Arthur Brisbane Defends NYT Article by Guy Deutscher Accused of Plagiarism

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Arthur Brisbane, who has served as The New York Times' public editor since this summer.(Credit: Earl Wilson, The New York Times)

Arthur Brisbane, who has been The New York Times’ public editor since this summer, discussed the criticism of Guy Deutscher’s Aug 29 Sunday magazine article.  Deutscher’s article was both on the Times’ website’s “most e-mailed list” and also criticized by “readers who questioned the originality of the work.”

Brisbane defended the NYTimes’ magazine article which has been roundly criticized for plagiarism. He suggested the problem was the general journalism industry need for a better attribution system for web content.

“The problem here, I conclude, is not one of intellectual theft. It’s really a problem of journalism itself,” Brisbane opined.

As Brisbane explained, journalism doesn’t have a “formal code for citing scholarly work,” whereas scholarly work does.  Footnotes are bulky as are lengthy citations, so citations can get lost in the shuffle of journalism.  Brisbane suggested that web editions or versions of articles could feature linking and footnote citations.

Brisbane explained that The Times received complaints from scholars because Deutscher’s article bore similarities to the work of Stanford Univ. professor and researcher Lera Boroditsky.  Boroditsky has “written two articles on the same subject, one in June 2009 for the Web site and another for The Wall Street Journal just this past July,” Brisbane noted

Deutscher and the New York Times Magazine’s deputy editor, Alexander Star, said they didn’t read Boroditsky’s work in question before he wrote his article, Brisbane reported.  In addition, Star, is quoted as saying “we knew there was nothing untoward about how we put our work together,” so he and Deutscher “discounted” the criticism.

Deutscher instead explained that his work was sourced through “a deep well of research by others.”  As a result, he and Boroditsky have similar bases for their work.

However, Boroditsky said she thinks she should have been credited because Deutscher’s article had “an unacceptable scale of borrowing,” Brisbane reported.

Deutscher’s article was adapted from his recently published book, “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages,” Brisbane noted.

Brisbane cited the collective blog on anthropology Savage Minds as having “heated commentary” on Deutscher’s article. Savage Mind’s Kerim wrote “I’m not saying Guy Deutscher plagiarized Lera Boroditsky’s work. What I’m saying is that if this was an academic publication he would have been expected to cite her, but because it is journalism there is no such expectation, and that bugs the hell out of me.”

The Atlantic’s Edward Tenner explained in an Oct. 4 post that “Deliberate literary dishonesty does exist, but I fear that even the most exhaustive (and for writers, exhausting) documentation on line won’t silence cries of ripoff. We are all living in the plagiosphere.”

Compare for yourself:  See Lera Boroditsky’s Wall Street Journal article here and Deutscher’s New York Times article here.

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Arthur Brisbane Defends NYT Article by Guy Deutscher Accused of Plagiarism

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