Plagiarising Enterprise: Is Social Media The New Breeding Ground for Intellectual Poaching?

Four of every five dissertations examined contained examples of word-for-word plagiarism. Ms. Clarke-Pine found no difference between religious and secular schools. When she used a more stringent criterion — five or more copied words — the incidence of unacknowledged borrowing hit 100 percent. There was no way to determine if the copying was intentional or not, but the prevalence made her question whether colleges and universities bore some of the blame.

from the August 23rd, 2011 New York Times article Thinking Cap: The Seemingly Persistent Rise of Plagiarism by Patricia Cohen

Apparently Martin Luther King Jr. did it when he was a student in college and, if you are to believe the findings of a study by Dora D. Clarke-Pine, who is an associate professor of  psychology and school counseling at La Sierra University, he is not alone.  I am of  course talking about plagiarism.  What did you think I was talking about?

What is interesting is that up until the 18th century, when plagiarism became the immoral and reprehensible act of stealing anothers words, thoughts or ideas, artists were actually encouraged to copy their “masters” works as closely as possible perhaps as a means of preserving the integrity of the original idea or vision.

However, and in particular in today’s virtual realms, where a written or spoken word once catapulted into the sea of electronic musings remains forever engraved in eternity, such preservation is no longer necessary.

So here is the question . . . at what point does the reference to another artist’s material cross the boundary from sound research into convenience and laziness?

As someone who is as passionate about researching a story as he is about writing it, I have always considered it to be a badge of honor to not only disclose the source of my information but also provide direct links to it so as to provide you the reader with an added time-saving resource.

The real value in any individual’s writing is not linked to the breadth of his or her research but instead to an ability to cause people to see a particular subject in an entirely new light.  In essence to stimulate someone to view a topic through a lens that challenges them to look beyond the comfortable confines of that with which they are already familiar or comfortable.  In this regard, referencing other writers’ works is essential for creating the context that is the seed for new thoughts and ideas.

For me, the greatest compliments that I receive as a talk radio host are from guests who despite discussing their area of expertise for the hundredth if not the thousandth time, tell me that my questions caused to consider their subject matter from an entirely different perspective.  This is a key element in terms of stimulating an energized and entertaining interview in which everyone including the listening audience feel that their time has been well spent.

Based on this, I think that the bigger issue beyond making certain to accurately name your referenced sources, is to ask yourself if you are creating new ideas from both existing and or current real-time events or, merely regurgitating what is already out there?

This standard extends well beyond the mere word count associated with the Clarke-Pine study as it takes into consideration the originality and the extent of the non-referenced text.  Let’s face it, and unlike the days when I was going to school, when the only virtual thing about my old Funk and Wagnall’s was the equivalency of each book’s size to today’s notebook computers, the relative ease by which people can now access a vast pool of information means that plagiarizing someone elses work is only a few keystrokes and a Google search away.

Think about it for just a minute . . . it is like trying to find a haystack amongst the needles in that social networks actually encourage you to become cub reporting feeders for the latest news and events such as the just reported 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the eastern U.S.

In the past we would have been glued to our idiot boxes, which served as the narrow funnel through which relevant and or breaking news flowed into our homes and lives.  Now, all we merely have to do is be signed into our Facebook account and voila we receive news bulletins by the bushel from our numerous contacts.

Is this re-reporting of events a form of plagiarism?  Haven’t we simply poached another source for our information and then, by broadcasting it through our network’s comment stream, become the purported source of that which was not originally ours?  Hmmm . . .

Perhaps the definition of plagiarism needs to be altered to reflect this new virtual reality of the 7/24 Internet world?

Of course, and like clanging cymbals of redundancy, do we somehow not get lost in the cacophony of excitable sharing if we fail to ultimately add a unique and interesting twist to a story or event?  After all, the been there, done that mindset that quickly follows a voluminous reproduction of the same information lends itself to a certain ho-hum attitude that causes people to eventually tune out.

In this regard, and in the new world of plagiaristic integrity where repetition is not the culpable action but instead the inability to add your personal imprint or brand relative to providing a new insight into a tired subject, we must be certain to separate from the herd or risk falling into repetitive irrelevance.  Or to put it another way, it is not that you copy, but how you copy that will ultimately determine your crime and resulting punishment.

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About piblogger

Author and Host of the PI Window on The World Show on Blog Talk Radio. View all posts by piblogger

2 responses to “Plagiarising Enterprise: Is Social Media The New Breeding Ground for Intellectual Poaching?

  • piblogger

    The following is the response I received from the plagiarism study’s author Dora Clarke-Pine in the New York Times’ article comment stream (note her reference to a magic number in response to my comment that the standard for determining if plagiarism has taken place must extend well beyond the mere word count associated with the Clarke-Pine study as it takes into consideration the originality and the extent of the non-referenced text):

    Please keep in mind that the article above is just a “brief” summary of my research. Certainly different levels of comfort exist regarding what may or may not constitute plagiarism. Some professors may strongly feel that a 5-word lift is too restrictive; others may think a 10-word lift is too restrictive. Regardless of what the magic “number” is for a professor, what the article doesn’t have time to cover are the three separate studies I conducted (with basically the same results). For 10-word lifts, the percentages ranged from 80% to 82%.

    Note: you can use the following link to access Ms. Clarke-Pine’s entire comment @ http://community.nytimes.com/comments/artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/23/thinking-cap-the-seemingly-persistent-rise-of-plagiarism/?permid=30#comment30

  • Lorie

    The real value in any individual’s writing is not linked to the breadth of his or her research but instead to an ability to cause people to see a particular subject in an entirely new light.

    That is exactly the point and well said. The books and articles I have benefited from reading the most were always able to articulate a viewpoint in a way that was interesting, pertinent, or exciting for me. I would make sure to look at their bibliography for further enlightenment if I wanted to pursue the idea.

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