Monday, September 04, 2006

Is Dion's campaign simply careless?

Steve Janke posted an excellent comparison between portions of Stephane Dion's Clean Air Plan and a Report by the David Suzuki foundation, releasted a week earlier.

Now, there are certainly major similarities in the content. On the one hand, this may not be too surprising. Both Dion and the Suzuki foundation may share similar positions, and both may be drawing their facts from the same sources. The similarities in content are quite remarkable, but this can easily be understood.

The similarities in language, however, are more remarkable. There appear a variety of situations where it looks like a 1st-year undergraduate simply copied the language from another text, then decided to change a few words so that it would seem "original". Could this be a coincidence? Maybe.

But to me, it appears as though there are two options. On the one hand, it could be that Dion's policy team has actually done the above and taken portions of the Suzuki Foundations's report, without citing that they have done so. It's quite alright to take someone's else's ideas and use them in your own document, but they must be cited, something which was not done in this case. And if this is the case--which I do not believe it to be, but let us suppose for the moment that it is--this is more than a simple academic error. This is an attempt by the Dion camp to claim as their own materials that were presented by the Suzuki foundation.

Now, like I said, I don't believe that to be the case. I think Dion's campaign is generally honest, and I do not believe that they would intentionally lift portions of the Suzuki Foundation report. Although the similarities would constitute a rather large coincidence, I am still willing to believe that it is simply a coincidence.

In that case, what would have happened is that the Dion camp wrote its policy document without knowledge or reference to the Suzuki Foundation's document, and there simply happened to be many similarities between the two.

Now, that is certainly less bad than plagiarism. But there's still a problem there.

One of Dion's three pillars is the environment, and, judging from his policy stances and speeches to date, it's his largest pillar. Dion has been touting his experience in this field, and he has positioned himself as the Liberal champion of environmentalism.

Now why, would the champion of environmentalism, not be aware of the publishing of the Suzuki Foundation's report? Presumably being a champion of a certain cause means that you keep abreast of the developments, and that your own policies are formulated through original ideas as well as reasoned analysis of previously proposed ideas. Why would one of his policy minions not have read and flagged that report?

Either way, I'm not all that impressed. Either there was intellectual dishonesty, or intellectual carelessness.

It's not a big gaffe, and I'm not really holding it against Dion. I just think it's kind of funny and kind of silly. On the other hand, if it somehow becomes clear that the Dion campaign was aware of the existence of the Suzuki paper and simply failed to recognize it in its own work, that would be a major problem. If that did prove to be the case, it would be ironic that it came out of the campaign of one of the two former university professors in the race.


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