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Shots In The Dark
Monday, April 24, 2006
  At Harvard, A Plagiarist's Bogus Confession
Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore who plagiarized from two novels by Megan McCafferty, is admitting that she plagiarized from two novels by Megan McCafferty.

Oh, heck, what am I saying? Of course she isn't!

Here's this from the Times:

Calling herself a "huge fan" of Ms. McCafferty's work, Ms. Viswanathan added, "I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words." She also apologized to Ms. McCafferty and said that future printings of the novel would be revised to "eliminate any inappropriate similarities."

What a load of nonsense.

If you read the link above, you'll see that Viswanathan "internalized" some remarkably specific language. The Times says that there are "at least 29 passages that are strikingly similar." Ms. Viswanathan would appear to have an excellent memory.

Let's be serious. This not a case of "inappropriate similarities"—it's just plain-old ripping off someone else's hard work. And because Visnawathan is young and pretty and goes to Harvard, she made a hell of a lot more money off these words than their original author.

You know, 19-year-olds make mistakes—especially hyper-ambitious ones—and I wouldn't want to fault a person that age for the rest of her life. But still: Sometimes you just want to hear somebody admit, "Yeah, I plagiarized." (Or, in James Frey's case, "Yeah, I made the whole thing up.")

Internalized. Inappropriate similarities.

Argh. Apparently even 19-year-olds know how to spin these days.

FAS press person Robert Mitchell has this to say about whether Viswanathan will face any discipline: "Our policies apply to work submitted to courses. Nevertheless, we expect Harvard students to conduct themselves with integrity and honesty at all times."

Hmmm. Given that Allan Dershowitz has been accused of plagiarism, and Larry Tribe has admitted to it, and Andrei Shleifer is returning to Harvard to teach next fall, it would seem a little odd for the university to punish Viswanathan. After all, she's only doing the same thing that some Harvard professors do—and get away with.

Then again, those men are friends of Larry Summers, and Viswanathan, so far as I know, is not.


P.S. Some of the headlines I've seen about this story say that Viswanathan "admits borrowing passages."

What, was she going to give them back?

P.P.S. A friend who works in intellectual property law suggests that there might be very specific legal reasons for Viswanathan's diction—that it is very hard to prove theft of intellectual copyright if you can claim that a work is the product of an internal process, a self-creation. In other words: I read and read something, then I "internalized" it and came up with something of my own.

Which would suggest that perhaps it's Viswanathan's publisher—more specifically, her publisher's lawyer—who's telling her what to say.

Does this let her off the hook? I don't think so.....

I assume she's off FAO's list.
You forgot to include Charles Ogletree, at the law school, with regard to plagiarism problems.
What Robert Mitchell says is dubious. Harvard has removed students for 1 or more terms, for plagiarizing in student publications.
I'm glad the other anon added Ogletree. If memory serves, Doris Kearns Goodwin (voluntarily?) resigned from some board after her plagiarism issues in her book on Eleanor Roosevelt got national attention. Remarkably, the whole thing does not seem to have hurt her career.
Yup, I had forgotten Ogletree, you're right.... Thanks for the reminder. And DKG as well.
Check this out:

Our novelist/plagiarist is from the stable of Katherine Cohen, who will relieve you of thousands of dollars to get you into places like Harvard. Marlyn McGrath Lewis usually appears in better light than she does here.
So, borrower Dershowitz on the high road defending us against essentially true revelations about AIPAC, $30M-man Shleifer back teaching (and hailed by Economics colleagues) without a bump in the road, and a "star" undergraduate novelist about to be allowed the OJ protection and even promotion that our celebrity/notoriety-fascinated world seems to promote.
There must be some way out of here!
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