January 12th, 2017

Monica Crowley and plagiarism

It seems that Monica Crowley may have plagiarized a substantial portion—amounting to “thousands of words”—of her doctoral dissertation.

According to Politico:

An examination of the dissertation and the sources it cites identified more than a dozen sections of text that have been lifted, with little to no changes, from other scholarly works without proper attribution. In some instances, Crowley footnoted her source but did not identify with quotation marks the text she was copying directly. In other instances, she copied text or heavily paraphrased with no attribution at all.

Plagiarism is a bad thing, a deception that goes to the heart of a person’s integrity and his or her academic capabilities as well. It’s not uncommon, either, for a fairly well-respected public person to be accused of it—for example, Doris Kearns Goodwin, a liberal writer, historian, and pundit who defended herself by citing sloppy research methods.

And indeed, it really could be sloppy research methods—but that’s not okay, either. Although it can be quite difficult to differentiate a disingenuous intent to deceive from a negligent carelessness, both are bad and reflect poorly on the author, albeit in different ways.

I don’t know which it is with Crowley. But over a thousand words is a lot of words, not just a phrase or a sentence. It would be helpful, however, to know how many of the “over a thousand” words were offered without any attribution at all, and how many were properly footnoted but not given the necessary quotation marks. That latter offense seems much more likely to be carelessness than the former, although all could be carelessness (which is, as I said, no excuse, but it is generally thought to be a lesser offense than a deliberate lie would be).

I think this should disqualify Crowley for an appointment for her National Security Council job, but if previous experience is any guide Trump may decline to pull her out. She may, of course, decide to withdraw her own name.

I don’t watch that much TV news and therefore don’t know all that much from personal observation of Crowley. But from what I’ve seen she’s obviously smart and quick, so if she plagiarized purposely it wasn’t through lack of brainpower.

Crowley is now in her late forties, and she got her doctorate from Columbia in 2000. That was well after the invention and popularization of the internet, which is an excellent tool for detecting plagiarism. Anyone who had purposely plagiarized anything post-internet is not just dishonest, but foolish. Careless plagiarizing is something different, and could happen to anyone who isn’t OCD-level careful. But “thousands of words” isn’t just one careless error; it’s a pattern, and a bad one at that.

[CLARIFICATION 3:45 PM

Just to clarify—in a response to a question by commenter “The Other Gary”—I want to explain how a person could fail to attribute a quote with quotation marks through carelessness rather than intention. Gary asks how this could happen, with the ease of cut-and-paste.

My answer is that it’s simple, particularly in the days I was a student, prior to the internet. In a dissertation from 2000, it’s not clear at all that most of Crowley’s sources would have been online; probably her sources at the time were regular hard-copy books.

You take notes on index cards for that. Usually, handwritten notes, back in those days. It’s a lot of work, with thousands upon thousands of cards. Direct quotes are different than paraphrases, and must be indicated as such on your handwritten notes. It’s rather easy to slip-up unless you’re very very careful. You might not even be able to read your own hand-writing very well. Or you might have been careless in noting it to begin with.

But it doesn’t resemble cut-and-paste on a computer at all.

None of this is an excuse. Either way, intentional or not, it’s inexcusable.]

35 Responses to “Monica Crowley and plagiarism”

  1. Nitpicker Says:

    She got her doctorate in the country of Colombia?

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Okay nitpicker, will fix it.

    But maybe if she’d gotten her doctorate in this country, things would have been better 🙂 .

  3. Lurch Says:

    I’d be careful with this accusation. In one of my papers, I referenced an act of Congress which had four words in its title. apparently, four words in a row gets tagged as plagiarism. what the hell? was I supposed to invent a new title for this law?

    I don’t know anything about Monica’s accusation. Maybe she deserves it but maybe she doesn’t.

  4. The Other Gary Says:

    Anyone who had purposely plagiarized anything post-internet is not just dishonest, but foolish.

    Very foolish. I’ve heard that professors routinely use computer programs that scan a paper and search the internet to see if parts of the paper were lifted without quotes and footnotes. I think the programs are sophisticated enough to detect passages that have been altered in minor ways.

    Careless plagiarizing is something different, and could happen to anyone who isn’t OCD-level careful.

    Really? How? This is an honest question.

    How do you unknowingly paste a section from another source into your own paper and forget to put quotes around it — and then, while editing, fail to recognize that these are not your words and fix the problem?

    I’ve written many papers and a long thesis, and always re-read/edit several times. How do you revisit a passage at least 2 or 3 times and not recognize it as something you copied from elsewhere?

  5. T Says:

    First off, let’s all remember that Biden’s plagiarizing of his coal mining roots had no effect on his political future.

    Second, as a former academician, myself, I take charges of plagiarism seriously. My question is: If her dissertation was so frought with plagiarized material where was her dissertation advisor and her panel? One’s advisor is normally a specialist in the field and between him/her and the other members of her Ph.D. panel much of this this should have been flagged in drafts. This is true whether one is dealing with overt plagiarism or sloppy research. So if she is guilty as charged they were incompetent or have the charges been leveled by someone who knows nothing about research, or is this another nothingburger story?

  6. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    It was thousands of words in a doctoral dissertation. Nothing can excuse it because she had to know what she was doing. This was intentional.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Geoffrey Britain:

    Who’s even trying to excuse it? Certainly not me.

    But the question remains whether it’s outright intentional deception or extreme negligence. Either thing cannot be excused.

    But let’s say that 900 of those thousand words are quotes that Crowley did footnote but failed to put in quotation marks. To me, that speaks more of extreme negligence than purposeful deception, because they were in fact given the proper footnotes.

    It doesn’t much matter, though. She needs to go.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    The Other Gary:

    How do you do it? Simple, particularly in the days I was a student, prior to the internet. In a dissertation from 2000, it’s not clear at all that most of Crowley’s sources would have been online; probably her sources were regular books.

    You take notes on index cards for that. It’s a lot of work, with thousands upon thousands of cards. Direct quotes are different than paraphrases, and must be indicated as such on your handwritten notes. It’s easy to make a slip-up unless you’re very very careful. You might not be able to read your writing. You might have been careless in noting it to begin with.

    But it doesn’t resemble cut-and-paste on a computer at all.

  9. Montage Says:

    T Says:

    “let’s all remember that Biden’s plagiarizing of his coal mining roots had no effect on his political future.”

    Actually Biden was forced to quit his bid for president in 1988. So it wasn’t nothing.

    Also it’s not really a nothingburger. From Politico: “An examination of the dissertation and the sources it cites identified more than a dozen sections of text that have been lifted, with little to no changes, from other scholarly works without proper attribution…. In other instances, she copied text or heavily paraphrased with no attribution at all.”

  10. DNW Says:

    I agree with Britain.

    The Other Gary also reasonably asks, presumably regarding lesser offences:

    Really? How? This is an honest question.

    How do you unknowingly paste a section from another source into your own paper and forget to put quotes around it — and then, while editing, fail to recognize that these are not your words and fix the problem?

    I’ve written many papers and a long thesis, and always re-read/edit several times. How do you revisit a passage at least 2 or 3 times and not recognize it as something you copied from elsewhere?

    I agree that in “copy and paste” type papers, not meant to necessarily reflect original discoveries as much as to establish that the student has done research on a topic, it can be tough to avoid any and all appearance of a misstep; especially as there may only be so many ways of saying that John Emerich Dalberg … was born on such and such … blah blah.

    On some trivial matters, it may be almost impossible to explain the workings of say a double action revolving cylinder pistol without reproducing what someone somewhere has said in almost the same words and order.

    That of course is rather different from what is being alleged but fits Neo’s criteria.

    We are all aware of this rather notorious case too.

    http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_dissertation_of_martin_luther_king_jr_1955/

  11. neo-neocon Says:

    DNW:

    See my response to “The Other Gary.” I’ve added it also at the end of my post.

  12. DNW Says:

    “You take notes on index cards for that. It’s a lot of work, with thousands upon thousands of cards. Direct quotes are different than paraphrases, and must be indicated as such on your handwritten notes. It’s easy to make a slip-up unless you’re very very careful. You might not be able to read your writing. You might have been careless in noting it to begin with.”

    It bleeds together after awhile. Take a quote note; transform it into a paraphrase with a cite. Reword the paraphrase later, while giving credit, and then find that you have in rewriting a paraphrase based on a cited quote, almost reproduced the original itself. Whoa!

    And if you become so knowledgeable in the subject that you feel you can make certain established or defensible assertions on your own authority … there can be a problem there as well.

    Just try and utter something very basic about Parmenides that has not been stated by a hundred other authors before.

    Again though, this all relates to phrases and at most parts of a paragraph.

  13. DNW Says:

    neo-neocon Says:
    January 12th, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    DNW:

    See my response to “The Other Gary.” I’ve added it also at the end of my post.

    I basically believe I can agree with you, and with Geoff, and probably with The Other Gary as well, as long as certain distinctions are made and borne in mind.

  14. T Says:

    ” . . . it’s not really a nothingburger. . . . .” [Montage @ 3:50]

    So if it is as egregious as the media would like us to believe I repeat my question: Why weren’t any of these thousands of words flagged in drafts by her committee? Certainly the committee would have missed something, but if the plagiarism extends to thousands of words one can expect that her committee, who position themselves as experts in the field, should have been familiar enough with some of those thousands of words and their context to flag them in her drafts.

  15. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Either the committee members experienced an episode of incomprehensible incompetence or… ‘incentives’ may have been offered to a key member(s) of the committee to look the other way. That would be reprehensible but all too human.

    And remember, we’re talking a ‘profession’ in which the vast majority long ago abandoned their academic integrity.

  16. CV Says:

    What DNW said. It’s frighteningly easy to do, even with the best of intentions and diligence. The phrase “all writing is rewriting” comes to mind.

    No to excuse Crowley, however. Thousands of words is a lot of words.

    Now that the press has rediscovered its mission (as Obama and cronies depart), perhaps many more of Trump’s appointees can expect the same thorough vetting of everything they’ve ever written.

  17. Vanderleun Says:

    Dreams of My Father.

  18. AMartel Says:

    1,000 words is about 2 pages.
    -How many “thousands” of words were plagiarized?
    -Were presentations of facts plagiarized or were opinions plagiarized? (Ie., was the plagiarized writing important and crucial to the thesis or was it background?)

  19. neo-neocon Says:

    AMartel:

    I was always taught that 1000 words was four typewritten pages.

  20. donkatsu Says:

    Teaching at a prestigious East Coast University for 15 years in the 1990s-2000s I saw the effect of the internet bloom very suddenly around 1997-98 or so when the campus was wired up.

    Assignments that forced students to learn about a particular subject had at one time tested perseverance, research skills, and the ability to integrate varied material. These exercises now became cut and paste festivals. Almost all the student submissions were substantially similar, literally overnight, where once they had contained considerable variation.

    It became necessary to devise different types of assignments and term paper subjects, less susceptible to the plagiarist’s dark art.

    A few years later, at another “highly prestigious university” I was forced (“strongly urged”) by the department chair to give a take home midterm (to graduate students!). When almost all the exams came in with similar material and phrasing, I went to the next class with graded papers and fresh blue books. After I handed back the papers I handed out the blue books and told the boys and girls “put your books on the floor, turn off your computers and phones, answer two of the three questions I will write on the board . . . . .” Big Bucks U, did not like that one bit. Until that attitude changes fighting plagiarism will remain an uphill battle. Paying customers cannot be tossed for something trivial like cheating or copying, it has to be really serious like AGW skepticism or playing lacrosse, or something.

    Back on topic, it is nearly impossible to accidentally quote long passages without attribution when one uses handwritten cards.

  21. groundhog Says:

    I don’t think you can really identify plagiarism, until you get into longer sentences. That’s where it becomes obvious.

    “It was the best of times.” might sneak by, might not.

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…doesn’t survive the next clause, much less the rest the quote.

  22. Lee Says:

    According to Word Counter, a 1000 words is about FOUR pages. Crowley’s dissertation is four HUNDRED and something. Politico mentioned “a dozen instances.”

    I recently wrote a ten page paper and tried to very conscientiously footnote. Before turning it in, I ran it through Turnitin, and probably had a higher percentage of uncredited stuff in it. But Turnitin didn’t exist back then to double-check.

    I was a grad school in the late 90’s (same period) and there wasn’t a while heck of a lot of copying and pasting available. You retyped stuff but pretty much used something akin to the ol’index card method for organizing your info.

    I’m willing to bet if you check ANY dissertation of comparable left, you’ll get the same amount of sloppiness. And that is ALL it is. You can’t turn her in to Bengu Sezen It’s mindnumbingly boring to recheck sources; this isn’t creating fraudulent data.

    After awhile, you just frigging want to get the thing done.

  23. Yann Says:

    Just one small detail, food for thoughts.

    To see exactly how it was, it would be necessary to have a picture of the printed book. It says it was plagiarized because it didn’t use quoted marks. But there’s ways to quote without quoting marks. Writing those paragraphs with a different paragraph left/right margins, usually bigger ones, for example. And using a footnote to establish the source.

    So the only way to see exactly how it was plagiarized or quoted is to show a picture of that pages in the book. Nothing difficult, it takes one minutes to take it.

    Strangely, none of the articles show any picture of that pages in the real book. Why to describe and redescribe, saying that there were quotes or were not, and there footnotes or were notes, why so many words to describe when you can just use one image to show it?

    Quite strange, isn’t it?

  24. Lee Says:

    A few other things:

    Back in those days, I HAD to go to the library to access digital journals, the good ones (for graduate work.) The terminals were limited to accessing digital journals and catalogues and indices.

    Most of the stuff that was “copy and pastable” back then was secondary source material, especially the type favored by undergraduates. Primary source material, not exactly. I spent hours and days in archives, with soft lead pencils, white sheets of paper, and cotton gloves. My advisor had a nifty little pocket copier he reckoned we pick up. Limited stuff of the caliber need for grad work was really available to copy and paste.

    Wikipedia, the go to for the lazy researcher, want launched until 2001.

  25. Richard Aubrey Says:

    The nefariousty of the act depends on details, imo.
    For example: It’s been a long time since I read Sowell on culture, but I believe he noted that, by the early twentieth century, 2% of the population of European Russia was descended from German immigrants, as was 40% of the Czar’s officer corps.
    One might make this assertion and attribute it to Sowell.
    Or one might make the assertion as if one came to this conclusion all by one’s own researching wonderfulness.
    Or one might think it’s necessary to remind people of something everybody knows as a buttress to the conclusion in question.
    In the second case, that would be fraud.
    In the third case, that would be….?

    If your 3×5 has quote marks, it would be difficult to defend the proposition that you got it mixed up with your other stuff.

    I guess one question is whether the writer is, after immense labor, unable to tell the difference between his own work, conclusions, assertions and so forth, and what was found in other people’s work. The kind of work included would be important to the thesis of the paper and thus familiar to the writer and, at three in the morning, all of a piece. But that wouldn’t be word-for-word.
    So do we have word-for-word? Do we have a useful support for a conclusion which seems almost exactly the same as somebody else’s earlier conclusion? At what degree of similarity do we need to attribute it?

    At what expectation that everybody knows this are attributions unnecessary?
    To exaggerate the question, do I have to say, “As Eratosthenes proved, the world is round.”? Or can I mention the spherical nature of the Earth on the way to a conclusion about…something?

    If something is well known among my peers in the field, although not to the general public, do I have to attribute it when I’m writing for my peers (including a dissertation reviewer)?

    Lastly, what is the point of plagiarism? If you write a paper, or a book, do you not get the same credit for finding and crediting somebody else’s work as a support for your own as if you had figured this stuff out yourself? If the writing’s good and the subject interesting, I wouldn’t think it would make any difference. Except for the ego thing, it strikes me that reasonable people wouldn’t take the risk, since it means so little.
    That excludes what amounts to pirating an entire work, of course.

  26. Gringo Says:

    I am reminded of the “term papers” I and my friends wrote in high school, which were replete with plagiarism. One claimed to have submitted a paper in an AP Modern European History class about an invented battle. He got a good grade, so the story went.

    Her dissertation committee should have caught the plagiarism. Isn’t that what they are for? Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

  27. Lee Says:

    As you move from your notes to your rough draft to your first draft through subsequent drafts, you make changes. In one you might quite directly, note it. And then you decide instead to paraphrase, but of course, you still footnote. And in the course of writing and rewriting, you sometimes lose track of the source material.

    One of the things that happens if you get overly happy with the delete key in MS Word, as you delete the footnote number, the entire footnote itself disappears, and the subsequent notes renumber.

    I’m assuming she used MLA and endnotes, not APA style — it’s more tedious to find APA cured information, but it’s harder to accidently delete the note. In the old days of typewriters, the note remained until you cut it out.

    (I pasted up footnotes and photocopied, so I literally cut out footnotes. Bastard professors wanted FOOTNOTES when we freaking TYPED, but in the computer age, they prefer ENDNOTES, now that it’s so easy to do FOOTNOTES at the bottom of the page.)

    I think Endnote helped take care of preventing accidently deleted notes, but I’m willing to bet she used Word.

  28. neo-neocon Says:

    Gringo and others:

    I am puzzled by the idea that her committee should have detected the plagiarism. A thousand words among hundreds and hundreds of pages and no doubt hundreds if not thousands of footnotes? No committee is going to be checking every source listed to see if it’s an exact quote or a paraphrase, and how are they to recognize a few times something is unsourced but paraphrased? These were almost certainly hard-copy books (or hard-copy articles) she was quoting. Unless the committee members had memorized the exact wording of every book and every article ever written on the subject, they could not possibly have caught it.

    Only a computer program could do that, or a person who had read every single source AND had a perfect photographic memory.

  29. AMartel Says:

    2 pages, 4 pages, whatever. Not near the same impact as “thousands of words.” Word count/page varies due to font size and margins. And how long was the dissertation? What was plagiarized – substantive conclusions or descriptive factual background? The former is so much worse than the latter. I don’t care about Monica Crowley. If she stole ideas for academic promotion then she can go to hell. Otherwise, this is all just more Trump outrage. I hate being led about by the media from outrage to outrage.

  30. T Says:

    “I am puzzled by the idea that her committee should have detected the plagiarism.” [Neo @ 12:27 pm]

    It’s a matter of style. When you read the same person’s work over and over in draft after draft one becomes used to their style of writing. Now would a student’s own style mimic some of it’s sources? Probably so, but not ALL of the sources. If the plagiarism was as grievous as the MSM would have us believe, then someone on her committee should have picked up some inference of it. That’s when you insert the marginal note:”This seems to warrant a footnote. Is this your original work?” (which I have done with student work). Triggered by such an instance (or instances) it is the committee members’ duty to have a discussion with the student about whether this is a one-off incident, or whether there are other instances of this in the dissertation. No, it’s not always intentional, but if the committee isn’t watching for that, then they are not doing their job. That’s part of the difference between the student and the “master.”

    Now as devil’s advocate let me ask the question another way: If this was okay for the experts on her dissertation committee, then who the Hell are the MSM to second guess specialists in the field?

    She may have been sloppy or devious. Even so, then her committee was less than fully competent or the MSM has no basis for criticism.

  31. y81 Says:

    In addition to some of the other issues raised here, note that there is a wide variety of opinion as to footnote placement. Politico suggests that some of Crowley’s footnotes are in the wrong place, but some people (including Kate Turabian, may she rest in peace) believe strongly that the number of footnotes should be minimized, and they should be placed at the end of paragraphs, even if it requires the reader to think a little, or even check the source, to be sure exactly which items derive from the footnoted source. Others think footnotes should be sited close to the text to which they relate, even if it means several footnotes to one paragraph, and even if the later ones say “Ibid.” Crowley’s dissertation advisor, or the IR department (or the IR department secretary), may have instructed her.

  32. Lee Says:

    431 pages. Descriptive factual background, com what I can tell. It’s twelve bits, here and there sprinkled through the 400 some pages.

  33. Frog Says:

    Crowley’s pending job title is ” senior director of strategic communications” for the NSC. I have no idea what that job entails.
    She has apparently been quite good in the communications business for a right good while.
    So while the evidence of plagiarism is doggone clear, that was in her PhD thesis of 17 years ago. Its relevance to her pending position is not clear to me.
    I am not going to get all lathered up about this. Not in these days of BuzzFeed, CNN and “golden showers”. Not in the days of Clinton and Lynch meeting in her plane on the tarmac to “discuss grandkids.” Or “If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan”. Et cetera.

  34. Countermeasures_Dispenser Says:

    I remember this same issue being discussed when Ms. Crowley scored a talk slot on powerhouse WABC 770 New York a few years back. The plaigarism thing has been out there lurking for some time.

  35. Frog Says:

    Plagiarism Claim Costs Commentator

    Media commentator Monica Crowley won’t be joining the incoming Trump administration as a member of the National Security Council following accusations of plagiarism, a transition official said. Her decision comes after CNN reported that several passages in her 2012 book were plagiarized. Publisher HarperCollins then pulled the book.

    —Associated Press 1/17/17

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