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June 24, 2009


Glenn Fleishman

This whole episode was fascinating, because it's so out of keeping with the usual run around with book authors about anything to do with anything.

VQN found something weird, did the thorough research one would expect if you were going to confront somebody with plagiarism, and then contacted you to obtain a response before publishing (if I get the time sequence right).

Your response was to take immediate responsibility for the omissions, explain why, and take steps along with your publisher to right the situation.

I can't recall the last time that happened.

I'm not familiar with the term write-through. Does that mean taking a source and reworking it to avoid citation? I can understand doing that with Wikipedia which is a secondary source.

Dennis G. Jerz

If "write-through" means "paraphrase to avoid having to cite," that's still a problem, since you're still building on the Wikipedia article without citing it. (Paraphrase can still be plagiarism of ideas, as the discussion on VQR clarifies.)

If "write-through" means "go directly to the sources cited by the Wikipedia article and cite them directly," that's a lot of extra work, and will typically result in longer passages (with multiple citations).

Having said all that, I recognize that you're doing the right thing now.

Mark Frauenfelder

I'm surprised that the VQN is coming down so hard on you about it. It's obvious you didn't try to pull a fast one. You just made a mistake of carelessness, which is human and forgivable.

I think many non-fiction writers share the same nagging fear that their source notes will accidentally get mixed into the manuscript without proper attribution. Because it's so easy to copy and paste, this kind of thing is going to happen to other writers. I'm working on a book now and I really hope I haven't screwed up! I wonder if there's some kind of company I can hire to check my manuscript before the book gets published?

Your candor and proactiveness in this matter is commendable. You are doing the right thing.

Dennis G. Jerz

@Mark, "some kind of company I can hire to check my manuscript"


David Gerard

Right ... so why couldn't you just cite the specific revision ID, as clicking the "Cite this page" link at the left of every page on Wikipedia allows you to? We make this as easy as we possibly can - what bit wasn't easy, so we can make it easier?

David Gerard

@Mark - the VQN comments read like they're trying to get their revenge on everyone who ever used the web or Wikipedia.

Barry Ritholtz

I wonder if this is typical for Publishers.

My disagreement with my original (now former) publisher about a similar sourcing issue -- I wanted to add numerous pages beyond end/footnotes called "Additional Resources."

I know I am a sponge and tend to absorb what I read, and I wanted to make sure if anything was subconsciously "copied and pasted," I was covered.

They balked at the extra pages . . .

Chris Anderson


That's exactly what you'll see in the online note, but I thought the "Retrieved 19:39, June 24, 2009" was clumsy and confusing when enshrined in paper that would be coming out a year later. So I decided to kill the notes entirely, and then I screwed up the resulting integration process since we didn't have a backup wikipedia citation method. In retrospect, I would have liked to just say "According to the Wikipedia entry on [this subject]...." and then direct readers to the online notes, where the full URL would live. I hope that would have been a reasonable compromise. Next time. Sigh....


lifting large spans of copy from wikipedia of all places while retaining inaccuracies... you should just know better than that.


I wondered about citing specific revisions and I see that sure enough Wikipedia actually provides a helpful tool for that. The problem, I suspect, is that the resulting URL is not very human-friendly, whereas the link to the main page is. So for instance
is the link to the live version, but
is the permalink to the current revision. I don't want to have to read that, or have it appear in my document, it's just too ugly.

Is there any way to rejigger the underlying site architecture or create human-friendly forwarding urls that redirect to the php-ified urls? Something like:

Something like that would be human-friendly, not too hideous to print, and would clearly indicate the retrieval date within the URL itself.


Wikipedia gives you the ability to link to old versions of the article directly. The old versions won't change and visitors can see what you linked to and then click to see the lastest version of the article.

For instance: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Long_Tail&oldid=272075630

Why not just use that URL?

Debbie Weil

Hi Chris, I think your "fix" is just fine. This is a fascinating example of "open publishing." I.e. telling us about Hyperion's wishes, the awkwardness (and datedness) of time-stamping the attributions and your proposal for how to handle it differently. Writing about fluid, Web-based information in a print book is clumsy. Sigh, as you put it.

P.S. I put in a request for a free copy of FREE; fingers crossed.

Jackson Landers

I am continually seeing readers attack Chris for using Wikipedia at all as a source. And I was going to post a comment here stating that the problem is really just the issue of plagiarism and that it is a fact that the Wikipedia has been proven to be no less accurate overall than the Encyclopedia Britannica.

But first I wanted to check that to make sure it was true. So I found this:


Which is the study I recall hearing about at the time. But wait, that study was done by Nature. Huh. Chris used to write for Nature. So I dug a little deeper and found this:


Essentially, in March of 2006 the people from Britannica took great exception to the accusations of inaccuracy and in turn accused Nature of 'cooking the books' in the study in order to make what has been characterized as their pet website look better.

At around the same time (I can't see exactly when the piece was written), Chris Anderson wrote an op-ed for Nature advocating that scientific journals conduct peer review through, essentially, comments by their readers a la Wikipedia.


Somewhere in here, there is a snake devouring its own tail.

It would take more time than I have at the moment in between tasks at work to tease it all out, but its here. I can feel it. I cannot help but feel that the perfect man to explore this would be Errol Morris, which I'm sure will be understood by anyone who has read his excellent pieces in the NY Times over the past year. Appropriately enough, or maybe it is a conflict of interest, Morris usually gets to the solution to his seemingly-simple-but-actually-sprawling mysteries through the feedback of his comments sections after each installment has been written.


Mark Frauenfelder: Nice fawning comment from a guy who worked for many years at Wired magazine. Oops, you forget to mention that.

Then again, you did appear in ads for Apple Computer, another behavior which many people felt was questionable.

Robert Creutz

Chris - Classy response. Check out www.ithenticate.com when you get a chance. I'd be happy to allow you a sample account for review. Perhaps you'll even consider a feature article in Wired. In our business, we understand that whatever people feel about the legitimacy of wikipedia, it is a widely used research resource. As such, we have a dedicated crawl of this content to ensure that our content verification software can draw attention to wikipedia matches so authors can mitigate circumstances like yours. On the other hand, your book is going to get great publicity despite. I recall grabbing a copy of Kosinski's "The Painted Bird" from my local library as soon as I learned of controversy regarding the true authorship of the book. Again, kudos for a classy response.

Bob Creutz, GM iThenticate

Aheli Shooes

A time stamp for the quote would have been the most logical.

Also very, very, very few really care if you cite wikipedia or any other random website from the Internet.


One problem with systematically removing all references to Wikipedia is simply that you are removing a valuable piece of information about your process.

I agree that their cite links are "ugly", but that's what footnotes and endnote are for.

Mark Frauenfelder

Hi Ricky: You are right. I should have mentioned that I was an editor at Wired from 1993-1998. I left several years after Chris took over, but disclosing my past employment with Wired adds context to my comments. Thanks!

Air Jordans

I don't want to have to read that, or have it appear in my document, it's just too ugly .


Interested in learning more about the online edition, anyhow. Look forward to more details.


Mark, you seem particularly sympathetic to Chris. Are you supportive of Chris because of some of the criticism you received for doing the commercial? Do you feel journalists are held to too high of a standard?

Finally, do you think journalists should endorse products?

Mark Frauenfelder

Hi Ricky -- I like your line of thinking here, but you are stretching too much to try to find a link between my Apple commercial and my defense of Chris. It doesn't really make sense. I have plenty of other character flaws that would be more appropriate for you to use here. Let's take this off line and I can help you develop a stronger argument. Email me at mark@boingboing.net.


I'm sorry you're not willing to answer my questions in this public forum.

I'll email you.


If the future of everything is free, why do you expect me to pay for your book? Especially if big chunks of it are lifted from Wikipedo?

Cville guy

Jackson Landers, it might be nice if you mentioned you were Waldo Jaquith's twin brother. (they have different last names, long story)

Waldo is the editor at the VQR who discovered this to begin with.


This is why you need to listen to your editors, Mr. Anderson. I am a student in the masters of library science program at San Jose State and we are REQUIRED to include a time stamp ("retrieved on 11/09/2008") for ALL Web citations precisely because of the transitive nature of web content. It's not archaic; it's standard APA format. A better choice of words would have been "inconvenient."

I had points subtracted from my last term paper for poor citation and so should you. Final grade: B+.

John Gault

You are just so super cool and transparent that I don't know why anyone cares if you remix a Wiki here and there. We all stand on the shoulders of others who came before us, and a really super cool guy like you should be blameless. Great suit!

danny bloom

are you screening this or reading this? I'm screening it. you?

danny bloom

Turns out we are all screening this now. See blog.

danny bloom

I think C Anderson did the right thing. Good on ya, mate.

Joanne Mullen

So that's how you work? You copy and paste huge chunks from wikipedia and "do a write-through"? You're an established journalist publishing a proper book, not a twelve year old doing his history homework.

If you were an undergraduate handing in an assignment which had been cribbed so blatantly and, after being caught out, were coming up with these kinds of pathetic self serving excuses you'd be drummed out the next day.

It's just not good enough and I'm amazed your publishers tolerate it - but then as they were in on the scam in the first place, maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

You really think your reputation is going to withstand this? Maybe you've been getting away with it for so long you think you're bullet proof but Wired's standing is taking a big hit from this too.


Resign dude. You're a disgrace.

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Victor Rollo

What this episode tells me is that this sort of thing happens far more often than the frequency of people getting caught would suggest. A rare few have the misfortune of getting caught, but there may be innumerable ones that slip through the publishers' fingers.

For what its worth, I don't think this is a big deal at all. 90% of the folks whining on here are probably sharing or downloading an mp3 as we speak. Domain-specific righteousness doesn't appeal to me.

Chris should add an online acknowledgment to VQR as well along with the rest of the new stuff he's adding. After all the book isn't even out yet.


I subscribe the editor idea and feel satisfied with Chris Anderson’s response. To add my cup of tea to the citation problem, may I suggest a TinyURL (or similar service) for the long and ugly wikipedia old version URLs.
By the way. How can I Get a free digital copy of FREE? It would cost you ... almost nothing.
Thanks and keep on!


well, at least this whole mess has been a success in one way...you managed to get some free PR for your book, and there's no such thing as bad PR...IMHO, it seems like less of an honest mistake & a rush to publish and more of the reality that is plagiarism

it's becoming harder and harder to be original, esp. in the digital age, but flat out cut & paste of text from uncited sources in a published work is flat out wrong, as a photographer I wonder what would happen if I used someone's original work w/out permission or citation, oh, that's right, I'd get sued

james becker

how does an editor of a national magazine make such an error? and how does an editor of a national magazine purport that wikipedia is a cite-worthy source? seriously.



Does "Free" make a case for why books today are held less accountable for quality of sources than grade school research reports?

Nick Doty

I'm glad you're owning up to your mistake, but I'm not sure why the fix is only being made in the digital edition. As I understand it, the book isn't on the shelves yet and you and Hyperion will be violating the Creative Commons license of Wikipedia material by using the text without attribution or re-production of the license terms. Why not correct the mistake and re-print the book before selling it?

I understand that's an added expense for the publisher, but wouldn't you have to do this if you'd copied someone's copyrighted material into the book without permission? If there's no cost to violating license terms, then the Creative Commons licenses must not count for much.

Jackson Landers

C'ville Guy,

I am commenting under my real name and there is plenty of information available about me and my family via a simple Google search. I don't really see what the conflict of interest would be. Waldo made a discovery, Chris acknowledged that it was true, there you go. Nothing is really in dispute here and its not as if Waldo and Chris are arch-enemies or something. For my own part, both here and on VQR, I have been focused on presenting equitable ways of resolving the situation rather than demanding Chris' head on a platter.

The comments to this entry are closed.


The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!