Friday, October 12, 2012

The Globe and Mail: Driving home a point about plagiarism


Since it seems we’re not to take Margaret Wente’s plagiarism overly seriously, what follows is likely acceptable at Canada's 'newspaper of record' as well.
I don’t read the Drive section. The similarity between Phil Patton's 2011 New York Times article on the iconic Jaguar E and one a few days later by The Globe’s  Jeremy Cato was pointed out (also noted in the Globe’s comments, and oddly, not scrubbed).  Worth checking - how often do you find a Museum of Modern Art curator mixed up with transmissions and torque?

Looking closely, the little discrepancies raise as many questions as the (at times) identical writing.  Christopher Mount was a curator at the MOMA when the Jag was purchased.  While there’s less identical overlap in this example, let’s start there (emphasis mine):

Patton: “The story was that Sayer could draw the optimal aerodynamic shape of a car to within a thousandth of an inch,” Mr. Mount said… In the brochure distributed when the E-Type was added to the museum’s collection, Mr. Mount wrote that “the car’s beauty and overall harmony of line arises from the universality of these mathematical proportions, which are by definition not subjective but absolute.” 
But the E-Type’s shape radiated a power that went far beyond any cold mathematical formulas.
Cato:  "Sayer was about drawing the optimal aerodynamic shape of a car to within a thousandth of an inch," said Callum in Geneva, pointing to the car. A MOMA brochure describes "the car's beauty and overall harmony of line" as arising "from the universality of these mathematical proportions, which are by definition not subjective but absolute."  Callum, though, was quick to say the E-Type is more than the product of cold mathematical formulas.
So at the beginning of the passage, the NYT quotes Mount about “optimal aerodynamic shape…”, while the Globe gives the words to Callum in Geneva. And at the end, the identical observation about “cold mathematical formulas” appears to be Patton’s prose in the NYT, and in The Globe, becomes Callum’s remarks again.  So who really said or wrote what?
There are lots of similarities; here’s one near identical bit:
Patton: “It is impossible to overstate the impact the E-Type had when it was unveiled,” said Ian Callum, the design director of Jaguar Cars, who as a young man fell under the spell of the E-Type and the XJ6 sedan.
Cato: "It is impossible to overstate the impact the E-Type had when it was unveiled," said Jaguar design director Ian Callum last week in Geneva. Callum as a young man fell under the spell of the E-Type and the XJ6 sedan
Now it’s certainly possible that Callum repeated that quote at the Geneva Auto Show, but the same canned quote in the above passage appeared on Jaguar's website and in several articles months before the event.  Like the passage with Mr. Mount above, are these things that Callum “said” in Geneva, or not?  And given that the last identical bit about ‘a young man falling under its spell’ appears to be Patton’s original prose, what gives? 
More:
Patton: The E-Type was the successor, as its name suggested, to Jaguar’s C-Type and D-Type racecars, both of which had accumulated brilliant competition records, including a string of wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1950s. 

A moncoque structure — derived from aircraft technology, it did not have a separate ladder-type frame — made the E-Type relatively light. It had disc brakes…and a clever suspension that made it agile.
Cato:  The E-Type was the successor to Jaguar’s C-Type and D-Type race cars, both of which enjoyed a string of wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1950s ….  For instance, the monocoque structure, based on aircraft technology, was thoroughly modern and made the car very light. The disc brakes were race car-like and the clever suspension design made the E quick, responsive and agile.
Patton: Sayer’s approach was more scientific; he would withdraw to a private room at Jaguar to work, consulting his complex tables of numbers and formulas and outlining mysterious elliptical shapes
Cato:  Sayer was not a designer as such, but more of a mathematician… He is said to have created the E-Type in a private room at Jaguar, consulting his complex tables of numbers and formulas and outlining mysterious elliptical shapes.
Patton: Robert Cumberford, a critic and historian of automobile design, tagged it “Phalliform Perfection”…
Cato:  Robert Cumberford, a critic and historian of automobile design who joined us on the stand in Geneva, says the car is the ultimate automotive expression of "Phalliform Perfection."
Cato’s mention of Cumberford as someone who “who joined us on the stand in Geneva” suggests his presence at the event – which amplifies the question; why is his article so similar, and at times identical, to Patton’s?   Here, again, the two close in a similar vein.
Patton: The country in 1961 still lived in the extended aftermath of wartime austerity.... But the first stirrings of the ’60s counterculture were visible...A new band called the Beatles performed for the first time at the Cavern in Liverpool…
Cato:  The E-Type… was also a product of an England which in 1961 finally found itself emerging from the suffocating grip of post-World War suffering and rationing. England in the 1960s was coming alive with music (The Beatles, the Rolling Stones to name two)...
Is it plagiarism?  Sure looks like it.  It would be for a student.  Does it matter?  It should.  And together with the way Margaret Wente’s repeated lapses were handled, it speaks to standards.
And as with Ms. Wente, it’s not just the un-attributed use of other peoples’ prose and/or quotes.  Like her scientist turned fisherman, student loan advertisement turned Occupy protester, Filipino peasant farmer turned Western “luminary”, figures from a Pew report that turn out to be from elsewhere, or her own borrowing from The New York Times, sloppy methods can lead to factual errors – or at least serious doubt about who said what.
Newspapers rely on public trust. Copying the New York Times doesn’t make The Globe and Mail like the New York Times.  And even if The Globe is now prepared to censor online comments to prevent anyone pointing this out, readers know it.

19 comments:

  1. I think Jonathan Kay speaks for too many in his profession - plagiarism, at least in Wente's case, is not a 'firing offence.' Look at this way: if some schmuck making $40K/year gets caught stealing at his company, he is immediately fired. And worse. Shouldn't six-figure journalists lose their jobs when caught stealing other peoples' work?

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  2. Plainly obvious, and completely cringeworthy examples of the "cut-modify-paste" writing style. The illustrations (might as well go further and call them facts) presented in this blog clearly illustrate Wente has a bad habit of plagiarizing, which has rubbed off on Cato. Why can't people actually refrain from using the right button of their mouse when writing!?

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  3. It is a strange world we live in. Engaging in plagiarism appears to have few real consequences for 'journalists', just as politicians are allowed to lie without consequence. I note, however, that Wente's columns now seem to be closed to commenting. I guess the G&M wants her to be able to deliver her 'message' without fear of rebuttal.

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  4. Yes, her Saturday column is back, with closed comments. We'll all just forgive and forget is what I imagine the Globe is hoping.

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  5. The other newspapers won't delete comments regarding the Globe's plagiarism, post your comments there.

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  6. From Wente's latest column:

    "Over the past seven years, the city has poured an extra $210-million into programs designed to help Toronto’s “priority” neighbourhoods."

    I Googled this sentence to see where she was getting her source. This is what came up:

    "In the seven years since Toronto’s deadly summer of the gun, an estimated $210 million has poured into 13 priority neighbourhoods across the city.

    Violent crime is down."

    I found it here: http://metronews.ca/news/toronto/297711/are-torontos-13-priority-neighbourhoods-no-longer-a-priority/

    Wente uses the same numbers to claim that money is just being poured out willy-nilly and that unnamed "city officials" admit they can't evaluate it. She doesn't mention crime rates at all. So which is it? Is crime down in those areas or not?

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  7. Good thing the Globe is going behind a bit of a "paywall", of course anyone who pays for anything over the 10 per month article freeview limit should demand a guarantee that any article they read is genuine: i.e. not a corporate press release, not "patch writing" (failed attempts a precise writing as defined by Kelly McBride on The Agenda Oct 3rd http://j.mp/Tr68uL ) and isn't plagiarized.

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  8. I take this as more evidence that what passes as journalism, often isn't. It's often just public relations dressed up in the "fair" and "authoritative" clothing of a real press. Globe and Mail articles get a lot of eyeballs on them and that gives the Globe and Mail a lot of influence. Any serious public relations business has to take influence seriously. That's the nature of the business. It's deplorable.

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  9. A deceased friend of mine worked at the Toronto Star as an international photojournalist ( by his colourful account ). When he talked about 'the glob and snot' rancor was palpable - and this goes back decades. BTW He was active in social justice and not without influence so I tended to listen with respect.

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  10. Hey there, I have another story for you if you are interested in following it. It involves the Globe and Mail and their recently-announced partnership with the Munk School of Global affairs. I am the editor of ProtestBarrick.net and have been seriously mis-quoted by the G&M as saying that Barrick is "more transparent" than most other miners. They refused me a retraction and even a letter to the editor until I threatened them with a "Notice of Action" pursuant of of the Libel and Slander act. Even then, they edited my letter to the editor so that it said almost nothing. I have e-mail documentation that that quote was pretty much the opposite theme of the phone call that I had with their reporter, and I also have an e-mail from the reporter taking back the meaning of his quote. If you are interested... please reach me at sakura.saunders@gmail.com. Best, and thank you for your work exposing this corrupt media institution!

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  11. Someone is doing some serious plagiarism here:

    Wente:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/why-wont-guys-grow-up-sexual-economics/article5172942/

    The Australian:
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/free-sex-and-feminist-marriage-can-make-young-men-feckless/story-e6frgd0x-1226517701833

    (search the title on google to get around the pay wall)

    It looks like someone stole from Wente but both papers should be looking into it.

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