Sydney Morning Herald Suspends Columnist after Plagiarism Accusations

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(Credit: Sydney Morning Herald, screenshot)

The Sydney Morning Herald suspended columnist Tanveer Ahmed after Australia’s ABC Media Watch accused Ahmed of plagiarism in at least seven articles from news outlets including The New York Times, the Australian reported.

Ahmed identifies himself as a “psychiatrist and opinion columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald” as well as a “former SBS television journalist,” according to his own website.  Ahmed apologized, telling Media Watch that

“You have identified several instances where I have failed to do this appropriately. I recognise this as careless and lazy, but as my overall output I believe demonstrates, those instances are uncharacteristic and out of character. I sincerely apologise to my readers, editors and my publisher Fairfax Media.”

Ahmed said to iMediaEthics by email that “I am deeply sorry for my regrettable mistakes. It was sloppy and lazy,” and directed us to his above statement to Media Watch.

We wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald asking for more information about this incident including how long the suspension will last and what review of Ahmed’s work the newspaper will conduct. The Herald’s executive editor Peter Kerr responded and provided iMediaEthics the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Sean Aylmer’s statement. (Kerr noted it is the same statement given to Media Watch.) The statement reads:

“In response to your query I make the following comments.  Fairfax became aware of this issue on Friday [September 7] when a reader commented on the National Times website about Dr Ahmed’s column that day. It was decided to withdraw the column from online pending inquiries, which are ongoing.  Dr Ahmed’s column has been suspended while we undertake appropriate investigations.”

Media Watch pointed to Ahmed’s recently published Sept. 7 article “Psychology loses academic clout as therapists turn substitute friends.”  The article still appears on the Herald’s website via a Google search but when iMediaEthics clicked on the article Sept. 10 the story had been unpublished.

A Sept. 10 Google search still produced Ahmed’s article for the Sydney Morning Herald, but the link is dead. (Credit: Google, screenshot)

However, the article was republished by Media Watch, and marked up with highlight. Media Watch also included a side-by-side comparison of a portion of Ahmed’s article with the New Atlantis’ spring 2012 article.  For example, as Media Watch noted, where Ahmed wrote:

“psychotherapy is no longer an intellectual movement today as it once was. It has assumed a new role in the form of the modern ‘caring’ professions, which provide a peculiar sort of substitute friendship – what we might call ‘artificial friendship’ – for lonely people in a lonely age.”

Where The New Atlantis, a “journal of technology & society,wrote:

“Psychotherapy is no longer an intellectual movement today as it once was. But in the form of modern professional ‘caring,’ it has assumed a new role, which is to provide a peculiar sort of substitute friendship — what we might call ‘artificial friendship’ — for lonely people in a lonely age.”

Media Watch also provided highlighted versions of the seven articles in question, which it says includes plagiarism — or self-plagiarism in one case.

We’ve written to the New Atlantis seeking comment. We’ll update with any response.

UPDATE: 9/11/2012 11:23 AM EST: The New Atlantis’ editor, Adam Keiper, sent iMediaEthics the following statement:

“Anyone who reads with care, as we do, knows that plagiarism abounds nowadays. Anyone involved in publishing, as we are, knows that it takes hard work to catch plagiarists. So it is difficult to fault the editors of the Sydney Morning Herald for not catching Dr. Tanveer Ahmed’s serial plagiarism sooner. But a striking feature of many cases of journalistic malpractice is the uncommon productivity of the wrongdoers. Dr. Ahmed had his byline on a regular newspaper column, had recently finished a book, frequently appears as a television commentator, has various other affiliations, and supposedly also maintains his psychiatric practice. One might wonder if there are enough hours in a day to do all these things and do them well. The revelation of Dr. Ahmed’s plagiarism suggests that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

UPDATE: 9/11/2012: 1:50 PM EST:  Made small copyedits

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Sydney Morning Herald Suspends Columnist after Plagiarism Accusations

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