An apology regarding my “Interpreter” article today

An apology regarding my “Interpreter” article today February 26, 2016


Boy in dunce cap
This stereographic image of someone wearing a dunce cap was taken approximately 110 years ago. I don’t think he’s a relative.
(Wikimedia Commons)


I want to acknowledge a problem in a short essay of mine that was published in Interpreter this afternoon:


When I went looking for statistics on the size and mass of the Sun while I was thinking about the essay, I found an online item by Tim Sharp entitled “How big is the Sun?”


I copied some notes from it that were relevant to my point, stuck them among some other thoughts that I had jotted down for the piece, and then left off writing for a few days. When I came back, I checked the reference to the Lissauer and de Pater book and proceeded.


Now, though, a critic is publicly attacking me for plagiarism.


His charge has caught my attention.  I agree that what I ended up writing is closer than it should be to my source. When I compared the two, frankly, the degree of that closeness surprised me.


So I want to expressly and gratefully acknowledge my debt to Tim Sharp’s article for material (particularly the numerical data) in the second and third paragraphs of my Introduction.


The possibility of this kind of thing has always concerned me.  When one writes a lot, drawing on a multitude of sources, there is always the possibility for such a slip-up.  And, plainly, I slipped up.


The data that I cited are widely available, and not unique or proprietary to Tim Sharp’s article, which was simply a convenient source that came up first in a Google search. Nor is his particular language especially ususual.  I could easily have rephrased my presentation of the data, and, honestly, I thought I had.  But, as it turns out, I hadn’t. Not enough, anyway.


At this point, I think the most efficient and practical thing to do is probably to acknowledge my use of Tim Sharp’s article.  I’ll see if it’s possible and practicable to rephrase paragraphs two and three somewhat, but, to be honest, that seems to me a rather artificial exercise once the connection between what I wrote and what he wrote has been granted.  It’s not as if I’m trying to cover that connection up, or as if I could do so.


It turns out that I can make stupid mistakes.  Who knew?



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