Investigation underway after ex-politician’s wife copied text from Wikipedia, other sources for expensive history book
Santa Clara County is launching an investigation into an expensive government history book it commissioned from the wife of a former South Bay politician after about a fifth of the manuscript was discovered by this news outlet as containing content copied from many online sources.
Jean McCorquodale, wife of former county supervisor and state senator Dan McCorquodale, won 10-year no-tender contracts that paid her at least $2.45 million to write demands grant and to research and write a county government history book. The book project, overseen by the county executive’s office, is two years behind schedule.
In the 580-page draft manuscript she submitted in January, entire paragraphs appear to have been copied almost verbatim from Wikipedia, the History Channel, Mercury News, The Washington Post, county webpages and other sources. , about half without footnotes.
County Executive Jeff Smith said Thursday he was “shocked” and “very concerned” after this news agency sent him side-by-side comparisons of manuscript paragraphs and original content from other sources. .
Smith said he was putting the project “on hold” and planned to hire a third-party investigator to review the manuscript. He said he was also consulting the county council, but did not elaborate.
“It’s awkward,” Smith said, adding that he expected original artwork. If the book is eventually published, it may not be seen by many people as it may only end up in the county government building at 70 W. Hedding Street in San Jose and in the county archives .
In an email response to that news agency, McCorquodale said the manuscript was only a draft and that she did not intend for any of the sections in question to remain in the final work.
“The paragraphs you quoted have been highlighted in my working copy, and all have long since been deleted or substantially rewritten, drawn from many sources, and incorporated into the final bibliography. The paragraphs to which you refer and of others were used as placeholders and were never intended to be included in the final copy,” McCorquodale wrote.
But Smith said he received no revisions to the manuscript McCorquodale submitted and his office shared with that news agency. “The copy you have is the only copy I have,” he said. This copy does not highlight placeholder paragraphs.
McCorquodale did not respond to a follow-up request asking her to share the version of the manuscript she was referring to in which the sections in question had been removed or rewritten.
This news organization discovered the copied material by running McCorquodale’s manuscript through plagiarism software called Scribbr, then double-checked the original source identified by the software against his work.
The copied work appears consistently throughout the manuscript, and in almost every case McCorquodale’s version changed only a few words. About half of the paragraphs copied had footnotes, but the University of California, Berkeley’s guide to plagiarism prevention states that even paragraphs with footnotes should be paraphrased and not copied almost directly .
The revelations follow an investigation by this news agency published on May 29 which found that McCorquodale had been paid at least $2.45 million by Santa Clara County since 2009 for exclusive grant writing work and the county history book project.
During this period, she was awarded untendered contracts by supervisors after the county executive’s office claimed she had “unique” credentials that made her a ” extremely valuable resource” when it came to writing his grant application. The office also justified those contracts by saying that its previous grant applications had brought in millions of dollars.
After years of writing grant applications, she was asked in 2018 to write “a historical record that demonstrates the role of county government over the years.” Smith has previously admitted that the book “took too long” to write and that he should have handled the project more closely.
In chapter five of the McCorquodale manuscript, which covers early European settlement in the county, four of the 175 words in a section of politician and military leader Jonathan D. Stevenson’s Wikipedia page were changed. Chapter 20 contains an entire paragraph verbatim from a History Channel article on the Spanish American War’s Treaty of Paris. In Chapter 35, 17 of the 115 two-paragraph words of a 2010 Mercury News article on the influence of World War II on Silicon Valley were changed.
McCorquodale even appears to have retrieved county documents, including a paragraph from a Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation website about the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum in San Jose, with four words altered.
Other sources from which McCorquodale appears to have copied material include Encyclopedia Britannica, SF Geneaology, California State Association of Counties, California Supreme Court Historical Society, SFGATE, Atlantic Magazine, National Park Service, Sourisseau Academy for State from San Jose State University. and Local History, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Constitutional Rights Foundation and the Los Angeles Times, according to a review of the manuscript.
McCorquodale has worked with the county since 1995, when its individual McCorquodale Corporation first received contracts to fulfill grant applications.
In 2009, supervisors approved a no-tender contract to make her the county’s sole grant writer. The contract lasted five years and was ultimately worth $740,000.
In 2014, the county executive’s office asked supervisors to renew McCorquodale’s contract again. Supervisors did, and that contract grew to $220,000 a year in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, the county executive’s office took on the history book project, bringing its contract to 510 $000 that year.
The following year, supervisors approved an additional half million dollars for McCorquodale because the county executive’s office said the history book was taking longer than expected.
In previous statements, McCorquodale said the project had to be extended because it was “more difficult than expected”, and the pandemic prevented her from accessing important historical documents. McCorquodale also claims to have spent his own money designing the book’s cover, hiring research assistants, and other resources.