Thursday, August 21, 2014

Three Strikes, and You're Just Getting Started

Can't anybody here play this game?  This week comes word that yet another humanities professor, in this instance Mustapha Marrouchi of UNLV, has pieced together his writings from the patches of other scholars.  The Chronicle of Higher Education tells the tale, its side-by-side reprintings of original and stolen passages the now familiar tombstones of our scholarly hopes and dreams.  Like Matthew Whitaker at Arizona State University, Mustapha Marrouchi is the well-paid possessor of a named professorship.   Like Matthew Whitaker, he seems to have spent a career writing with others' books and articles open on his desk, their research and analysis to be appropriated as needed. It's all quite deplorable.   But what about the rest of us?  The Cabinet is struck by an unwelcome thought:  do these professors get away with not actually writing, because the rest of us are not actually reading? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Casino Mens Rea

Does plagiarism require intent?  When we start with the text, the answer is no.  A plagiarized text does not require intent any more than a rose must wish to be red. Yet when plagiarism is alleged, we inevitably move quickly from text to scholar. Just as inevitably, the question of intent arises, and an imagined continuum begins to haunt the conversation.  On the one side stands a stone cold scholaro-path, ruthlessly stealing others' work, reaping the rewards for it, and using the time saved on original writing to pillage the environment or erode faculty governance.  We are happy to cry vengeance at such a villain. But rarely does one emerge. Meanwhile, on the other side of the continuum stands someone who in a lifetime of true scholarship, inadvertently left a single sentence uncited because he took sloppy notes.  That sentence lurks like a timebomb in the scholar's work, waiting to be set off by a vengeful colleague or political opponent.  None of us wishes this second scholar to be destroyed and most of us, in our 3 a.m. wakings, can imagine this second scholar to be us. And so, through kindness and self-doubt, we let the discussion of intent dominate our discussions of plagiarism.  But is it really the case that focusing on intent protects scholars, let alone scholarship?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sourcing in America

In today's installment of plagiarism follies, Craig Shirley, author of Reagan's Revolution (2005) accuses Rick Perlstein, author of The Invisible Bridge (2014), of taking unattributed passages, facts, and ideas from his work. Because these are books people might actually read, there is more involved than simply scholarly high dudgeon: Shirley's lawyers demanded Simon & Schuster withdraw The Invisible Bridge from publication and pay $25 million in damages.  Simon & Schuster has responded that there is no viable copyright claim against them, and many of those who admire Perlstein's work have heatedly defended the book, suggesting that the claims are motivated by personal jealousy and resentment of Perlstein's progressive politics. The Cabinet, having arisen from its swoon at the thought of any book being worth $25 million, and having shaken off the malaise caused by realizing almost all of the discussions of the allegations fall along partisan lines, finds interesting issues in the discussions of sourcing and paraphrasing. Strangely, none of them can be resolved by knowing how either author votes.