May 03, 2006

Viswanathan v. Swanson

On April 20, 2006, Carl Durrenberger documented on his blog the fact that roughly half of the 33 "Unwritten Rules of Management" published by William H. Swanson, the CEO of Raytheon, were lifted verbatim and without attribution from W.J King's 1944 work "The Unwritten Laws of Engineering", published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

On April 23, 2006, David Zhou documented in the Harvard Crimson that "Kaavya Viswanathan’s ‘Opal Mehta’ includes several passages nearly identical to another author’s earlier work".

The search {Viswanathan plagiarism} gets 143,000 hits on Google, and 757 on Google News (is that all? it seems like it should be millions...). In contrast, {Swanson plagiarism} get 42,300 hits on Google, and a mere 32 on Google News.

As David Leonhardt points out in today's NYT ("Rule No. 35: reread rule on integrity"),

That is too bad, because in the scheme of things his character matters a lot more than hers does.

[Update: Leslie Wayne's update, "Raytheon Punishes Chief Executive for Lifting Text", cites The Boston Herald as documenting that

Mr. Swanson had also lifted the first four of his rules from a 2001 Wall Street Journal article written by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that was called "Rumsfeld Rules." For instance, the first rule in both Mr. Swanson's book and Mr. Rumsfeld's article is the same -- "Learn to say 'I don't know.' If used when appropriate, it will be used often."

The Herald also found that Mr. Swanson's rule No. 32 is similar to a life lesson about rude treatment of waiters that was contained in the book "Dave Barry Turns 50," written by Mr. Barry, a syndicated humor columnist.

I believe that makes 21 out of 33 rules so far found to be plagiarized.

The punishment? Well, depending on how you look at it, either a million dollars or not much:

The company decided to freeze Mr. Swanson's 2006 salary at its 2005 level and cut Mr. Swanson's 2006 restricted stock award by 20 percent. In 2005, Mr. Swanson received a salary of $1.12 million and a restricted stock award of $2.96 million. A person close to the board, who was granted anonymity because he was disclosing proprietary information, said the reductions amounted to about $1 million in lost compensation.

Since 20% of $2.96 million is only $592K, I guess that means they were planning to raise his base salary by about $408K. Tough times, Bill.

Swanson is a graduate of Cal Poly, whose policy on Academic Dishonesty defines plagiarism as "the act of using the ideas or work of another person or persons as if they were one's own, without giving proper credit to the source", and asserts that

The penalty for cheating requires an "F" course grade and further attendance in the course of [sic] is prohibited.

It doesn't say anything about a 20% reduction in stock awards, though. That's harsh.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 3, 2006 11:32 AM