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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Unoriginal sins

By Andrew Silow-Carroll




A journalism scandal surrounding a popular young science writer is a reminder of a bit of Jewish wisdom



http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A few years ago I wrote a speech for a Jewish men's club. It went over pretty well, so I decided to share the gist in the column I wrote for that week's paper. (It's hard enough coming up with one good idea per week, let alone two.) A few days later I got an irate e-mail from a member of the men's club, chastising me for recycling my insights in the paper. "I thought we were getting exclusive material," he wrote.

It was, I joked at the time, the first time I had ever been accused of plagiarizing myself.

It turns out, however, that recycling your own material can get you in trouble — if you do it in forums that are big enough and prestigious enough. A number of weeks back, the hotshot science writer Jonah Lehrer was accused of recycling, verbatim, material he had written for the Wall Street Journal in his debut entries for a blog at The New Yorker. Journalists debated whether this was a felony or a misdemeanor — or no crime at all. Lehrer's editor was miffed: "We're not happy," he told a reporter.

Still, Lehrer held on to his staff writer job at The New Yorker — until this week, that is, when he was caught in a much larger journalistic fraud. Lehrer was accused of fabricating Bob Dylan quotes in his bestselling book Imagine: How Creativity Works. When confronted with the charge, Lehrer lied about it, and then admitted he lied. "The lies are over now," he said in a statement. "I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker." His publisher is recalling the book.


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Compared to the News Corp. scandal — featuring phone hacking, illegal surveillance, and bribery — Lehrer's misdeeds seem like small change. Because Lehrer is young and successful — at 31 he has three books under his belt — there is also a degree of schadenfreude attached to his rise and fall. I understand how young writers, with pressure to live up to the confidence put on them by major publishers, might be tempted to cut corners or shave points. I am willing to consider the possibility of genuine mistakes. But I don't understand why they think they won't get caught. Twenty years ago you could plagiarize or make stuff up in the confidence that no one would be able to do an instantaneous search across vast storehouses of data — and even then, there was Lexis/Nexis. In the age of Google, there's nowhere to hide.

On the moral scale, lying about your sources and inventing quotes is very bad; recycling your own work is bad, but forgivable. I don't have a problem with (ahem) writers who turn their work into speeches and vice versa. Occasionally, I have quoted myself in things I have written. I wouldn't adapt something I'd previously written if I felt there was overlap between audiences. Luckily, I don't have a huge readership.

I invariably give credit for the insights I've borrowed, and actually offer citations in conversation — for example, if I share a joke, I reflexively mention where I got it from: "as Louis C.K. says" or "it's like what Homer Simpson says about doughnuts…." I do this because I'm ethical, yes, but also because it highlights the jokes I consider original.

Plus, I hate people who steal jokes. First, it's false advertising — like the Hollywood actresses whose singing voices were dubbed in the old musicals. Second, it devalues the gifts of people who are genuinely witty. And third, it amounts to an act of theft, robbing the original author of the credit for an idea he or she shaped out of language and imagination.

Finally, plagiarizing — your own work or anybody else's — is corrupting. "Mitzva goreres mitzva, avera goreres avera" is the appropriate mishna in this regard — one mitzva leads to another, one sin leads to another. If you get away with small transgressions, you convince yourself you can get away with larger ones. One day you're too lazy or busy to write something new, the next day you're too lazy or busy to research and cite the actual quote.

I have heard rabbis debate the ethics of either recycling their own material or "borrowing" their material from others. Rabbis feel pressure to come up with fresh material week after week, and some congregations demand originality.

I don't see a problem with occasional recycling, so long as they don't inflict the same sermons over and over. As for cribbing material from other sources — the Jewish tradition is a long conversation among rabbis and thinkers, each building on the ideas of others. Quoting another's work is not the sign of a slacker, but of a great teacher There is no shame, and actually great merit, in sharing a quote, insight, or argument so long as you give proper citation. (I like the Hebrew phrase "Baruch she'kevanti" ["Blessed is he who guided me"], which is the verbal equivalent of a footnote.)

As I always say, "Anyone who says a statement in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world."

Oh wait — that was Ethics of the Fathers, chapter 6, verse 6. Baruch she'kevanti….

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JWR contributor Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News, where this article first appeared.

© 2012, Andrew Silow-Carroll