U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch appears to have borrowed material from multiple authors in his 2006 book, according to a new analysis by Politico.
This week, U.S. lawmakers are going head-to-head over the nomination of Gorsuch to the highest court in the land. Although the book is only one snippet of Gorsuch’s vast portfolio of writings, six independent experts contacted by Politico agreed that the flagged passages appear problematic.
Here’s more about documents obtained by the media outlet:
The documents show that several passages from the tenth chapter of his 2006 book, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” read nearly verbatim to a 1984 article in the Indiana Law Journal. In several other instances in that book and an academic article published in 2000, Gorsuch borrowed from the ideas, quotes and structures of scholarly and legal works without citing them…Instead, Gorsuch often acknowledges the primary sources cited by those writers.
The White House defended Gorsuch, arguing to Politico that the allegations represented a “false attack.”
The article includes text snippets so readers can compare the similarities. Although some instances seem more obvious than others — for instance, duplicating most of a sentence (just changing one word) — other examples of potential overlap are less straightforward. And while six independent experts who spoke to Politico condemned Gorsuch’s practice, other experts provided by the White House defended it. What’s more:
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.
We’ve wondered before about how much text overlap is okay — for instance, should authors rewrite the same methods and disease description over and over, just to avoid being dinged for plagiarism or duplication, when there’s only so many ways to say it? What if they just used quotation marks? Would reviewers and editors take that as a sign that the work wasn’t otherwise original, and reject it? And is lifting words less harmful than lifting ideas?
As Robert George of Princeton University — the general editor for Gorsuch’s book publisher, and one of the experts offered by the White House in support of the nominee — said in the article:
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…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.
However, Miguel Roig of St. John’s University — a member of the board of our parent non-profit organization, who’s written extensively about plagiarism in academic writing — told us he believes the amount of overlap flagged in Gorsuch’s book is indeed plagiarism, and a problem:
Yes, I absolutely agree that this is problematic writing. If a student of mine were to submit a paper with this type of text similarity, I would classify the matter as plagiarism. Of course, an important question is the ratio of questionable text to the ‘whole’ of the work.
Whether there are different standards in legal writing, it seems to me that law journals and books, especially a book written for a general audience, fall under the umbrella of academic writing. While some of the technical phrases in the example given in the article (i.e., esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula) might be tolerable in a paraphrase, I cannot imagine a legitimate journal or book publisher tolerating the type of textual borrowing shown in the article.
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