Self-Plagiarism, Ethics, and Us

Can we really steal from ourselves?

Shakespeare had a few thoughts on the matter. We should too.

Self Plagiarism, Ethics and the Case of Jonah Lehrer

by Jonathan Bailey

Jonah Lehrer is widely-heralded as a rising star in the science writing community. He’s written columns for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe. He also recently left a job writing for Wired Magazine to write for The New Yorker, often considered one of the most prestigious publications in the U.S. This is on top of his three books, including the recent best-seller “Imagine: How Creativity Works”.

However, that promising career and stellar reputation is now in peril. Allegations were brought forth that Lehrer had reused language from an earlier column of his in the Wall Street Journal in a recent column for The New Yorker. The allegations spread like wildfire through the blogging world, which in turn found at least 13 other instances of language reuse by Lehrer, each pulling from earlier works of his in newer columns.

The New Yorker, where much of the reuse took place, has since added an editorial statement, expressing regret at the duplication, to each of the columns involved. The publication’s editor, Nicholas Thompson, has said that “It’s a mistake. We’re not happy. It won’t happen again.”

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Upon further reflection, we call “Bullshit” on this argument. Isn’t the whole point of “plagiarism” to take credit for someone else’s words?