It was human error, rather than calculated plagiarism, that led to the incident that Megan McArdle flagged up on her Atlantic.com blog last week. She had spotted two strikingly similar article extracts:
‘Doctors fear return of Steve Jobs’s pancreatic cancer‘ by David Rose, TimesOnline, January 15, 2009 (note: the article has now been amended)
In 2003 Mr Jobs learned that he had a malignant tumour in his pancreas – a large gland behind the stomach that supplies the body with insulin and digestive enzymes. The most common type of pancreatic cancer – adenocarcinoma – carries a life expectancy of about a year. Mr Jobs was lucky; he had an extremely rare form called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumour that can be treated surgically, without radiation or chemotherapy. (go to McArdle’s blog for more….)
‘Why Does Steve Jobs Look So Thin?‘ by Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Fortune magazine, June 13 2008
“In 2003 Jobs learned that he had a malignant tumor in his pancreas – a large gland behind the stomach that supplies the body with insulin and digestive enzymes. The most common type of pancreatic cancer – adenocarcinoma – carries a life expectancy of about a year. Jobs was lucky; he had an extremely rare form called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor that can be treated surgically, without radiation or chemotherapy.”(go to McArdle’s blog for more….)
McArdle said she read Rose’s piece and thought… ‘wait a minute, I’ve read this somewhere before’. But how did it come about?
It seems the root of the problem wasn’t David Rose, as an email from another journalist at the paper, Mike Harvey, to Megan McArdle revealed, in which he explained how he [Harvey] had added the additional comments ‘at the last moment before publication’.
“It was done in a real hurry and I meant to put the proper attribution in but failed to do so before I pinged the email off. It was a mistake made in haste and my thanks to you for pointing it out,” he wrote.
“As a blogger and technology writer I know the importance of sourcing and linking to sources and rightly feel aggrieved when it does not happen,” he added.
Journalism.co.uk has been informed by David Rose and Mike Harvey that this email is genuine. The article has now been changed – Journalism.co.uk has a screen-grab showing the original with the paragraph intact.
Harvey since told Journalism.co.uk that he was trying to correct an omission in the original piece before it went online. The additional information specified the specific type of cancer that Steve Jobs had (note: something which has also caused controversy on McArdle’s blog).
The Times’ managing editor, David Chappell, is now dealing with the issue; he had no further comment for Journalism.co.uk but confirmed David Rose’s information.