This week, a U.S. Senator (appointed, not elected) was forced to withdraw from his race to actually be elected Senator after it was discovered that he had plagiarized a large portion of an academic thesis decades ago. Lest, you think this is just politics as usual, you may be interested to know that Senator Walsh, a Democrat, is not the first politician to be undone by academic cheating. A few years ago, Colorado candidate for governor, and former U.S. Congressman, Scott McInnis, a Republican, was undone by similar charges.
Instead, most reporters are writers. And professional writers find plagiarism to be particularly slimy. As such, you can be sure that whenever an allegation of plagiarism arises, it’s sure to be reported heavily.
What Makes Plagiarism So Bad?
At its core, plagiarism is cheating. Like many forms of cheating, it often goes undetected. Politicians, who are seldom trusted by the public in the first place, can be very susceptible to accusation of being a cheater, whether that was in college, with a young interns, or other things. The concept, however, is the same. As a person, they have decided that not only do the rules not apply to them, but that there will be no repercussions for violating them. This is not a savory quality in a potential leader.
Why So Much Plagiarism Now?
The truth is that the rich, the spoiled, the lazy, and the dishonest have been plagiarizing written works for decades. This kind of intellectual theft traditionally has gone undetected. Often, as in this case, the produced work is completely without consequence to anyone save the person writing it. It isn’t as if this masters thesis was widely published and cited. Chances are it sat on a back shelf in a seldom used section of the library gathering dust. As such, there was really no way for anyone to know about it. This notion of being not important, coupled with the victim-less nature of the crime makes (or rather made) plagiarism an attractive shortcut for someone unwilling, or incapable of doing the work.
However, plagiarism is on the fast track to become new new Nannygate for this generation of politicians. For those of you who don’t remember, about a decade ago, political nominees for various government positions started to go sideways when research turned up that many of the same rich, and spoiled, political types hired (often illegal) workers as nannies, and then did not pay the required taxes for having such employees. Now, anyone with political aspirations knows that paying those taxes is a must.
The increase in discovering plagiarism is driven by both the smell of raw meat, so to speak, and advances in technology. Mr. Walsh suffered from completing his thesis in 2007. Recent publications are easier to find, and may already exist electronically. Running such a document through a plagiarism detector is relatively easy, and if you get a hit, that’s something to use against your political opponent. Now, that the plagiarism accusation has worked to derail not only a gubernatorial campaign, but also potentially a critical seat in the U.S. Senate, expect opposition researchers in any big campaign to go into the dusty archives of long ago published works to manually enter and search them.
The scourge of Plagiarism-gate is just beginning, unless of course, the rest of the politicians running for office were honest, hard working, students…