How did the Virginia Quarterly Review connect Chris Anderson's book to Wikipedia, thus unraveling a plagiarism scandal? A strange use of parentheses.

Anderson referred to a certain town as "Crescent City (New Orleans)," and the reference caught VQR's Waldo Jaquith, who was reviewing Free, off guard. As he told Fishbowl NY:

At first, I was thrown off. I thought that maybe that before it was called New Orleans it was called Crescent City and I was mad at myself for not knowing that.

But Wikipedia's entry for New Orleans only had Crescent City as a nickname, not as the original monicker for the town. So Jaquith ran a Google search using some of Anderson's specific language and — boom! — up came a Wikipedia article describing the origin of the term "Free Lunch," which Anderson had obviously copied from.

I figured that what had happened was that whoever had written it wanted to be cute and call it Crescent City, but also wanted to link to the New Orleans article [on Wikipedia]. So they put it in parentheses,

Then Jaquith remembered Anderson had once, in Free, weirdly put the word "currency" in quotes, so he ran that section through Google too, and found another chunk of text had been copied from the Web. The rest is history.

Anderson might be a plagiarist, but at least he has what poker players refer to as a "tell." And how appropriate, for the editor of Wired, that it's his reluctance to remove hyperlinks.

[Fishbowl NY]

(Pic by Pieter Baert)