Top ten plagiarism excuses

Notorious statistics professor (damn!) Ed Wegman has been caught in another case of copying-large-blocks-of-text-without-attribution.

In his defense, he might try stealing inadvertently copying some lines from a famous historian:

I failed to provide quotation marks for phrases that I had taken verbatim, having assumed that these phrases, drawn from my notes, were my words, not his. . . . The larger question for those of us who write statistics is to understand how citation mistakes can happen.

It’s a big mystery, eh? How could these things possibly happen?? Further research is needed, for sure.

In the meantime, here’s my quick attempt at a top 10 excuses for copying-large-blocks-of-text-without-attribution.

10. Someone snuck into my house and edited the file while I was in the shower. So sue me!

9. Out of loyalty to my hard-working graduate students, I refuse to pin the blame on them, even though it’s their fault. I take full responsibility.

8. Even a monkey tying at random, if he were to write more than 160 papers and five books, might occasionally To be or not to be, that is the qjuiosusdfu79lkjew.

7. I didn’t plagiarize them, they anticipated me!

6. If I don’t publish a new article or book this year, a puppy will die. Sorry—that’s just the way it is.

5. Sure, I could’ve copied the original document word-for-word, but that would’ve been really boring. Also, I changed the font.

4. Nobody complained when Dr. King did it.

3. Hey—look over there! Is that a yellow-bellied sapsucker?

2. Somebody hacked my twitter account.

1. Clippy!

I’ve never done a Top Ten list before so feel free to mock me in the comments. More to the point, maybe you can do better and we can prepare a list to help any future Frank Fischers who turn up?

7 Responses to Top ten plagiarism excuses

  1. anon June 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    11. I never met any of the authors in person, so it doesn’t count as plagiarism.

    12. The quotation key was broken.

  2. John Mashey June 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Ha! #8 is copied without attribution, but with a serious error, as the correct quote is famous:
    “To be, or not to be, that is the Gazorninplat.”

    Of course, with quantum computing, maybe the monkeys can go faster.

  3. Manoel Galdino June 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    funny. But (maybe) due to not being a native english speaker, I didn’t get tha last line (“Clippy”). What am I missing?

    • Andrew Gelman June 8, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

      Manoel: Google “clippy”.

  4. Ben kibet June 8, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    What else do u expect when the most capable people like me work on very limited resources to diversify thinking and create originality? It’s the unfortunate turn of events in Africa and Kenya in particular where pple meet well structured ideas and they associate with instead of looking for a better position of coming up with some good and original.

  5. Åse June 10, 2011 at 2:52 am #


    I had to facebook that. Reminds me of a sociology paper someone linked in somewhere some time ago (ooooh – that is the right way to find it), but where they looked at academic integrity, and the lack of it in Italy (one of the sociologists were italian from the beginning). I probably should look for the paper, but, as I tell my students, it is best if you email me your essays, otherwise it will be hopelessly lost. But, anyway, they cited a lot of other peoples excuses for well known professors plagiarism.

  6. Stephan June 10, 2011 at 3:31 am #

    Ha! We’ve plenty of excuses available here in Germany. Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg: I did not plagiarize. I wrote expressis verbis in the introduction to my thesis: “E pluribus unum”.