Plagiarism is such a stupid crime

I can imagine a kind of accidental plagiarism: you’re taking notes on a paper, and you neglect to indicate where you’re transcribing verbatim, and days or weeks or months later, you’re sitting down to write and you mistakenly think your notes are your own words. It can happen. It can happen a few times. But it shouldn’t happen often — if you do that a lot, it means you’ve been transcribing instead of summarizing, and maybe you should be flagging your notes for the sections that are in your own words, because apparently they’re uncommon.

When it happens often, there’s no excuse. You’re not writing or thinking, you’re being lazy. You’re also stealing other people’s work. It’s a serious offense, too: we had to fire one blogger here for it, and it was a shame because he was an interesting guy and when he wasn’t plagiarizing he was turning out good stuff. But no excuses: it’s not allowed. Ever.

There’s also the kind of plagiarism that’s just stupid. Yes, I’ve had students who’ve gone googling for material, and then just copied and pasted whole paragraphs and pages into their papers. Do they think we wouldn’t notice the change in tone and quality? Also, professors are a suspicious bunch: when I see clear, mature, skillful writing, I’ll plug excerpts into Google myself just to verify that it’s actually the student’s work…and sometimes it is (Yay!), and sometimes it isn’t (uh-oh.) Again, that’s a very serious problem. It’s an instant F on the paper, with no recourse to repair the grade.

So this is distressing: Jaclyn Glenn is a plagiarist. There’s just no way around it; watch the video there, and you’ll see it — she basically stole another youtuber’s video script, and re-recorded it somewhat dumbed down. When caught, she removed the video.

And this is after she was discovered to have plagiarized a youtube comment. Yeesh. Plagiarizing is bad enough, but using youtube comments as your source? That does not speak well of Glenn’s sources of information.

You already know what FtB would do if one of our bloggers were pulling that kind of lazy stunt. Glenn has had some kind of promotional relationship with American Atheists — will that last? I know she won’t lose any viewers over it, since she caters to a rather undiscriminating crowd.


  1. throwaway, butcher of tongues, mauler of metaphor says

    Wow. It’s not even a good plagiarizing job. It’s a hack-job with bad delivery, flubbed lines and total awkwardness. Because she hadn’t put much thought into the ideas and criticism behind the words. Just using them to cash in on the thoughts of someone else. When she could have shared excerpts, commented on his ideas, added context… but that’s hard work.

    Theo’s delivery, OTOH, was beautiful. Practiced, measured, confident, relaxed. Plus he’s kinda cute.

  2. sugarfrosted says

    She mentioned that in a video, the removal of it, that is, but she didn’t mention how severe.

    I’ve had students plagiarize the solutions to a problem set before. They realized I didn’t pick up the homework before the instructor posted the solutions online… so they copied her solutions and turned it in, complete with a bizarre arithmetical mistake that I’m not entirely sure the instructor didn’t put in the solution as a trap.

    After the thing with Avicenna, I’m unsure I really feel comfortable discrediting people because of plagiarism, since in that case it was purely for censorship. (Though to be totally clear, unlike him (I forget if it was JT or The ‘Friendly’ Atheist) you’re consistent.)

  3. funknjunk says

    Delurking to mention that I was very disappointed to see that Glenn was invited to be on the Young Turks last week. I commented about her negatively .. but I’m sure they don’t monitor YouTube comments. Not that the Young Turks is some kind of bastion of top quality analysis, but I was disappointed. I don’t know what her draw is. Never have.

  4. some bastard on the internet says

    Her appeal was mostly to the same YouTube atheists that rose up in righteous anger at FTB after the Thunderfail debacle. Especially since she went off the same deep-end that Phil Mason and TJ Kincaid ( the “Amazing” Atheist) did.

  5. some bastard on the internet says

    @Myself #4
    That should be *Kirk, not Kincaid. I have no idea why that happened.

  6. woozy says

    TB [from Theoretical Bullshit’s Vlog] : In the meantime this woman [Kim Davis] has sort of become the poster girl for so called christian persecution in the United States

    JG [Glenn’s plagiarism]: She’s become the poster child for christian marriage

    Not only is she a plagiarist, her verbal comprehension is low. Kim Davis never became the poster child for christian marriage; not even by her supporters.

  7. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    You still need to resort to Googling? OK, I still very occasionally do that, but the number of suspicious tonal shifts that aren’t also flagged by TurnItIn is extremely low!

  8. says

    A bunch of German politicians lost their PhDs and jobs over plagiarism during the last years. Most of them had turned in their stuff before the days when things were easily looked up in Google, though in one case it’S debatable if the person was intentionally plagiarizing or making a few lazy mistakes. You can also unintentionally “plagiarize” because after working on something for a long time certain phrases and turns are simply stuck in your mind and you end up with half a sentence that is verbatim the same one as some important scholar has used but you were writing freely and didn’t actually copy that phrase. After all, there’s just so many ways to express an idea.

  9. Holms says

    Why is it distressing? She rode the rising wave of anti-feminist sentiment, was welcomed by that crowd because she’s a young woman that opposes feminism, and has been known as such for something like a year.

  10. opposablethumbs says

    I really regret that Avi and one of the regular commenters way back, TH who posted about economics, failed to include quotation marks (or equivalent) and attribution – because I and I think most of us would have been no less interested and thought no less of them for knowing of, finding, gathering together and posting (often with their own comments) interesting and useful information from elsewhere that I for one would probably never otherwise have seen or known about. If they’d only clearly marked it as such. Some bloggers openly and clearly do just that, and it’s fine. Consistently missing out attribution and credits on a large scale is clearly not fine.

    I know it’s hardly the same, but while some of the people I follow on tumblr post a lot of their own content most of them post only occasional bits of their own and the vast majority of their content is reblogging – with or without interesting comments – a selection of content from elsewhere. And I’m following them because I find their selection interesting; they’re doing all the work “for me” of scanning and browsing and selecting and posting in one handy place. Tumblr just puts in the quotation marks for you, as it were. I wish Avi and TH had attributed and credited, then they might still be around these parts and I’d be reading their gatherings-together of info with interest.

  11. says

    Well there is good and bad plagiarism.
    Bad plagiarism is when, say, a student spends five minutes mindlessly searching on the internet for some topic and copies it in toto, and then changes a few bits and generally messes up the spelling (to add authenticity) and then submits it in the hope of credit (“Hey Dude it’s worth at least a B-minus”).
    But then there is good plagiarism: which is what I do.

    Good plagiarism is literary name-dropping without the names.
    Indeed it’s a sport!—A highly-skilled, demanding and quite often dangerous sport.
    It’s also a way of separating the literary men from the boys, though I fear of late it’s become a way of literarily separating the men from the Americans.
    You see Plagiarophobia is beyond a doubt the defining Literary American Disease, but more of that later.

    For example, recently I happened to pick up the book of lectures and essays by J R R Tolkien that I’m currently re-reading and even more happenedingly started the last one–his Valedictory address at Oxford. By the time I was onto the second page I had spotted JRR slipping in, and right out of the blue, “if the ranks of Tuscany should feel inclined to cheer”¹ which seems an odd thing to say to people from Oxfordshire till you remember (as would most educated Britons of a certain age) “And even the ranks of Tuscany / Could scarce forbear to cheer ” from Macaulay’s Horatio-pontic lay of Ancient Rome and you realise Mr T pinched it; and then, right after it on the same page there were several others (the exposing of which time forces me to leave as an exercise for the listener); and I’m sure there were even more that no doubt I missed not being as much of a real literary man as Tolkien.

    In America today, apart from some of the more gaudy forms of murder, plagiarism is the ne plus ultra of evil, and the plagiarist is to the modern American mind the equal of Vlad the Impailer, and has so far surpassed Attila the Hun that that worthy has had to be renamed Attila the Honey.

    Time was (by the way I pinched that from Alistair Cooke), time was when taking bits out of other peoples works, preferably without attribution was looked upon, not as a crime, but as a sport—a bit of plagiarism was a lovesome thing God wot, and if you weren’t up to the challenge of spotting the stolen bits then you shouldn’t be reading the literature. In those brave days of yore education largely consisted in learning large chunks of poetry and prose, and skilled writing (in part) in being able to regurgitate and manipulate them at will and skilled reading in being able to recognise them at sight.

    Now-a-days of course, in those profound dull tunnels which titanic bores have groyned, nobody seems to read anything worth learning and we have lost the more athletic parts of the study of literature, so that even many modern professors are perhaps less familiar with absolutely everything than one might, under ideal circumstances, desire: more or less.

    Then, in that golden age, if you handed in work which was not entirely unoriginal the knowing, wise professor would most certainly be familiar with the unacknowledged attributions of the good bits and would kindly suggest work on your own bad bits.

    But now-a-days, now-a-days the poor fellow is more likely to feel blindsided. Earlier I mentioned murder, and in the same breath as plagiarism too, and I think that at last we’ve come back to it because in its early, Anglo-Saxon and Germannic, history murder wasn’t just wilful bumping off it was bumping off done secretly, and especially bumping off done at night, when, in those days before electric lighting, the poor sap couldn’t see what was coming. The relative enormity of night killing (as distinct from, say, afternoon killing which was usually OK in the early Middle Ages) lay in this blindside-ly character.

    “Then said Arinbjorn: ‘The king should not yield to be urged to this shameful deed. He should not let Egil be killed at night, because killing by night is murder and not attributing this quote is plagiarism.’”

  12. says

    ¹ Perfectly illustrative of what this essay is about, be aware that I wrote all the quotations in it from memory, not looking at either the Tolkien or the originals: that wouldn’t have been sporting—QED.

  13. brucegee1962 says

    Does anybody remember the Joe Biden plagiarism episode? No one brings it up anymore — I didn’t realize there was a statute of limitations. I like the guy otherwise, but that still gives me pause.

  14. opposablethumbs says

    reblogging is fine…when you acknowledge your sources.

    Absolutely. To fail to do so is to shoot yourself in the foot with a siege cannon. :-(

  15. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    opposablethumbs @13:

    “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it. When we enquire into any subject, the first thing we have to do is to know what books have treated of it.” – Samuel Johnson

    richardelguru @15:

    I disagree to some extent. The use of quotations without acknowledgement when one expects (at least some) of the audience to see what you did is alive and well. Misjudging your audience in these cases can mean you’ve wasted your breath and not communicated your meaning, especially if you use a fragment of the quote and expect them to fill in the rest – talking about police misdemeanours and saying “‘quis custodet…?’, eh?” or about some strange happenings with only “well, ‘more things in heaven and earth’ and all that.” It’s entirely equivalent, though possibly less snobbish for some definitions thereof, to throw in pop culture references – but the same effect can be achieved, I’ve had students look at me funny when they tell me they’ll try to do something and I reply with “do or do not, there is no try.” The point is that even when the audience don’t get the reference, the intent is clearly to make one rather than try to pass someone else’s work as your own.

  16. opposablethumbs says

    the intent is clearly to make one rather than try to pass someone else’s work as your own.

    Dr. Marcus, yes – the whole point is that you expect your audience to recognise the reference and to know that you’re quoting or paraphrasing. It’s an in-joke/marker of tribal bonding/shibboleth of shared knowledge/elitist blazoning of erudition or something along those lines (depending on whether the emphasis is more on including those who get the reference or excluding those who don’t).

  17. frog says

    richardelguru: The difference is in the expectation of the writer. If one is expecting the audience to be savvy enough to recognize a distinctive turn of phrase, it’s homage and common-referencing, not plagiarism.

    Key word there is distinctive. The writer knows darn well they’re not putting anything past the readers. Not all readers will catch the reference, but those that do will get an additional layer of meaning from the sentence, because of the hearkening back to the earlier (usually classical, or at least canonical) work.

    “Easter eggs” in one’s media aren’t just for the masses at superhero movies.

    Plagiarists steal ordinary sentences of no outstanding poetry or erudition, and are trying to pass them off as their own work. There is a huge difference in intent and skill.

  18. karpad says

    That’s a long block of text all for you to fundamentally confuse plagiarism and literary allusion.
    When your integrated quote is expected to be noticed, and indeed present specifically to draw the mind to it for comparison or contrast (either between yourself and that author, subject matters, ironic juxtaposition, etc) that’s an allusion. When you’re using a turn of phrase as a shibboleth or Easter egg to express an opinion regarding the original work, that’s an allusion.
    When you take your central thesis from someone else, that’s plagiarism.

    It’s not really a delicate line to walk. Distinguishing between the two can, in theory, be a line to walk, but you as an author know exactly what you’re doing. Are you repeating what someone else said, or are you expressing your own thoughts?

  19. anteprepro says

    Plagiarism is a stupid crime. And anti-feminists are stupid people. It sounds like a very natural combination to me.

  20. Artor says

    I have never been impressed by Glenn’s videos. the lack of thorough thinking has always been evident, and I feel like she relies too heavily on her cute girl appearance, and not enough on the rational basis of her arguments. (if there is any) Christina Rad she ain’t, but I get the impression she wishes she were.

  21. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I was actually just being silly, indeed I was plagiarising myself.

    Richar, please!

    …if you really are of the guru you would know not to do that.

  22. petesh says

    Many of the laughs in P.G. Wodehouse rely upon the mangling of allusions, though most of them are pretty funny even if you don’t know the source (assume it’s Shakespeare, or someone else writing under the same name). Bob Dylan is an enormously well-read magpie but anyone who thinks he ripped off Ovid should, well, read Ovid (or better yet, Catullus); love or hate his voice or music, Dylan’s still creating extraordinary lyrics, often partly from found material.

    Of course, none of that has anything to do with someone ripping off a tweet without acknowledgement. But even that isn’t new. From memory, Whistler’s response to Wilde’s comment “I wish I’d said that” was “You will, Oscar, you will.” Not that I want to compare this person to Oscar.

  23. blf says

    About two years ago the company I work for, Big Dumbie Co, hired a consultant to write a manual. The guy was obviously an eejit, and other than being a native-English speaker (an important point when trying to write English-language documentation in France), I have little idea why he was hired. Maybe he was cheap. Also, perhaps, he supposedly had an extensive and impressive CV, but as I quickly flushed out, his claims that “I know X” (for various subjects X) were sometimes simply based on having heard of X or, in at least one case, having once used X once to do a very simple task.

    He was also an out-and-out plagiarist. When I was given a copy of the “finished” manual to review, I immediately spotted entire chapters (and parts of other, presumably otherwise original, chapters) either lifted verbatim or, at best, lightly edited. The change in tone and wording was a clew, as was the lack of references, but there were four dead giveaways:

    (1) In the presumably original chapters, he never(?) explained anything, just said “do this very specific thing and then this very specifric thing”, illustrated with (mostly useless) badly composed almost-illegible screenshots. One of my complaints about the manual is it was useless for learning or understanding, being nothing more than a verbose cookbook. Some of the plagiarized text explained various points, and then went on a general cookbook mode of “first this needs to happen so that either this or this can be done, albeit an alternative is do this instead. There are various advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches, …”. And the plagiarized text had no illustrations at all.

    (2) Different terms and names were used from what Big Dumbie Co uses (and which were used elsewhere in the presumably-original parts).

    (3) On several points, the plagiarized text contradicted the presumably-original text.

    (4) In one case, I recognized the plagiarized text. I’d read it before, and knew which website it was taken from (which was, in fact, one of the main websites for the particular subject in question, and amongst the “first port of call” when using the ‘Net for research on that subject). As it so happen, this text also seemed to be set in a different font, albeit whether that was also stolen from the rendering of the website he used, or was simply a mistake in using the text processing tool, I do not know.

    I was INCANDESCENT and suggested the eejit not be paid, or at least be “fined”, for producing legally-questionable text. This suggestion was not taken up, and I presume the eejit has now included both Big Dumbie Co and the various X‘s he worked-with on his CV. The manual still hasn’t been released by Big Dumbie Co, mostly, as far as I know, because it needs extensive editing and re-writing / de-plagurizing, and the right person (and moar money) has yet to be found. Which is essentially why a consultant was hired in the first place…

  24. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    Whistler’s response to Wilde’s comment “I wish I’d said that” was “You will, Oscar, you will.”

    I somehow think that I have seen/heard that before, but it definitely wasn’t lodged accessibly in my brain if I did. Thank you so much for (re?)telling me this story. That Oscar was himself a card, but few appreciate what devastatingly good company he kept.

  25. says

    @ Crip Dyke

    The ambiguity was intentional, but, I mean, can you plagiarise yourself?

    Do we have to go round saying “Well I said this a few years ago and I’m gonna say it again”?


  26. frog says

    richardelguru: I would consider something self-plagiarizing if the writer is trying to pass it off as a new work. A book republished as “expanded and revised” or “updated edition” at least says there will be repurposed text.

    But if Joe Academic, PhD, writes the definitive history of the Oompa Loompa people, and then ten years later self-publishes a minimally rewritten version while the original book is still in print with his first publisher… Let’s just say that if I were the original publisher in that equation, I’d be mad as hell and never publish another thing by Joe Academic. (And if I were a reader who unknowingly bought both, my review online would be harsh.)

    That said, academic publishers aren’t keen to advertise that large chunks of Maysie Doctor-Philosophy’s new book are cribbed from her PhD thesis, or from articles she published in academic journals over the last several years. Yet that’s inevitably going to happen, since scholarship is a continuous accretion of new thought and research onto older work.

    Online, it’s always nice to put a link or reference to older work when expanding on it, if only to give new readers a means to catch up so they can get the full benefit of the newer discussion. But from a practical standpoint, it’s not as if we all keep links to every comment we’ve ever made on the internet.

    If I’m being formal, with a structured blog post about a topic I frequently address, I’ll say something like, “I know I’m always harping about X [link, link, if available], and today I’m going to expand on aspect Y of it.”

    If I’m being informal (eg on Twitter), I’d probably make a joke along the lines of “But everyone knows how I feel about X.”

  27. Sili says

    If with the literate I am
    Impelled to try an epigram,
    I never seek to take the credit;
    We all assume that Oscar said it.
    – Abraham Lincoln

  28. petesh says

    John Fogerty was sued for self-plagiarism, and won. He had relinquished his copyrights in return for free agency, and his former record company thought one new song was too similar to an old one.

  29. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Delurking to mention that I was very disappointed to see that Glenn was invited to be on the Young Turks last week. I commented about her negatively .. but I’m sure they don’t monitor YouTube comments. Not that the Young Turks is some kind of bastion of top quality analysis, but I was disappointed. I don’t know what her draw is. Never have.

    The local atheist group invited Glenn to speak (on “making atheism a positive” thing, HAH!) about a year ago. I feel like rubbing this in their faces, but I’m not in contact with them any more.

  30. karpad says

    can you plagiarise yourself?

    yes. A better name for it is “recycling fraud” since that’s more illustrative of the issue at hand. Generally it’s regarded that it’s ethical levels vary by the situation and expectations. Quoting yourself in a casual setting like a blog is fine. Even professional work, if you write an editorial column and a chapter from a policy wonk book you write is a series of columns stapled together, this isn’t generally seen as immoral. Lazy perhaps, but not immoral. In coding, you’d pretty well expect it, but that’s a specific kind of technical writing.

    Work for hire raises concern, as does academic work: you are being rewarded, either by cash or by grades, for doing work, and you’re skipping the work by reusing work you’ve previously done.

    If you’re told you must do x book reports every year during your primary education, doing exactly X book reports once and turning them in year after year is probably possible, and you may get away with it, but it’s certainly unethical and self defeating.

  31. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    karpad: if you submit the same work twice, it will be detected (if normal plagiarism detection software is deployed) and most Universities will treat that as academic misconduct.

  32. says

    If you’re arguing that maybe she was just talking about a subject for which there were limited ways to express yourself, so of course she said things in similar ways to others, watch this video. She is literally reading youtube comments verbatim and passing them off as her own work.