AI anti-plagiarism checks may light academia’s roof on fire. In a circle of retribution, billionaire American hedge fund manager Bill Ackman vowed to conduct a plagiarism review of MIT, Harvard, and even the work of the reporters and staff of Business Insider, after two articles accused his wife, academic Neri Oxman, of copying Wikipedia.
William (Bill) Ackman, himself a Harvard alumnus, was one of the strongest advocates for Harvard President Claudine Gay's resignation, accusing Gay of antisemitism and plagiarism. In response to allegations, the first Black Harvard president resigned on January 2nd.
Two days later, Business Insider (BI) found “a similar pattern of plagiarism by Ackman’s wife, Oxman,” who is a former MIT professor, famous architect, and designer. Oxman had no part in the controversy surrounding academia other than being Ackman’s wife.
On X, Oxman apologized for missing quotation marks on four paragraphs from her 330-page PhD dissertation.
Then BI expanded accusations with additional instances of the copied text and an illustration “from more than a dozen Wikipedia articles without attribution” in “a thorough review of her published work.”
Now Ackman accuses BI of leaving no time to properly respond to allegations and “some of the worst forms of journalism.”
“There has been no due process. Neri Oxman was given 90 minutes to respond to a 7,000-word plagiarism allegation before Business Insider published a piece saying she was a plagiarist,” posted Ackman. “Business Insider posted their story one hour and 32 minutes after the reporter’s 12-page email was sent.”
However, while on the clock, believing that MIT may be behind the attack, Ackman posted his pledge to launch a review of all current MIT faculty members, President Sally Kornbluth, board members, and other officers according to MIT's own plagiarism standards.
“It is unfortunate that my actions to address problems in higher education have led to these attacks on my family. This experience has inspired me to save all news organizations from the trouble of doing plagiarism reviews,” the post reads.
Later, Ackman added they will review the work of the reporters and staff at BI.
A lengthy post, viewed by 18 million on X, followed on Sunday. Ackman’s anti-plagiarist inspiration may affect the whole of academia.
“Once their work is targeted by AI, they will be outed”
In his post, Ackman detailed his view on the use of AI to detect plagiarism everywhere and redo accepted standards and policies.
“Every faculty member knows that once their work is targeted by AI, they will be outed. Nobody of written work in academia can survive the power of AI searching for missing quotation marks, failures to paraphrase appropriately, and/or the failure to properly credit the work of others,” Ackman said.
He asked why they shouldn’t do a deep dive into academic integrity at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Penn, or Dartmouth. He noted the conflict of interest when universities are left to review themselves.
If the current plagiarism standards remain in effect when AI checking is introduced, that would likely lead to the termination of a substantial majority of faculty members.
“It is a near certainty that authors will miss some quotation marks and fail to properly cite or provide attribution for another author on at least a modest percentage of the pages of their papers,” he said and noted that the most productive and important scholars are at the greatest risk under the current system.
“If no one ever reads your work and you do not have a public profile (nor or married to a high-profile person), no one will ever take the time to look.”
Ackman believes that after the events of the past week, no new paper will be published without a careful AI review for plagiarism. He also thinks that plagiarism in older papers should be treated differently, as there are different kinds of plagiarism: some due to laziness or mistakes, while some of the worst forms are theft of another’s work.
He doubted if scholars needed to cite dictionaries, as his wife didn’t.
“I think universities will ultimately be forced to conclude that there are different kinds and degrees of plagiarism, and the punishment, if any, and the degree of its severity to the faculty member or student will have to be adjudicated based on the specific facts of each case,” he continued.
“If the plagiarism was truly unintentional (and there are ways to judge whether this is the case), then I wouldn’t question the character of the author.”
Ackman even claimed that he did not originally seek Claudine Gay’s resignation due to plagiarism allegations as he was “simply trying to help her address the rise of antisemitism on campus” and was convinced by others “more expert” than him that she was not qualified to continue.
“I shouldn’t have had to form my own conclusions about plagiarism in her work,” Ackman admitted.
BI reporting under review
Semafor reported about a division in Axel Springer, BI’s parent company, over the recent articles about Oxman. Some company leaders have debated whether she, as Ackman’s wife, was fair game for reporting. While the facts in the report have not been disputed, “questions have been raised about the motivation and the process leading up to the reporting,” an Axel Springer spokesperson said.
BI editor-in-chief Nich Carlson, in an email to staff, said he stands by their story and the work that went into it. The reporting process is under review.
In his X post, Ackman criticized BI for attacking his wife twice without leaving enough time to respond to the accusations.
“Even the mafia operates with more dignity and respect for family, and I apologize to the mafia for the comparison,” Ackman’s post reads. “In my 36-year career, I have never had the experience of a journalist and their employer attacking the life partner of a subject of any story, even a big one.”
Ackman‘s post received support from some public figures.
“What Business Insider is doing is a disgrace to journalism, and harms humanity... we should celebrate amazing scientists, engineers, and innovators like Neri,” famous podcaster Lex Fridman reacted on X.
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