Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Best ever excuse for plagiarism?

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An article in the New York Times reports (and first reported here) on the plight of BeliefNet blogger and bestselling religion author Neale Donald Walsch, who's had to withdraw his blog after being busted for passing off a ten-year-old story about a boy's Christmas school play as his own anecdote, i.e. a story about his own son.

Unfortunately for Walsch it was noted that the exact same story (essentially a nauseating tale about some children holding hands in a way that spelled out "ChristWas Love", even though it actually said "Christmas Love") had appeared a decade ago in a piece by writer Candy Chand. Not a particularly interesting story in itself (do we really care if religion writers go round copying this kind of thing from each other?), but a subesequent apology involved Walsch coming up with the greatest excuse for plagiarism that any of us are ever likely to see:
All I can say now -- because I am truly mystified and taken aback by this -- is that someone must have sent it to me over the internet ten years or so ago. Finding it utterly charming and its message indelible, I must have clipped and pasted it into my file of "stories to tell that have a message I want to share." I have told the story verbally so many times over the years that I had it memorized...and then, somewhere along the way, internalized it as my own experience. I am aghast at how improbable this sounds, even to me, yet I can find no other explanation for how this story came out of my mouth in Candy Chand's words.
Brilliant. Why can't people just accept when they've been rumbled?

18 comments:

1minionsopinion said...

Yeah, I thought that was amusing, too. I can almost believe him, though. He probably would have been okay had he continued to use it in his talks. The likelihood of someone in the audience recognizing it as someone else's work would probably be slim. But publishing it nearly verbatim? Bad form, buddyboy.

Christopher said...

Well, that would be an admission of dishonesty, which might throw a bad light on their 'reasons for being good' in the first place.

It's a slippery slop of rumbledom – first being outed as a liar, then having to face the fact that one's whole worldview is a sham. Best not to set even one foot on it...

George said...

At least he didn't claim it was god speaking to/though him...

James F. McGrath said...

I've been doing some research on oral tradition and memory, and what's interesting is that it is indeed plausible that this happened as he said it did. It could be a way of avoiding acknowledging dishonesty, but it certainly isn't impossible that he's telling the truth. Even our own eyewitness memory is not completely reliable, particularly after a long period of time has passed.

PersonalFailure said...

so, can i just plagiarize anything i want and claim that i thought it was my own work? well, great, i'll just reproduce "the art of war" and claim that i had read it so many times that i thought i was a chinese general from 2,500 years in the past.

PersonalFailure said...

in reply to mcgrath, i once heard that thinking about doing something can get stored in memory in the same way as actually doing it, which is why you may remember doing something you didn't. (say putting your keys in a drawer) i don't know if this is true, but the human memory is an odd thing.

that being said, when you get caught plagiarizing, you admit your mistake, apologize and move one. you don't offer excuses in service of the idea that xtians never, ever do anything wrong.

Paul Sims said...

PersonalFailure - I was going to say the same about War and Peace! But then I remembered I havent even read it...

Tom Morris said...

Read a story and internalised it as one's own experience? The guy seems perfect for the job of religion reporter.

nullifidian said...

Ockham's Razor activated.
Processing.....

*ding*

Most likely result: "Lying for Jesus"

Pete said...

Just my meager study of psychology has informed me that our memories are almost totally buckess when it comes to accuracy. Not only are the effected by our experience when we store them, but they change over time and morph with other memories. And most interesting, how we recall the memory also effects what we remember. One of my favorite studies, show a room full of people a car crash scene. Then split them into two groups. Ask the members of the one group whether there was any broken glass when the one car "hit" the other. Ask the other group if there was broken glass when the one car "smashed into" the other. The group that is asked the second question will "remember" seeing broken glass at a much higher incident then the first (in this case, there was no broken glass in the scene).

I already posted this next story over on James McGrath site but I'll repost it here (sorry for cross traffic readers)
I had two best friends in high school and we were on the cross county team together. One of them and me, while doing a routine warm up run, stopped at the house of an aquantence and knocked, and after waiting a few moments ran away. I'm not sure why this story was funny, maybe someone finally came to the door and saw us "fleeing", I don't know. But it was a funny story at the time which we joked about repeatedly. So much, even, that the third friend began to believe he was actually there. I don't remember how long after the event it was, maybe a year or two, but he started telling the story like he was there, and he adamantly stuck to this fact no matter how stringently we asserted he was not in fact there. It was very strange.

Our memories are so goofy, I actually think this is possible. I don't know enough about they guy to know whether it is probable. And there seems to be one clue here that I haven't found anyone talking about but I'm sure has been discussed. Doesn't the boy's name show up in the piece? The original was taken down so I haven't read it, but what must be a close copy of it showed up in a comment and the Nicholas was in it? Was this the name the original author used as well? If it is, it seems plausible this guy really did start to get confused. But if it isn't, this guy is full of crap, for either he changed the name right now, or changed it 10 years ago, and I can't figure out why he would do that except to steal it.

Pete said...

Update: The original boy's name was Nicholas as well, so he didn't change the name.

george.w said...

This happened to Mark Twain once. He wrote a large section of a story that he'd read some years ago, and which had become lodged in his memory. When he found out about it, he was aghast, and sought out the author to apologize. The author forgave him, saying "it happens to every writer, because we are all voracious readers."

I know it has happened to me on at least one occasion. Memory is tricky.

scottmaciver said...

All this talk about thinking about something so much it becomes lodged in your memorie is fine....it's someting I've experiance myself...

But this was this mans SON that supposidly was involved th event. I find it very hard to believe that it was an honest mistake. It's one thing to get confused about event involving (or not) youself...but events involving loved ones tend to be clearer in your memory.

Anonymous said...

Quite likely to have happened the way he said...after all, it's not like he gains much from copying the story. It's just a silly anecdote.
I would give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

scottmaciver said...

"I would give him the benefit of the doubt on this one."

No....the more i think about it the more i'm sure he did it deliberatley.

Think about it...this 'charming' event happened (or more to the point; did not) at his son's xmas play. He would of been there with his wife at least and probably many more of his family. If it was so charming then sometime in the 20 years hence he would of mentioned it to his son or wife....who would of corrected him. Nope...it's all utter bullshit.

Irony if sweet though, seeing as the entire critian faith is just a rip off other, older religions.

AT said...

To hang this guy is ridiculous. Of course it's believable he iternalized it. And even if not, it's not entirely innocent, but it's not exactly outrageous plagiarism either - no verbatim text. Faulkner used to give fellow writers a grace period to use a story they knew before he would unashamedly steal it. And I don't see in any way how his being Christian plays into it at all. Christian plagiarism isn't exactly a waterproof argument for the stupidity of Christianity.

Surely the interesting part of this story is how unbelievably retarded the stolen anecdote is. I mean, what kind of an idiot do you have to be to love that story so much you tell it enough times that it becomes lodged as one of your own memories?

Anonymous said...

Fair point AT, whoever you may be. Though one small problem, for all your referencing of Faulkner this, "I've probably got an English degree from some university" that - the guy did reproduce the anecdote verbatim.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I have to disagree with most of you. You don't forget/makeup what your own children have or haven't done. He's just lying for Jesus. Morallity comes from God Bah.

Wrysmile