Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery.
– Red Skelton
In the late summer of 2012 I found myself reading a paper about the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund. The fund is the largest such fund in the world (think oil revenues) and by many measures the most widely admired. The paper gave an insider’s perspective, having been written by guys who’d consulted with Norway. I was intrigued.
About a week later I was out on my morning constitutional, chugging up a savage slope called Negley Hill, alongside which they will someday find my exhausted and shriveled body. I was thinking about Norway and it popped into my mind that the investment approach of the Norway fund was diametrically opposed to the approach championed by David Swensen of Yale – the most widely admired institutional CIO on the planet. Having reached the top of the mountain – take that, Negley Hill! – on my way down it further occurred to me that the difference in the approaches of Norway and Yale might have interesting implications for wealthy family investors, i.e., Greycourt’s clients.
So I sat down and wrote a Greycourt white paper called Yale Versus Norway (available here). The paper was well-received both in the US and in Europe, and I continue to get comments on it. So far, so good.
Then things seemed to get even better! Six months later, having been tipped off by one of my partners, I opened the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition and found that they’d republished my article! Odd, I thought, that they hadn’t bothered to ask my permission, since the paper had been copyrighted (by Greycourt). But what’s a little copyright infringement compared to exposure in the newspaper with the highest circulation in America?
Reading along, I saw that they’d also slightly changed my title – from “Yale Versus Norway” to “Norway: The New Yale?” I thought mine was a bit more provocative, but obviously the Journal knows more about this stuff than I do.
Reading further, I noticed that, in addition, they’d changed my subtitle, from “Implications for Family Investors” to “Wealthy investors are embracing the Yale model of ‘alternative investments.’ But there may be a better strategy.” Seriously, wasn’t mine punchier? But what do I know?
Finally, I observed to my astonishment that the Journal had also changed my name. Well, ok, I thought, Big Media is always changing people’s names – who wants to watch a movie starring Norma Jeane Mortenson? My new name was “Jason Zweig,” a snappy moniker, to be sure, though possibly prone to confusion with the terrific Journal sportswriter, Jason Gay. On the other hand, Gregory Curtis is always being confused with that far-more-famous Gregory Curtis who edited Texas Monthly.
As you’ve probably deduced, the Journal hadn’t republished my article at all – they’d published an article remarkably like mine, containing the same searing insights, but six months later and without citing my article. I felt outraged!
But should I be? Had I actually been harmed in any way? Well, back in February if you’d Googled “Yale and Norway” the first thing that came up was the Greycourt white paper. But in March if you Googled “Yale and Norway” you got the Journal article. Commercial damage!
Well, maybe “damage” is too strong a word – lawyers like me are always going overboard. Could be that next week I’ll be back on top in Google, who knows? The trouble with life is that one’s ego is always getting in the way of one’s common sense. What I needed to do was to step outside my own skin and look at this situation objectively.
So let’s imagine it’s 1860 and Mr. Charles Darwin is sitting down to afternoon tea with his trusty London Times. He stumbles across an article arguing that the human race is merely the end result of natural selection operating across the eons. No mention of On the Origin of Species. “Outrage!” sputters Mr. Darwin, spewing clotted cream all over the Times and already jotting a note to his solicitor.
Or let’s imagine it’s 1906 and Mr. A. Einstein has settled before the fire with his pipe and his beloved journal, Annalen der Physik. Suddenly, right there on page 384 is a scholarly treatise insisting that the potential energy of any object must be equal to its mass times the speed of light squared. No mention of Mr. A. Einstein or his annus mirabilis. “Outrage!” sputters the great man, spitting his pipe out onto the hearth rug, where it leaves behind tiny scorch marks that Mrs. Einstein is unlikely to find endearing.
So there we have it, I believe, objective and conclusive evidence that I ought to be outraged. True, my searing insights were somewhat more humble than those just mentioned – I haven’t heard a word from the Nobel Prize Committee, for example, to say nothing of the MacArthur Foundation Genius Awards. But meager though they be, they were, I thought, mine own.
Soon, I hope, I’ll work myself into a major snit over this.(1) But in the meantime it’s just one of the many Things That Annoy Me.
(1) Actually, I got a cordial note from the real Jason Zweig explaining why my searing insights weren’t cited. Maybe I’ll have to work myself into a major snit over something else.
Next up: Things That Annoy Me, Part 3
Please note that this post is intended to provide interested persons with an insight on the capital markets and is not intended to promote any manager or firm, nor does it intend to advertise their performance. All opinions expressed are those of Gregory Curtis and do not necessarily represent the views of Greycourt & Co., Inc., the wealth management firm with which he is associated. The information in this report is not intended to address the needs of any particular investor.