What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;
There is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
As the Ecclesiastes quote suggests, coming up with original ideas has always been hard. Whenever I research something I am thinking about writing, I inevitably find that someone has already come up with the basic idea or phrase.
More likely than not, if you think somebody took your idea, they probably just came up with it independently — or you both “borrowed” it, intentionally or not, from the actual originator. And so in general one should be very, very careful about of the word “plagiarize.”
Unless, of course, you are a global warming denier, in which case you should throw the word around casually because it is a very good way of smearing scientists, making the discussion coarser, and generally turning off the public from wanting to have anything to do with the climate issue — all key goals of the anti-scientific community. And this is all the more ironic because deniers are notorious for doing cut-and-paste jobs with the work of other deniers — see Memo to media: When the EPA ignores internal non-expert comments filled with falsehoods cut-and-paste from anti-science deniers, that isn’t “suppressing a report.” And why have you completely ignored a major scientific report revealing what a sham that “EPA report” is?
After all, there is exceedingly little original scientific research that supports the position that humans are not the dominant cause of current global warming. Also, the deniers understand the central principle of rhetoric that the most effective messaging strategy is to endlessly repeat a few key points (see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1“). So the main tactic of the deniers has been to repeat the same long-debunked arguments over and over and over again — hence there is a remarkable sameness to their attacks.
If you follow the climate blogosphere or read the comments section of this CP post, then you know that there has been a big push by the deniers and delayers to smear a couple of the climate scientists who contributes to RealClimate. RealClimate has thoroughly debunked that notion here:
And Deep Climate has excellent post on the hypocrisy of the denier community on the issue:
Meanwhile, some of the same bloggers who have risen up in righteous indignation and made groundless accusations against Steig et al, have been strangely silent regarding a real act of plagiarism, namely EPA economist Alan Carlin’s wholesale appropriation without attribution of large swathes of Patrick Michaels’ World Climate Report.
I think it is important to be clear that just because somebody had posted some idea on a website before you write about that idea does not make your work plagiarism. Indeed, if that were the major criterion, I’m afraid essentially everybody on the blog0sphere would be committing plagiarism all the time. I certainly can’t identify everybody who wrote about something before I do — and lots of people write about things that I have after I do. Jeez, look at all of the political and energy and climate analysis I have done on natural gas and the climate bill dating back to my June 3 post Climate Action Game Changer art 1: Is there a lot more natural gas than previously thought? It now seems everybody is writing about it, often without mentioning me at all (see here). That’s life, not plagiarism — especially since one can’t attribute the “idea” to me in the first place. And don’t get me started on — Another “Hell and High Water” “” how annoying is that? — you can read the other author’s explanation in the comments for how he came to publish a book after mine with the same title. Again, that’s life, not plagiarism — especially since I didn’t invent the title, even if I was the first to apply to this subject (I think).
So it is quite inappropriate to use the word “plagiarism” without the smoking gun — indisputable evidence that the original author knew of the original work and lifted directly from it. Usually, the smoking gun exists in the form of multiple identical repeated passages, as in the Carlin case. I wrestled with whether or not to use the word in a more recent case, which had far fewer borrowed passages, and ultimately settled on the milder but clearly accurate “cut and paste” — Did Time magazine’s Bryan Walsh cut-and-paste a faulty critique of Obama’s clean energy efforts?
In any case, it is now quite clear the RealClimate scientists did not commit plagiarism or anything close to it. All those who accused them of doing so should devote as much space to apologizing as they devoted to attacking those scientists.