Tuesday, April 25, 2006

From the "That Explains Everything" Department

It was reported in the Globe that the debut novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life by one Kaavya Viswanathan, the precocious Harvard sophomore, contains significant amounts of plagiarized material. Viswanathan, it will be recalled, received a two book contract worth $500,000 in connection with her efforts.

In a masterpiece of understatement, Viswanathan said that she may have unconsciously "internalized" passages from a couple of books written by Megan McCafferty.

Her agent opined that she may have read the books as a teenager, absorbed what she read, and "became her own unintentionally, she assumed they rightly belonged to her in her own mind."

It's the first time I've heard osmosis and digestion used as an excuse for putting a dollar in the collection plate and taking change for a five, metaphorically speaking. But I am sure we'll hear more of this.

Well. A professor at the law school I attended was run out of town on a rail for something similar when, assuming the most innocuous interpretation of the affair, he "internalized" a bit of an unpublished manuscript that had been obtained at a cocktail party some years previously. When I told my father about this, the Old Man said "Listen. When you write, especially when you write for an audience of interested people in the same field, you can be absolutely sure that your words will be read very very carefully by your professional colleagues and compared with all that has gone before."

In a similar occurrence, a person who graduated from the University of Iowa law school had passed the Michigan bar and gone to work for a law firm. Then, it was discovered that he had plagiarized a law review article. Then, every scrap of paper he'd ever written was examined, and then, all the other stuff was found. The result? He had is degree revoked, lost his law license, and is now living in a dumpster somewhere for all we know.

The point of this diversion is simple. Kaayva might do well to batten down the hatches and secure for heavy weather-this is going to get much worse before it gets any better.


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