Adam Grant seems like a pretty smart guy. According to his CV, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in organizational psychology and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa honors, and the John Harvard Scholarship for highest academic achievement. He is a professor at Wharton College at the University of Pennsylvania and he's written a best-selling book. Grant's writings have also been features in the New York Times. In fact, his most recent piece, entitled "Why Men Need Women," just ran last Sunday—prime time in newspaper circles.
Certainly, an academic of this caliber knows how to properly cite his sources. But as smart as Professor Grant may seem, he made an egregious error in his Times piece. In discussing how Mary Gates, Bill Gates' mother, had inspired both him and his wife, Grant wrote:
"Mary read a letter aloud that she had written to Melinda about marriage. Her concluding message was reminiscent of the Voltaire (or Spiderman) mantra that great power implies great responsibility: ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.'"It's a great thought. Grant obviously thought it was powerful enough to include in his story. But, he's woefully confused on the origin of the teaching. The quote originates not with Mary Gates, Stan Lee, or Voltaire, but with Jesus Christ! The quote is taken from Luke 12:48 which reads in part "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (ESV).
Grant seems to be truly ignorant of the origin of Mrs. Gates' quote, instead attributing the idea to a much weaker concept that Voltaire helped popularize. How could an academic miss this? And how could the New York Times editors miss this? Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson claimed that rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing are "a fundamental part of our job as journalists." I realize that one cannot source every quote by every individual, but we are talking about misattributing a quote from the man who changed the course of humanity more than any other in history!
The truth is that both an academic and the editors at The Times missed this is because there is a much more pervasive dearth of religious knowledge in our culture, especially in the news media. There have been books written on it. The folks at The Media Project continue to sound alarms over it. But, The Times and other mainstream news outlets continue to be willfully blind on the question of religion. They seem to be falling for the classic blunder, the one that thinks, "because religion isn't important to me, it really isn't important at all."
Of course, Jesus' teaching was important enough to Mary Gates that she would quote it. That same teaching then influenced Bill and Melinda Gates to give incredible amounts to charity. To me, that seems important. Perhaps The Times could hire someone with a little working knowledge with Jesus and His sayings, just in case they make a lasting mark on our society.
http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/update-to-my-previous-post-on-truth-vigilantes/ Accessed 7/24/2013.