Wired Editor Caught Copying And Pasting Wikipedia Into His New Book

Wired Editor Chris Anderson

The VQR says Wired editor Chris Anderson copied passages from Wikipedia into his soon-to-be released book Free.

They came up with a whole bunch of examples. Here’s a particularly damning one, comparing page 37 of Free and Wikipedia contributor “Ewawer“entry on the Catholic Church’s definition of Usury:

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They come up with several more.

Reached, Chris offered us this response:

The problem came about when we decided not to run the notes at the 11th hour (we couldn’t agree on a footnote policy for Wikipedia entries, which are ever-changing, and I resisted timestamps) and so we decided to write-through them instead. Obviously I did a better job of that in some places than in others, and I feel terrible about the bits where I missed passages.

All these will be fixed before publication in the ebook, and the we’ll publish the originally-planned notes online, where the Wikipedia problem is solved with a simple link, by the time the book is published.

The problem with this response, however, is that a citation is supposed to say, “I got this idea or fact from this source,” not ” I am quoting this source.” That’s what quotation marks are for. Presumably, Chris didn’t want so much of his book to be in quotes, or else it wouldn’t look like he did much original writing.

We’ve reached out to Chris (again) on this point and will update when and if he responds. 

Update: As promised, here is Chris’s reponse:

Yes, we were going to blockquote the Wikipedia exceprts, but couldn’t agree on a citation form. So we left the internal quotes, where Wikipedia citied a NYT article, for instance, because those were correctly attributed, and then I endeavoured to write through the rest in my own words. I clearly did a crappy job of that second part in a few instances, and I’m very sorry about that.

In the corrected ebooks you’ll see that we just cite Wikipeda as we should have all along, and the notes give URLs, etc.

This is my fault, but it does raise a question about what the right form for citing Wikipedia in a book is. I think what we eventually settled on–a reference in the text, and a URL in online notes, seems OK for now, but it doesn’t solve the changing source material problem. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream book industry (as opposed to the academic press) figures this out.

In the meantime, Here’s one last example from VQR:

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