Politics

Plagiarism ‘Expert’ Attacking Gorsuch Previously Said What He Did Isn’t Plagiarism

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Peter Hasson Senior Reporter

A college professor who accused Neil Gorsuch of committing plagiarism admitted in her previous work that what he did isn’t plagiarism.

Syracuse professor Rebecca Moore Howard was cited by Politico in an article accusing Neil Gorsuch of wrongdoing because a brief passage in his book bears similar phrases and primary sources from a law review article. The Politico article was criticized both by academics and journalists as a low-effort attack on the Supreme Court nominee. Politico has since admitted it was “provided” the documents and “did not conduct a full examination of the federal judge’s writings.”

Howard told Politico that Gorsuch committed “heavy patchwriting,” which Politico described as “essentially patching together words, fact sequences and quotes from another source, but occasionally changing up phrasing and tenses.” Gorsuch, Howard claimed, “hides his sources, which gives the appearance of a very deliberate method.”

“I would certainly call it plagiarism,” she added.

Other academic experts disagreed with Howard, whose own writings appear to contradict her claim that Gorsuch committed plagiarism.

The Citation Project, which Howard helps lead, said, “Patchwriting is not ‘theft’ and therefore not plagiarism.” The group relied on Howard’s definition of “patchwriting” in formulating that claim.

When asked by The Daily Caller to square the notion that patchwriting isn’t plagiarism but Neil Gorsuch’s alleged patchwriting is plagiarism, Howard said, “Patchwriting isn’t a rule-bound category; it requires contextual interpretation. When undergraduate college writers do it, I regard it as failed paraphrase, and my job as a teacher is to help them do better. When a credentialed academic does it, I wonder about their writing and reading skills. And when the person in question also doesn’t cite the source, but instead cites his source’s sources–that raises the question of whether it is in fact deliberate plagiarism, appropriating language from the source and then obscuring the research trail.”

Prominent academic experts dismissed the plagiarism attack as baseless.

“The allegation is entirely without foundation,” Georgetown University’s John Keown said in a statement. “The book is meticulous in its citation of primary sources. The allegation that the book is guilty of plagiarism because it does not cite secondary sources which draw on those same primary sources is, frankly, absurd. Indeed, the book’s reliance on primary rather than secondary sources is one of its many strengths.”

“Having reviewed the allegations of ‘plagiarism’ against Judge Gorsuch, I can only say that their timing and substance (or, more to the point, lack of substance) makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is a politically motivated effort to smear him in the hope of derailing his confirmation as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Princeton professor Robert P. George said in a statement. “Judge Gorsuch did not attempt to steal other people’s intellectual property or pass off ideas or arguments taken from other writers as his own. In no case did he seek credit for insights or analysis that had been purloined. In short, not only is there no fire, there isn’t even any smoke.”

“It is standard in academic writing to cite primary sources for factual propositions. And none of the allegations of plagiarism in the Politico piece amount to the appropriation without attribution of other peoples’ ideas,” William Kelley, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, said.

Howard, who voted for Obama, argued in a previous article that the term “plagiarism” should be scrapped altogether because it carries with it connotations of rape.

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