Tuesday, April 14, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: U. Of Massachusetts Student Paper Plagiarizes Much of NYT Op-Ed Piece, Word For Word.

In what appears to be a flagrant case of plagiarism, a University of Massachusetts Daily Collegian opinion piece published yesterday -- written by an undergraduate student named Nicole Sobel -- copied numerous sections verbatim from a NYT Op-Ed piece published only three days earlier.

Sobel's piece, called "Free-Range, Not Bacteria-Free," lifted entire passages from last Friday's Op-Ed essay about the relative dangers of free-range and conventional pork, called "Free-Range Trichinosis" and written by James E. McWilliams, a professor of history at Texas State University at San Marcos.

Consider the following, first from McWilliams's piece:

Is free-range pork better and safer to eat than conventional pork? Many consumers think so. The well-publicized horrors of intensive pig farming have fostered the widespread assumption that, as one purveyor of free-range meats put it, “the health benefits are indisputable.” However, as yet another reminder that culinary wisdom is never conventional, scientists have found that free-range pork can be more likely than caged pork to carry dangerous bacteria and parasites. It’s not only pistachios and 50-pound tubs of peanut paste that have been infected with salmonella but also 500-pound pigs allowed to root and to roam pastures happily before butting heads with a bolt gun.

Then, from Sobel's essay:

For a long time now people have been going into the meat section at supermarkets, distracted by a cornucopia of different labels, and wondered the obvious question: is free-range pork really better and safer to eat then conventional pork? There has been a widespread assumption that, the health benefits are indisputable. However, scientists have recently found that free-range pork can be more likely than caged pork to carry dangerous bacteria and parasites. It’s not only pistachios and 50-pound tubs of peanut butter that have been infected with salmonella, but also 500-pound pigs allowed to root and to roam pastures happily before butting heads with their own death.

Their summaries of a recent study are virtually identical. First, McWilliams:

The study published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease that brought these findings to light last year sampled more than 600 pigs in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. The study, financed by the National Pork Board, discovered not only higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs (54 percent versus 39 percent) but also greater levels of the pathogen toxoplasma (6.8 percent versus 1.1 percent) and, most alarming, two free-range pigs that carried the parasite trichina (as opposed to zero for confined pigs).

Sobel's version:

Well, a study published in the Journal of Foodbourne Pathogens and Disease, which brought these findings to light last year, sampled more than 600 pigs in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. It not only discovered higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs (54 percent versus 39 percent), but also greater levels of the pathogen toxoplasmosis (6.8 percent versus 1.1 percent) and, most alarming, found that two free-range pigs carried the parasite trichina (as opposed to zero for confined pigs).

Identical lines litter Sobel's piece. Consider this from McWilliams:

Pigs lucky enough to land in this verdant playpen are endowed by the hand of man less with survival skills than with the ability to generate flesh retailing for $12 a pound.

And this from Sobel:

Pigs lucky enough to land in this verdant playpen are endowed by the hand of man less with survival skills than with the ability to generate flesh retailing for $12 a pound.

The plagiarism continues all the way through the piece, leading up to the identical last line. Concludes McWilliams:

After all, if clean and humane methods of production cannot be developed, there’s only one ethical choice left for the conscientious consumer: a pork-free diet.

Sobel's last line:

After all, if you find yourself not wanting to eat pork that isn’t free-range, but also not wanting to eat pork that is contained but void of a sweet taste, there’s only one ethical choice left for the conscientious consumer: a pork-free diet.

The NYTPicker has emailed Sobel, McWilliams, Dailly Collegian editor Michael King, NYT op-ed editor David Shipley, and NYT spokeswoman Catherine Mathis for comment.

UPDATE: James McWilliams, the Texas State professor whose work was plagiarized by UMass student Nicole Sobel, has emailed this statement to the NYTPicker:

Wow. Indeed, the plagiarism is blatant. If the plagiarist knew what a massive headache this piece has caused me (and, I imagine, Mr. Shipley), she'd most certainly have thought twice. Not exactly sure what else I'm supposed to say except thank you for providing such a valuable service and that I hope the plagiarist learns a lesson and never contemplates doing such a thing again.

McWilliams is apparently referring to the fact that today's Times included an Editor's Note on his original column, noting its failure to disclose that the financing for the study in the piece came from the National Pork Board.

COMMENT FROM NICOLE SOBEL: In an email to The NYTPicker tonight, University of Massachusetts student Nicole Sobel had this comment on her plagiarism of the McWilliams column in the Daily Collegian:

In terms of my comment, the only thing I have to say is that I apologize, and that I have no excuse, I was going through alot and was under alot of pressure with schoolwork, and copied some of the article from the NY times, because I didn't have the time to write alot of my own stuff that day. I have written wonderful things in the past, and am completely capable of it, this is the first time i've ever done anything like this and I apologize to the Daily Collegian for my mistake, and to the original columnist from the NY times, I'm honestly truly sorry, and regret it - I was in a rush, and didn't know what to do to finish my article, so I took a bad route. It's never happened before in my life, and I do not plan to do it ever again, it's not in my character to even do something like this. I made a mistake, and It will never happen again, and like I said before i offer my deepest apologies.

RESPONSE FROM DAVID SHIPLEY, OP-ED EDITOR, NYT:

I'm going to respectfully decline your kind invitation to comment.

4 comments:

Will McGuinness said...

From The Massachusetts Daily Collegian:
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The columnist was removed from our staff, an editor's note was attached to the online article and we ran another note in Wednesday's paper.
We hold ourselves to a high level of professionalism and strongly regret when writers feel that plagarism is an easy way out from genuine, high-quality content.
We find it especially unfortunate that our writer chose to do so. It is certainly the wrong way to start a career in journalism.
William McGuinness, News Editor

Peter Steady said...

Today at 11:20am
Trying to make an opportunity of this to trick Jesus that they might accuse Him, they, with stones in hand, asked Jesus what He says about the Law. After Jesus tried to ignore their repeated questioning, He told them "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." One by one each man dropped his stone and walked away.
Maybe all of you should consider what to do with your stones. The young lady was not attempting to make money or win world wide recognition. She admitted to what she did and why she did it.
Bye the way, this is from the Bible, I am not trying to plagiarize.

Fillippelli the (Wannabe) Cook said...

Mr. McGuinness, might I suggest running another brief note with regard to this column.

As others have explained far more eloquently and completely than I will here, not only did the author of the original NYT op-ed fail to say who funded the lone piece of research on which he based his entire column - an advocacy group that represents factory pork farms - but he also misrepresented exactly what the study found: not the presence of the actual pathogen, but antibodies to it. A big difference.

The author of the original NYT op-ed also wholly failed to account for the pollution and related health hazards created by factory pork farms, and he grossly simplified why most people choose to get their pork from local farms who raise their pigs in a sustainable fashion.

To be honest, I'm not sure who is more guilty of journalistic malfeasance: the college student who got way too busy and made a very dumb decision, or the college professor who purposefully omitted key information in an effort to mislead readers.

I think you can tell what I think...

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