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Media: Wikipedia, Plagiarism, and Procrastination

Shortcut-seeking high school and college students are not alone. Someone else plagiarized a passage from Wikipedia.

The lifted material didn’t appear in a midterm essay, though. Instead, according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, nearly five paragraphs of an archived Wikipedia article about the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia showed up nearly word-for-word in the book “Black Gold: The New Frontier in Oil for Investors,” published by Hoboken-based John Wiley & Sons. In a strange twist, the author’s name is George Orwel. (Yes, with only one “l,” but it’s close.)

The publishing house said it would correct future reprints, the Times article said. Whether that means it will delete the information, or attribute it to Wikipedia, I’m not sure.

The question I have is whether this gaffe marks proof of the online encyclopedia’s continued ascent into mainstream consciousness or whether Orwel attempted to slip it in because the passage came from Wikipedia and he thought it would go unnoticed.

Either way, the most amusing part of the situation is the response that the principal author of the online article gave the Times‘ reporter:

“I’m male, in my 40s, have a Ph.D. in physics, and work as a professor at a university in California. I view my Wikipedia writings as a form of procrastination from real work, so I’d prefer to remain anonymous and not reveal the extent of my procrastination to colleagues.”

JDR