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Plagiarism: Not just about academics Part II

Folks, I’m not lying when I say, “Plagiarize at your own risk!”. Here is yet another example where the practice of plagiarism proved to be detrimental to one’s professional aspirations: Denver city council candidate caught up in plagiarism charge. As I’ve noted before, ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to plagiarism, nor is intent (or lack of it). In the case above, do you think the majority of voters will excuse this candidate for her lies and deceit? Judging from the results of a recent CO primary race that included another plagiarist, I’m going to say “not very likely”.



Keepin’ it real

One of the 21st century goals for the library profession is to ensure that our patrons and the public at large are “information literate”. For those that are not familiar with the concept of information literacy, you can find a definition on the web site for Association of College and Research Libraries.

So why all the fuss about information literacy? Well, with the advent of the internet age, many of us have witnessed first hand the astronomical increase of information sources, voices, and opinions on all manner of topics. And at times, it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction among the cacophony of the internet. Further muddying the waters are deceitful practices such as electronic astroturfing, which is described by George Monbiot of the Guardian (UK) as an increasingly used tactic by corporations, government agencies, and special interest groups to influence, and in some cases, undermine public opinion.

So what does this mean to you as a student researcher? I often suggest to students that they should identify the professional society or trade association associated with the industry or occupation they are researching. A good strategy for this task is to limit your Google search to .org sites, as in this example. But in an era of electronic astroturfing, its not just enough to trust any old .org site. Students need to go one step further. In the case of electronic astroturfing, look for contact information on the web site. Is there a verifiable street address? Phone numbers that allow you to talk to real persons? How long has the association/society been in existence? Do they publish a newsletter or magazine, and if so, is the publication acknowledge as a voice of authority within the profession?

It seems the more information you find on the internet, the more you need to verify its authority, accuracy, and value!


On whose authority? Look for references!

It seems there have been a number of recent cases of mainstream journalists and news publications that have been caught doing a poor job of reporting. More specifically, failure to check the authority and accuracy of information sources. The New York Times has pointed out that Rush Limbaugh used erroneous information retrieved from Wikipedia on his talk show. The article points out that Limbaugh, armed with false information took to the airwaves and provided commentary that was off base. This post is not an indictment of Limbaugh’s political positions. Instead, it is a reminder how easy it is to be led astray when you fail to check the validity of your sources. This particular instance really provides all the evidence you should need for why Wikipedia is generally not accepted as an academic source, and as such, you should refrain from using it during your research as a Regis University student.


Plagiarism: not just a generational disconnect

A good article from the New York Times on the issue of plagiarism. Personally, I think the author focuses a bit too much on the generational differences that may account for what seems to be an observed increase in the number of plagiarism cases. However, take a look at the comments, and you will see other examples and anecdotes of plagiarism arising in adult professional work settings. The recent accusations of plagiarism against former CO congressman Scott McInnis is a good example.

So why is this important? Well, as the NYT article notes, the proliferation of the internet and digital media has brought us in to an era where laws, ethics, and cultural values pertaining to the use and distribution of copyrighted materials has become very murky. But as we’ve stated before on this blog, IGNORANCE IS NO EXCUSE. We’ve also tried to illustrate that plagiarism can have real academic and professional consequences, many of which can be avoided by simple taking a cautious approach and citing every sources you use. Don’t let the prospect of a few minutes extra work put you off, cite your sources, and if you are unsure how, contact the library’s reference desk for help.


Plagiarism: Not just about academics

Many students attending Regis University are doing so to obtain degrees and certificates for professional and career advancement. The world of academics can be observed as having its own culture, rules, and policies, but students should note that the criteria and expectations for academic work and scholarship often mimic those found in professional work settings. A good example of this is the recent controversy surrounding Colorado Gubernatorial candidate Scott Mcinnis, who has recently been accused of plagiarism. As we’ve seen in previous cases of plagiarism, ignorance is no excuse!

The fact that, “McInnis acknowledged the similarities but blamed a researcher” does not exonerate him. McInnis presented the content and ideas as his own ( or at least as part of a collective effort in which he participated), and in doing so, he accepted responsibility for his actions and the work of the research assistant. As with most plagiarism cases, McInnis could of avoided the controversy by simply providing attribution to the works he cited or referred to. Politics aside, by not doing the right thing and citing Hobb’s, McInnis has brought into question the integrity and honesty with which he performs his work (not exactly good news for a politician!).

So what does this mean for the (aspiring) professional working Regis student? Plagiarism isn’t just an academic issue. Increasingly employers are looking for persons who understand how to synthesize vast amounts of information, create new ideas, and communicate recommendations and/or conclusions to a target audience. A critical step in this process is giving credit where credit is due. Otherwise you jeopardize the reputation and brand of your employer as well as yourself. Furthermore, by citing your sources, your employer will immediately understand that you have valuable research skills and an ability to find appropriate sources for the information need.


Copyright: All about the Benjamins

In the digital world, its easy to buy into the notion that information wants to be free. The internet has proven to be an incomparable vehicle of dissemination of news and data. However, we must remember that despite the format or delivery model, certain rights are held by content creators. In fact, the war over copyright in the digital age is just beginning, with the opening shots across the bow being delivered by some of the biggest guns. For example here is an interesting news story about the Murdoch families legal battle against the British Library from the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. Give it a read, but keep this question in mind: Why is the Murdoch family so concerned about what libraries are doing? Well, consider that information is now a commodity that can now be delivered globally in the blink of an eye. As a commodity, information represents wealth and power for end users and creators, so we should anticipate more fights over copyright as the lines are blurred by digital innovation. While libraries have always done their part in protecting the rights of copy holders, libraries also work to protect the rights of information consumers (banned book week in the US being one example). The legal arguments in copyright cases are complex, and we don’t expect you as a student to master all the minute details of copyright law, but you should consider how copyright impacts your own ability to benefit from creative works, either your own or others.


Plagiarism: Ignorance is no excuse!

Take a look at the following article from the Miami New Times Blog about alleged acts of plagiarism by author Gerald Posner:
So where did Posner go wrong? Let’s start by examining his explanation of events:

“I’ll relook at this chapter and try to determine from my own notes and archives how it was sourced and put together. I have to go back to interviews more than three years old in some instances, and the same for handwritten files.”

If anything, this statement reaffirms the need to be diligent in your note taking, and that those notes should make clear reference to the source of the materials. It’s very tempting in the digital age to copy and paste content into your own notes, but if you do this, make sure to grab the source information as well!

“Babylon is the first book I did with trailing endnotes, in which a few words of text are taken and then a source is provided. In other books, I used the more traditional numbered source notes.

There just aren’t as many trailing endnotes as there are numbered ones. For instance, Babylon is 385 pages and has 740 endnotes. In Case Closed, which is 472 pages, there are 2,175 endnotes. In Killing the Dream, a smaller book at 339 pages, there are 1,739 endnotes. ”

Posner seems to argue here that the inherent differences between the two citation styles is, in part, reason for the discrepancy between the number of sources cited in his two works. But this argument is invalid, because regardless of which citation style you use, you always need to cite your sources. Claiming ingnorance is no excuse! (BTW, Posner could of benefited from contacting the library and seeking instruction or explanation of the style in use.)

“I’ve met Frank Owen, count him as a Facebook friend, and have told him that I thought his work was the best of that Paciello period.”

Familiarity with the source or a friendship with the author is no justification for plagiarism. Even if the content originates from some form of personal communication, it needs to be attributed to the original author or creator. If Posner really wanted to praise Owen’s work as the “best of the Paciello period”, then he should have cited him frequently in his book!

So is Posner guilty of multiple instances of plagiarism? While the mounting evidence looks damaging, this case looks to be ongoing, so we’ll forgo judgment for now. What Posner is guilty off is leaving the door open for the smell of plagiarism to enter the room and leave its rank odor. Had Posner followed the simple rule, “When in doubt, cite the source” then this dispute would have never been.


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