Friday, June 6, 2014

Occam's Razor

The Cabinet continues to receive the occasional donation for its shelves relating to Professor Matthew Whitaker.  These are flung over our transom by people who seem to feel themselves in great jeopardy should their contributions become known.  The academic cloak and dagger initially seemed slightly overwrought.  The Cabinet, although understanding the need for anonymity, was built in a style of wry detachment and cannot easily change its grain.  But it must be admitted that these documents  suggest that the consequences of objecting to misconduct are greater than the consequences of misconduct.  All of the documents are technically public, although one is public not in the conventional sense of, "This Document Is Readily Accessible," but more in the sense of, "This Document Must Be Officially Public, So the University Cannot Actually Burn It and Make an Intern Eat the Ashes, which Frankly Is What the University Would Like to Do.  So it Will Instead Tuck it Away and Make Its Best Threatening Noises at Anyone Who Requests It." That kind of public.
 Others, truth be told, are entirely public, such as a YouTube video in which Dr. Whitaker is filmed delivering -- and clearly reading --  a largely plagiarized speech.  The existence of the video renders his later written claim, also furnished to the Cabinet, that he had perhaps accidentally memorized a few elements of the speech, a kind of magical thinking in which, it seems, we all are expected to participate. That defense does demonstrate some true  originality.
The Cabinet does not wish to find its shelves smashed in the night, not least because we hope others will have use for them. Nor do we wish to depart from our mission of straightforward text presentation. But we can't help noting that the documents make clear an interesting dynamic. The more evidence of plagiarism brought forth, the fiercer the arguments made that those complaining are agitated by something other than the scale and breadth of the plagiarism. Somehow, each new act of plagiarism becomes a protection against the consequences of plagiarism.  Historians alone could not have built such a marvelous contraption, one that converts social injustice into academic absolution. It took history, too, and perhaps its creation serves some mysterious larger justice.  That's for the cosmos to decide.  As for the Cabinet, it is confident that the answer to the implicit question of "What is  it about Professor Whitaker that makes people keep accusing him of plagiarism?"  is simple.   Professor Whitaker keeps plagiarizing.

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