Chris Anderson’s Free Contains Apparent Plagiarism

Chris Anderson is best-known for championing the long tail (marketing to the niche customers who fill out the trailing end of a demographics chart, rather than trying to create products to please the mass market) and has been promoting a book on the topic.  One of the early reviewers for his book identified great swaths that were taken, without citation, from Wikipedia.

All those are my screwups after we decided not to run notes as planned, due to my inability to find a good citation format for web sources…

This all came about once we collapsed the notes into the copy. I had the original sources footnoted, but once we lost the footnotes at the 11th hour, I went through the document and redid all the attributions… Obviously in my rush at the end I missed a few of that last category, which is bad. — Chris Anderson, in an e-mail to Waldo Jaquith (VQR)

A highly visible internet economy expert, and the editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, working with an editor on a print project (not blogging in the heat of the moment) chooses to drop citations altogether, rather than dig a little deeper to find out information that any freshman comp student is expected to know?

Anderson is certainly doing the right thing by taking responsibility right away, rather than hoping it will blow over (it won’t).

Jaquith (who broke the story on the Virginia Quarterly Review’s blog) is careful to note that “All ideas that form of the core the book are credited, and his own thesis that he builds upon that showed no signs of being anybody’s but his own.”

Since, as I understand it, copies of Anderson’s book have been floating around in draft form for some time, it’s theoretically possible that some of Anderson’s own writing might have been inappropriately pasted into Wikipedia articles.  (Just now, I put a segment of Anderson’s text into, and the service marked it all as having appeared on Anderson’s blog, where in fact an excerpt from the book was recently published. didn’t drill down any deeper than that.)

If Anderson had maintained a habit of properly citing every use of Wikipedia text, it would be easier to give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that uncited passages were appropriated by Wikipedia users.  But Anderson’s reply takes responsibility for failing to cite, even though the “I didn’t know how to do it” excuse holds little weight.

The “long tail” meme has its critics, so I expect there will be a lot of chatter about this.  I certainly have no desire to purchase this book now.  I’ll buy one from a different author — someone out there in the long tail.

One thought on “Chris Anderson’s Free Contains Apparent Plagiarism

  1. Update… Anderson has updated his blog, with a slightly different explanation of his citation problem.
    He writes, “…my publisher, like many others, was uncomfortable with the changing nature of Wikipedia, and wanted me to timestamp each URL (something like this: page viewed on July 8th, 2008), which struck me as clumsy and archaic.” That’s not quite the same thing as “inability to find a good citation format for web sources” (since it’s the changing nature of Wikipedia, rather than its location on a website, that’s at issue).
    He goes on to say,
    “This was sloppy and inexcusable, but the part I feel worst about is that in our failure to find a good way to cite Wikipedia as the source we ended up not crediting it at all. That is, among other things, an injustice to the authors of the Wikipedia entry who had done such fine research in the first place, and I’d like to extend a special apology to them.”
    Again, it’s good to see him take responsibility so quickly.
    Whatever time he saved by short-cutting the citations will come back to haunt him now.

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