Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Self-Plagiariasm: So Hip These Days

Thanks to the latest Trump-tastic night of conventioneering, self-plagiarism is now mainstream.  Last night, Donald Trump Jr.'s speech used the words from an article in the American Conservative by F.H. Buckley:
Turns out that the guy who wrote the article also wrote the speech (despite assertions that Trump wrote it himself).  Recycling your work is self-plagiarism, which is not as bad as the old-fashioned plagiarism that Don Jr's step-mom did the night before.

To be clear, self-plagiarism is not as clearly problematic.  I don't think I heard the phrase until a few years ago.  Scholars often published pieces of the same research in different places, and there used to be very little comment about it or expectations. Over time, the norms have changed, with the expectation that one publishes distinct enough pieces from the same project OR one clearly acknowledges the source material.

Sometimes, it is hard to be completely new, as the data speaks most clearly in a certain way.  I have used the same graph of the percentage of question period in Canada dedicated to the detainees issue in my book and in a piece on executive-legislative relations for a special issue (if it survives the R&R process).  But, of course, for the latter piece, I include a note referencing the former piece.

Political speeches don't have footnotes, so one cannot treat them quite like academic pieces of work.  Stump speeches are the same basic speech over and over again with just some revisions to fit the news or fit the location.  Big speeches at conventions have higher expectations, and speechwriters are expected to write completely new speeches rather than recycling old material.  Buckley was either too lazy or too enchanted with his previous phrasing to write a completely new speech or strangely enough to toss in, "as argued recently in the American Conservative."

The larger point is that this Trump organization is a bunch of amateurs who are poorly supervised, led by those with really no principles.  Donald Trump Sr has made a career of taking other people's stuff and then only reluctantly paying, usually underpaying.  It has worked so far, so why should he change his ways?

Many folks will say this plagiarism stuff is distraction sauce, as it causes us to focus on this rather than the racism in some speeches, the anti-democratic content of others, and the lunacy of Carson. I focus on the rancid serving of distraction sauce here less because I am an outraged academic and more because there is something positive about these bursts of writing misdemeanors.  That is, Trump's campaign is a mess--it is poorly organized, is messing up the easy stuff, and stepping all over its messages.  This is good news for November, as it is very unlikely that the campaign will become more professional as it goes along.  The learning curve is simply very flat here, and even if lessons are learned, the organization and the candidate lack the discipline to follow the lessons. 

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