Helpful readers

July 7, 2006

Readers make the blog. In addition to several good comments, the good folks at www.frostimaging.com provided an improved version of the banner, based on the White House’s painting of Millard Fillmore. Thank you to Frost Imaging.


Ann Coulter, plagiarism, students, history

July 7, 2006

Universal Press Syndicate, the company that syndicates Ann Coulter’s opinion columns to about 100 newspapers, announced that they will investigate allegations that Coulter plagiarized material for her columns (see the story in Editor & Publisher).

Surely when higher profile people get caught plagiarizing, it calls attention to the problem. Do these reports serve as any kind of warning, as any deterrent to kids who are tempted to do the same thing? (I am writing a syllabus for a late summer term class at a local university; the school asks that we include language in the syllabus that notes plagiarism is a major academic sin, and is grounds for dismissal. I wonder whether similar standards are imposed in the contracts syndicates give opinion writers? Should not the Coulters of the world be held to standards as high as any college freshman?)

Historians who have been snagged in the plagiarism net in recent years include outstanding, Pulitzer Prize-winners like Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose, both of whom had relied on notes from paid researchers, and both of whom quickly apologized and took steps to tighten their attribution and research methods.

Ann Coulter is not in the same league as Ambrose or Goodwin in terms of the quality of her work or the accuracy of her reporting. Were I to bet, I’d bet she will not quickly offer apologies or corrections, nor quickly mend her ways, but that is my experience from inside conservative politics (I staffed the Senate conservative side and had an appointment in the Reagan administration). Of course, I hope I am wrong.

Coulter’s tactics in writing about science do not lend foundation for that hope. Her recent book, to which I will not link, offers three chapters of grotesque inaccuracy about biology and especially evolution theory. She has lifted wholesale sections of a notoriously inaccurate book published by intelligent design harpy Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution. P. Z. Myers’ blog, Pharyngula, is a good place to start on the science inaccuracies, with his post today.

The Fillmore’s Bathtub Challenge: Can you cite any significant claim from any of Coulter’s books that are accurate and can be verified? We should all be from Missouri on this issue. Comments are open.

Coda: Goodwin’s latest book is a fine resource for college and Texas high school history classes: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. I recommend it.


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