Plagiarism in space journalism, again
by Dwayne Day
|It may not fit the strict definition of plagiarism, but a comparison makes it clear that the author(s) simply rewrote Zak’s article without attribution, almost certainly violating the copyright of Zak’s publisher.|
The article in question is “Russian and US engineers plan manned moon mission” written by “staff writers” and dated July 21. (In case it is pulled down, here is a saved pdf version of the article.) Although the Space-Travel.com article does not directly link to its sputniknews.com source, a search of that website turned up this link. That article bears an overwhelming similarity to an article that Anatoly Zak published on the Popular Mechanics website only two days earlier titled “U.S. and Russian Scientists Are Making Plans to Go Back to the Moon Together.”
The first paragraph of Zak’s July 19 article reads:
American and Russian engineers are getting closer to a new plan for cooperating in space, one that would go beyond low Earth orbit and preserve the multinational alliance forged at the dawn of the International Space Station program in 1993. Organizations on both sides are quietly toying with the idea of going back to the moon together. That is, if politics don't get in the way.
The first paragraph in the July 21 sputniknews.com/Space-Travel.com article reads:
Engineers in Russia and the US are completing a plan for a collaborative space program. The initiative would preserve the multinational alliance developed when the International Space Station (ISS) was initiated in 1993.
And here is the second paragraph of Zak’s article:
With the ISS scheduled to make a controlled plunge into the ocean in 2024, the partners have been preparing to go their own ways. NASA, while funding companies like SpaceX to go to orbit, is developing the Orion spacecraft and the super-heavy rocket called Space Launch System (SLS) for manned missions into deep space and potentially as far as Mars. The European Space Agency (ESA) jumped on NASA's bandwagon few years ago, agreeing to contribute the service and propulsion module for the Orion. But the second-largest ISS contributor, Russia, has so far remained uncommitted to any joint venture beyond the station.
And the second paragraph from the sputniknews.com/Space-Travel.com article:
Both American and Russian organizations are considering ways to return to space together, as long as the political relationship between the two nations doesn't deteriorate. The countries had been preparing to part ways after the ISS ceases operation in 2024.
Here is the fourth paragraph of Zak’s article:
American aerospace companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, as well as Russia's key manned space contractors RKK Energia and GKNPTs Khrunichev, pitched in on a new plan to work together. Several mission strategies have recently surfaced that focus on a multinational habitat in the vicinity of the Moon, known as cislunar space. It could serve as a platform for the exploration of our natural satellite and a springboard for missions to asteroids and even to Mars.
And here is the sixth paragraph of the sputniknews.com/Space-Travel.com article:
Russian space contractors, such as RKK Energia and GKNPTs Khrunichev, along with American companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing, are developing several tentative missions in which both nations cohabitate in cislunar space near the Moon. Such missions may lay the groundwork for mining missions to asteroids.
Near the end of Zak’s article, Zak quoted NASA official William Gerstenmaier, whom he interviewed:
“Until we look at them, I can't pass judgment whether they are viable or not,” Gerstenmaier said. But, “it is encouraging that the industry is doing it on its own… and it is consistent with what we are thinking about, including going to cis-lunar space. … So when we, the government, decide something to do, the industry has (already) done its homework.” Gerstenmaier also emphasized the potential provided by near-lunar missions for venturing much further into space, rather than exploring the Moon itself: “Don't think of it as a space station around the Moon. Think of it as the beginning of the Mars transit system.”
And here is sputniknews.com/Space-Travel.com:
William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, said the preparation is impressive, but hasn't been approved by NASA. “Until we look at them,” he said, “I can't pass judgment whether they are viable or not. It is encouraging that the industry is doing it on its own... and it is consistent with what we are thinking about, including going to cislunar space... So when we, the government, decide something to do, the industry has (already) done its homework.”
Note that sputniknews.com/Space-Travel.com did not state where the Gerstenmaier quote came from, leaving the impression that Gerstenmaier spoke at a press conference or other public event. But Zak spoke to him directly and the quote is taken verbatim from his Popular Mechanics article.
|But any media site that uses Russian government-owned news publications should know that they cannot be trusted, not only because they are propaganda tools of Vladimir Putin, but because they have no respect for intellectual property.|
Putting the two articles side-by-side, it is blatantly obvious that the “staff writers” simply rewrote Anatoly Zak’s article, changing the words, but using Zak’s thoughts, sequencing, story arc, and information. They did this without attributing their information to Zak, and certainly without paying him for his work. Zak would certainly welcome being paid by a publication that used the fruits of his labor.
Space-Travel.com is part of the Space Media Network and incorporated in Australia. Sputniknews.com is an online media and radio broadcast company owned by the Russian government. Thus, the original theft of Zak’s work was by a Russian-government-owned website, and then Space-Travel.com simply repeated it. But any media site that uses Russian government-owned news publications should know that they cannot be trusted, not only because they are propaganda tools of Vladimir Putin, but because they have no respect for intellectual property. It’s like buying a stereo from the neighborhood thief—you know that it’s hot but clearly don’t care.
In the modern Internet era, what often passes for journalism consists of simply borrowing the work of others that is published online, so saying that copying is rampant is like Captain Obvious being shocked to discover gambling in a casino. But one of the basic tenets of this practice is attributing the work of the original author and linking to it. In fact, at least two other articles on different websites did exactly that. A July 20 Good.is article by Kate Ryan referenced Anatoly Zak’s original article and linked to it. A July 21 Sciencealert.com article by Fiona MacDonald also credited Zak and linked to his article. That is lazy journalism, but at least it’s honest.
In 2013, when Robert Kennedy and I first noticed that Amy Teitel had blatantly plagiarized our 2010 Air & Space Magazine article on the Polyus-Skif weapons system, we suspected that this was not the first article she had plagiarized—and we were right. Without much effort we soon found that she had plagiarized an article by Andy Chaikin, a book by Bart Hendrickx and Bert Vis, and the 1979 NASA book Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft, written by Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Lloyd S. Swenson. We figured that with additional work we would probably find more examples (feel free to start your own search.) Ms. Teitel never admitted to her plagiarism despite overwhelming proof, and one could reasonably assume that she continues to borrow extensively from the work of others without attribution.
|There’s a grim journalist’s joke that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. But we all know that for a writer, the sincerest form of flattery is a paycheck.|
This article about the Russian space program on sputniknews.com/Space-Travel.com used the conjectures, argument development, and information from Anatoly Zak’s article without attribution, although it did not copy his words verbatim. Whereas the Teitel case demonstrated that smoke indicates fire, the acrid fumes rising from the Space-Travel.com article make it doubtful that this is the only example there where other authors’ works have been stolen without attribution. Readers may wish to start searching Space-Travel.com and its associated websites such as SpaceDaily.com for more examples of writers stealing the work of other space journalists. Given the amount of unattributed content on Space-Travel.com and its associated websites, this is probably going to be a target-rich environment.
So why does this matter? It matters because some people—like Anatoly Zak, Andy Chaikin, Bart Hendrickx, and others—have put in a lot of time and effort, including translating foreign language documents and conducting interviews, to become experts and to acquire information that is unique and new, and they deserve credit, and financial reimbursement, for their diligence and expertise. Lazy and dishonest writers later come along and simply appropriate their work and claim the credit for themselves, and benefit financially from it. It is theft, plain and simple. And intellectual property theft should never be rewarded. There’s a grim journalist’s joke that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. But we all know that for a writer, the sincerest form of flattery is a paycheck.