LOUISVILLE, Ky. (USA TODAY) -- U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's office remained mum Tuesday after allegations that heplagiarized part of speeches he gave Monday at Liberty University in Virginia and earlier this year at a conference in Washington, D.C.
The plagiarism allegations first broke Monday night when MSNBC television show host Rachel Maddow accused Paul of stealing four lines of his speech to students at Liberty University from a Wikipedia entry about the movie "Gattaca," which Paul used as a cautionary tale about advancements in science.
He warned that as in the movie, society could eliminate those who are weak or not intelligent by culling inferior DNA. "In your lifetime, much of your potential, or lack thereof, will be known simply by swabbing the inside of your cheek," Paul told the students.
He then went on to tell about the movie, uttering four lines that mirrored the Wikipedia entry almost verbatim.
Buzzfeed, another website, reported Tuesday that he also plagiarized when he borrowed several lines from a Wikipedia entry about the movie "Stand and Deliver" for a speech in June at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.
Paul's office didn't respond to emails seeking comment about the speeches, or whether Paul wrote them himself.
But political scientists say that how Paul handles the issue could determine whether the allegations impact his potential plans for a 2016 presidential bid.
Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, said that if the error was made by a staff member, he should simply say that and then say he is keeping the staff member on and using the incident "as a teaching moment."
"If Paul wrote the speech himself, it becomes a little bit trickier," Voss said.
If it was Paul's fault, Voss said he should take responsibility and apologize to the Wikipedia writers and hope the incident blows over.
Jonathan Bailey, a plagiarism and copyright consultant in New Orleans, said that Paul is essentially accused of stealing others' ideas. After watching the recording of Paul's Liberty University speech, he said it's "pretty convincing" that the words originated with Wikipedia.
But he also said that it's unclear if Paul is really responsible. "Was it Rand Paul himself or was it a speechwriter who wrote it?" Bailey asked.
In all, Maddow accused Paul of quoting almost word-for-word four passages in the Wikipedia entry explaining "Gattaca."
Paul said: "In the movie 'Gattaca,' in the 'not too distant future,' eugenics is common and DNA plays a primary role in determining your social class."
The Wikipedia entry said, "In 'the not-too-distant future,' liberal eugenics is common and DNA plays the primary role in determining social class."
Paul said, "Due to frequent screenings, Vincent faces genetic discrimination and prejudice. The only way to achieve his dream of being an astronaut, is he has to become what's called a 'borrowed ladder.'"
Wikipedia's passage reads: "Due to frequent screening, Vincent faces genetic discrimination and prejudice. The only way he can achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut is to become a 'borrowed ladder.'"
Paul said: "He assumes the identity of a Jerome Morrow, a world class swimming star with a genetic profile said to be 'secondary to none,' but he's been paralyzed in a car accident."
Wikipedia says: "He assumes the identity of Jerome Eugene Morrow, a former swimming star with a genetic profile 'second to none,' who had been injured in a car accident, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down."
Paul said: "Jerome buys his identity, uses his DNA — his blood, his hair, his tissue, his urine — to pass the screenings."
Wikipedia says: "Vincent 'buys' Jerome's identity and uses his 'valid' DNA in blood, hair, tissue, and urine samples to pass screening."
The June speech in which Paul talked about "Stand and Deliver" also differed from Wikipedia in minor ways.
But Bailey said that it doesn't matter if small changes were made — it's still plagiarism.
Dewey Clayton, a professor at the University of Louisville, said he was "kind of taken aback" when he heard what Paul had done, but he said that it doesn't necessarily rule him out as a presidential candidate.
"When you do something like this, it damages (your) credibility," Clayton said. He said such errors have the potential of harming public officials "because they hold themselves out to be trustworthy ... and it just tends to go against those values and virtues."
But Clayton said he was more concerned about "demagoguery" he saw in the speech than plagiarism.
It's not the first time a politician has been accused of plagiarism. In 1987, then-Sen. Joe Biden's presidential campaign began to derail when he used part of a speech by Neil Kinnock, a member of Britain's Parliament, without giving proper credit.
And in 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton accused then-Sen. Barack Obama of plagiarism when he used a line in a speech from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick without attribution.
In both cases, Biden and Obama had properly credited Kinnock and Patrick on other occasions but ran into trouble on the one occasion they didn't. The controversy obviously didn't harm Obama, who went on to defeat Clinton in the primary and win the general election.
In the end, Voss said, it's "ridiculous" to put too much importance on whether any politician used someone else's words. "It's a silly mistake but in no way affects the political process.
Voss added: "Politics is rife with plagiarism; we don't even call it that. They hire speechwriters, they recite talking points, they go into debates using material worked out by a preparatory committee. There is absolutely no presumption that a politician's words are original."