Last week, I wrote about the nifty practice of the UK's Daily Mail of covering science by taking others' stories and scratching out a light rewrite.
The paper seems to think it's permissible to expropriate ideas, story structure, art, and tone from others, as long as it doesn't use the same language. No plagiarism here, the Daily Mail can shout! It makes no effort to cover its tracks; it even links to the stories it's reusing. The Mail is apparently proud of this.
Sadly for the Mail, stealing people's ideas and story execution is as execrable as stealing their words. By avoiding the exact language of the stories it uses, the Mail is simply exploiting a loophole.
Sometimes, the Mail doesn't even work very hard to avoid the same language. This is from a blog post at Scientific American by Becky Crew:
This is Eunice aphroditois, otherwise known as a bobbit worm. Apparently around 20 years ago, an underwater photographer thought it and other species in the Eunice genus were reminiscent enough of the Bobbitt family incident of 1993 to warrant the nickname, according to a 2011 paper in Revista de Biología Tropical. The incident involved Lorena Bobbitt chopping nearly half her husband’s penis off, and E. aphroditois is similar…
Here's Damien Gayle at the Daily Mail:
This creature is Eunice aphroditois – also known as the Bobbit worm, apparently after an underwater photographer decided two decades ago that its hunting methods were similar to the Bobbitt family incident of 1993. That incident involved Lorena Bobbitt slicing nearly half her husband's member off. E. aphroditois is similar,
Plagiarism? Crew's piece appeared Oct. 22, 2012. Gayle's appeared the next day.
Nadia Drake's piece on spider photographs in Wired on July 31 was repeated by Sarah Griffiths in the Daily Mail on August 8, with the same art. Drake's story on starving baby sea lions being washed ashore appeared on March 13th of this year; the Daily Mail's version appeared on March 16th, with the byline "Daily Mail reporter."
Lest you think the Daily Mail limits this practice to science news, I have reassuring news: that isn't the case. On Aug. 6th, the sports blog SB Nation ran a long, moving, thoroughly reported story about Billy Dillon, who "was about to sign a contract with the Detroit Tigers — then he was wrongly convicted of first-degree murder and spent the next 27 years of his life in maximum security prison." The next day, a "Daily Mail reporter" wrote that Dillon "had just been selected for a final trial with the Detroit Tigers who appeared desperate to have him sign a contract…But in a shocking miscarriage of justice, the only ball William would get to play for the next 27 years would be behind prison walls."
I emailed the Daily Mail Wednesday seeking an explanation, but I have not received a response.