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« Nobody ever expects the Whore of Babylon (with apologies to Acephalous) | Main | This Week's Acquisitions »

June 19, 2007


tony grafton

Seems to me that LP is right on the money here. You can never know, unless you check the original, whether your intermediary source has quoted or cited corrected, taken something out of context, or just made a careless mistake. So you always have to look at the original. If that is very out-of-the-way, not the sort of thing your own normal research would have turned up. it's also appropriate to give a hat tip to the source where you found the reference to it--though I agree, this is only absolutely required when you could not have access to the original yourself.

But when you copy facts or quotes from an intermediary and pretend you did the work of unearthing them from the original sources--that's plagiarism, just as much as taking the other's ideas. Every time I've looked hard at the work of someone who seemed to be doing this--from students to polemicists in the public sphere to, unfortunately, some scholars--I've spotted many errors, some derived from the intermediary and some introduced by inexpert copying.

So I'm with Kerim Friedman and LP on this one.


Right on, LP. I immediately thought of an occasion in my dissertation when I read a secondary source that quoted extensively from a manuscript primary source only available in Britain. I didn't make it there during the dissertation phase of my research, so I no problem with using the quotations from the secondary source, and then saying that was what I had done in the footnote.

When I make it to Britain for the book (probably next summer) I'll look at the mmanuscript myself and then redo that section and change the footnotes.

I honestly can't see that as "plagiarism" unless my footnotes on the sources somehow misled the reader into thinking I had gone there and looked at the manuscript myself (which they didn't).


I need to think about this more, but I usually used "qtd. in" as a way to credit the scholar who turned me onto a particular book. So, for example, I have a number of "qtd. in The Non-Darwinian Evolution," because that's where I first learned of much of the work I used. I do that once, then cite from the actual text quoted from that point on. Perhaps I'm not using "qtd. in" correctly, but not including it would it feel dishonest, as if I'd come up with all this sui generis.


Hmm; I'm inclined to think that Case #2, while a case of scholarly incompetence, is pretty clearly not plagiarism unless the quotation in question is a translation (in which case it would only be because that would be passing off someone else's translation as one's own). It certainly should be treated severely when it is found; but I'm inclined to think that trying to treat it as plagiarism is not the right way to handle it.


I believe I agree with Scott about "qtd. in."

An example: I'm proofing an article in which I cite a readily available text. One quotation from it, which I did check, I refer to as "qtd. in" another article on that particular text, which first brought the passage to my attention. Failure to do so seems dishonest somehow, and giving the attribution separately in a note seems clumsy.

What Now?

I go back and forth on this. If I am led to an original source by a secondary source, and I consult the original source myself, then the quotation I'm ultimately using is one that I read in the original source and no "qtd. in" should be necessary. At the same time, I want to give credit where credit is due, in this case to the other scholar who led me in this direction. I often handle this with a "See also [secondary source]" in the note in which I cite the original source as a way of explaining that this secondary source has discussed the same original source I'm quoting.


"....," as Herodotus said in The Histories.

Well, it'd do for the Associated Press, but I sure could see scholarly exchanges grinding to a halt.

I once used a "qtd. in" in a paper when I came across a great idea too late for me to get to the original source. The prof slammed me on it (not having gone to the source) so much so that I almost wished I hadn't mentioned it. Too bad, the message ultimately was not to mention the intermediary, rather than admit to running out of time. Obviously if it was for publication instead of grad school, I would have gone to the source. I do think that I'd still mention the source, but as What Now? says, the quote would be from the original at that point.


oops, that last comment was from me.

David Schwartz

Unless the circumstances are very unusual, merely bringing another's work to someone's attention does not merit a reference. An exception would be if the person bringing the reference to your attention suggested that reference for an unusual use and you are using it for that use.

For example, if nobody had ever thought to use DLX to solve Sudoku problems and you asked me for help writing programs to solve them and I pointed you to DLX, I'd deserve a reference. But that is not because I pointed you to DLX but because using DLX to solve Sudoku was my idea.

As for the possibility of error creation or propagation from repeating someone else's reference without checking it, that's not plagiarism. It may be poor scholarship and it's definitely your fault if it creates an error in your paper. But it is *not* taking credit for someone else's work. (This is, for example, why you can't violate the copyright on maps by taking any 'fake streets' they added.)

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