

When you’re a university spending all your time totally focused on trying to build a one billion dollar football stadium with the world’s largest Adzillatron….

… you can’t be bothered to make any public statements about a very high-ranking faculty member who’s also – according to a number of reportsan outrageous plagiarist.

I mean, it’s a matter of priorities. Do you wanna look at this? Or do you wanna look at some pointless little English professor getting punished for plagiarizing “from at least 160 works over the course of his career”?

Yes, we pay this guy close to $150,000 a year and give him a fancy title AND he has the distinction of having plagiarized an entire article by UD‘s very own dissertation advisor, WJT Mitchell! But hey. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

EcoArchitecture: Recycle Your Students’ Work.

[Nicholas Johnson, an architecture student at the University of Arizona,] said the plagiarism first caught his eye as he prepared to submit his master’s thesis for a review that would determine whether he’d graduate. He stumbled upon it, he said, while searching online for the thesis [his UA professor] had done for her own master’s degree, which he planned to compare to his to make sure he’d done it right.

Fearing his future could be jeopardized if he spoke up, he initially kept quiet, he said.

The document Johnson came across in his search was a “statement of interest” [his professor] posted online in 2010 to apply for a visiting professorship at an architecture school in London…

Some of the wording was identical to Johnson’s thesis proposal. “At first it was hard to believe my eyes,” he recalled.



“All in all, Mr. Elorza seems the best candidate to move Providence ahead — and to defeat Vincent Cianci, a two-time felon running for mayor, in the general election.”

It’s politics in Providence, Rhode Island, one of America’s more… ahem… how to put it… cities. Cianci might be a two-time felon, but Elorza stole the language he used in a letter apologizing to voters for having been arrested for theft.

The thing that tripped Elorza up is that so many Providence politicians have to write letters to their constituents apologizing for their theft records that the same professional political advisor simply recycled his last youthful indiscretion letter in producing one for Elorza. The advisor seems to have a template onto which he slots each new name.


… is the process by which one writer’s language makes copies of itself and disseminates in plagiarized form throughout academic literature.

Since virtually no one reads the small specialized journals and presses that print most academic literature, this copied material – as plagiarists know – goes unnoticed. Gradually, the plagiarized material may itself be plagiarized, und so weiter, and no one is the wiser…

Plagiarogenesis may for some plagiarists happen so often that their entire career may be said to be founded upon the operation.

The easiest place to find deeply rooted multi-generational plagiarism is in the hard sciences, where it’s not uncommon for readers to discover that an entire article about, say, obscure properties of obscure cells, an article perhaps appearing in a somewhat sketchy journal, has been lifted unaltered from another source. The original source, in turn, will include copied graphs and other stolen elements.

But that is the very basement of plagiarogenesis; more common – especially in the more obscure reaches of the humanities – is the (alleged) approach of Mustapha Marrouchi of the University of Nevada Las Vegas (a determined effort to make sense of his methods appears here), in which his favorite writers seem to be quoted without attribution all over his work.


Sometimes things get a bit on the psychotic side, as when Marrouchi apparently plagiarizes autobiographical writing by Edward Said and puts it in his own memoir. (This particular taking also demonstrates the plagiarist’s typical move from high-profile to obscure outlet: Said’s personal experience appeared in the London Review of Books; Marrouchi’s personal experience of Said’s personal experience appears in College English.) More often, it’s garden variety theft, of the sort one of Marrouchi’s favorite plagiarees, Slavoj Zizek, was himself recently found to have committed.


Now that the Chronicle of Higher Ed is making a fuss about Marrouchi, we can anticipate his lines of response. They will, first of all, be many. This charming review of Ward Churchill’s twelve excuses reminds us that the same tireless verbal cocksmanship through which the career plagiarist fathered thousands of illegitimate offspring can be used to generate excuses (the original source was begging for it… the words were just sitting there…) for having done so.

In the particular case of Marrouchi, UD (a veteran observer of plagiarism and plagiarists) would anticipate the following reactions:

1. A lawsuit, or the threat of a lawsuit.

2. A volcanically angry rebuttal which CHE will print and then withdraw when it turns out to be plagiarized.

3. The claim that everyone plagiarizes and Marrouchi’s only being singled out because he’s a man of the left whose powerful critique of imperialism is considered so threatening to the establishment that he had to be silenced.

4. The claim that among people of the left the bogus category “plagiarism” does not exist, since it is founded on reactionary notions of private property.

“The 2007 research paper from my time at the U.S. Army War College has become a distraction from the debate you expect and deserve. I am ending my campaign …”

Plagiarism really isn’t a small thing. Lots of people think it is, because they plagiarize, and they figure it doesn’t matter much and that even if they get caught it’s a small thing.

But it’s a large thing, especially when it’s extensive, and it can bring you down. People judge it harshly because it suggests laziness, incompetence, and an incomplete sense of what belongs to you and what belongs to other people. John Walsh now realizes this.

UD thanks Jeremy.


… would I guess be the word for what we seem to be dealing with in American culture for the last few years. As in — everybody seems to be plagiarizing to some extent… Including, it appears, Mary Willingham, the University of North Carolina tutor who blew the whistle on that school’s fake courses for athletes. Her online UNC Greensboro master’s thesis seems to include quite a number of lifted sentences…

This is too bad, since Willingham has been one of the strongest, most trustworthy voices protesting the corruption of entire academic departments by sports.


UPDATE: The best commentary so far:

Whatever Willingham’s graduate work does to her own reputation is no doubt gratifying to UNC fans of a certain type, but the questions about Tar Heel integrity?

… [R]uining Willingham, fun though it may be, is just another side show beside the smoldering wreck of UNC athletics. It’s a small, mean victory, like cutting boots and rings off of the dead at El Alamein.

The battle has moved on. Bigger things are afoot.

“In the letter to Simon & Schuster, Shirley asked that all current copies of The Invisible Bridge be destroyed, that an apology from Simon & Schuster be run as an ad in several magazines and newspaper[s], and that Shirley be rewarded $25 million in damages.”

That’s it, baby! GO FOR IT. TWENTY-FIVE MIL!!!!

There’s no doubt your Reagan book has been plagiarized, and quite grotesquely at that, with your plagiarist contorting himself in various postmodern ways to pretend that’s not happening:

[I]n “A Note on Sources,” [Rick] Perlstein writes that rather than “burden the end pages” of his book with footnotes, “my publisher and I have decided to put the source notes for my book online, with clickable URLs whenever possible.” He gives his website, [Craig] Shirley’s work was noted more than 100 times online, a spokesman for the publisher told the New York Post.

… “Perlstein’s personal delusions notwithstanding, the only possible aim of an arrangement like this is to discourage the confirming of citations,” [one reviewer] said.

So yes you’ve been wronged, in a variety of ways. But TWENTY-FIVE MILLION DOLLARS. UD has to hand it to you. You’re right up there with the University of Virginia student who got roughed up a bit by some cops and has sued for… Hold on, lemme check the post… FORTY MILLION. (Update on the UVa thing: VICTORY! She got $200,000 and some change. Plus she gets to go through life as the jerk who sued Virginia for forty million dollars.) Though now that I check her demands, I find myself disappointed in you. Why only 25? Why not 40? 50? Why not 500 million?


UPDATE: The story jumps to the New York Times.


Update: Jesse Walker makes a persuasive case against the charge of plagiarism. There’s no doubt that Perlstein picked up various words and phrases from Shirley’s descriptions of events about which both authors wrote, and it was this that initially made me call plagiarism. But I suppose what it is, instead, is laziness. It doesn’t rise to plagiarism because it’s not extensive enough.

ArtInfo was complaining last year about Carol Vogel’s tendency to…

… pick up other writers’ scoops without bothering to credit them; now, the New York Times reporter’s rather lax journalistic code has landed her in much bigger trouble.

The New York Times is reviewing an accusation of plagiarism against veteran reporter Carol Vogel, who was charged with lifting a paragraph from a Wikipedia article for a story about Italian Renaissance painter Piero di Cosimo.

UD is aware that it has become fashionable to dismiss plagiarism as of no importance. Everyone, after all, seems to do it. Yet think of it this way – The New York Times – America’s paper of record – is paying one of its senior writers a very good yearly salary to scan and lift Wikipedia pages for it. Speaking only for myself – a longtime NYT subscriber – I am not happy to hear that my subscription money is going toward this activity. I can read Wikipedia on my own; I don’t have to pay the NYT to have its reporters read it and then reproduce it for me.


UPDATE: If you can find a plagiarist who hasn’t plagiarized plenty before being discovered, do let me know.

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