Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Independent Faux Pas Over LSE Scandal

The Independent ran an article by Jonathan Owens about how Saif al-Islam Gadaffi used ghostwriters for his doctoral thesis. What caught my eyes was the last third of the article, about how a niece of Sidney Blumenthal, Clinton's crony, got accepted at LSE despite her sub-par academic records:

Among the people who will feature in the inquiry is Professor David Held, the co-director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance and one of Saif Gaddafi's mentors. He had argued in favour of the grant for his centre being accepted and was appointed a trustee of GICDF in June 2009, but was forced to quit several months later by the LSE's council over concerns of a potential conflict of interests. He denies any impropriety.

But questions about Professor Held were raised over claims that he pressured an admissions tutor to accept the niece of former Clinton aide Sydney Blumenthal on a master's course.

Erik Ringmar, a professor in international relations at Shanghai Jiaotong University, said: "I was David Held's colleague from 2001 until 2007. For the first two years we worked closely together as fellow members of the MSc in comparative politics." He described an incident in late 2002, when Professor Held "insisted I accept a student to our MSc programme who was a relative of Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton crony. Unusually, I was sent an applicant's file not from the admissions office, as always was the case, but straight from the office of the LSE director – at that time Anthony Giddens. In the [applicant's] file was a handwritten note from 'Sid' to 'Tony,' making the case that accepting his niece to do a degree at the LSE would be a wonderful opportunity to 'continue to deepen our trans-Atlantic ties'."

Professor Ringmar claimed that Professor Held telephoned him and said: "You should consider it very carefully, just read the name again. It's Blumenthal, OK? That Blumenthal'."

He added: "In the end, I accepted her, although her grades were substantially lower than what we usually required. I'm not proud of this but I felt intimidated by all the pressure from Giddens, the LSE director, and from David Held. I was a mere lecturer at the time – and easily intimidated."

The LSE dismissed the claim as that of "a disgruntled member of staff who no longer works at LSE".

Reading this section, I assumed the writer of this article, Jonathan Owens, spoke to Professor Ringmar for the article and got that information from him. There is no indication in the article that it is not the case, as the writer doesn't quote any source for Professor Ringmar's comment.

Owens simply wrote "Professor Ringmar,..., said".

I googled the professor's name, as I wanted to find out more about him, and if he'd written more about the Blumenthal case. I typed "Erik Ringmar LSE Blumenthal". Then up popped the professor's own website , with his post from April 25, 2008.

April 25, 2008.

And there it was, Mr. Owen's source from almost 3 years ago, almost verbatim:

I have personal experiences of how Blumenthal operates. His niece applied to do a Master’s degree in the program I was in charge of in London. Unusually, I was sent an applicant’s file not from the Admissions Office, as always was the case, but instead straight from the Office of the LSE Director — at that time Anthony Giddens. In the file was a handwritten note from “Sid” to “Tony,” making the case that accepting his niece to do a degree at the LSE would be a wonderful opportunity to “continue to deepen our trans-Atlantic ties.”

I was just trying to figure out why the file came from Giddens and why that mysterious note was included, when the phone rang. It was David Held, notorious important-person wanna-be. “Did you see the application from Blumentahl’s niece?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “it’s right here on my desk.” “Well, you should consider it very carefully,” Held continued, “Just read the name again. It’s BLUMENTHAL, OK? That Blumenthal.”

Is this a form of plagiarism?

Mr. Owens could have said honestly that Professor Ringmar had written about his encounter with Blumenthal in 2008, and linked to the post. Or he could have taken a few minutes and shot an email to the professor for quick update, if any, that he could quote. It's sad but fitting that the article discussing the plagiarism by the Libyan dictator's son plagiarized someone else's work. (He also could have spelled Blumenthal's name correctly - it's "Sidney", not "Sydney".)

There I was, thinking The Independent was a conscientious liberal paper. Liberal alright (sloppy one at that), but conscientious? Maybe not.


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