Earlier this year, I wrote on the refusal of The Times and The Spectator to address the large-scale plagiarism being practiced by their chess correspondent Ray Keene. The two publications were relying, I guessed, on the belief that so few people care about chess writing that they could not cause enough of a stink to threaten them…
Thus far this assumption has not been refuted. It deserves to be, however, and not merely for the sake of chess enthusiasts. If standards are ignored in one part of an organisation, one can bet that they are being neglected elsewhere.
I think this was a safe bet.
Sam Freedman is an educationalist who wrote an article on PISA, which ranks the scholastic performance of students in worldwide. The next day’s Times leader, he notes, bore a strange resemblance to it. It made several of the same points, and with similar phrasing.
Several times, for example, Freedman listed nations to illustrate his arguments. These nations appear in The Times, in the same order. Had Freedman named them according to rank, or in alphabetical order, it could have been a believable coincidence, but their apparent randomness makes this idea hard to sustain. Both Freedman and The Times observed that nations that improved rank had toughened their standards of teaching, including “Estonia, Mexico and Israel”. It seems implausible that they would choose the same trio, unless they both find it amusing to spell out “EMI”.
This is by no means the most damning detail, though. The Times leader references something that “the OECD calls “system stability””. This term was in quotation marks in Freedman’s article, but according to the man himself it wasn’t from the OECD. Unless he is mistaken, then, it seems implausible that it was not taken from his piece. The Times employee would have had to dream up the same eccentric term even as he or she was dreaming up the same arguments with the same data. It is not impossible, but it is very hard to believe.
Daniel Finkelstein, Executive Editor of The Times and Chief Leader Writer, claims that Freedman has not demonstrated a case for plagiarism, but does become the first Times or Spectator employee to acknowledge the charges against Keene. He claims that they are new to him, and that he cannot judge because he is not a chess player. One does not have to be Kasparov to observe that copying chunks of text from other authors’ works is plagiarism. It is plagiarism whether the subject is politics, science or psychedelics, and one does not have to stand for office, conduct research or drop acid to grasp the fact.
It is understandable to be averse to acknowledging the blatant misbehaviour of one’s friends and colleagues, but Finkelstein will have to face up to it or his excuse will somehow grow more pitiable. While his colleagues and peers ignore the issue, meanwhile, the low standards of their publications will continue to amaze.