As more plagiarism is found in Alexander Report, why should we care?

Rhode Island welfare consultant Gary Alexander, left, and Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew prepare to answer questions from the Health and Human Services Committee on Jan. 14, 2014. Photo credit: Mario Moretto l BDN

Rhode Island welfare consultant Gary Alexander, left, and Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew prepare to answer questions from the Health and Human Services Committee on Jan. 14, 2014. Photo credit: Mario Moretto l BDN

This is the week that the second Alexander Report, from a group already discredited on many counts, has been found to be riddled by plagiarism. After the Bangor Daily News uncovered two pages of content cut and pasted from another report, Mike Tipping found many more examples.

When I first heard there was plagiarism, I thought it was likely that more would be found. Based on my experience, someone caught plagiarizing has probably done it before.

For example, a former colleague, Bahman Bakhtiari, then at the University of Utah, was caught plagiarizing a newspaper op-ed. After an extensive investigation, many more examples turned up, going as far back as his doctoral dissertation.

So why should we be concerned?

To start with, plagiarism is just wrong. It is theft, intellectual theft. The plagiarist is also a liar, misrepresenting someone else’s work as his or her own.

In the academy, there are severe penalties for plagiarism, as there are in journalism. People lose their jobs for doing so. (And, yes, Bakhtiari lost his job for his plagiarism.)

But there’s another problem here, involving the quality of work.

Maine taxpayers paid for an original analysis of conditions and policies in our state.

To be sure, what’s happened elsewhere is relevant and the report needed to draw from knowledge of federal law.

However, with so much of the report involving cutting and pasting, it’s clear there wasn’t that much in the way of original work about Maine itself.

Tipping reports:

The reports contain verbatim content from a previous report the Alexander Group wrote for the state of Arkansas (with just the names of the states swapped). The latest report also re-uses the entire text of a 2012 op-ed that Alexander wrote for a Pennsylvania newspaper.

Money for this and the earlier Alexander Report included $185,000 taken from a program for needy families.

At a time when Maine needs rigorous, careful analysis, to ensure programs are helping people to the greatest extent possible while operating efficiently, this is a crying shame.

This never should have happened. The Alexander Group shouldn’t have been hired.

When the Auditor General of Pennsylania, Eugene DePasquale, heard that Maine had hired Alexander, he was amazed, and wondered why a background check hadn’t been done. Gov. LePage’s people attacked him for raising questions.

The contract to the Alexander Group was awarded by a twenty-something former staffer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center without formal training in public policy who now has a high level position in the state Department of Health and Human Services.

It’s clear that Alexander should have been vetted by someone without an ideological axe to grind.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives.