Yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) traveled down to Lynchburg to give a speech in support Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. In part of that speech, the senator tried to paint a dystopian vision of state-mandated eugenics by referencing the 1997 sci-fi movie Gattaca. Central to the plot in Gattaca is a character who has not been genetically optimized (actually he has a heart defect*) seeking to become an astronaut by using someone else's DNA to fool the authorities.
MSNBC talking head Rachel Maddow ran a segment yesterday pointing out that Sen. Paul had evidently lifted several lines of his speech directly from Wikipedia's entry on Gattaca. The Courier Journal specifically cites four instances in which the senator's remarks do mirror the Wikipedia entry.
The Council of Writing Program Advisors has an interesting discussion of what constitutes plagiarism versus failing to properly cite the work of others. Specifically the WPA observes:
Most current discussions of plagiarism fail to distinguish between:
- submitting someone else's text as one's own or attempting to blur the line between one's own ideas or words and those borrowed from another source, and
- carelessly or inadequately citing ideas and words borrowed from another source.
I will let you make up your own minds which the senator did, but it would have been trivially simple for Paul to cite the Wikipedia entry in his speech and moved on. But he didn't.
Much more disturbing for me is the fact that in his speech Sen. Paul conflated state-mandated eugenics found in the plot of Gattaca with the voluntary private use of genetic information to guide the reproductive choices of parents.
*I seriously doubt that any private company or government space agency today would permit anyone with a known heart defect become an astronaut on a trip to Jupiter Titan.#
#HT to Chris Conner for the correction. My apologies to those readers I may have confused on this issue.