Harvard Scholar Who Was Plagiarized By Senator Doesn’t Seem to Mind Too Much

FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 26, 2014, file photo, U.S. Sen. John Walsh speaks to reporters in Helena, Mont. The Democrat's thesis written for the U.S. Army War College contains unattributed passages that appear to be taken word-for-word from previously published papers. Walsh faces Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines on Nov. 4.(AP Photo/Matt Volz, File)
US Sen. John Walsh’s master’s thesis was found to have used several other sources word-for-word without attribution.
Matt Volz/AP

To Sean M. Lynn-Jones, imitation is the highest form of flattery. So he wasn’t too bothered when he learned that Montana Senator John Walsh had taken sections of Lynn-Jones’s 1998 paper word-for-word, without attribution, and had used them in his master’s thesis.

“I don’t feel especially victimized,” Lynn-Jones, a research associate at the Belfer Center at The Harvard Kennedy School and Editor of the quarterly journal International Security, told Boston.com.

Sean M. Lynn-Jones
via Harvard

Lynn-Jones found himself in the news Wednesday afternoon, when The New York Times found significant evidence that Walsh outright lifted and failed to attribute words from several sources in his master’s thesis at the US Army War College. For one, an entire page from Lynn-Jones’s 1998 paper “Why the United States Should Spread Democracy” was copied and used in Walsh’s paper without any attribution. Walsh even included Lynn-Jones’s footnotes.

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Still, Lynn-Jones didn’t sound too bothered when reached by phone. “I’d say [I’m] mildly flattered but more surprised than anything else,” he said. “It’s worse for Senator Walsh than it is for me...The fact that he used this paper isn’t going to damage my career, but it could have more serious repercussions for him.”

Lynn-Jones admitted that his paper, written in 1998, was likely out of date by the time Walsh wrote his thesis in 2007. A paper about America’s promotion of democracy around the world that doesn’t include evidence from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is fairly limited, he noted. He’s been meaning to update the paper for a while now.

The Harvard scholar hadn’t seen Walsh’s paper until yesterday, but he recognized his own words upon reading the paper. “If I had seen that paper that Senator Walsh wrote without any of the press coverage, I would have thought, ‘This seems familiar,’ and would have looked at my old paper to check whether language was similar or identical,” he said.

Walsh, for his part, said the failure to attribute was accidental and may have been caused by his post-traumatic stress disorder. Walsh, a Democrat running for reelection, had a 33-year military career.