Monday, August 13, 2012

1056 Creeping Scholarism

1056 Creeping Scholarism

Consider the case of Fareed Zakaria.   Zakaria was and still may be an editor at large for Time Magazine and a program host and contributor for CNN.  He wrote a column about gun control.  In it, he more or less lifted a quote from an article in the New Yorker Magazine.  As of this writing, he has been suspended.

The point he was trying to make in the column was simple:  The United States has a long history of gun regulation.  A statement like that can easily stand on its own without attribution. Anyone interested can look it up -- fact check, if you will.

What Zak did was lift a quote within a quote from the New Yorker, removed a few words and left the impression that it was his own research and his own words.

He had two other choices.  He could simply have said “we have a long history of gun regulation.”  Or he could have used the words he used, but attributed them to the New Yorker author.

There’s hardly anything that someone hasn’t already said in some form.  It’s unlikely that any politician will start a speech today with the words “Four score and seven years ago.”  But it’s also unlikely that anyone would fail to know the source of the quote if it weren’t used.

So, what is plagiarism? The definitions vary.  There are legal definitions.  There are scholarly definitions.  There is intentional stealing.  There is accidental stealing.

Academic writing is a bumpy road.  It’s hard to read.  It’s filled with references.  The only people who read it are other academics.  But we’re getting to the point that we who write for regular people will have to start writing like professors.  And that raises a barrier to understanding.

The American Psychological Association, one of two standard setters for academic writing, offers a complex computer program that automatically scans the internet for plagiarism.  You can upload a document and it’ll hunt down similarities for you.  Are we going to have to start putting everything through StealCheck?

Baby, get me rewrite, as Gable would say.  Or was it Bogart?


Shrapnel:

--Fact check:  a score is 20 years.  Therefore four score and seven years = 87 years.  Just thought you should know in case you didn’t.

--The London Summer Freak Show is over at last.  The real winner is NBC, which managed to do something it hasn’t done in years:  attract large numbers of viewers in prime time and doing it the old fashioned way, with brilliant pictures and brilliant production and direction.  As for charges they spoiled the “thrill” for some viewers by delaying some broadcasts until after everyone knew the results:  so what.

--Fun to watch how the religious right will handle this.  Their vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan keeps extolling the virtues of Ayn Rand and even making his staff read her books.  But she was a very public atheist.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2012

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