Academic humiliates copy-cat government

Reggie Vettasseri, Varsity, 14 February 2003, page 2

This week national governments were blushing and the headlines of the world's media were screaming after a Cambridge fellow revealed that the British Government's latest dossier on Iraq was little more than a poor copy of out of date and uncredited academic articles.

The scandal was revealed when Glen Rangwala, lecturer in politics at Newnham and Trinity, was forwarded a copy of the dossier and proved that the dossier had been "reproduced word for word, misplaced comma for misplaced comma" from academic work primarily by American post-graduate student Ibrahim al-Marashi who had based his work mainly on information available in 1991.

Rangwala posted his finding on the student organised Campaign Against Sancitions in Iraq discussion group. It was picked up by undergraduates including Varsity Production Manager Dan O'Huiginn and forwarded to journalists, instantly creating an international media frenzy. For part of last week the story was the second most popular story in the world according to Google. The Government has admitted the accusations though they protest that the report is still accurate.

Yet many consider that the implication of the finding is that the Government is misleading the public. The few changes made to the plagiarised reports consisted mainly of politicisation of the language. For example, references to "opposition groups" were replaced with references to "terrorists". The report aimed to prove that the Iraqis were trying to mislead the weapons inspectors in Iraq. However as Rangwala explained to Varsity, "The police, bureaucracy and infrastructure have changed so today the conclusions of the report are very unlikely to be true...But this is not just about one report, it's about the credibility of the Government's whole presentation of so-called 'intelligence dossiers'."

Dan O'Huiginn described his reaction to the story as "One of shock - not so much that the Government was misleading the public but that the Government was so incompetent that it thought it would get away with it." However, had it not been for the activity in Cambridge, as Rangwala points out, it is "quite possible" that the scandal would never had been revealed: "University student activism and academic activity has had a real impact on the terms of the debate on Iraq."

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