Copycat plagiarism

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I think that history – or at least a politician’s web-site – is being rewritten even as I write. Oh dear.

The politician is an Australian senator, Glenn Lazarus. A page on the Courier-Mail website (21 August 2014) carries the headline Clive Palmer party senator Glenn Lazarus caught plagiarising Wikipedia.

Lazarus is, of course, not the first Australian politician to be caught out using Wikipedia as a source:  Greg Hunt uses Wikipedia research to dismiss links between climate change and bushfires, though in Mr Hunt’s case, there was no suggestion of plagiarism.

Just as an aside, still Greg Hunt, another news report stated

He said he had “looked up what Wikipedia” said on the subject and found it agreed with him. (Environment Minister Greg Hunt ‘looked up Wikipedia’ for climate change facts)  – perhaps a case of policy-driven evidence, as against evidence-driven policy.

Nor is Lazarus the first politician to be called out, not just for using Wikipedia, but for plagiarising from it, word for word (Senator Rand Paul Is Accused of Plagiarizing His Lines From Wikipedia).

You would think they’d learn, wouldn’t you?

(1) don’t use Wikipedia as your source and
(2) don’t plagiarise.

It is very possible that it was a staffer (or maybe a team of staffers) responsible for the page, not Lazarus himself, but

(3) that excuse doesn’t hold much water either, it’s not original:

Within the last 12 months, there’s been Tom Wolf (Wolf fires campaign staffer over plagiarism), Greg Ball, (Senator Ball Terminates Staffer Responsible for Orca Plagiarism), and not for the first time, Rand Paul: Rand Paul and Wikipedia: Plagiarism or lazy staff?

And maybe more.

Back to Australia: the Courier-Mail story includes an illustration of Lazarus’s page About Queensland, with passages identical to those in Wikipedia highlighted.

Lazarus’s site was easy enough to find, and so was the page in question, About Queensland.

And, just as the Courier-Mail story reports, Wikipedia is not mentioned, no sources are mentioned at all.

Also interesting, possibly suspicious, is that several of the tabs on this page seem not to work. The links have disappeared, nothing comes up when various of the tabs are clicked. Is the whole site coming down and being rewritten? Possibly. One page which did open for me was the page The Senate. It includes a diagram of the Australian Senate Chamber Seating Plan, for which a source is given, along with 4 paragraphs detailing the Senate and explaining where senators sit; no source is given for the text.

Curiously, Lazarus’s wording is almost identical to that on another senator’s web page on the Senate, that of Nick Xenophon, who sits as an Independent senator. Xenophon does state the source of his information. Interesting, not least because the text seems not to be a boilerplate entry on the websites of lots of other Australian senators. A Google search suggests that phrases and sentences on the sites of these two senators seem to be used just by these two – and by the Parliamentary Education Office, the source which is noted by Xenophon (but not by Lazarus).

When will they ever learn?

Update / Postscript

I started writing this a week ago, but did not post it. Another politician, even another Australian politician…. It just seemed all too trivial to post, all too commonplace

But the Courier-Mail posted an update to the Lazarus story on 25 August 2014, Clive Palmer party senator Glenn Lazarus addresses Wikipedia plagiarism.

This latest piece quotes Lazarus, and reports:

“We don’t have the big party Liberal and Labor do to organise things and set things up for us,” he said.
“I just thought that Wikipedia was a very good resource … if that’s a real crime, then I’m guilty.”
He said he believed it was a “non-issue” as he had credited the site …

It’s that “I couldn’t put it any better myself (so I just took it)” excuse, isn’t it?

But the suggestion that he “had credited the site” set me taking a second look…  Nope, no credit to Wikipedia, no acknowledgement, certainly not on the About Queensland page. Perhaps somewhere else, like, in his dreams?

But that first reported statement, “We don’t have the big party Liberal and Labor do to organise things and set things up for us.”  I may have done Senator Lazarus an injustice. If the party is that small, perhaps it wasn’t a staffer who is/was to blame. Perhaps it was Lazarus himself. I didn’t credit the right person with the plagiarism. My apologies, Senator.

And a second apology is needed. I don’t think the site is coming down at all. Sorry, I was unduly suspicious. The site remains as it was a week ago, with links which don’t go anywhere, links to the wrong page, missing links. This isn’t an attempt to rewrite the record, it’s just a poorly-designed website. Oh dear, I’ve just taken a look in Safari, banners but no text on the pages (except in Reader view). (Where there is still no mention of Wikipedia.) I think I’ll stick to Firefox. What a sorry mess.

So, a third apology, Senator. I got you wrong. Maybe you are blogworthy after all?

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