Tuesday, January 9, 2024

100% Pure Extra Virgin Schadenfreude

This story involves two topics which I normally don't consider worth the candle, plagiarism (which requires an enormous amount of spade work to discuss properly, inevitably more effort than the case merits) and Harvard. In this instance, however, we have someone so odious revealed to be a huge hypocrite in the most embarrassing manner possible. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde you would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the travails of Bill Ackman.

Katherine Long, Jack Newsham writing for Business Insider:

The billionaire hedge fund manager and major Harvard donor Bill Ackman seized on revelations that Harvard's president, Claudine Gay, had plagiarized some passages in her academic work to underscore his calls for her removal following what he perceived as her mishandling of large protests against Israel's bombardment of Gaza on Harvard's campus.


Her husband, Ackman, has taken a hardline stance on plagiarism. On Wednesday, responding to news that Gay is set to remain a part of Harvard's faculty after she resigned as president, he wrote on X that Gay should be fired completely due to "serious plagiarism issues."

"Students are forced to withdraw for much less," Ackman continued. "Rewarding her with a highly paid faculty position sets a very bad precedent for academic integrity at Harvard."

 And you'll never guess what happens next.

In [Ackman's wife, Neri] Oxman's dissertation, completed at MIT, she plagiarized a 1998 paper by two Israeli scholars, Steve Weiner and H. Daniel Wagner, a 2006 article published in the journal Nature by the New York University historian Peder Anker, and a 1995 paper published in the proceedings of the Royal Society of London. She also lifted from a book published in 1998 by the German physicist Claus Mattheck and, in a more classical mode of plagiarism, copied one paragraph from Mattheck without any quotation or attribution.

In addition to getting funnier every damn time you read it, this incident provides us with a dramatic example of one of the main problems with the outcry over minor plagiarism, selective enforcement.

Whenever the non-immediate consequences for these offenses go beyond public shaming, where people pay real penalties for things that happened years ago, invariably the application will be inconsistent and unfair, often deliberately so. Minor incidents of plagiarism are so common with so much falling in a gray area, that most people have (intentionally or not) done something that a bad faith actor can go after them for.




While similar or worse cases are largely ignored.


Did some of the instances that so enraged Ackman go beyond the trivial and the sloppy? I couldn't tell you, but I can say that informed and objective opinions differ and that some of those who claim to have the least doubt have given us the most reason to doubt their impartiality.


One of the best parts of this story has been Ackman's reactions to the BI article. 


And I'll leave you with this closing thought.

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