UPDATE: I notice that The Raw Story has closed its comments after only 15 of them, and none particularly nasty. I wonder if they’ve learned their story is an old one.
“Self-plagiarism,” or repeating your own words in different pieces, is sometimes okay so long as you make it evident, and don’t recycle too much of your stuff. In Faith versus Fact I used a couple of paragraphs from previous essays I’d published, slightly changing the wording to integrate them better into the book. In the book’s notes I also pointed out which sections had been published before. Publishers are okay with this. What they’re not okay with—and neither am I—is publishing the same piece twice without indicating that it was published before.
Here’s one example, and a rather bad one. Someone called my attention to an article in May 25’s The Raw Story, written by one Chris Hall, called “Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris are old news—a totally different Atheism is on the rise.” It’s the usual beefing about how the Four Horsepersons are old, misogynistic white men and have become obsolete as new and more diverse voices are rising. (Let me add that I certainly favor diversity in atheism, but that those “old passé guys” become well known because they wrote engrossing books, not because they’ve proclaimed themselves leaders, or have oppressed others or silenced competing voices.) Be that as it may, the article looked oddly familiar to me, and, Googling some of the phrases, I came across a virtually identical article written by the same author, but published in June, 2014 on Salon under a different title: “Forget Christopher Hitchens: Atheism in America is undergoing a radical change.” And that article, with a title identical to the new one, was taken from an Alternet piece also published in June 2014.
Is there any indication that the new article is a retread of the old one—that it was published before? Nope. Is there any difference between the new article and the two old ones? Not that I see—except for one slight change:
But in 2014, Hitchens is dead, and using Dawkins or Harris to make a case for or against atheism is about as relevant as writing about how Nirvana and Public Enemy are going to change pop music forever.
But in 2016, Hitchens is dead, and using Dawkins or Harris to make a case for or against atheism is about as relevant as writing about how Nirvana and Public Enemy are going to change pop music forever.
This is doubly ironic, for if those Old White Guys were irrelevant in 2014, why even mention them two years later? This also shows that the author is conscious of having published the exact same piece twice, changing but a single date. I wonder how many times he got paid for it?
At any rate, when you republish a piece after two years, it’s journalistic ethics to say, “This piece was originally published on Salon and Alternet in 2014.” And, of course, people still cite Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris to make the case for atheism. The arguments for unbelief don’t become obsolete so quickly! In fact, one can still cite Mencken or Ingersoll to make the case for atheism. Theists come up with new arguments for God, but they’re invariably tweaked versions of ones that have long been refuted.