Saturday, December 10, 2011

Margaret Wente’s methods: Are there different attribution standards for different journalists?

More borrowed/recycled material? Just highlighting addenda to a post earlier this week which identified similar questions. In todays’s column, Margaret Wente recycles again. Here she is on January 7, 2011 with the same message and the same quote:

Wente, Dec. 10, 2011: This steady rise in material well-being helps explains why the Occupy movement didn’t catch on as many people expected it to. On the whole, average people think their lives are pretty good. “They don’t feel the moral outrage that radiates from the more passionate egalitarian quarters of society,” writes Prof. Cowen.

Wente, Jan. 7, 2011: There’s a reason people aren’t rioting in the streets over rising inequality. As Tyler Cowen writes in a widely noted essay (The Inequality that Matters) in The American Interest quarterly, ‘when average people read about or see income inequality, they don’t feel the moral outrage that radiates from the more passionate egalitarian quarters of society”.

And just to demonstrate how prevalent these attribution questions are, a quick scan of the same January 7 column turns up what seem to be more borrowed quotes and wayward quotation marks:

A passage about The Economist appears in an earlier review of the same book Wente criticizes (The Spirit Level). Not only does she reproduce the quote as if she found it herself, the words in bold caps - which appear within quotation marks in Snowdon’s version - are presented as Wente’s own prose in the Globe.

Christopher Snowdon: The Economist published its Quality of Life index in 2005, the relative income theory was explicitly rejected: ‘There is no evidence… that an increase in someone’s income causes envy and reduces the welfare and satisfaction of others. In our estimates, the level of income inequality had no impact on levels of life satisfaction.’

Wente, Jan. 7, 2011: And The Economist, among many others, argues there is no evidence that an increase in someone’s income causes envy and reduces the welfare and satisfaction of others. “In our estimates, the level of income inequality had no impact on levels of life satisfaction,” it noted in its quality-of-life index.

It’s interesting to compare the growing list of attribution questions in Ms. Wente’s writing (three of which have resulted in corrections/Editor’s Notes in the last several months) with other journalists who have apologized or been been fired for plagiarism. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable could explain how they are they different?

Addendum: And there's more. Same column.

Wente, Dec. 10, 2011: “The inequality of personal well-being is sharply down,” wrote economics professor Tyler Cowen in a terrific essay, The Inequality That Matters….Bill Gates may have a much bigger house than you do, but he eats the same kind of food and wears the same kind of clothes. And thanks to him, even poor people have access to computers.

Michael Barone: Tyler Cowen writes in The American Interest, "The inequality of personal well-being is sharply down over the past hundred years and perhaps over the past 20 years, as well." Bill Gates may have a bigger house than you do. But you have about the same access to good food, medical care and even to the Internet as he does.


  1. Please write on the latest Wente article. She cites facts from an Ipsos poll that does not exist. It's scandalous.

  2. @ The Nerd: From what I can see, Wente's December 22 column is likely referring to these results:

    She's presenting half-truths, as she often does, omitting the survey results that don't fit her narrative. Clearly, the public's disapproval of the government in terms of democratic process would be the category most relevant to her comparison with Korea. Which is likely why she suppresses it.

  3. One point she refers to in that article is the fact that the poll shows 80% support for the govt. stance on the niqab. I defy you to find that poll. It doesn't exist. She made it up.

  4. @ The Nerd:

    You may be right. I'll do a little more digging, but it looks like she confused a 2010 Angus Reid pool on the niqab in the Quebec with the latest Ipsos Reid poll:

    In her article, Wente refers to an Ipsos Reid poll, saying, "a whopping 80 per cent agree with its decision to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies".

    There is an earlier poll by Angus Reid in response to the proposed ban on the niqab in Quebec's public service:

    "According to an Angus Reid poll in March, 80 percent of 1,004 Canadians surveyed support the initiative, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper also has deemed a 'reasonable' measure."

    A link to the AFP report is here:

  5. @ The Nerd:

    Regarding that poll - if not the earlier Québec poll (which has the right number) Wente may be referring to this one, which has the right subject and the same "whopping":

    "Forum Research released figures Thursday showing a whopping 81% of those polled support having women who wear the niqab, or veil, remove it when they swear allegiance during citizenship ceremonies".

  6. OK, thanks for sharing. It seems she was right on this one. The wording of the paragraph seemed to imply the information came from the Ipsos poll, but I think we've already established that she's a bad (i.e. sloppy) writer.

  7. @ The Nerd:

    You are right in that her paragraph most definitely implies that it's an Ipsos poll. So that is an identification error on her part - she is obliged to indicate who did the poll. And Ipsos did not poll on that subject.