Jun 24, 2009, 08:33AM

Chris Anderson's Plagarism

Nearly a dozen passages from the editor-in-chief of Wired's new book, Free, have been "reproduced nearly verbatim from uncredited sources," claims VQR.

In the course of reading Chris Anderson’s new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price (Hyperion, $26.99), for a review in an upcoming issue of VQR, we have discovered almost a dozen passages that are reproduced nearly verbatim from uncredited sources. These instances were identified after a cursory investigation, after I checked by hand several dozen suspect passages in the whole of the 274-page book. This was not an exhaustive search, since I don’t have access to an electronic version of the book. Most of the passages, but not all, come from Wikipedia. Anderson is the author of the best-selling 2006 book The Long Tail and is the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. The official publication date for Free is July 7.
Examples of the passages in question follow. The words and phrases that are found in both Free and the apparent original source are highlighted. Note that narrowest possible criteria are employed here, with only identical words highlighted; Anderson’s substitution of the word “on” for “about,” for instance, would result in no highlighting of that word. (Click on an image thumbnail to see the full-sized version.)
“Free Lunch”
Occupying the bulk of pages 41–42, Anderson here explains the origin of the phrase “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” writing about the nineteenth- century phenomenon of saloons offering free lunches with the purchase of alcohol. The great majority of this text exists phrase for phrase on the Wikipedia entry “Free Lunch,” including a block quote and several quotes from contemporary newspaper accounts.
Much of the text in question—though not all of it—was originally written by Wikipedia contributor Dpbsmith (Dan Smith) between November 19 and November 26, 2006.
Transcription errors are present in most of the quotes and citations within this Wikipedia entry, a result of contributors making mistakes while entering information from nineteenth-century newspaper articles. Those errors have been reproduced verbatim in Free. That includes citing an 1875 New York Times article as having been published in 1872 and omitting words and phrases from quotations. (Disclosure: I contributed to this Wikipedia entry two years ago, but my tiny modification is not included within Free.)
On page 37 Anderson explains the Catholic Church’s historical stance on usury, with 65 consecutive words—the great majority of the description—that are identical to the Wikipedia entry titled “Usury.” The passage in question was originally written by Wikipedia contributor “Ewawer” on March 24, 2008.
“Benjamin T. Babbitt”
Little-known soap marketer Benjamin Babbitt is described on pages 42–43 in language that is nearly identical to that contained within the “Benjamin T. Babbitt” Wikipedia entry. This passage was written by Wikipedia contributor “Josette” (Josette Pieniazek) on September 9, 2008.
“Learning Curve”
Anderson explains the concept of a learning curve on page 82, using language substantially identical to that in the “Experience curve effects” Wikipedia entry. Much of this text was originally written by “MyDogAteGodsHat” (Paul Gallienne) on September 19, 2003, though it has undergone significant revision in the past six years at the hands of many different contributors.
“There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”
Here Anderson explains the economic concept that there is no such thing as a free lunch, using phrases that are virtually identical to those that appear on the “TANSTAAFL” Wikipedia entry.
This passage was written by a series of different Wikipedia contributors over the course of several years, including “Stormwriter” on November 6, 2002, an anonymous individual on September 19, 2004, “Smallbones” on May 28, 2006, and an anonymous individual on July 22, 2006.


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