Our newest Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, has been accused of plagiarism in articles in Politico, BuzzFeed, and New York magazine. There are several instances where he simply repeats the words of others in a 2006 book Gorsuch wrote about euthanasia (he’s against it) as well as in his Ph.D. thesis at Oxford and an article in a law journal. The example below shows the copying blatantly; as New York Magazine notes:
. . . in several sections of Gorsuch’s 2006 book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, and in an article on the same subject published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy in 2000, he repeats the facts, words, and structures of other sources without citing them.
The most egregious example is a summary in Gorsuch’s book of a 1982 case involving a baby with Down syndrome. Gorsuch repeats about 11 sentences from an Indiana Law Journal article by Abigail Lawlis Kuzma, omitting and altering only a few words and sentences. Rather than giving Kuzma attribution, Gorsuch cites the same sources that she relied on.
Politico highlights the similarities from Gorsuch’s book. Judge for yourself. I don’t care whether Gorsuch cited the same sources; it is still the words of Kuzma (I’ve cut and pasted screenshots the best I can here):
New York magazine gives another example:
In another example, Gorsuch appears to lift his description of euthanasia activist Derek Humphry from the 2003 book A Merciful End: The Euthanasia Movement in Modern America by Ian Dowbiggin. Here’s Gorsuch:
In 1989 Humphry left his second wife, Ann Wickett, soon after she had undergone surgery for breast cancer. During the divorce, Wicket alleged that when Humphry purported to help her mother commit suicide, the resulting death was not fully consensual.
And here’s Dowbiggin:
In 1989 he left his second wife, Ann Wickett, shortly after she had undergone surgery for breast cancer. Their subsequent divorce was made messier by Wickett’s allegations that her mother had not died willingly when Humphry had participated in the suicides of her own parent.
BuzzFeed adds more examples:
Chris Mammen, who was a student at Oxford while Gorsuch was there, said in a statement provided by Gorsuch’s team, “The standard practice in a dissertation is to cite the underlying original source, not a secondary source, that supports a factual statement.”
A BuzzFeed News review of the 10 case summary sections in the first half of chapter 10 of Gorsuch’s book, including the Baby Doe section, shows that one of the other nine also appears to have repeated some language from an uncredited law review article, although less extensively. A third section quotes extensively from a foreign-law decision — which is cited at the opening of the section — but large quotations are reprinted directly without using proper attribution.
Now this is enough to get any author’s book withdrawn or annotated, to get a journalist fired, or to get a student an F for copying. But not Gorsuch–he’s being defended on several grounds by the White House, none of which I see as valid.
- Kuzma said she “didn’t have a problem” with Gorsuch not citing her article. So what? He copied her words without attribution. Kuzma also said this:
I have reviewed both passages and do not see an issue here, even though the language is similar. These passages are factual, not analytical in nature, framing both the technical legal and medical circumstances of the ‘Baby/Infant Doe’ case that occurred in 1982. Given that these passages both describe the basic facts of the case, it would have been awkward and difficult for Judge Gorsuch to have used different language.
It doesn’t matter to me whether the passages are factual rather than analytical; it’s still plagiarism: theft of someone else’s writing. It’s pathetic that Kuzma defends Gorsuch by saying that it would have been too hard for him to describe facts in his own words. We academics do that all the time!
- Gorsuch stole language and facts, not ideas. Politico notes:
The experts offered by the White House asserted that the criteria for citing work in dissertations on legal philosophy is different than for other types of academia or journalism: While Gorsuch may have borrowed language or facts from others without attribution, they said, he did not misappropriate ideas or arguments.
“Judge Gorsuch did not attempt to steal other people’s intellectual property or pass off ideas or arguments taken from other writers as his own,” said George. “In no case did he seek credit for insights or analysis that had been purloined. In short, not only is there no fire, there isn’t even any smoke.”
See above. Gorsuch passed off many words as his own. That’s plagiarism. And yes, he was implicitly asking for credit for those words.
- It wasn’t deliberate theft, but simply sloppy writing. We don’t know whether that claim is true, and it doesn’t matter: sloppiness is still plagiarism: the use of someone else’s words as if they were your own.
- The standards for plagiarism are “different” in law articles. This is noted in the first point above, and in the White House’s response, as cited in New York magazine:
The Gorsuch team’s other defense, according to Politico, is that “the criteria for citing work in dissertations on legal philosophy is different than for other types of academia or journalism.”
But this doesn’t seem to be true:
Gorsuch’s book is based on the dissertation he wrote at Oxford University, and Dr. Chris Mammen, who was a student there at the same time, claimed, “The standard practice in a dissertation is to cite the underlying original source, not a secondary source, that supports a factual statement.”
And the purloined statements are not just in a dissertation, they’re in a book published by Princeton University Press and based on Gorsuch’s dissertation at Oxford. Oxford’s own guidelines prohibit this kind of plagiarism. New York adds this:
Rebecca Moore Howard, a Syracuse University professor, said Gorsuch is guilty of “heavy patchwriting” – the term for borrowing from another work, with only small alterations – and “hides his sources, which gives the appearance of a very deliberate method. I would certainly call it plagiarism.”
The White House has ginned up faux outrage over a case of what is at best inexcusably sloppy writing, which in my view amounts to plagiarism, for it uses other people’s words as if they were Gorsuch’s. If a journalist did this, they’d be fired. If another academic did this, they’d either pull the book or correct it. Why is a Supreme Court justice gettting a pass?
“Heavy patchwriting” is plagiarism.
h/t: Robert N., Grania