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Globe and Mail Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

Globe and Mail Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

SYLVIA STEAD

Public Editor: Prose must be attributed Add to ...

A Media Culpa blog was forwarded to me by a reader last night about an issue in Saturday’s Margaret Wente column.

The blog by Carol Wainio noted similarities in several passages in the column compared to experts’ writing.

Ms. Wainio notes that the introduction in Ms. Wente’s column is similar to that of writer Jesse Ausubel, who is director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University. While both anecdotes refer to bears, Mr. Ausubel’s talks about the first fatal bear attack in New Jersey in 150 years while Ms. Wente writes about her own community’s experience with bear sightings along with other wild animals, referring to The Creemore Echo newspaper.

The column references and quotes Mr. Ausubel with a link to his article, The Return of Nature, in The Breakthrough.

In this column by Ms. Wente, one phrase is used without acknowledging that the words are Mr. Ausubel’s. The phrase, “Agriculture has always been the greatest destroyer of nature,” is Mr. Ausubel’s prose and should have been noted as such.

A third issue raised by Ms. Wainio refers to an academic work and while the column links to and quotes a news report on the Business Insider on the work, it did not directly link to the original research by Maywa Montenegro, a food systems researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.

A second instance was raised late Sunday night in a BuzzFeed Canada article by Sean Craig that quoted New York University Professor Charles Seife, who noted the same phrase in a Slate article repeated a week later in a column by Ms. Wente. In the March 12 column, she wrote that “the prevailing theory is that willpower is a finite resource, like a muscle that can be exercised to exhaustion.”

Part of that sentence – “a muscle that can be exercised to exhaustion” – was written by Slate writer Daniel Engber. There was a link in the same paragraph in the Globe column to the article by Mr. Engber, but nonetheless that prose should have been directly attributed to Mr. Engber.

The Globe and Mail’s Code of Conduct says: “It is unacceptable to represent another person’s work as your own. Excerpts from other people’s prose must be attributed so as to avoid even a suspicion of copying. Although it is sometimes reasonable to adopt a few words without attribution (in a technical definition, for example), careful judgment is required. When in doubt, consult a senior editor. Any extensive unacknowledged use of another’s words, structure or ideas may constitute plagiarism. Exception: Background from previously published Globe staff and news-service items may be recycled, verbatim or otherwise, without credit, although you should not borrow someone’s distinctive prose style in doing so. Information from another publication must be checked or credited before it is used. This does not apply to material supplied by news services to which proper credit is given. When in doubt about information from any source, always double-check. Although verified facts need no attribution, The Globe and Mail identifies sources of less-than-obviously-factual information in most circumstances.”

Editor-in-chief David Walmsley said: “This work fell short of our standards, something that we apologize for. It shouldn’t have happened and the Opinion team will be working with Peggy to ensure this cannot happen again.”

So The Globe and Mail has included this correction online and will publish it on Page A2 on Tuesday: A Saturday Opinion column on the environment did not attribute the sentence “Agriculture is the greatest destroyer of nature” to author Jesse Ausubel, who wrote that in The Return of Nature. The Globe and Mail apologizes to Mr. Ausubel.

In addition, the link to the original academic research by Maywa Montenegro will be included in the online column.

Also, this correction and apology will run: A March 12 Opinion column on social psychology did not attribute the phrase “a muscle that can be exercised to exhaustion” to Slate writer Daniel Engber. The Globe and Mail apologizes to Mr. Engber.

Ms. Wente said she deeply regrets these mistakes.

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Follow on Twitter: @SylviaStead

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