When I taught undergraduates, my penalty for students who plagiarized was an automatic F on the assignment. The most glaring instance was a student who, in her haste to copy and paste from the internet to her word processor, left an underlined hyperlink in blue font in “her” paper. (In a way, I appreciated that she had made it so easy for me to spot.) Although I would’ve been within my rights to fail such students for the course, I sympathized with their need to complete the class and their degree so they could get on with the unfortunate business of trying to get a job during the Great Recession.
There are those plagiarists, however, who deserve no sympathy, and these would include professional writers, who should know a hell of a lot better. In this category, it appears we can add C.J. Werleman, who, if a recent exposé on some of his work is any indication, is a serial plagiarizer. I’ve been among his most vocal critics of late for his misleading critiques of so-called New Atheists and haphazard interpretations of data, but to realize that some of his hackery has probably been stolen from others is nonetheless surprising.
Before we get to the instances of alleged plagiarism, here’s what Werleman tweeted Friday morning (before deleting it) in response to this allegation:
Given what’s below, his flippancy is incredible, but please determine for yourself whether Werleman’s dismissive attitude of the charges is warranted.
A post on Godless Spellchecker’s Bloghighlights numerous instances of what appear to be clear-cut examples of plagiarism by Werleman, which were identified by philosophy professor Peter Boghossian. Below are some blatant examples of this apparent intellectual dishonesty that Boghossian has found:
Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post, May 1, 2014:
“The United States had a wide gap between its best performers and worst performers… And it had the widest gap in scores between people with rich, educated parents and poor, undereducated parents.”
Werleman, Alternet, May 5, 2014:
“The United States has a wide gap between its best performers and its worst performers. And it had the widest gap in scores between people with rich, educated parents and poor, undereducated parents….”
As GSB notes, Werleman gives no citation or indication that this isn’t his original writing.
Eve Goldberg and Linda Evans, Center for Research and Globalisation, October 18, 2001:
“… the prison/industrial complex is an interweaving of private business and government interests. Its twofold purpose is profit and social control. Its public rationale is the fight against crime. “… Violence occurs in less than 14% of all reported crime, and injuries occur in just 3%….Violent crimes like murder, rape, manslaughter and kidnaping don’t even make the top ten.”
Werleman, Salon, August 20, 2014:
“The prison industrial complex is an interweaving of business and government interests. It serves to feed two private purposes: profit and social control. Its publicly stated goals are a little more Orwellian: ‘to fight crime and keep violent criminals off our streets.’ But the latter is a self-serving lie. Violence occurs in less than 14 percent of reported crime, and injuries occur in less than 3 percent. In fact, violent crimes don’t even occur in the top 10 reasons for incarceration.”
Again, GSB notes Werleman gives no citation or any hint that this isn’t his writing. This is especially odd since Werleman is citing a very specific statistic, yet he did not feel compelled to give a source, nor did his editors at Salon feel compelled to ask for one, apparently.
Eduardo Porter, The New York Times, November 5, 2013:
“Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.”
Werleman, Alternet, June 4, 2014:
“Among the 34 OECD nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students”
Again, Werleman gives no citation.
Robert Pape, Pew Forum interview, October 21, 2005:
“Instead, what more than 95 percent of all suicide terrorist attacks since 1980 have in common is not religion, but a specific secular goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Chechnya to Kashmir to Sri Lanka to the West Bank, every suicide terrorist campaign since 1980 has had as its main objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces from territory that the terrorists prize.”
Werleman, Salon, September 6, 2014:
“More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks have a strategic goal in common—to compel an occupying force to withdraw from territory the terrorists prize. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to the West Bank to Chechnya, the central goal of every suicide terrorist campaign has been to resist military occupation by a democracy.”
As GSB notes, Werleman mentions Pape’s research, but doesn’t acknowledge that this is not his writing.
Werleman again gives no citation.
Vali Nasr, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, 2013:
“Khomeini’s strategy had always been that Iran had to be more Arab than the Arabs…”
Werleman, Middle East Eye, October 9, 2014:
“Iran has broad ambitions to spread its influence over the whole Middle East. But excluding pockets of support in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq – the Middle East remains a hostile world for the predominantly Shiite Iranians, which is why Ayatollah Khomeini’s strategy has always been that Iran must be more Arab than the Arabs. Iran’s posturing against Israel is nothing more than Khomeini’s tactic to win Arab hearts and minds.”
As with the cases above, Werleman gives no citation or hint that this isn’t his own work. Boghossian notes Werleman’s mistake of leaving in “Ayatollah Khomeini,” who died in 1989. Iran’s current religious leader is Ayatollah Khamenei. It seems Werleman couldn’t be bothered to change the name. Either that, or he simply thought Khomeini was still alive.
After investigating further, Peter Boghossian and I managed to find 14 more such instances, which are documented in the updates below.
Chuck Thompson, Better Off Without ‘Em, 2012:
“‘Public schools have been the great leveler of America. They were our great achievement. Universal education for all.'”
Werleman, Salon, May 5, 2014:
“During the New Deal era of the 1940s to 1970s, public schools were the great leveler of America. They were our great achievement. It was universal education for all…”
Werleman mentions Thompson’s book, but he gives no indication these are not his own words.
David Niose, Nonbeliever Nation, 2013:
“Until Jimmy Carter ran for president in 1976, no serious presidential candidate had ever claimed to be ‘born again,’ and relatively few candidates for high office emphasized their faith.”
Werleman, Alternet, December 17, 2013:
“Prior to the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, no serious presidential candidate ever claimed to have been ‘born again,’ and the emphasis of faith for a politician seeking high office was as rare then as a candidate declaring his atheism is today.”
It should be noted that the publication date of Niose’s book matches that of Werleman’s Alternet article.
The ‘Green Dragon’ Slayers, (Report by People for the American Way) 2011:
“Buoyed by corporate finances and a radical ‘dominion theology,’ the Religious Right has become more aggressive and fanatical in its defense of corporations and denial of climate science.”
Werleman, Alternet, November 18, 2013:
“Buoyed by corporate finances and a radical ‘dominion theology, the Christian Right has become increasingly aggressive in its defense of corporations and its denial of climate change.”
Werleman does not mention the report or give any indication that these are not his words.
Pew Research Report, May 24, 2013:
“In fact, the percentage of Americans who say they could not afford the food needed by their families at some point in the last year is three times that in Germany, more than twice that in Italy and Canada.”
Werleman, Alternet, December 9, 2013:
“In fact, the percentage of Americans who say they could not afford the food needed to feed their families at some point in the last year is three times that of Germany, more than twice than Italy and Canada.”
Werleman does not cite the Pew Report or give any indication that these are not his words.
In a delicious irony, Werleman, a rabid critic of Sam Harris, may have lifted from Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation 2006 (pg 81). Harris:
“The fighting that has plagued Palestine (Jews vs. Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians vs. Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians vs. Bosnian and Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants vs. Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus), Sudan (Muslims vs. Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims vs. Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims vs. Christians), Ivory Coast (Muslims vs. Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus), Philippines (Muslims vs. Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite vs. Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians vs. Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis vs. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few, recent cases in point.”
Werleman, Alternet, January 14, 2014:
“Wherever you look in the world, there continues to be religious motivated violence. From the fighting that has plagued Palestine for the past six decades (Jews vs. Muslims), to the dispute over Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus). Also, there’s Nigeria (Muslims vs. Christians), Philippines (Muslims vs. Christians), Iraq (Sunni Muslims vs. Shiite), Sudan (Muslims vs. Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus), and the Caucasus region (Orthodox Russians vs. Chechen Muslims).”
Werleman mentions Harris, but does not cite him as having compiled the list. It appears Werleman simply reordered some of the groups Harris listed.
Arun Kundnani, The Muslims Are Coming, 2014:
“If this account of what prompted al-Awlaki’s support for terrorism against the U.S. is correct, and there seems no reason to doubt it, then his radicalization is consistent with the historical pattern of political activists adopting a belief in terrorism when political action fails to bring about change.”
Werleman, Salon, September 17, 2014:
“Al-Awlaki’s radicalization is consistent with the historical pattern of political activists adopting a belief in terrorism when political action fails to bring about change.”
Werleman mentions Kundnani (spelling his name wrong), but gives no indication that this is not his original wording.
Wikipediaentry on the National Union Party:
“The temporary name was used to attract War Democrats and Border State Unionists who would not vote for the Republican Party.
“…The National Union Party was created in 1864 prior the end of the Civil War. A faction of anti-Lincoln Radical Republicans held the belief that Lincoln was incompetent, and therefore could not be re-elected. A number of Radical Republicans formed a party called the Radical Democracy Party. The party nominated incumbent President Abraham Lincoln and former Democrat Andrew Johnson, who were elected in a landslide.”
Werleman, Alternet, February 12, 2014:
“In 1864, prior to the end of the Civil War, a faction of radical Republicans believed President Lincoln was incompetent, and therefore unelectable. These anti-abolition extremists [sic, they were actually pro-abolition] broke away from the establishment under the name Radical Democracy Party, while Lincoln and establishment Republicans created the National Union Party with the intent of attracting War Democrats and Border State Unionists who would not have ordinarily voted for the Republican Party.
“The party nominated incumbent President Lincoln alongside a Democrat — Andrew Johnson. The rebranded establishment ticket went on to win the 1864 election in a landslide.”
Werleman does not mention Wikipedia or a cite any references for this information. What makes this instance somewhat funny is a tweet that Werleman sent last year when Sen. Rand Paul was caught lifting passages from Wikipedia:
Courtesy of Peter Boghossian, via email
Gary Younge,The Guardian, October 20, 2013:
“In 2012, 92% of the Republican vote came from white people who, within 30 years, will no longer be in the majority.”
Werleman, Alternet, November 11, 2013:
“In 2012, 92% of the Republican vote came from white people who, within the next three decades, will no longer be in the majority.”
Note that Werleman’s line copies Younge’s verbatim, save for the changing of “30 years” to “three decades.” Werleman does not site Younge and does not give any indication this is not his own writing or research.
Via Peter Boghossian
Hedrick Smith, Who Stole the American Dream? (pg 17). 2006:
“In the 1970s, the minimum wage was about 46 percent of the average wage. By 2006, without any legally fixed ratio between the minimum wage and average wages, the federal minimum wage fell to under 31 percent of the average hourly wage in 2006 and recovered to 37 percent in 2009.”
Werleman, Salon, March 11, 2014:
“In the 1970s, the minimum wage was about 46 percent of the average wage. Today, without any legally fixed ratio between the minimum wage and average wages, the federal minimum wage represents only 31 percent of the average hourly wage.”
Werleman does mention Smith’s book, but gives no indication these aren’t his words. As Boghossian noted in an email, however, there’s another problem here: “The lifting of the passage aside, it seems dishonest for him to give the ’31 percent’ figure as ‘today’s’ figures as opposed to a 2006 figure, especially since the 2009 figure is difference. It’s as if the 31 percent figure played better to his narrative.”
Via Peter Boghossian
Nate Cohn, The New Republic, October 24, 2013:
“With Republicans likely to remain opposed, marijuana could emerge as a big cultural issue in the 2016 election.”
Werleman, Alternet, February 17, 2014:
“With Republicans likely to remain opposed, marijuana could emerge as a big cultural wedge issue winner in both the 2014 and 2016 elections.”
Werleman mention’s Cohn’s piece later in his article but does not give any indication that this is not his own work.
Via Peter Boghossian
Aviva Shen, Think Progress, August 3, 2012:
“In the past decade, three major private prison companies spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to push legislation at the state and federal level.”
Werleman, Alternet, February 17, 2014:
“Since 2008, three major private prison corporations have spent nearly $50 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to push tough anti-drug legislation at the state and federal level.”
Werleman does not cite the Think Progress piece, or any other source for this figure.
UPDATE XII (Sunday, 5:45pm):
Via Peter Boghossian
President Obama, speech, December 4, 2013:
“A child born in the top 20 percent has about a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top. A child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top. … In fact, statistics show not only that our levels of income inequality rank near countries like Jamaica and Argentina, but that it is harder today for a child born here in America to improve her station in life than it is for children in most of our wealthy allies, countries like Canada or Germany or France.”
Werleman, Alternet, August 1, 2014:
“In the U.S., a child born in the top 20 percent economically has a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top, whereas a child born in the bottom 20 percent has a less than 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top, making the U.S. one of the least upwardly mobile nations in the developed world. Our levels of income inequality rank near countries like Jamaica and Argentina, rather than like countries like Canada and Germany, but American voters, in large, believe America is just doing fine.”
Werleman does not mention President Obama’s speech, nor does he indicate these are not his words.
UPDATE XIII (Monday 10:45am):
Via Peter Boghossian
Alex Seitz-Wald, Think Progress, February 5, 2011:
“During the Reagan years, the debt increased to nearly $3 trillion, ‘roughly three times as much as the first 80 years of the century had done altogether.’
“Unemployment soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts, while income inequality exploded.”
Werleman, Alternet, April 24, 2014:
“During the Reagan years, the debt ballooned to nearly $3 trillion, roughly three times as much as the first 80 years of the 20th century had done altogether.
“Unemployment soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts…. Meanwhile, income inequality exploded. “
Werleman does not cite Seitz-Wald, nor does he give any indication that these are not his words.
UPDATE XIV (Monday 10:45am):
Via Peter Boghossian:
Vali Nasr, The Dispensable Nation, 2013:
“The first time Obama went to Saudi Arabia, in early June 2009, he expected to speak with King Abdullah about the Arab-Israeli issue, but instead had to listen to an hour-long monologue on Iran. The Saudi ruler famously advised America “to cut off the snake’s head” with military strikes.”
Werleman, Middle East Eye, October 9, 2014:
“When Obama met with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah for the first time in June 2009, the newly elected US president expected the Arab-Israeli issue to be the central issue, but instead King Abdullah launched into a one-hour long diatribe against Iran. “America must cut off the snake’s head,” the Saudi ruler famously said.”
Werleman does not cite Nasr, nor does he give any indication that these are not his words.
At this point it’s fair to ask how many others instances might be out there. The blatant and serial nature of Werleman’s apparent lifting of passages that’s been documented is extraordinary already, and not only demonstrates a willingness to appropriate the writing and research of others, but a willingness to deceive his readers.
Image credit: The Young Turks
RELATED: Werleman says ISIS isn’t motivated by Islam and that it’s not as big of a threat as a potential Christian theocracy.