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Home > Blog > Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire
Out of Our Minds
Saturday, May 06, 2006 7:28 AM
Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire
Martin Flaherty on Ethics

Plagiarism really pisses me off. And now, I'm over the moon pissed off at the sheer stupidity and hubris of two latest inductees into my Plagiarism Hall of Fame: Raytheon's CEO, William Swanson and Harvard sophomore Kaava Viswanathan. Swanson has been caught plagiarizing a 1944 book titled "The Unwritten Laws of Engineering" and publishing those thoughts in a pamphlet he claimed authorship of called "Unwritten Rules of Management". Ms. Viswanathan's novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" lifted content from no less than three different novels. And how have these two reacted? Mr. Swanson claimed that he failed to "properly check the source material" while Ms. Viswanthan states that her actions were "unconscious and unintentional." Nice... Swanson chalks it up to a research oversight and it seems Ms. Viswanthan's subconscious is to blame. Mr. Swanson's punishment is to have his pay frozen at his 2005 rate, while Ms. Viswanathan still has her $500,00 advance plus movie deal. And where are they both now? Mr. Swanson is still at the helm of Raytheon with his board stating their concern over the incident but supporting him fully. Ms. Viswanathan is still at Harvard finishing her sophomore year. It use to be that an employee of a would company be fired for plagiarizing? And wouldn't a regular college student caught doing the same thing be either suspended or expelled? Am I alone in being disgusted, or is this just too commonplace to raise everyone's ire? And going back to the old elementary school chant of "liar, liar" shouldn't their pants be hanging from the telephone wire?


6 comments

Stephanie - 5/8/2006 11:20:35 AM
Article on plagiarism from today's Boston Globe. Here: http://www.boston.com/business/personaltech/articles/2006/05/08/online_plagiarism_strikes_blog_world/ or here: http://snipurl.com/plagart
Poppy - 5/8/2006 8:44:13 AM
"If they'll fire folks in finance for mis-representing the company's numbers, and file sales people for fudging sales quotas, how can the leader of a company keep his job?" The cynic in me says that he keeps his job because the crime was not cheating.... it was getting caught. Too many have adopted the concept that cheating is good, the ends justify the means, and the only "crime" is in getting caught at it. One of these years I really am going to run off to that desert island.
Monica Ricci - 5/7/2006 10:32:47 AM
When I wrote my book last year (it's a "how-to-do-something" book as opposed to a novel) my publisher and editors cautioned me time and again to be very careful about inadvertently plagiarising web sites or my colleagues' books, so I understand the concept well. I also understand that when you're writing a book and you've read other works that are similar to what you're writing, that some of their general concepts and ideas can influence your thoughts. BUT to lift entire passages nearly word for word, changing perhaps one word or two, in MULTIPLE instances (40 or so) throughout the book is clearly not inadvertent, coincidental or accidental. It's theft of intellectual property and should be dealt with harshly. I believe she should be required to give back the advance she got from Little Brown. It would be the ONLY right thing to do, not only based on principle, but also from a legal standpoint as well. They fronted a large sum of money, they were deceived and due to her actions, they can no longer recoup that money as they would have under normal circumstances. Publishers are in business to make money just like anyone else. When a publisher gives you a $500,000 advance -- or ANY advance -- they do that because they're confident your book sales will be strong enough for them to recoup their up front investment. They take a small gamble doing it because they always run the risk of your book being a flop. However, that's a risk that publishers knowingly assume and they will typically only give you as much in advance as they're sure they can make back. In giving her $500K, they obviously thought they could make at least that much based on book sales. However, since there will now be very limited opportunity for her book(s) to sell (Opal will not be revised and the second book deal is cancelled) that means by her actions, Viswanathan has stolen not only intellectual property from other writers, but money from her publisher. Harsh? Yes. But plagiarism is serious business and we can't let infractions like this slide by just because she is a "young promising talent". Our universities house other young, promising, and talented writers who understand the severity of theft of intellectual property. But for the benefit of others like her, who don't yet get it, she should be made an example.
Stephanie - 5/7/2006 10:23:19 AM
In discussions of plagiarism, I always try to keep in mind the phenomenon of cryptomnesia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptomnesia
martin - 5/6/2006 2:33:01 PM
I like your take that it's the "cheater's way of getting something done." But whiy is it today that such actions seem to be passed off with a shrug? I'm especially disgusted that a CEO who has made a cottage industry from speaking about his management theory has kept his job. If they'll fire folks in finance for mis-representing the company's numbers, and file sales people for fudging sales quotas, how can the leader of a company keep his job? The Raytheon board released a statement where they said the stood behind Swanson's vision. Given his lack of credibility I suspect that his "vision" has been derived from a McKinnsey or Bain consulting manual.
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 5/6/2006 10:58:33 AM
Interesting....As a writer one of the main jobs I must ensure with accuracy is my research. Whatever I am writing on must be thoroughly and dilligently researched and it is, in my opinion, to ensure that there is no plagarism. Words on paper, blogs etc....are there for life. You may not get found out right away but somebody, somewhere will definitely make the discovery. Writing is about encouraging creativity and different thoughts and new ways to discover...plagarism is the cheater's way of getting something done. Why even bother with the work if that's the result of it? In my day if a person was caught copying someone else's work the offender was singled out, the work (essay, exam whatever) was disallowed and the marks reflected that. In a grander scheme, to say something like"it was unconscious and unintentional" or that one failed to "properly check the source material..." smacks of a similar quote oft heard a few years ago...."I never had sex with that woman.." Right, ok then...checked for plagarism....living la vida fearless, Jan

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