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Chris Anderson Lifted Wikipedia Passages for ‘Free’

The Virginia Quarterly Review took a close look at Wired editor Chris Anderson’s upcoming book Free, and discovered that entire passages appear to match entries in Wikipedia verbatim. Says reviewer Waldo Jaquith:

The Virginia Quarterly Review took a close look at Wired editor Chris Anderson’s upcoming book Free, and discovered that entire passages appear to match entries in Wikipedia verbatim. Says reviewer Waldo Jaquith:

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“… [A]fter a cursory investigation, after I checked by hand several dozen suspect passages in the whole of the 274-page book. This was not an exhaustive search, since I don’t have access to an electronic version of the book. Most of the passages, but not all, come from Wikipedia.” (Emphasis mine.)

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Jaquith’s discovery (an excerpt, above) is an embarrassing oversight for the normally meticulous editor, whose book is scheduled to go on sale July 7 (no delay has been announced). In a response to the reviewer at the Virginia Quarterly Review, Anderson issued this mea culpa:

All those are my screwups after we decided not to run notes as planned, due to my inability to find a good citation format for web sources…

This all came about once we collapsed the notes into the copy. I had the original sources footnoted, but once we lost the footnotes at the 11th hour… Obviously in my rush at the end I missed a few of that last category, which is bad.

Anderson’s citation-based plight comes in part as a result of a lack of standards in book publishing for the referencing of online sources. Since URLs are often long, unwieldy and dynamic, they’re hard to publish without becoming quickly outdated or adding scores of pages to the book’s final count. As Anderson says:

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I think what we’ll do is publish those notes after all, online as they should have been to begin with. That way the links are live and we don’t have to wrestle with how to freeze them in time, which is what threw me in the first place.

But what’s more disconcerting is that Anderson was relying so heavily on Wikipedia for his information in the first place; even middle-school book-reports shouldn’t be crafted with ancillary information from that site. Confoundingly, many of the passages that appear lifted were readily-available definitions of terms that would appear in more credible reference books like the Oxford English Dictionary. And yet, what do we expect from such a devoted Web disciple as Anderson?

About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.

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