Preying on the Wiki: Rand Paul’s plagiarism problem
What did we learn last week? Well, for one thing, that we probably shouldn’t trust any Amazon reviews with Rand Paul’s name on them.
Early in the week, Rachel Maddow busted Paul for plagiarizing some of his public comments from the Wikipedia synopsis of the movie Gattaca. The response from Paul’s camp was pretty much what you’d expect: whining that the “liberal media” was making a mountain out of a molehill. By week’s end, however, other outlets like Buzzfeed had confirmed that lifting from Wikipedia and other sources is pretty much a habit of Paul’s – and his spokespeople were reduced to harrumphing that he would be more “cautious in presenting and attributing sources” in the future.
Problems with attribution run in Paul’s family. Remember, when his dad was exposed for having disseminated years’ worth of genocidally racist essays for fund-raising purposes, his defense was that he had simply signed his name to the stuff without reading it. But something Rand said last week was disturbing on an entirely different level. “The plot line from ‘Gattaca’ belongs to one person, the guy, the screenwriter, and I gave him credit for that,” Paul said.
Of course, no one had even implied that Paul had taken credit for writing Gattaca. In suggesting that they had, I don’t think he was doing what politicians sometimes do: intentionally trumping up a graver charge, to make the one he was guilty of seem less serious. I think he was demonstrating that he simply doesn’t grasp the distinction between the two infractions.
That would be something of a team milestone for plagiarists, whose defining attribute is stupidity. (Trust me; I’ve witnessed it up close.) Putting aside for a moment their obvious moral and ethical deficiencies, they just don’t get stuff. For one thing, they lack pragmatism. They can’t see that whatever time and effort they might save themselves by stealing the work of others would be grossly outweighed by the hit their reputation would suffer if and when they got caught. And when they do get caught, their reaction often demonstrates that they don’t grasp what the big deal is anyway. (The guy who ripped me off earlier this year reportedly took great offense when a local entertainment impresario began telling people that the kid had been fired for plagiarism. The doofus countered that he had merely been suspended for plagiarism, and that the record needed to be clear on that critical fact. Way to protect the brand, Brainiac.)
If Paul doesn’t understand the importance of clear and credible attribution, he’s essentially a standard-bearer for the modern GOP. Even after all the censure she’s weathered, I think Michele Bachmann still doesn’t know why “a tall man told me” is insufficient citation for a scare story peddled on all channels. See also last week’s Obamacare show trials, in which a bunch of old fossils who suddenly fancied themselves experts in online security had no problem basing their complaints on the anecdotal experiences of “constituents” without surnames. (Hint to our elected representatives: Not all of those commenters you see on Yahoo are real human beings.)
Paul’s hypocrisy goes even deeper. As a politician, he’s one of those neo-libertarians who believe that all of society’s ills stem from the collectivist nanny state’s coddling of the willfully unproductive. Yet faced with the hard work of writing his own speeches, what did he do? He ran straight to the world’s biggest collectivist encyclopedia – a socialized information exchange, if you will – and helped himself to its products without reservation or acknowledgment. Damn, son! Why not just sign up for food stamps while you’re at it?
The good news for Paul is that plagiarism doesn’t automatically kill a political career. If he keeps his nose clean from now on, he could still have a future ahead of him. Based on past evidence, he could even go fairly far. He could end up a mercilessly ridiculed Vice President whose aspirations to the top job are a joke to everyone but him.
I’m not saying that will happen; I’m not saying it should happen. I’m just saying it could happen. If anything about the scenario troubles you, don’t blame me. I didn’t write that movie.
Days without a response from the publication that plagiarized from me and won’t come clean: 139.
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