May 03, 2006

Corporate Plagiarism

As Mark has pointed out Raytheon CEO William H. Swanson has been found to have plagiarized most of the book Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management that made him a management guru According to the New York Times, of the book's 33 rules, 17 are taken, often word-for-word, from the 1944 book The Unwritten Laws of Engineering by W. J. King, an engineering professor at UCLA. Another four come from a collection of maxims of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld published in the Wall Street Journal, and still another appears to have been lifted from humor columnist Dave Barry's book Dave Barry Turns 50. All told, 22 of the 33 were plagiarized. That's two-thirds of the book.

Raytheon director Warren B. Rudman is quoted as saying:

...the board decided, and I think properly, that there is a great difference between an unintentional error, in which you have simple negligence, and an intentional act that breaches sound ethical conduct...Based on the evidence, we decided that this was unintentional and not negligent.

According to the Times:

Raytheon issued a statement on Mr. Swanson's behalf that said the source for his book came from material he had collected over the years and had given to a member of his staff to prepare a presentation that he was to give to Raytheon engineers.

This seems to me to be even more damning. If someone takes notes on reading and later uses that material without attributing it, it is indeed possible that what he has done is unintentional. The notes may have been sketchy or hard to read. This is apparently what happened in several recent cases involving scholars who used research assistants to assemble material for their books. It's unfortunate, but there is arguably no intentional misrepresentation. The explanation given by Raytheon is the opposite of this: Swanson assembled the source material and an assistant used it to prepare a presentation that, apparently, turned into the book. If we don't assume that the presentation became the book, Raytheon's explanation explains nothing.

What is left unsaid but seems to be the only possible inference from the Raytheon statement is that Swanson didn't merely engage in plagiarism: he didn't write the book at all. His assistant wrote it. According to this blog post, the book is only 40 pages long, so going from a presentation to the book was not a huge leap. If he forgot where his rules came from, he may have been merely negligent rather than an intentional plagiarist, but he must have known that he was passing off a book that he didn't really write as his own. Surely this is far worse than anything Kaavya Viswanathan may have done.

Posted by Bill Poser at May 3, 2006 11:49 PM