First of all, for blindingly obvious reasons, I should acknowledge that the title of this blog post is not original. "Plagiarism hurts" was the title of an article in EMWA's journal The Write Stuff by Elise Langdon-Neuner, its editor-in-chief (page 13 of this issue, 1.6 MB pdf). I'm sure that Elise won't mind me re-using her title, with proper attribution.
Elise was kind enough to show me her article before she published it, and we had some interesting discussions about the best way to describe plagiarism. Is it theft? Is it evil? Is it just lazy? What we both agreed on strongly, however, was that the title of the article was absolutely spot on: whatever else plagiarism may be, it certainly hurts is victim, always on a personal level, if not financially.
Plagiarism may or may not be unlawful, but it is always unethical, and says some deeply unpleasant things about its perpetrator. Now, one may not always wish to judge the plagiarist too harshly. Plagiarism in an undergraduate essay, for example, may not be the result of evil, but simply laziness and a failure to understand the ethical norms of writing. This would be a good opportunity for the student to be taught just how unacceptable plagiarism is.
However, when the plagiarist is a professional journalist, there can be absolutely no excuse. Plagiarism in those circumstances cannot be described as anything other than an egregious breach of ethical standards. And if the journalist in question works for BBC Radio 4's Today programme, normally a shining example of some of the best journalism in the world, and one of the few parts of the BBC that has steadfastly resisted the dumbing down that seems to be pervading ever more of the rest of the Corporation, then to find plagiarism is unbelievably shocking.
So, imagine just how shocked I was when I read this article by Today's Tom Fielden, and saw its remarkable similarity to an article written a few days before for the Smithsonian Magazine by Brian Switek, a freelance science writer and blogger from the US. You can see just how similar the two articles are in this graphic (thanks to @fakelvis).
Now, we shouldn't jump to conclusions. Perhaps there is a perfectly innocent explanation for the suspicious amount of overlap between the two articles. I do hope so. I have always had the utmost respect for Today, but if that innocent explanation doesn't soon materialise, then that respect will be destroyed.
For this latest updates on the story, you should look at Brian Switek's Twitter feed.