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With plagiarism news, it is often feast or famine. Some times there is nothing going on, other times there is too much to cover.

Right now is we are in a period of plenty, with a lot of interesting plagiarism news making the rounds, some of which we’ll discuss later. However, there’s also been a theme of facepalm-inducing plagiarism stupidity in recent weeks.

To be clear, nearly all plagiarism stories have a certain amount of stupidity behind them. After all, plagiarism itself is a fairly dumb act and, if we’re discussing it, it means that the plagiarism was discovered. A caught plagiarist not only did something dumb but didn’t do it well.

But several stories have been taking it to a new level, adding a layer on top of the usual foolishness found in such tales. Unfortunately, those stories don’t really make for good analysis or coverage as there often isn’t a lot to discuss.

So, to keep this blog up to date, I’ve decided to discuss three recent stories of stupid plagiarism, each covered in brief with links to the original sources for more details.

Missing the Point

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To start this with an older story, David Richards is the CEO of the publisher 4SquareMedia, which among other sites, publishes ChannelNews, where Richards frequently writes. Based out of Australia, he has become quite well-known with local media for plagiarism including winning the “Phantom of the Internet” trophy from the Australian Broadcasting Company’s (ABC) Media Watch program.

According to Wikipedia, between March 2008 and September 2019, he was profiled at least three times on local media over allegations of plagiarism. However, his October 2019 story may be the boldest of them all.

It was then he was covering a September announcement that Google was going to focus on ranking original reporting higher in Google News. However, according to this segment on ABC’s Media Watch, his reporting was anything but original. At least five paragraphs in the article were lifted either wholesale or with light rewriting from an earlier piece in The Financial Times.

The video makes a very damming case but Richards has not responded to the allegations and his article remains online.

Why It’s Dumb

Why it’s stupid should be pretty obvious. The whole point of the story was that Google was going to start penalizing unoriginal reporting, which would definitely include plagiarism.

Given the repeated infractions in the past and the nature of the story, this seems like it should have been the one time that Richards ensured he was creating an original work with original reporting. He didn’t.

However, the joke may ultimately be on us as, for some users, the plagiarized copy actually ranks higher than the original in Google News, even after the algorithm changes.

Hat Tip: Thank you to Peter Nilsson-Thomas for alerting me to this story.

The Plagiarizing Assessor

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In January, Michael Farrar was one of twelve people running for the title of Assessor to Maricopa County, the largest county in Arizona and home to more than 4.4 million people.

The Capitol Times, the local paper, sent him and the other candidates a 14-question survey to understand their position of various issues relevant to the obvious. Though most completed the questionnaire without issue, Farrar plagiarized at least five of his responses.

While politicians plagiarizing in news media is nothing new, Farrar took it to a new level with his choice of sources. When asked a basic question about what the assessor does, he lifted 198 out of his 211-word response from the California State Association of Counties site.

Other sites he pulled from included Forbes, Salesforce and the Thomas Edison State University website.

The paper approached Farrar about the plagiarism. Just three minutes after concluding the call, he sent a letter of withdrawal to the county. He would later say that he pulled out of the race not because of the plagiarism but because he was too busy to do the job.

Why It’s Dumb

Farrar is not a political novice. He was previously on the Carefree Town Council (a town inside the county) and unsuccessfully ran for the state’s House of Representatives.

Yet, Farrar not only plagiarized, but he also did so on one of the most basic questions imaginable and he took the content from a neighboring state’s website. No real attempt at rewriting, no attempt to hide it.

All of this is for a relatively simple questionnaire that should have been a softball for him and his candidacy.

The Dating Questionnaire

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Finally, our last story looks at other questionnaire-related plagiarism news, the next story involves the alleged plagiarism of a questionnaire.

The story features the sisters Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird, who run the conservative websites and YouTube channel Girl Defined. On February 5, the duo introduced a new ebook entitled 136 Questions to Ask in a Relationship.

However, shortly after its debut, critics of the duo began to notice similarities between the questionnaire and a similar one by Jim Bob Duggar of the Duggar family fame. The Duggar questionnaire was leaked online by a critical message board in February 2014 and featured some 423 questions.

According to YouTuber Without a Crystal Ball, nearly all of the questions from the Girl Defined list were picked and pared down from the earlier one. This includes several lengthy sections that were copied word-for-word (save editing to make it for both partners instead of just being questions for a husband), as seen in her video.

None of this would be a huge problem, but the duo claimed adamantly in their video that they had “compiled’ the list, including that they had thought of up a lot of the questions and took others from various resources. They also indicated that they had worked on it for an extended period of time, including using it with their current husbands.

However, it now appears that most of it came from this one source, which was pared down to create the new list. That source was also uncredited.

The ebook remains available as of this writing. Girl Defined has not responded to the allegations.

Why It’s Dumb

There’s no doubt that Girl Defined has a large audience and have built a good media empire for themselves. They’ve published several books and are even hosting a conference later this year.

However, compared to the Duggars, they are still very small and relatively unknown in this space. Furthermore, the leaking of the Duggar questionnaire was a big deal when it happened in 2014, even getting some mainstream media attention. Many people in this space, both followers and critics, remember it well.

This is almost akin to a new fantasy author plagiarizing JK Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien. The similarities were going to be spotted. To make matters worse, much of their brand centers around morals and ethics, making this a doubly bad look.

The best hope that they have is that they were being honest about how the list was formed (over a period of time and used on their relationships) and they just forgot where much of it came from.

All in all, if they were simply transparent about where the questions came from, there wouldn’t have been an issue. I doubt their audience objects to the content or source of the questions, merely that the source wasn’t credited.

Conclusions

When it’s all said and done, all plagiarism stories have a kernel of stupidity in them. To be clear, that stupidity may only be momentary and we all do dumb things, but sometimes plagiarists take it to another level.

To be clear, this is ONLY three examples of such plagiarism stories. The stupid plagiarisms are bountiful but there seems to have been a bumper crop running across my feeds over the past few weeks.

In the end, the message is simple: Don’t plagiarize. But, if you have to, at least be somewhat self-aware about it. Plagiarizing from much bigger voices or plagiarizing an article about how plagiarism is bad adds another layer to the story.

Committing plagiarism is bad enough on its own.

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