So, just after posting about Stephen Metcalf’s takedown of Will Saletan, I was surfing the interweb before getting to work for the night, and I noticed that Ezra Klein posted something very similar to what I had written. What to do? Go back and edit my original post, tipping my hat after the fact to Young Ezra (or whatever he gets called in the b-sphere)? Leave it alone? Trash the original post? You’ll note that I’ve opted for this, going meta for no good reason.

But there actually is a reason: earlier today, while working on part of my new book, I glanced at a secondary source (a dissertation, written by Gary Leland Roberts, on the Sand Creek massacre) to check out a fact. In doing so, I stumbled upon a case in which Roberts had made, twenty years ago, a very similar point to something I wrote yesterday. In part, this is another example of the lattice of coincidence upon which I often snag a sleeve. This piece of the lattice, though, presented me with a dilemma. What to do? Footnote the original author? Make clear in my notes that I came up with the idea on my own but later found it in Roberts’s dissertation? Pretend I never saw the point in question? Or something else?

I decided, in the end, to cite Roberts without comment. In part, I made my choice because I’m not a fan of discursive footnotes; they distract me from the body of a text. And I also decided that nobody would believe my explanation: that I had come up with the idea independently and then ran across it later in Roberts’s dissertation. Honestly, I’m not sure that I believe it myself. Instead, it seems more likely that when I read Roberts’s work four years ago, I noticed the disputed idea. I then stored it away in some dusty corner of my cranium before plucking it out yesterday. Macolm Gladwell may not think that plagiarism is a big deal. But as is often the case with his work, after I get past the gee-whiz factor, I think he’s wrong. It’s an author’s repsonsibility to keep track of these things — within reason — and make a good-faith effort to give credit where it’s due. If that means that I won’t own an idea that might actually might be mine, so be it.

So Roberts gets his citation. And Young Ezra Klein just gets this lousy blog post.