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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Another Plagiarism Case

Here is another plagiarism case. (Hat tip to Margaret Soltan.) The perpetrator, Professor Fischer said, in his defense
When asked whether the verbatim material should have been in quotation marks, he responded: "Yes, but does one have to change every word? I don't think what I did is all that uncommon. I think the important part is to cite the works."

Does one have to change every word? That is such a revealing statement because it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding, so fundamental that the person who said it should be tarred and feathered. It's not plagiarism just because you didn't change enough of the words from the original passage to cover up your tracks. You cannot just take a passage and change enough words to make it your own work, because even a paraphrase has to be cited as such. You have to be clear about what is essentially a paraphrase of someone else's ideas, even if you change every damned word.You cannot just have a citation to the work somewhere, a few paragraphs or pages away. It is not enough to cite the works; you have to cite them in a way that doesn't obscure the nature and extent of your debt to them.

The defenses on the CHE site, by some of the commenters, are outrageous. They point out that most of the guy's writing is not plagiarized from other sources. Why, there are whole paragraphs that are not plagiarized, In fact, only 19 separate cases were found, leaving the vast majority of this scholar's work untouched.

But I'm assuming most plagiarists don't do it on every page. It would be like the bank robber saying that he goes into the bank plenty of times without robbing it. Here is one commenter:
Methodologically, all we have here is a few hundred words from which were are supposed to judge a book of how many words. What overall percentage is plagiarised (this percentage would inform our judgements of students ?) What percentage, too, of the important stuff the book says, rather than this nuts-and-bolts explication would end up higlighted ?

A plagiarism offense is an offense. It doesn't really matter what percent of the total work is non-original. A few hundred words for each plagiarized passage is enough.

I'd also like to point out that the plagiarisms were found by google searches. Obviously, not every piece of text is googleable, so there could actually be more cases. I wouldn't be surprised if google missed a few case, especially since it would only catch "copy and paste" examples, not paraphrases where enough words were changed.


Thomas said...

Nice move to threaten a guy with a law suit! Extra embarrassing for Fischer. Big high five to Petkovic for saying "go ahead". And people should really look at the long, shameful tradition of trying to get out of this sort of thing before they launch their own strategy. They'd see how silly they look when they say "Yeah, it was sloppy, but it's NOT plagiarism." It's sloppy AND it's plagiarism.

Thomas said...

Also, I notice the article mentions it took 50-100 hours to uncover everything. That's one of the reasons I'd to get us seeing this sort of sleuthing a critical scholarship pure simple. It should be publishable, not just scandalous.

Jonathan said...

I have a series of plagiarism posts coming up within the next week or so. Stay tuned.

Thomas said...

Me too. BTW, that "bemsha" guy in the CHE comment field seems like a pretty sharp fellow.

Jonathan said...

Yes, I agree with a lot of what he says.

Thomas said...

Here's my contribution. I've got some more for next week. Thanks for flagging this case.

Jordan said...

Do you use Turnitin at Kansas?