Today in the bullpen: Mayor Bloomberg welcomed Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio.
Today in the bullpen: Mayor Bloomberg welcomed Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio.
The first time I heard this song, I cried. It was simultaneously a confirmation that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts and feelings, and a condemnation of them. But that’s youth, right? In our modern society? I read in a book that we are programmed to fall in love with one person in our village of 300 people. And now that hard wired biological programming is totally going haywire in this modern world where we meet our one in 300 every couple of weeks. But we’ve evolved and adapted as a society, I suppose. I used to think it was a curse and now I think it’s good old fashioned common courtesy, like the British and holding the door. After you, my dear Alphonse. It took me another 20 years to learn that.
1993. Later that summer, Matt Johnson brought The The to Boston, and since Dusk was such a big “hit” in that town he played Great Woods. The show started with this song, the audience did their part. It was glorious and wonderful. Every time I hear it, it still sends chills down my spine.
Matt Johnson was such an incredibly lyricist. I’d give anything for one more The The album. There was a book launch party for the new History of 4AD, and Matt’s in the photos from the party, looking like Matt.
I love that this far in, The Cure are still busting out songs they’ve never played live. It’s always awesome when bands do that.
Jonah’s an interesting case, because he was actually called to task for committing two offenses that weren’t technically any of these:
First, he “self-plagiarized.” That is, he re-used previously published works in a new work. This is a strange area, because it may or may not be a crime, imho. Self-plagiarism is bad if you have sold the work to one party, and now are selling it to another. But that is copyright infringement. This is bad, of course, if you’ve been paid by two people for the same work, or you don’t own the rights. Is it bad if I just copy my own words, never previously sold, again and again? I am not so sure. The whole schtick of being a consultant or speaker these days is to just drill into people’s heads, over and over, the essence of the argument you are making. FWIW, Lerer’s publicist states that he actually owned the copyrights to these works. So I am on the fence about whether there was actually a sin committed here.
Secondly, and much worse, he wholesale fabricated things, like the Bob Dylan quotes that Dylan didn’t actually say. I don’t think this is, technically, plagiarism. It’s fabrication. It’s lying.
The wikipedia article on Lerer cites a review of his work for Wired that found in 17 or 18 articles “contained examples of recycled work, plagiarism, dubious facts, problematic quotes, and/or reuse of press releases.” So maybe, in addition to self-plagiarism and fabrication, he committed another type of plagiarism, but I don’t know which.
What with the recent Rand Paul plagiarism scandal, I’d like to propose a new taxonomy of plagiarism. Some plagiarism is worse than others, and the basic definition of plagiarism that most people learned in school is only part of it.
Chris Hayes started off his show today by referencing the Wikipedia definition of plagiarism: “the ‘wrongful appropriation’ and ‘purloining and publication’ of another author's ‘language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions,’ and the representation of them as one's own original work.” The important point here that most people overlook is the theft of ideas. We all learn in school that plagiarism exists if we wholesale copy and paste other people’s words. But ideas are actually a big part of it.
In the academic world, plagiarism is worrisome in two broad contexts: on the science side of academia, the wholesale theft of another researcher’s data or findings is a grave error. And on the humanities side, the theft of someone’s ideas is the main concern. This is often confusing to us, because when we’re young - in elementary, middle and high school - we’re often given assignments to write about a topic to learn to write and express ideas. It’s understood we may use Encyclopedia Brittanica or Wikipedia as our main source, and that’s okay. Because the exercise is for us to learn to comprehend ideas and explain to them. Thus the main concern is that we’re not copying the words from the article exactly, because then our teacher’s couldn’t tell if we comprehended, OR if we can communicate.
But again, this is not the whole story. Taking someone’s new, profound idea, and passing it off as our own, even if we change all the individual words, is not okay either. And yet, when we talk about plagiarism, we often conflate the two, or give them equal footing.
The worst, of course, is when it’s neither your idea, nor your words. Because using someone else’s words, and being too damn lazy to even re-write it is just dumb. Especially in this day and age when professors, and journalists, have plagiarism software.
As an aside, this software is part of the problem. Every schmuck knows - or should know - to rewrite things. But it is not enough.
With every plagiarism scandal, there is a large amount of debate about just how sinful the crime is, and how much the perpetrator should punished. Part of the challenge, I believe, is due to the fact that we are talking about many different offenses, all as if they are the same. What is needed is an ability to distinguish between various shades of plagiarism, and to be able to easily discuss the differences between them.
A Taxonomy of Plagiarism
So, then, here is a proposed taxonomy of plagiarism.
Special note before we begin: There are three modifiers to any of these types of plagiarism:
First, I propose that for each of the types of plagiarism below, there can also be an grievous version of it: a version where the exact words are also copied verbatim.
Second, I propose that we specify whether plagiarism is written, or oral. There is a long history in oral storytelling of lifting and modifying and reworking, and, right or wrong, the rules are somewhat different. No one can agree on exactly those rules, but everyone seems to agree they are different.
Third, I propose that we add the modifier extreme to any grievous instance over 1,000 words.
So, then, to the types.
Type A Plagiarism, or “I told you about that before” - This is plagiarism where the perpetrator has previously cited the original work or author. For example, if I give a speech where I quote someone, and in several speeches I quoted them by name previously, but failed to this time, then this is Type A plagiarism. It is, I believe, relatively minor, and often an error.
Type B Plagiarism, or “Lazily getting to the point” - This is where one plagiarizes some ideas or concepts, as laid out by someone else, in order to get to a larger point that is your own. That is, yes, you have cribbed someone else’s concepts, but in an explanatory manner of a sub point. For example, if I am trying to make a joke about how the rebel alliance in star wars is sort of like Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, and I need to explain to you the rebel alliance, and in doing so I crib the definition on Wikipedia and say something like “the rebel alliance is a faction in the Star Wars universe in opposition to the Galactic Empire, dedicated to the restoration of the ideals of the old republic.” I didn’t exactly quote the Wikipedia page on the Rebel Alliance there, but I definitely lifted their general gist of their definition. This was a bit of plagiarism. If I were to use my own definition I’d have said something like “the antiestablishment good guys in Star Wars who fight against a totalitarian empire that masquerades as democratic.” HOWEVER, my main point and idea here is that the rebel alliance is sort of like Snowden and Greenwald, and that is my own personal new thought. So yes, this is plagiarism, but it is relatively mild.
Type C Plagiarism, or “I I have an idea” - This is the wholesale regurgitating of someone else’s idea as your own. An example would be writing a whole article where you express the central beliefs of existentialism, without calling it as such or mentioning Camus or Sartre. Writing a speech talking about how you have a dream that one day your kids won’t be judged by their race but by their personality. This is obviously pretty bad.
Type D Plagiarism, or “It happened to me” - This, in my view, is the worst, and least defensible version of plagiarism. This is the wholesale lifting of someone else’s personal experience and proffering it as your own. Examples would include Columbia valedictorian Brian Corman, who wholesale lifted a personal story from Patton Oswalt. Not just an idea, but a personal and personal experiences. This, to me, is the worst for a few reasons. Because there is no possible explanation for it other than thievery. And it’s about more than ideas, it’s about our experiences, and our experiences are part of us.
Referring to cases of plagiarism with the new taxonomy:
Rand Paul’s use of Wikipedia’s definition of Gattaca in speeches: Grievous, Oral, Type B Plagiarism. Rand Paul made the offenses in speeches, hence, oral. It was grievous, because he copied the definition from Wikipedia verbatim. It was Type B, because Rand Paul was not giving a speech about Gattaca, he was using the plot of Gattaca to make a larger point about Eugenics.
Biden’s plagiarism of British Politician Neil Kinnock: Oral, Type A Plagiarism. This one is tricky, as the story was a personal anecdote, but the fact remains that it was in spoken speeches, and Biden had referenced the story many times before.
Jayson Blair: Repeated, Extreme, Grieves, Written, Type B, C and D. Ay yi yi.
What do you think?
N.B. I should also say my wife Emma helped me with this, lest she accuse me of plagiarism.
Whoops! Apologies. The Right Stuff.
This movie is even better than I remembered.
Aileen Lee wrote a very interesting piece on Techcrunch where she lays bare some of the analysis she has done on “Unicorns” - or startups that have entered the $1b club.
It’s a rarified club, to be sure. In fact, it’s enough of a rarified club that I would call into question any conclusions one would assume by Aileen’s analysis. The long version of why this is not a good idea was the subject of my last post, but the short version is this: 39.
I have a different take on Aileen’s post. There is a lot of myth making that goes on around Silicon Valley and the startup world, a lot of it on based more on intuition than actual data. Let;s face it, we make decisions and come to conclusions on a daily basis, whether insignificant or important, on nothing more than a whim.
That is especially true of venture investing and startups. Anyone in the space will talk a good deal about data, but there is scarcely any proof points to go back to. Did anyone think Airbnb was really going to make it when they were occupying their time making Obama cereal? Did Facebook seem like a good bet when MySpace dominated social media? While we are Monday morning quarterbacking, how could Webvan not have been an enormous success? How could Color or Airtime possibly fail to catch fire? While we are mentioning Tumblr, did that really make a ton of sense as an investment?
Back to the post though, it is an interesting, albeit small, data set. You can easily dismiss it as statistically irrelevant. Even the number is up for debate (there was a NY Times article back in February which speculated between 25 to over 40). However, that is not what matters. What it should open everyone’s eyes to is the fact that any company that reaches a $1 billion valuation is total anomaly.
That is what the venture world is built upon, 40 companies (or more according to this hackpad). The economics are such that you are damned if you are a large fund. If a large fund does not get into a couple of those billion dollar companies, they will be toast. It seems like a rather specious model by which to create an entire industry around, but LPs continue to be generous in the face of overwhelming odds and horrible track records.
Which is why I am quite enjoying many of the reactions to this piece. There are going to be plenty of folks that will take this data set and the accompanying results as some level of proof. They are going to use this as a new model or most likely confirmation of existing biases, And they are all going to be crushed because you cannot predict Black Swans.
The lemmings and the social proofers and the quants and pattern recognition crowd are being laid to waste. Evidence-based venture investing makes no sense when it is a grand slam contest. The only way to be successful is to either go against the playbook or to position oneself to profit comfortably off of many smaller exits. Even the last option is really nothing more than a hunch, based more on a review of the YC and 500 Startups approach at has invested in a wide-portfolio.
So what to make of the unicorn analysis? It is historically interesting. In a sense it goes against the grain of some of the startup lore about the “ideal startup” model while agreeing with other beliefs. But it is also stuck in time. What the billion dollar club looks like in five years will be radically different. There are more minorities and women founding companies now. Entrepreneurs are starting younger. New models and concepts are just starting to bear fruit (it should be noted that Bitcoin was only conceived of five years ago). Even the goal of a billion dollars may not mean as much because we are only at the being of the Internet age. Other industries had decades, if not centuries, to build their pillars and stalwarts.
As an entrepreneur, this discussion may sound like a lot to do about nothing. Yet it is important to understand that given the economics of the venture model, if you are not on a billion dollar track, most VC’s are simply not interested. If you do not fit easily into a preconceived bucket of existing ideas (meaning you are novel or different), then you will get passed over by all but the few VC’s that actually do invest in outliers. It is no coincidence then that the VC’s that are doing well are also those that seem less prone to snap categorizations and more willing to invest time in all their portfolio, not just the select few. Those are the firms willing to invest and support the mad ones, because it is the mad ones that are truly changing the world.
The unicorn article was hella interesting - perhaps the best thing on TechCrunch in a long, long time. I’ve been trying to work out the same data set for a while, and it’s monstrously time consuming, so I am thankful for that.
But Mark is right here. And more simply, correlation is not causation. It’s amazing how few people have mentioned that. It also failed to do any serious statistical analysis to normalize against the profound biases in investing. I worry greatly that it will prove to be self-fulfilling, with so far zero evidence that the correlations are causal and not just a circumstance of the biases inherent in funding these days.
if it looks like LOW, sounds like LOW, smells like LOW…it probably is. LOW. (ok, maybe w/ just a dash of trentemoller thrown in for good measure.)