Editorial guidelines

Daily Maverick investigates claims of plagiarism against a columnist

By Daily Maverick 19 June 2018

Photo: Trent Erwin/Unsplash

Daily Maverick conducted an internal investigation into public allegations of plagiarism against columnist Yonela Diko. In the interests of transparency and accountability, this is the full report.

See Diko’s earlier public response to the allegations here

COMPLAINT:

It was alleged by a member of the public that the columnist Yonela Diko was guilty of multiple separate counts of plagiarism: i.e. instances where he had used the thoughts or words of another without acknowledging the original source.

INVESTIGATION:

To ascertain the legitimacy of the complaint, it was necessary to look at three sources:

  1. the original form in which the columns were submitted;

  2. the forms in which the columns were published, in order to check if the editing process had removed any attribution;

  3. the sources from which the columns had been plagiarised, according to the complaint.

EXAMPLE 1

Published as Makhosi Khoza: The rise of the individual over the party?20 August 2017

Changes between submission and publication:

  • Headline was changed from ‘Is Makhosi Khoza a plebiscitary leader, appealing over the head of her Party’ to ‘Makhosi Khoza: The rise of the individual over the party?’

  • An introductory blurb was added.

  • A number of minor typos were corrected.

  • No changes were made in terms of hyperlinks, quotation marks, or any form of referencing.

Was the content plagiarised?

There are significant similarities between the column and a 2006 New Statesman column by Vernon Bogdanor. Bogdanor is not credited as the inspiration for any of YD’s observations, is never quoted and the original online article is not linked to.

In particular, one long sentence has been lifted verbatim from the original without any attribution to Bogdanor:

There has been a shift from what political scientists call “position” politics, where parties disagree on fundamentals – nationalisation of basic industries, raising or lowering taxes, retaining or abandoning nuclear weapons – to ‘valence’ issues, where there is agreement on fundamental aims – an effective National Health Service, better schools – and disagreement is confined to the issue of which party is best placed to achieve them.

EXAMPLE 2

Published as Minimum Wage: The historical battle between pragmatists and anarchists, 7 May 2018

Changes between submission and publication:

  • A number of minor typos were corrected.

  • At the end of the original fourth paragraph, YD had placed in brackets “(Chase 1983)”. The same held for the fifth paragraph. Both of these references were deleted in editing.

Was the content plagiarised?

Two paragraphs have been lifted with only a few deletions from a 1993 essay by Eric Chase, ‘The Brief Origins of May Day’.

However, these are the paragraphs that YD had originally ended with the brackets (Chase 1983) – presumably this is meant to be Chase 1993.

This was clearly YD’s attempt at acknowledging the original source of the paragraphs, and it was deleted during editing.

Importantly, however, in most other published contexts – both in media and academia – YD’s chosen method of attribution here would not be considered sufficient. Standard practice would have it that he should have entirely enclosed both paragraphs in quotation marks to make it clear that they were being lifted so extensively.

EXAMPLE 3

Published as Kikwete and Mbeki must not be revisionists on Libya, August 27 2017

Changes between submission and publication:

  • An introductory blurb was added.

  • A number of minor typos were corrected.

  • No changes were made in terms of hyperlinks, quotation marks, or any form of referencing.

Was the content plagiarised?

In the 10thparagraph, YD has lifted two sentences verbatim from a 2012 article by Alex De Waal, ‘The African Union and the Libya Conflict of 2011’.

No attempt at acknowledging De Waal as the source has been made.

The 12thparagraph is lifted verbatim from a 2011 article by Phillip Apuuli Kasija, ‘The African Union, the Libya crisis and the notion of African solutions to African problems’.

Five paragraphs earlier, Kasaija is referenced by means of a bracketed (Kasaija 2011) at the end of a paragraph. This is not sufficient to cover the later use of Kasaija’s ideas.

EXAMPLE 4

Published as Is the Democratic Alliance facing extinction?, June 4 2017

Changes between submission and publication:

  • An introductory blurb was added.

  • A number of minor typos were corrected.

  • At the end of the original first paragraph, YD had placed in brackets “(Keith Wagstaff 2013)”. This was deleted in editing.

  • At the end of the original 9thparagraph, YD had placed in brackets “(George Monbiot 2016)”.This was deleted in editing.

Was the content plagiarised?

When YD describes historical political parties which have since collapsed, he lifts those descriptions from a 2013 article by Keith Wagstaff titled ‘4 lessons from extinct political parties’, published onThe Week.

If YD’s original attempt to reference Keith Wagstaff after the first paragraph had been retained, it would have gestured at the source of those ideas, but it would still not have been sufficient.

Because YD used Wagstaff’s words verbatim, he is required to acknowledge this by enclosing them in quotation marks. Moreover, he continued to use Wagstaff’s ideas in two further paragraphs beyond the first, without attribution.

For the sake of clarity, please see Appendix A for what YD’s original paragraphs should have looked like with appropriate referencing.

In the 9thparagraph, YD has taken a description of neoliberalism verbatim from a 2016 George Monbiot article. In his original submission, he acknowledged the source by ending the paragraph with (Monbiot 2016). However, again, given that he has verbatim lifted Monbiot’s wordshe needed to indicate this by use of quotation marks.

EXAMPLE 5

Published as Smaller governments work better? It hasn’t worked out that way, February 27 2017

Changes between submission and publication:

  • An introductory blurb was added.

  • A number of minor typos were corrected.

  • No changes were made in terms of hyperlinks, quotation marks, or any form of referencing.

Was the content plagiarized?

In paragraph 21, YD lifts two sentences verbatim from a 2007 article by analyst William Voegeli. YD goes on to reference Voegeli correctly in the next paragraph, writing: As William Voegeli says, the reality is that “a more prosperous society will need more of some government functions than a less prosperous one”.

YD may be under the misapprehension that referring to Voegeli in the next paragraph adequately covers the fact that the previous paragraph was also taken from Voegeli’s work, but this is not the case.

YD does something similar earlier in the article, where he includes a (correctly referenced) quote from Michael Lewis, but in the next paragraph lifts another two lines verbatim from Lewis without attributing them.

In other words, YD appears to reveal a lack of knowledge about referencing protocol.

FINDINGS:

  • In 5/5 YD columns looked at for this investigation, the columns contained what would technically be classified as plagiarism.

  • In 2/5 columns, YD had included a bracketed nod to the author of the source material which was wrongly deleted in the Daily Maverick editing process.

  • However, even if YD’s brackets were retained, this would not have been sufficient acknowledgement of the original source, because in all cases YD lifted material verbatim which needed to be enclosed within quotation marks to show it was the work of the original author.

  • It is difficult to conclude that YD’s plagiarism was undertaken deliberately or in bad faith, because in all but one column examined (Minimum Wage: The historical battle between pragmatists and anarchists), there were attempts made by YD to gesture towards his sources. It is impossible to rule out the possibility that the insufficient referencing may be the result of genuine lack of familiarity with sourcing protocol.

  • There has not been consistency in Daily Maverick editing in treating YD’s pieces, because while in 2/5 columns his bracketed nods to authors were deleted, in 1/5 they were retained.

  • In the case of the one column examined where no attempt at acknowledging other sources was made, an editor could arguably not have been expected to pick up on this plagiarism unless he/she was intimately familiar with the source material, or unless routine plagiarism checks formed part of the editing process.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • All regular Daily Maverick columnists should be sent a copy of Contributor Guidelines – proposed draft in Appendix B.

  • All new Daily Maverick columnists should be sent a copy of Contributor Guidelines and acknowledge receipt before publication of first work.

  • Daily Maverick editors should consider use of an online plagiarism detector.

APPENDIX A

Example of correct referencing

This is the format in which YD submitted his column of June 4, 2017, Is the Democratic Alliance facing extinction?:

History is littered with deceased political parties and most of them follow the same pattern. In the United States for example, Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party (Federalist Party 1790s to 1816) eventually died out after developing a reputation as an elitist cadre that cared more about the interests of its New England base — than the national good. (Keith Wagstaff 2013)

Then there was the Whig Party. During the height of Whig power ( Whig Party 1833 to 1860) nobody would have predicted that the party would cease to exist. The debate over slavery, however, ripped the party apart, with anti-slavery Whigs heading over to Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party and “cotton Whigs” defecting to the Democratic Party. Internal divisions over hot-button issues became disastrous.

There was also the Bull Moose Party (1912 to 1916), a Progressive Party which was liberal on a host of issues including women’s suffrage and labour rights. In the end, Roosevelt’s new party split votes with the Republicans, giving Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson the victory. Bull Moose Party died because of the liberal positions it co-opted from the left. But its demise more generally shows that any prominent Democrat or Republican starting a new party runs the risk of handing an election to the other side.”

This is the format in which YD should have submitted the column in order for the acknowledgement of the original source to be sufficient:

Analyst Keith Wagstaff, in a 2013 article, notes that “history is littered with deceased political parties”, and most of them follow the same pattern. In the United States, for example, Wagstaff points to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party (1790s to 1816), which “eventually died out after developing a reputation as an elitist cadre that cared more about the interests of its New England base” — than the national good.

Wagstaff also cites the example of the Whig Party. He quotes political scientist Jeff Schweitzer as suggesting that “during the height of Whig power (1833 to 1860) nobody would have predicted that the party would cease to exist”. Wagstaff notes that “the debate over slavery, however, ripped the party apart, with anti-slavery Whigs heading over to Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party and “cotton Whigs” defecting to the Democratic Party”. Wagstaff concludes: “Internal divisions over hot-button issues can be disastrous.”

There was also the Bull Moose Party (1912 to 1916), a Progressive Party which Wagstaff describes as being “liberal on a host of issues including women’s suffrage and labour rights”.

In the end, writes Wagstaff, “Roosevelt’s new party split votes with the Republicans, giving Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson the victory”.

Wagstaff quotes Sarah Palin as saying that the Bull Moose Party died because of “the liberal positions it co-opted from the left”. But, suggests Wagstaff, “its demise more generally shows that any prominent Democrat or Republican starting a new party runs the risk of handing an election to the other side”.

APPENDIX B

Draft Contributor Guidelines

In submitting a piece for publication on Daily Maverick, contributors agree to:

  • Disclose any financial or personal relationships with entities cited in the article, or other conflicts of interests;

  • Disclose whether the piece in question has been published before, and where;

  • Submit accurate personal details as to the contributor’s true identity;

  • Acknowledge use of the work of others by:

  • (a) identifying the original source of an idea;

  • (b) using quotation marks where words have been directly lifted from another source,

  • (c) identifying the original author immediately before or after the quoted words,

  • (d) where possible, including hyperlinks to original articles quoted from in addition to using quotation marks and identifying the author;

  • Abide by editors’ final decisions on headlines and subbing.

Failure to abide by these conditions may result in the piece’s withdrawal from publication and/or further action where deemed necessary. DM

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