Patterico's Pontifications

3/24/2009

L.A. Times Article Lifts Passages Straight from Wikipedia

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 5:53 pm

Gawker catches some amazing similarities between an L.A. Times article and Wikipedia:

L.A. Times article:

Designed to traverse Japan’s mountainous terrain, the trains use tunnels and viaducts to go through and over obstacles rather than around them. They travel on elevated tracks without road crossings and apart from conventional rail. An automated control system eliminates the need for signals.

Wikipedia:

In contrast to older lines, Shinkansen are standard gauge, and use tunnels and viaducts to go through and over obstacles rather than around them. With a minimum curve radius of 4,000 meters (2,500 meters in the oldest Tōkaidō Shinkansen), the system was built entirely from the ground up on elevated tracks without road crossings and separate from conventional rail. It employs an ATC (Automatic Train Control) system, eliminating the need for signals.

Heh.

The problem with relying on Wikipedia for research is that anyone can write anything on it at any time. You could go write: “Shinkansen are a breed of Indians found mostly in the plains of Kansas, characterized by large festering wounds on their shins and a love of everything Barack Obama.” The better it sounds, the longer it might last.

In fact, Wikipedia is so open to the public that, before writing this post, I checked to make sure that the above passage, quoted in the L.A. Times article, was actually there before the L.A. Times article. After all, some clown could have taken text from the L.A. Times article and put it in Wikipedia.

Except that they didn’t. The article had that passage yesterday. And the first sentence plagiarized by the L.A. Times was even there in February 2008.

Many journalists lift stuff uncritically from Wikipedia. Andrew Sullivan does it blatantly. But it’s great to see one getting caught this red-handed.

UPDATE: Oh, I almost forgot to mention: the Wikipedia article says: “This article includes a list of references or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations.”

Double heh.

62 Comments

  1. One of the things that has always given me pause is the fact that there are only a certain number of ways in which an idea can be expressed; at a certain point, we might all be plagiarizers.

    Now, you’d think that if a Times writer was going to lift something like that whole from a source like Wikipedia, he’d take the few seconds required to redisarrange (a Picoism, not a typo) the wording to prevent this; it’s not like professional journalists haven’t been warned about this stuff.

    Then again, just how many staffers have been cut by your favorite newspaper? Maybe they don’t have the few seconds needed to do that.

    Comment by The non-journalist Dana (556f76) — 3/24/2009 @ 6:05 pm

  2. Caveat utilis Wiki

    Comment by SPQR (26be8b) — 3/24/2009 @ 6:16 pm

  3. It’s not plagarism if you change the wording enough that it is not the exact same paragraph etc.

    Wikipedia is as reliable as the Encyclopedia Brittanica but with caveats which are there in the Wikipedia.

    This one seems kind of reaching UNLESS in the Wikipedia entry it says that the entry is disputed. Then it’s a problem that the journo would use a disputed or “needs more citations” entry.

    Comment by EdWood (2aab60) — 3/24/2009 @ 6:34 pm

  4. No, Ed, you don’t have the correct definition of plagiarism.

    Further, Wikipedia is not as reliable as the Encyclopedia Brittanica. That little chestnut you stole from a purported study that deliberately ignored the issue of controversial topics with edit wars ongoing.

    Comment by SPQR (26be8b) — 3/24/2009 @ 6:37 pm

  5. My daughter has been threatened with terrible things if she uses Wikipedia for anything in her papers for college. She especially cannot quote it as a reference. I had to explain why. Personally, I think if you stay away from political subjects, like global warming in which it is unreliable because of biased editing, it’s pretty good. On math and science it is excellent.

    Comment by Mike K (2cf494) — 3/24/2009 @ 6:49 pm

  6. EdWood,

    I’m glad you reminded me. I added an update which notes this line from the Wikipedia entry: “This article includes a list of references or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations.”

    Comment by Patterico (cc3b34) — 3/24/2009 @ 6:49 pm

  7. The problem Mike is that the casual user of Wikipedia can’t predict which topic will become “controversial”. There are some science topics for instance that you would think were non-controversial but nonetheless have their coterie of fanatics.

    Comment by SPQR (26be8b) — 3/24/2009 @ 6:51 pm

  8. Oh, hell, how can reporters/writers/editors at the LA Times — not to mention various other newspapers — worry about a bit of plagerism when their employer is in bankruptcy, and when they may be out of a job in X number of months or certainly X number of years?

    Besides, most of those writers are big fans of dumbed-down, corner-cutting politicians like the guy now in the White House, and the policymaking that goes with such people or groups, so why should they be sticklers about following higher standards on their own part?

    Comment by Mark (411533) — 3/24/2009 @ 7:26 pm

  9. What idiots. If the writer didn’t have the integrity to do his own research, he should have had the brains to steal from something reliable.

    Unethical and stupid. What a combo!

    Comment by Amy Ridenour (892a92) — 3/24/2009 @ 7:29 pm

  10. That was hysterical, Patterico.

    The subject of plagiarism is a mess. Trust me on that. There are shades of meaning, and even programs that professors can use to check if a paper is plagiarized.

    Wikipedia is a strange, strange place. On the subjects in which I was trained in the sciences, it is pretty accurate. But it entirely depends on the people putting the information in…

    Still, this only supports how classy and reliable the LAT has become.

    Comment by Eric Blair (55f2d9) — 3/24/2009 @ 7:30 pm

  11. I often use Wikipedia as a tool to find sources. But I never use Wikipedia as a source itself. I will peruse a math or science entry, a la Mike K., to grasp some fundamentals. (Quantum dots, to cite a recent example).

    All the while one uses Wikipedia, you must remember how easily it can be altered and that information there must be corroborated through independent sources. I mentioned a few days ago finding that Wikipedia had a spurious entry about Gary Sinese, claiming his name came from a French phrase for “without anus”. That was removed from the entry, but can still be found elsewhere on the Net from places that copy Wikipedia word-for-word.

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407) — 3/24/2009 @ 7:39 pm

  12. The good news is that the LAT has discovered the internet thingy!

    Comment by Patricia (2183bb) — 3/24/2009 @ 7:44 pm

  13. Baby steps Baby steps they are sl;owlt weaning themselves off of using DNC press releases

    Comment by EricPWJohnson (c0d683) — 3/24/2009 @ 7:46 pm

  14. The bad news is that they use it like an 8th-grader!

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS (19c3d6) — 3/24/2009 @ 7:46 pm

  15. Stop insulting 8th-graders!

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407) — 3/24/2009 @ 7:50 pm

  16. Hopefully the much-maligned papers will greatly improve with a potential infusion of stimulus cash courtesy of future generations of taxpayers. I’m sure the newspapers will gratefully embrace new rules that forbid political endorsements and actual reporters will longer substitute opinion or propaganda for actual factual news. We all know how non-political PBS and NPR remain.

    Had to laugh to see Barney Frank lecturing CodePinko at Congessional hearing. What chutzpah biting that hand that feeds him and his fellow politboro members.

    I suppose if newpapers are to be non-profits, then filthy rich owners can be spared any further dilution of their wealth? Can’t wait to read my own dead tree editions of american version of Isvestia. Goebbels would be proud. Hey, how about subsidizing master documentarians like Mikey Moore and Ollie Stone also?

    Comment by aoibhneas (0c6cfc) — 3/24/2009 @ 7:55 pm

  17. I wonder how long it will take for someone to list this LA Times’ article as a source for the statements in the Wikipedia article? That would really be coming full circle.

    Comment by Anon (eb4fed) — 3/24/2009 @ 8:05 pm

  18. The reporter who wrote this story for the Los Angeles Times was John M. Glionna. Remember that name–John M. Glionna. I bet we’ll be hearing a lot from this reporter in the future–and maybe plenty of things we’ve heard elsewhere, first, too.

    When the Los Angeles Times folds, he’s probably got a job waiting for him at Wikipedia.

    Comment by Official Internet Data Office (cbf26d) — 3/24/2009 @ 8:39 pm

  19. My kids, both in high school, can’t use Wikipedia as a source. It may be a good starting place, but, ultimately, they have to use real, dependable sources for their assignments. And that is becoming increasingly difficult.

    This has been a long time ago, but I may as well relate it here. I once went to a prestigious journalism think tank (here’s a hint, it’s in Florida and it publishes a newspaper) and met two guys from the LA Times.

    They were the most arrogant and ignorant people I have ever met in my life — except for a couple of other politicians I met around the same time.

    However, I’ll give them one pass: They couldn’t have duplicated copy from Wikipedia. It didn’t exist then.

    Comment by Ag80 (d205da) — 3/24/2009 @ 8:48 pm

  20. SPQR
    “No, Ed, you don’t have the correct definition of plagiarism.”
    …which you don’t seem to have either since you failed to provide a definition. It’s always easy to say “you don’t know” but harder to actually demonstrate knowledge oneself isn’t it? But OK, I’ll agree with you that there are different ideas as to what constitutes paraphrasing.

    “controversial topics with edit wars ongoing.”
    You also apparently didn’t get the part of my comment which said that there are entries in the W’pedia with caveats. One of the caveats is that many entries are locked off or marked as disputed…oh right, I said that.

    Patterico’s update is what bolsters this particular gripe although it seems absurdly nitpicky really. This lack of outside refs is probably just flagging an entry that needs a little more documentation, even though a quick glance at google would let said reporter know that Shinkansen really are bullet trains and not an exotic species of turnip or something.

    ….oh right I forgot, Wikipedia= Liberal= bad.
    That’s not what this is really about is it?

    Perhaps Patterico is a train aficionado and takes umbrage at the idiotic mis-characterization of Shinkansen on the Wikipedia?

    Comment by EdWood (baf071) — 3/24/2009 @ 8:50 pm

  21. OIDO,
    The LAT reporter is probably in deep doo-doo about now. Any hint of plagiarism gets editors’ hackles up, far more than accusations of liberal bias from wingnut sites like this, where openly practicing Republicans and Libertarians are known to shamelessly proselytize.

    And worse, he borrowed from Wikipedia, that awful Internet thingy that’s ruining our fine non-biased newspapers! Ewwwwww!!! Coooties!

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407) — 3/24/2009 @ 8:57 pm

  22. Ag80,
    I get your Poynt.

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407) — 3/24/2009 @ 8:59 pm

  23. Good one, bro.

    Comment by Ag80 (d205da) — 3/24/2009 @ 9:34 pm

  24. 13, 14, 15 – LOL!!

    Comment by Patricia (2183bb) — 3/24/2009 @ 10:48 pm

  25. Go ahead and post the full text of the article on your blog.

    Wikipedia content is covered by the GNU Free Documentation License. If you plagiarize something covered by the GFDL, your work is subject to the same license:

    This License is a kind of “copyleft”, which means that derivative works of the document must themselves be free in the same sense. It complements the GNU General Public License, which is a copyleft license designed for free software.

    The LAT would never* be able to enforce its copyright against you. If you deliberately post the full text of their article, it will annoy the hell out of them.

    * take this with a grain of salt. IANAL. But GNU would probably pay your legal bills.

    Comment by Daryl Herbert (b65640) — 3/24/2009 @ 10:54 pm

  26. Any hint of plagiarism gets editors’ hackles up

    Yeah. Stealing from WikiPedia is no big deal, except that it hints that maybe there is more theft going on that hasn’t yet been detected.

    Comment by Daryl Herbert (b65640) — 3/24/2009 @ 10:55 pm

  27. Daryl Herbert,
    I like your suggestion! It would tie the LA Times in knots to explain how they can claim copyright when the article in question lifted from copyleft.

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407) — 3/24/2009 @ 11:02 pm

  28. “Any hint of plagiarism gets editors’ hackles up.”

    Fortunately getting one’s “hackles up” doesn’t mean anything in a professional setting.

    A good editor would be just as careful in accusing a reporter of plagiarism as she would be in guarding against it. A “hint” just wouldn’t cut it.

    And, in this example, we’re talking about two partial sentences. Moreover, we’re not talking about descriptions that are essential to the tone or thesis or news of the story. Nor is there anything that is likely to be reasonably disputed about the descriptions.

    If partial sentences lifted from other printed documents were a problem, hackles would be in a constant state of arousal.

    How many reports on, say, the war in Iraq, have much more than two partial sentences that is VERBATIM, from U.S. military or State Dept. press releases? That needn’t be a problem, as long as the verbiage isn’t essential to the story thesis or tone of the story or likely to be disputed by a reasonable person.

    It’s a judgment call, ultimately, and I certainly wouldn’t present myself as any kind of final arbiter. I can see why Pat would point something like this out, but I can also see why he’d be better off frying bigger fish. This one’s a minnow.

    Comment by Hax Vobiscum (23258e) — 3/24/2009 @ 11:37 pm

  29. I looked up wildebeest on wikipedia and it had the only natural predator being the koala bear. That gave me quite a chuckle imagining a koala bear running down and devouring a wildebeest, not to mention the plane ride the koala had to take to get his dinner.

    Comment by sherri (bc357f) — 3/25/2009 @ 4:47 am

  30. Yeah, well, Sherri.

    We can believe wiki, or you.

    Or we can just paste the entire entry on wildebeest from wiki right here, right now:

    The wildebeest (plural wildebeest, wildebeests or wildebai), also called the gnu (/gəˈnuː/ or /ˈnjuː/), is an antelope of the genus Connochaetes. It is a hooved (ungulate) mammal.

    Connochaetes includes two species, both native to Africa: the Black Wildebeest, or white-tailed gnu (C. gnou), and the Blue Wildebeest, or brindled gnu (C. taurinus). Gnus belong to the family Bovidae, which includes antelopes, cattle, goats, and other even-toed horned ungulates.

    Wildebeest grow to 3 ft 9 in–4 ft 7 in (1.15–1.4 metres) at the shoulder and weigh 330–550 pounds (150–250 kilograms). They inhabit the plains and open woodlands of Africa, especially the Serengeti National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tanzania. Wildebeest can live more than 20 years.

    Wildebeest are well known for their annual migration to new pastures. Many wildlife documentaries have featured this event, which displays vast numbers of wildebeest crossing rivers and dying in large numbers as they attempt to reach the other side, many of which are eaten by crocodiles. While it is commonly assumed that this is simply a frenzy and that the wildebeest cross blindly, recent research has shown a herd to possess what is known as a “swarm intelligence”, whereby the wildebeest systematically explore and overcome the obstacle as one.

    Nice try, though, sherri. I’m sure someone’s come in and corrected the entry. Kinda like what they did over at the NY Times with Judith Miller’s tall tales about WMD in Iraq.

    Comment by Hax Vobiscum (4012df) — 3/25/2009 @ 5:15 am

  31. That’s rich. Hax implying that someone else is a liar. Keep your word. Begone.

    Comment by Stashiu3 (460dc1) — 3/25/2009 @ 5:21 am

  32. Patterico,

    If there is some reason you’re keeping this liar around after this and this (and what follows on that thread), just at a minimum… please email me and let me know. I’ll back off completely. Calling his own lies “interpretations” when no reasonable person would interpret things that way does not mean they’re not lies. Unless anybody else would interpret anything I’ve said as “bragging about not having a conscience”, as well as the whole murderous-intent lie about me specifically and your regular commentors in general, he’s a vile human being who contributes nothing of value.

    I left him entirely alone and he felt the need to take more shots. I would have continued leaving him alone until then, even after being called gutless. He’s got no clue about me, but insists on trying to tear me down because he didn’t like the Guantanamo interview. It didn’t fit his narrative. Well, 2 1/2 years later and it still holds up. I don’t need to put up with innuendo and lies when not a single statement has been disproven (and most confirmed).

    Comment by Stashiu3 (460dc1) — 3/25/2009 @ 5:46 am

  33. Yeah, Patterico, I’m a little curious about this, too. It’s your blog, of course.

    Comment by Eric Blair (55f2d9) — 3/25/2009 @ 6:04 am

  34. Plagiarism is defined as the act of using the ideas or work of another person or persons as if they were one’s own, without giving credit to the source. Such an act is not plagiarism if it is ascertained that the ideas were arrived at through independent reasoning or logic or where the thought or idea is common knowledge.
    Acknowledgment of an original author or source must be made through appropriate references, i.e., quotation marks, footnotes, or commentary. Examples of plagiarism include, but are not limited to, the following: the submission of a work, either in part or in whole, completed by another; failure to give credit for ideas, statements, facts or conclusions which rightfully belong to another; in written work, failure to use quotation marks when quoting directly from another, whether it be a paragraph, a sentence, or even a part thereof; or close and lengthy paraphrasing of another’s writing or programming.
    By not citing my source for the definition of plagiarism, for arguments sake, I have committed plagiarism. Frankly, I am surprised that readers of the Times are not aware of the extent to which this takes place within the paper.

    Comment by Barron (9c21af) — 3/25/2009 @ 6:18 am

  35. Plagiarism is actually the lesser concern in this instance. The greater problem I see is that the author appears to have used Wikipedia as a primary source, which no one should do.

    If you’re going to plagiarize, at least do so from a reliable source.

    Comment by Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407) — 3/25/2009 @ 7:00 am

  36. I am shocked, shocked I tell you, that Hackey Sack defended the LA Times on this.

    Comment by JD (dfa7f5) — 3/25/2009 @ 7:22 am

  37. Hack, you really are clueless. Take a look at the edit history of the page and you’ll see that the entry she refers to has been the subject of a lot of vandalism. If you were not so incompetent, you would know that quoting what you find today does not prove she’s wrong.

    As an example on Sept 18, 2008, the entry included these lines: “It is interesting to note that wildebeests, given that they are far genetically superior to water buffalo, would totally win in a fight against a water buffalo. Futhermore, all wildebeests are also fluent in Dutch.”

    Comment by SPQR (26be8b) — 3/25/2009 @ 7:22 am

  38. It is interesting to note that wildebeests, given that they are far genetically superior to water buffalo, would totally win in a fight against a water buffalo. Futhermore, all wildebeests are also fluent in Dutch.”

    Whoever wrote this, I like them. That made me laugh.

    Comment by JD (dfa7f5) — 3/25/2009 @ 7:28 am

  39. Thank you SPQR, for the literal LOL! Scared the dog and I think you may get a bill for a new keyboard.

    *still chuckling*

    Okay, keyboard still seems to be working. :D

    Comment by Stashiu3 (460dc1) — 3/25/2009 @ 7:30 am

  40. Now the Wikipedia article can reference the L.A. Times article.

    You think I’m kidding?

    Comment by LarryD (feb78b) — 3/25/2009 @ 7:42 am

  41. Comment by LarryD — 3/25/2009 @ 7:42 am

    Sadly, No!

    Comment by Stashiu3 (460dc1) — 3/25/2009 @ 7:53 am

  42. Patterico,

    The filter keeps eating my comment. I may never again have the chance to refer to Wikipedia and Koalas together.

    Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Captured Koala

    You’ll have to search it out yourself. I think the link is putting me in limbo. An internet oldie but goodie.

    Comment by fat tony (83f355) — 3/25/2009 @ 8:18 am

  43. Those sets of phrases are in no way statistical or opinion based statements. I don’t really see a problem with this, at all. I wouldn’t have a problem if Rush (after doing some blow in his bathroom) or O’Reilly (after leaving inappropriate messages on a female co-worker’s voicemail) said them, either. So, there.

    Comment by Ed from PA (c313be) — 3/25/2009 @ 11:13 am

  44. Yes, Ed, you are such an expert on plagiarism.

    Comment by SPQR (72771e) — 3/25/2009 @ 11:25 am

  45. I knew that an LA Times reporter plagiarizing Wikipedia was really about Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. Thanks for making the connection for me. Are there any further articles on this in your newsletter?

    Comment by carlitos (efdd90) — 3/25/2009 @ 11:30 am

  46. My newsletter is 4 or 5 grades above your reading comprehension level, Carlitos.

    Comment by Ed from PA (c313be) — 3/25/2009 @ 12:15 pm

  47. Was that “4th or 5th grade,” perhaps?

    How about ramping back on the insults and moving on to the topic instead of merely threadjacking.

    Comment by Eric Blair (55f2d9) — 3/25/2009 @ 12:35 pm

  48. SPQR writes: “Take a look at the edit history of the page and you’ll see that the entry she refers to has been the subject of a lot of vandalism.”

    You should read my comments before unloading on them. Like the one where I said: “I’m sure someone’s come in and corrected the entry.”

    Comment by Hax Vobiscum (4012df) — 3/25/2009 @ 12:37 pm

  49. Look! Over there! Something shiny!

    Comment by JD (e738c0) — 3/25/2009 @ 12:50 pm

  50. I thought wildabeasts were fluent in French.

    Comment by JD (e738c0) — 3/25/2009 @ 1:12 pm

  51. EfP, while you are busy collaborating with Max Vomitron in your trollery, head back over to “punch drunk” and read the comments after yours, and look at my statement directed at you.

    It is not good to advance the agenda of Max Vomitron, who should most definitely be banned, when Max Vomitron has been repeatedly proven to be a disingenuous fabricating dissembling falsifying context-averse liar who lied when he said he would never comment here again if even a single statement of his could be shown to be a lie.

    Comment by John Hitchcock (fb941d) — 3/25/2009 @ 1:17 pm

  52. My newsletter is 4 or 5 grades above your reading comprehension level, Carlitos.

    Comment by Ed from PA — 3/25/2009 @ 12:15 pm

    That’s why I stick to the Chicago Sun-Times. It’s written for illiterate fools like me. Plus, the tabloid format is easy to read on the toilet or on the bus, and according to one commenter here, it’s Chicago’s “conservative” newsrag!

    Plus, click the link, spot the “lie” :)

    Comment by carlitos (efdd90) — 3/25/2009 @ 1:46 pm

  53. No, Hack, you should read your own comments before submitting them. It was your comment that pretended that the current state of the entry rebutted her comment. And that was false. As so much of your drivel is.

    Comment by SPQR (72771e) — 3/25/2009 @ 1:57 pm

  54. I thought wildabeasts were fluent in French.

    JD – No. Wildebeasts just smell like the French, but I don’t think they can speak the language, at least not yet.

    Comment by daleyrocks (5d22c0) — 3/25/2009 @ 2:02 pm

  55. Their grunting sounds French to me (or, was that Greek?).

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS (10cf6d) — 3/25/2009 @ 2:04 pm

  56. “Their grunting sounds French to me (or, was that Greek?).”

    AD – I thought it sounded like Barney Frank.

    Comment by daleyrocks (5d22c0) — 3/25/2009 @ 2:08 pm

  57. HOMOPHOBES !!!!

    Comment by JD (e738c0) — 3/25/2009 @ 2:11 pm

  58. HOMOEROTICIST!!!!!

    Comment by daleyrocks (5d22c0) — 3/25/2009 @ 2:14 pm

  59. Give that man a Kewpie-Doll!

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS (10cf6d) — 3/25/2009 @ 2:17 pm

  60. “Give that man a Kewpie-Doll!”

    Don’t usurp my meaning. DON’T YOU DARE USURP MY MEANING!!!!

    There will be consequences.

    Comment by daleyrocks (5d22c0) — 3/25/2009 @ 2:22 pm

  61. Now, Now. Calm down.
    But, OTOH, just what kinkd of consequences do you mean?

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS (10cf6d) — 3/25/2009 @ 2:29 pm

  62. Sheesh, can you two get a room?

    Comment by SPQR (72771e) — 3/25/2009 @ 2:32 pm

  63. [...] The paper engaged in blatant plagiarism. Worse, the source that was plagiarized was the notoriously unreliable Wikipedia. [...]

    Pingback by Patterico's Pontifications » Patterico’s Los Angeles Dog Trainer Year in Review 2009 (e4ab32) — 1/1/2010 @ 10:36 am

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