May 06, 2008

Plagiarism at the University of Florida

Virginia Postrel is one of the victims.

What surprises me is that people think they can get by with it in this day and age—even if the community of libertarian and pop-culture writers didn't catch Professor Twitchell, the electronic tools we all use every day was bound to.

I just don't get why James Twitchell thought he could get by with this. Did he want to get caught? It's whacked.

MORE: Postrel adds:

It's unfortunate that newspaper accounts of such scandals rely so much on "objective" parallel passages rather than getting at the true disservice to the reader. When James Twitchell fails to cite sources for his statistics, leading readers to assume he is the source, he deprives those readers of further information on the subject, including when the stats were gathered and how. He also slights readers when he offers an unsourced summary of another scholar's idea without telling readers where to find the original, and far more thorough, development of that idea. Then there's changing facts to make them inaccurate [as he did with some of the work he lifted from Postrel] ...

As an offense against other scholars and writers, plagiarism is a sign of bad character. But, more important for the public sphere, it's a sign that you don't care about your readers.

That's it in a nutshell, and how odd it is that I didn't read these posts until today, after I'd blogged about using Postrel's own citations as a resource for further reading when I was done reading her books.

AND: More from one of Twitchell's other eminent victims.

Posted by Attila Girl at May 6, 2008 06:48 PM | TrackBack

When I catch a student plagiarizing, I have one of two extremely visceral reactions: I cry or throw up.

Then I turn the little f**ker in to the Student Conduct committee.

Sometimes, they don't even take out the blue hyperlinks in what they paste in from the frikkin' internet!

And a friend of mine got a paper that was cribbed word for word FROM THE BOOK THEY WERE USING IN CLASS. I swear to the gods.

I mean, homage, imitation, flattery, cultural zeitgeist, subconscious influence, collective unconscious, whatever. But dammit, if you hit select copy paste, you know what you did!!!

And you should be punched in the face.

Posted by: Rin at May 7, 2008 10:11 AM

Well, there is the fact that Word makes hyperlinks all over the place, unless you tell it not to.

But what these kids don't understand is that people like you and me are going to recognize any passage that made any impression on us at all, if we've ever encountered it before: we notice turns of phrase. If it's worth stealing, it's memorable enough that someone will . . . remember it.

I try to remind myself that there are people who cut corners in certain areas of life who would never do so in any other. For instance, I've never been tempted to plagiarize, because . . . well, I can always do better than the original. Though I do seem to remember pushing my deadlines, and paraphrasing in rather a hurry at 3:00 a.m. the morning before an assignment was due.

But I know I'm tempted sometimes to invade other people's privacy--read their email or whatever. I don't do it, because that is one thing you cannot undo. If you read someone's private correspondence, or their journal, it might alter the way you think about that person forever. To me, it's even lower than plagiarism, and even more destructive. But not everyone I know sees it that way.

Yet I've been "cheating" in my checkbook since the beginning of time: there is always that $8 or $15 or whatever that I can't account for, and I've always just added or subtracted (usually the latter) to make it balance. This is probably shocking to some people, but I'm not good at arithmetic, and I don't have the time to invest in making things balance perfectly. And I have no inclination, either.

I like the "sloppy research" people. Yeah: "I accidentally lifted that passage ". . . gimme a break.

Though, to be fair, I do know a husband-wife composing team who regularly run their work by each other to make sure they didn't unconsciously grab something out of classical music somewhere. Maybe if one is operating far enough from the right brain, it could happen.

Remember, though, Rin: this is a professor and a writing professional. Not someone trying to get through a breadth requirement. This guy has some bad freakin' karma coming to him, which is why I used his real name.

Posted by: Attila Girl at May 7, 2008 12:06 PM

I've always thought that plagiarism is a foolish enterprise, because people like you and me are going to recognize any passage that made an impression on us: we notice turns of phrase, and if it's worth stealing, it's memorable enough that someone will remember it.

And besides, one can usually do better than the original.

Posted by: Rin at May 7, 2008 01:07 PM

Oh. You are bad. ;)

Posted by: Attila Girl at May 7, 2008 01:12 PM

You, on the other hand, are good.


Posted by: Rin at May 7, 2008 01:30 PM

Then I turn the little f**ker in to the Student Conduct committee.

And then what happens? do they get punished, or do they get a slap on the wrist and get off?

I'm vaguely aware of an incident that happened in my own department - someone reading a faculty member's email surreptiously - that got swept under the rug because the chairman at the time wasn't into confrontation.

Some determined that I shouldn't be notified, even if I where the network admin. If left up to me, I would have dropped the hammer on the perp, and at least cut him/her off from their account for a good, long while.

But that would be confrontational...

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