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Parts of outdoors column plagiarized

In his farewell column in Thursday’s News & Observer, longtime outdoors correspondent Bob Simpson apologized for recently using material from another writer without giving credit.

Simpson’s Nov. 1 column was similar in many ways to an essay published by humorist Patrick F. McManus. The essay was part of a collection of McManus’ work published in several books. Simpson and McManus know each other and over the years have written for some of the same outdoors publications.

The structure of the essays was similar, as was the wording in several places. For example, McManus wrote: “My research paper, ‘Levitation: A Roommate’s Response to a Garter Snake in His Bed,’ caught the fancy of a psychology professor who invited me to join him in research on abnormal behavior in lesser primates.”

In his Nov. 1 column, Simpson described research from his college years. He wrote: “One excellent example was in submitting a research paper titled, ‘Levitation: a Roommate’s response to Black Snake in his Bed. This caught the attention of the psychology department, which invited a couple of the more notable students to participate in ‘abnormal behavior in lesser primates....’”

When a reader noticed the similarities in the two pieces of writing, we asked Simpson about them. He acknowledged borrowing heavily from the McManus piece without giving credit and apologized.

We agreed mutually that Simpson should stop writing the column. Simpson, 87, is not a member of the staff but has been an outdoors correspondent for The N&O since the 1950s. Recent health problems have made it difficult for him to get outdoors. That has limited his ability to write his column.

Simpson was admitted to the hospital recently with pneumonia. He was released and is at his home at the coast.

“While it’s been more fun for me than I can describe, it’s time to hang it up,” Simpson wrote in his farewell column.

Simpson said the Nov. 1 column was the only column in which he borrowed material from another writer and did not give credit. We randomly selected four recent columns and ran them through two computer programs that detect plagiarism. The programs can detect word-for-word copying but are less successful when sentences have been rewritten.

There was no indication that any of the other Simpson columns were copied from another writer.

This explanation of Simpson’s departure will be published in Saturday’s print editions of The N&O. 

Simpson has been a spirited observer and graceful writer for The N&O for more than five decades. We wish him well.

--John Drescher

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