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Yesterday night, a renowned Dutch newspaper published a long article on a former rector of one of the largest universities in the Netherlands. Research conducted by the paper shows she didn't take regular academic plagirism / citation standards into account in various important speeches, such as the ones for the university anniversary. Although it differs per speech, the paper has in some cases traced almost 60% of her literal text back to the work of others.

Citing the newspaper directly (well, translated):

Based on research of NRC it shows that, XXX, former rector of the University of Amsterdam, has used texts in speeches and in her dissertations without clearly indicating these were the work of others.

The plagiarism is remarkable, as the rector herself took various measures fighting plagiarism.

According to XXX, her speeches are unjustly compared to academic standards.

The university will start an investigation whether former rector XXX has violated standards of academic integrity.

Focusing on the accounts of plagiarism in speeches got me wondering what the citation standards are in non- or less-scientific work, and how that might differ per type of work. Specifically, I'm interested how this might differ in:

  • technical reports, written in a company context
  • policy documents
  • official speeches
  • blogs, columns, and other more personal writings

I'd personally say that attribution is required in all cases, but when is "as John Doe has put it: research is interesting" good enough, and when would you a proper academic citation, including a full reference (either in a bibliography, or in a footnote)?

In addition to the explicit standards prescribed by professional organisations or codes of conduct, I'm wondering to what extent reality indeed matches these standards -- or whether pragmatism at some point takes over. (That might be a little opinionated, but I'm hoping the community will allow it.)

Regardless of whether she was right or wrong, I think everybody will agree these actions are clumsy at best - as they in any case raise questions nobody would like to be raised. That's not what I'm hoping to discuss or establish here. Similarly (although I think this goes without saying here), I'm not interested in opinions on whether she is or was wrong, as we don't have all the facts to determine that.

  • Why do you expect a journalist to set / meet any standard? All they want is to max the sales of the paper... They "say" they want "truth"... – Solar Mike Jun 4 at 7:15
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    As I already feel my question might be a bit too opinion-based for SE, let's leave the discussion on whether the press is trustworthy or not out of this. As I've noted in my question, the paper that's done this investigation is a renowned one. I trust their research, as does the rest of the general public in The Netherlands. Also, I'm not so much interested in standards set by journalists, but by professionals in the field that write the texts I'm referring to. – Bram Jun 4 at 7:19
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    What do you mean with "the paper has in some cases traced over 2/3rds of her text back to the work of others"? That she copied several sentences in a row literally from them? Or just that she used the same topics and arguments? That's a very different thing in my view. – Federico Poloni Jun 4 at 22:37
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    This is what the article says: "In her last speech, XXX reproduces many more passages without a correct reference to the source, a total of 97 of the 166 lines have been gathered together with cut and paste. Of these, 57 are from the book The university in the twenty-first century by German historian Yehuda Elkana and political scientist Hannes Klöpper, from which XXX literally reads complete parts without making this clear. She does, however, recommend the book as a 'must read'. Even in the digital version, she does not indicate that she has copied text on a large scale." (97/166 = 58%) – Bram Jun 5 at 9:21
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    @SolarMike: Avoiding plagiarism/intellectual dishonesty is a core part of traditional ethics in journalism. Even video game journalists have recently been fired for violations of such: bbc.com/news/technology-45128537 – Daniel R. Collins Jun 5 at 23:16
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You cannot include citations in speeches; no-one in the audience would stay awake if you tried to do so. And footnotes would be impossible.

The essence of plagiarism is passing off someone else's work as your own. You avoid that in an academic paper by giving full citations. In a speech it is enough to make clear that you are not claiming originality. "As Smith has shown...". "Numerous studies support the view that..." and so forth.

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Speeches, delivered orally, do not come with footnotes. So I think calling "plagiarism" on them is being too strict. If you later collect your speeches and publish them, then you may get in trouble for plagiarism (unless you add the appropriate footnotes).

This came up some years ago when there was published a collection of the sermons by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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For legal compliance, any written document---e.g., technical reports; policy documents; and blogs, columns, and other more personal writings---must abide copyright law, which would seemingly forbid many instances of plagiarism, e.g., verbatim copying without attribution.

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    No, copyright law does not forbid plagiarism. They are two very distinct things. For instance, "please write an article for me; I'll legally buy it from you and publish it as my own" is plagiarism, but not copyright violation. – Federico Poloni Jun 4 at 22:34
  • @FedericoPoloni I've rephrased. My point is that copyright law forbids theft. If you agree with my core idea (which I'm struggling to express), perhaps you can edit my answer. – user2768 Jun 5 at 7:21
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    There are also many people who object to calling that thing "theft". The best way to put it, even if it's a bit tautological, is that copyright law forbids copyright violations. :) – Federico Poloni Jun 5 at 7:25
  • @FedericoPoloni ;-) I can't immediately see a way to tease out the details into a story, so I'll leave it for now. (Others can edit if they see a way.) – user2768 Jun 5 at 7:28

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