Thursday, November 23, 2006

Google Book Search Can Reveal Plagiarism

"For any plagiarist living in an age of search engines, waving a loaded book in front of reviewers has become the literary equivalent of suicide by cop.

As it turns out, even authors not living in this online age are in trouble. My fellow literary sleuth Alex MacBride recently revealed to me that he'd uncovered an old crime in a new way. MacBride, a linguist employed by Google, idly ran a phrase from England Howlett's 1899 essay Sacrificial Foundations through Google Book Search, his employer's massive digitization of millions of volumes from university libraries. The search had nothing to do with his job—like the rest of us, sometimes Alex just kills time by plugging stuff into Google—and rather than go to the trouble of digging out Howlett's book by name, he'd decided to call it up with a phrase. To his surprise, he got more back than just Howlett: The search also revealed a suspiciously similar passage in Sabine Baring-Gould's 1892 book Strange Survivals. A lot of suspiciously similar passages."


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