Monday, May 25, 2009

Five Rupees And Plagiarism Charges (UPDATED BELOW: It Was A Misunderstanding, All Sorted Out Now)

Along with the other three contributors on this blog, I take intellectual property and the issue of plagiarism very seriously. As an academic, and as a decent human being, I always take care to note and credit people when their words help me write or think of something; hell, I even credit readers when they send me articles or photos. There are few things that annoy me more than plagiarism, and our record on this blog in pointing out and shining a light on these issues in the Pakistani media are clear as day for longtime readers.

This morning, at 6:26 am Chicago time, I received the following email from someone called Mayank Chhaya:
Dear Ahsan,
I just happened to catch your blog dated May 17 on Bilawal's presence during the White House summit. I was particularly struck by the comment “And one of the key guests of this summit is acting like it's "bring your son to work" day.”
It rang familiar because on the day of the summit on May 7 I wrote on my blog http://southasia.typepad.com/south_asia_daily/
"I think Zardari mistook this summit as a bring-your-son-to-work-day. He brought his son Bilawal to the official meetings and made him sit just two chairs away from Obama, himself being in the middle. I was picturing a conversation between the two in Islamabad before traveling to Washington.

Bilawal: “Abba, Can I also come with you to Washington? I am so like keen to meet Barack Obama.”

Zardari: “Kyun nahi bete, this is your government and your country and your plane.”

Check out this URL of that particular day http://southasia.typepad.com/south_asia_daily/page/4/ and the entry titled 'New definition of sovereignty'.

Cheers

Mayank Chhaya


You can check the blog post in question here.

Now, it is true that the same phrase ("bring your son to work" day) was used, but to intimate that I had gotten it from this blog, without attribution, is simply untrue. I have never in my life read this blog before today, and besides, why would I not attribute someone for their phrase if I actually
did come across it? Which is why I responded with the following email:
Hi Mayank
Thanks for your email. I wasn't aware of your blog or the fact that you used the same phrase as I did. You can rest assured that my use of the phrase had absolutely nothing to do with your use of the same in the past -- it's a fairly obvious joke to make, and I guess Zardari forces us to all think in cringe-worthy terms.

But thank you for sending the email. I appreciate you trying to clear the air.

Best,

Ahsan

In response, I received the following email:
Hi Ahsan
Let's just call it that's that. I see that you are based in Chicago. So am I.
Cheers

Mayank

I considered that the end of the matter.

That is, until now. A few minutes ago, I saw this post titled "The incestuous world of blogs" from this same person as a trackback entry to my post on Zardari. I am reproducing the whole thing for your benefit:

It should not surprise anyone that the blogosphere is an incestuous world. But as an old fashioned, hard-headed professional journalist, who just happens to blog, I take meticulous care to attribute any content that I have not created to its rightful source.

On May 7, the day U.S. President Barack Obama had a summit meeting with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, I wrote a post along with a couple of pictures which ended thus:

P.S.: I think Zardari mistook this summit as a bring-your-son-to-work-day. He brought his son Bilawal to the official meetings and made him sit just two chairs away from Obama, himself being in the middle. I was picturing a conversation between the two in Islamabad before traveling to Washington.

Bilawal: “Abba, Can I also come with you to Washington? I am so like keen to meet Barack Obama.”

Zardari: “Kyun nahi bete, this is your government and your country and your plane.”

This morning I discovered a blog called http://fiverupees.blogspot.com/2009/05/ppps-long-history-with-nepotism-and-its.html#links dated May 17 which also touched upon the strange presence of Zardari’s rookie son Bilawal at the summit. In that blog I chanced upon this very familiar comment,

“And one of the key guests of this summit is acting like it's "bring your son to work" day.”

What can I say?

I cannot tell you how much this post angered me. First, Mayank Chhaya emails me, and responds as if he believes my version of the story. He then essentially accuses me of plagiarism (without actually saying so) in a public sphere because I happened to use one phrase that he did, a phrase that does not take a great deal of imagination. Most importantly, Mayank Chhaya appears to be quite dishonest himself, after leading me to believe the matter was closed, and then responding with this broadside.

Once again, for the record: I have never read this blog before today. When I do use other people's words to supplement my own, I always -- always -- credit them. These are the facts and they are indisputable.

Having read the blog post in question, I emailed Mayank Chhaya one last time:

Hi Mayank,

I just noticed your blog post basically accusing me of plagiarism. Thank you for not actually taking me at my word. Once again, for the record, I've never read your blog, much less heard of it before today.

You also seem to think "bring your son to work day" is somehow a phrase that only you could have up come up with, a view if true would be utterly nonsensical.

I will be posting a note on this on Rs.5 at some point today, because I am not going to let this baseless (and implied) charge stand. Our choice in using the same phrase is an unfortunate coincidence, but not nearly as unfortunate as the lack of class you have displayed here.

Best,

Ahsan

I stand by every word of that email.

UPDATE: Ok, so I don't stand by every word of that email. Mayank Chhaya just emailed me, and it appears this has been a misunderstanding. Apparently, he wrote this post before our email exchange, and not after. He had indeed taken my explanation at face value. I apologized to him in my email for my strongly-worded email and blog post. I don't believe in deleting blog posts, but I think a correction is as good, if not better. So consider this post corrected: it's all good. I consider this particular matter closed, and would once again like to apologize to Mayank Chhaya for this entire thing.

On a related note, I want to make two points. First, the reasons that I got so antsy about this are twofold. One, having grown up in Pakistan (and as someone who continues to read the Pakistani press very regularly), plagiarism really, really pisses me off. People can search our archives for times when we have dealt with this issue head on (googling "daily times five rupees plagiarism" might be a good start). Second, I am an academic, and we take plagiarism even more seriously than the press does (or is supposed to). An accusation of plagiarism in the academic world can literally end a career.

The second point I want to make is that the internet is a great tool for accountability. Glenn Greenwald had an excellent post on this issue a couple of days ago; I advise you to check it out. But the basic point is this: there's really no place to hide if you're a cheater. You will get found out. Even if sometimes it leads to false alarms (like today), this is a good thing.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

You did the right thing.One can't ignore these fools. Post this on his blog also.It is so unfortunate and regrettable that people can stoop to such low level for their five minutes fame. Trust me, readers of this blog won't believe his malicious accusation even for a second.

Asfandyar said...

Bring your son/child/daughter to work day is a really, really common phrase. I'm surprised he even mailed in the first place about it. It's not as if it's something like 'colourless green ideas sleep furiously' :S

lala pathan said...

lol..even i wud have used dat phrase ahsan and i am not albert einstein :) i think he is just jealous..i mean i personally send ur funny intellectual posts to my frndz in emails to read but i always use ur name or who is the author even if it is AKS or BUBS or some1 else :)we are totally 100% with you :)

sg said...

wow. that's pretty low. you should write an article called "the cretins that fill the blogosphere" and refer to him A LOT without actually calling him a cretin.

Saesneg said...

He accused you of plagiarism because you used the same *cliche*?

What a git.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that you guys sorted out the misunderstanding.As a grad student, i can understand why you got so much panicked as plagiarism is such a serious charge.

Kalsoom said...

It's great you sorted it out, but why on earth would he write a blog post about it, and then email you afterwards asking you about the matter? For the sake of being thorough (and standing corrected), wouldn't he just ask nicely first?

Anam said...

Well if that dude had posted his blog after your exchange, your reply was mad sexyy. Love sexy email replies :)

Anonymous said...

OWNED by Mr. Chimbanka or whatever the guy's name is!!!!

Anonymous said...

Ahsan I am very disappointed in you. No respect for your elders.

Tej said...

Man this Mayank dude is taking himself too seriously, even if he claims to have written the post before interacting with Ahsan. It's not as if he's written a sonnet or something.

~Tej

Sputnik said...

Well done dude. Even for being pissed off, I think you handled that very well. It's kind of funny that would happen to you just a couple of days after we were talking about what unscrupulous bastards plagiarizers are... Plenty of other bloggers could learn a few things from you.

Ahsan said...

Anon910, Lala Pathan, SG and Sputnik:

Thanks for your support.

Asfand, Saesneg and Tej:

Yes, I too thought that was curious.

Kalsoom:

To quote Zardari, that is the million dollar question, and I hoping the answer will be billions of dollars.

Rabia said...

what's next, now? accusations of plagiarism for using the word "the"?