The following letter was sent to the editorial page editor of the Columbus Dispatch last month. It is in response to a seven-paragraph letter published by Ohio State University professor Micah Berman in rebuttal to an opposite-editorial written by Mackinac Center Adjunct Scholar Todd Nesbit, who is also an employee of OSU.

Of the seven-paragraph rebuttal, four paragraphs contained language that had been published elsewhere — and one paragraph apparently after the Feb. 23 letter — by other authors.

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I brought these facts to the attention of the Dispatch’s editorial page editor Glenn Sheller in the letter below and he in turn asked Mr. Berman to respond to my assertions. Mr. Berman apparently told the Dispatch’s Sheller that he had permission to use the words of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Vice President of Research Danny McGoldrick. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids is a Washington D.C.-based non-profit that is opposed to smoking and favors higher excise taxes on cigarettes.


February 23, 2015

Dear Mr. Sheller:

I am writing to inform you of an issue of plagiarism in the Feb. 16 edition of the Columbus Dispatch, in a letter to the editor authored by Micah Berman, assistant professor at the College of Public Health and Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University, Columbus. The letter was in response to an op‑ed published by my colleague, Todd Nesbit, also an OSU employee.

There is much wrong with Mr. Berman’s letter, but the willingness of this OSU assistant professor to take credit for someone else’s work stands out. Specifically, the second paragraph of Mr. Berman’s letter reads in part:

“The Mackinac Center has a long history of receiving funding from the tobacco industry and supporting its opposition to tobacco-tax increases. So it’s no surprise the latest report once again parrots one of the tobacco industry’s main arguments against higher cigarette taxes.”

Those precise words were published in the Jan. 22, 2013 Kalamazoo Gazette, in a letter to the editor from Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

“First, the Mackinac Center has a long history of receiving funding from the tobacco industry and supporting its opposition to tobacco tax increases. So, it’s no surprise the ... report parrots one of the tobacco industry’s main arguments ...”

This is ironic. Mr. Berman has the temerity to accuse Dr. Nesbit in the Columbus Dispatch of parroting an industry while parroting, pirating or most likely plagiarizing another source.

There is more. The first paragraph of Mr. Berman’s letter reads in part:

“... claimed to show high rates of cigarette smuggling as a result of state cigarette-tax increases.”

The first paragraph of Mr. McGoldrick’s January 2013 letter reads in part, “The Mackinac Center claims to show high rates of cigarette smuggling as a result of state cigarette tax increases.”

Berman’s apparent copy-and-paste job was not limited to the Kalamazoo Gazette. In his third paragraph we find:

“Contrary to the claims of the tobacco industry and the Mackinac Center, higher cigarette taxes are truly a win-win-win for the state.”

Again, Danny McGoldrick of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids was the apparent real author, this time in a Jan. 24, 2013 letter to the editor in the Salt Lake City News: “Higher cigarette taxes are truly a win-win-win for a state.”

Berman’s fourth paragraph takes language directly from that organization’s website, again without attribution. It reads:

“Plus, every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tax has received more revenue than it would have collected absent a rate increase, despite the lost sales from related smoking declines and despite any alleged increases in cigarette smuggling or other tax evasion.”

The Campaign’s “Cigarette Tax Increase Tool Kit” reads: “Every single state that has raised its cigarette tax rate has subsequently received more tax revenue than they would have received without a rate increase.”

It is possible that Mr. Berman did not assemble this letter himself but simply loaned his signature and OSU’s credibility to an organization whose goals he supports. I would ask Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids that myself, but it has been unresponsive to both me and Dr. Nesbit. (As one example, see the questions posed in our second letter to the Campaign, published early last year.)

Another reason I believe Tobacco Free Kids may have ghosted this for Mr. Berman is that the organization issued a statement from its president, Matthew Meyers, dated February 19, 2015 which included the following language:

“... Minnesota’s cigarette tax revenues increased by more than 50 percent, while neighboring states saw little or no growth in revenue.”

Mr. Berman’s February 16 letter has the identical language in paragraph five: “Despite industry ominous warnings, ‘Minnesota’s cigarette-tax revenues increased by more than 50 percent, while nearby states saw little or no growth in revenue.’”

Either way, the letter appears to violate the high standards of integrity advertised and maintained by both the Columbus Dispatch and the Ohio State University.

OSU’s strict plagiarism policy for students reads in part:

When a student submits work purporting to be his or her own, but which in any way borrows organization, ideas, wording or anything else from a source without appropriate acknowledgement of the fact, he/she is engaging in plagiarism.

It also distinguishes explicit plagiarism from “collusion” which involves a student turning in “work in his/her name that has been written wholly or in part by another person — regardless of whether or not it has been taken from unattributed sources materials” and calls this a “a kind of plagiarism.”

OSU has experienced a large increase in student plagiarism and is so concerned it bought a license from the plagiarism-detection web service TurnItIn.com to help students avoid violations.

As I said above, there is much else wrong with Mr. Berman’s letter.

Plagiarism aside — and I’m confident the Dispatch will agree — if Mr. Berman wants to challenge a talented scholar’s work, he should address perceived errors or shortcomings with legitimate evidence rather than engaging in redirection or advancing unsupported assertions that dodge the facts laid out in Dr. Nesbit’s thoughtful op‑ed.

Sincerely,
Michael LaFaive
Director
Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative