I thought it was hilarious that the day after I wrote an article about properly citing sources to avoid unintentional plagiarism, the Denver Post broke a story about plagiarism by republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis. I do regret, however, that the story didn’t come up a couple of months from now, when it would be a factor in the general election; chances are, either McInnis will fail to win the republican nomination or, more likely, people will just lose interest. Which is a shame, because the issue of plagiarism is one that deserves greater public awareness.
In McInnis’ case, he was paid $300,000 to write a series of essays on water issues, which he told his employer were in final form. Recently, the post found that much of the content was directly copied without attribution from several sources, including a water expert now serving as a Colorado Supreme Court justice. His excuse? McInnis says that a staffer actually wrote the essays, and he simply put his name on them; this, he claims, vindicates him of the charges of plagiarism. Uh…no! If you’re putting your name on something, you’re responsible for ensuring its accuracy (especially when you’re getting paid six figures to do so); McInnis even claimed that the articles had been carefully documented.
So what can we take away from this? If you’re putting your name on something, make sure that it’s your own work or that you properly credit those whose work you’re reproducing; otherwise, especially if you decide to go into politics, it may very likely come back to bite you. That doesn’t necessarily mean formal footnotes; for example, this post has no footnotes but I credit the Denver Post in the first paragraph and provide a link later on that documents the information used. Someone reading this post would be under no illusions that I did this research myself – it’s obvious where the information was found.
In academia, of course, citations are even more important because they allow us to track the evolution of ideas; additionally, by citing other work that has already been reviewed and found worthy, you increase the validity of your own work by providing it with a solid foundation. Proper documentation can be a pain, but it’s essential for establishing the authority of a work.