Sunday, March 7, 2010

Plagiarism, Part II

I suppose it's get off my lawn time.

Richard Posner, in his book "The Little Book of Plagiarism," points out that with the advent of digital technology, it's become increasingly easy to catch plagiarists. I'm concerned, however, with his light treatment of the ease with which today's digital environment facilitates plagiarism. He does mention paper mills -- where students can go to buy papers to turn in at school, and focuses on Turnitin, a software program developed to catch digital-age plagiarists. I'm concerned, though, that in the academic world, he's left too many shades of grey, offering loopholes to student plagiarists who don't view what they're doing as plagiarism.

We have a friend who teaches English at a private university. The last time we talked with her, she lamented about a student who had been caught plagiarizing not only the papers he was to turn in for the class, but also the personal journal entries he was to have written throughout the semester in order to pass the class. He stole someone else's personal journal entries and tried to pass them off as his own, and saw nothing wrong with his theft until he was caught. Then, of course, the traditional plagiarists' excuses came out: He was too busy to do the work himself. Now, how hard is it to sit down for five or ten minutes a day and record personal thoughts? Well, pretty hard, I suppose, if you've blown off the assignment a whole semester and have to catch up in a day or two in order to get a good grade. That's sad.

What's also odd about Posner's treatment of plagiarism in the book is that he leaves out personal consequences, never once -- at least I think never once -- mentioning the concepts of guilt or remorse. Are we to the point that those caught plagiarizing do not feel badly for the stupidity they've performed? Or, in a treatise of this magnitude, do personal responsibility and remorse not have a place? Or pride. Pride in a job well done, well cited, creative if not necessarilyoriginal? That's the kind of thing that keeps me from cheating or plagiarizing. I want to know, like Edmond Rostand's Crano de Bergerac, that I rose, if not high, at least alone.

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