As some of you may have seen, VQR rightly spotted that I failed to cite Wikipedia in some passages in Free. This is entirely my own screwup, and will be corrected in the ebook and digital forms before publication (and in the notes, which will be posted online at the same time the hardcover is released), but I did want to explain a bit more how it happened and what we’re doing about it.
First, as readers of my writings know, I’m a supporter of using Wikipedia as a source (not the only one, of course, and checking the original source material whenever possible). I disagree with those who say it should never be used. But the question is how to use it.
In my drafts, I had intended to blockquote Wikipedia passages, footnoting their URL. But my publisher, like many others, was uncomfortable with the changing nature of Wikipedia, and wanted me to timestamp each URL (something like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Anderson page viewed on July 8th, 2008), which struck me as clumsy and archaic. So at the 11th hour we decided to kill the notes and footnotes entirely and I integrated the attributions into the copy.
In doing so, I went through the document and redid all the attributions, in three groups:
- Long passages of direct quotes (indent, with source)
- Intellectual debts, phrases and other credit due (author credited inline, as with Michael Pollan)
- In the case of source material without an individual author to credit (as in the case of Wikipedia), do a write-through.
Obviously in my rush at the end I missed a few of that last category, which is bad. As you’ll note, these are mostly on the margins of the book’s focus, mostly on historical asides, but that’s no excuse. I should have had a better process to make sure the write-through covered all the text that was not directly sourced.
Also note the VQR is not saying that all the highlighted text is plagiarism; much of is actually properly cited and quoted excerpts of old NY Times articles and other historical sources. And as you’ll see, in most cases I did do a writethrough of the non-quoted Wikipedia text, although clearly I didn’t go nearly far enough and too much of the original Wikipedia authors’ language remained (in a few cases I missed it entirely, such as that short Catholic church usury example, which was a total oversight). This was sloppy and inexcusable, but the part I feel worst about is that in our failure to find a good way to cite Wikipedia as the source we ended up not crediting it at all. That is, among other things, an injustice to the authors of the Wikipedia entry who had done such fine research in the first place, and I’d like to extend a special apology to them.
So now we’ve fixed the digital editions before publication, and we’ll publish those notes after all, online as they should have been to begin with. [UPDATE: A draft version is here. The final version will live in the right column of this blog permanently] That way the links are live and we don’t have to wrestle with how to freeze them in time, which is what threw me in the first place.
Here’s the statement that my publisher, Hyperion, released yesterday:
We are completely satisfied with Chris Anderson’s response. It was an unfortunate mistake, and we are working with the author to correct these errors both in the electronic edition before it posts, and in all future editions of the book.