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A little note on plagiarism
Feb 14th, 2012 by Dr Karma

I’m in the midst of writing a response to a student essay on plagiarism. In the essay, the student claims that few people actually steal, that students are “confused” by the accessibility of the internet (thinking that the internet belongs to them), that music sampling is certainly not wrong, etc. The students briefly mentions Malcolm Gladwell’s story about seeing a line he wrote used in play–at first he was angry, then flattered.

The student’s essay lacks focus, etc, but my comments (reprinted below) deal with the lack of counter-argument:

Many counter-arguments to this piece immediately come to mind. For example, as a teacher, I have seen many, many students “wrongfully claim credit and ownership for a project” (1). Students have bought papers online. They have copied off of each other’s papers. They have even claimed that they “had no choice” but to do so because they believe all students cheat, which is an insult to all of us who got through college without cheating. (Even if the cheating students were right about everyone cheating, which they aren’t, they would still have a choice). 

I have been the victim of plagiarism in another way. A paper I had published online was found posted on a cheat site. The site claimed that the author (me!) had given permission for this paper to be used by this site and by students. I had done no such thing. I threatened to sue the site if they did not remove my essay immediately. In a less dramatic example, a man copied an article I published for Mental Floss on his blog. He did not reference my name, the name of the original magazine, or anything else—except his own name. To anyone who didn’t know better, it would look like he wrote my piece.

The cheat site and the blogger were not “inspired” by my research, by my time, by my work. They were thieves. However vague some definitions of plagiarism are, some cases like these are unquestionabl

In terms of the more questionable cases, I don’t understand why these people with questionable cases can’t do what we do in academia. When I want to use another person’s words, I cite that person. If someone wants to use Malcolm Gladwell’s words, why can’t there be a line in the author’s notes about it? If someone wants to sample a piece of someone else’s music, why can’t that person mention it in the liner notes on the CD?

Weird Al Yankovic, for example, always tells you what artist’s song he’s parodying. He also gets permission from artists before using their work. Notably, he doesn’t have to do this, as his creations are protected under the copyright exception made for parodies. While one artist (Coolio) claims Yankovic didn’t ask permission (I don’t believe Coolio’s side of the story here), Yankovic still credited him fully.

The student’s point seems to be that “plagiarism” is too vague a term to pursue action against plagiarizers. In some cases, this is simply not true. In others, reasonable, easy steps can be taken to acknowledge how someone else has inspired us. If s/he has inspired us, doesn’t s/he deserve a respectful acknowledgement of that fact?

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Scientific Research
Jun 28th, 2009 by Dr Karma

Are you one of those people who bristles when congresspeople and political talking heads tell you about “silly” scientific studies your tax dollars are being used for?

Like one study on truck-drivers’ homosexual encounters at truck stops?  The people who did the study actually had to appear before Congress after some politicos started in on them.  The Congress’s findings?  That the study was furthering our understanding of how AIDS is spread–one of the things it was designed to do.  The study continued.

Now, including winners of the Ignoble awards (those who actually do stupid research), most scientific inquiry looks odd to outsiders, although those outsiders should remember that many scientific discoveries were not even planned.  Viagra and microwaves are just two things discovered while scientists were doing their thing–running studies.

An article in a recent Mental Floss (May/June 2009) hits the point home with “10 Technologies We Stole From the Animal Kingdom.”  Why study shark skin, bat radar, or resurrection plants, to name the first three?  I’m not sure why they were originally studied (other than–cause we want to know!) or how the studies were funded (private or public), but now there’s a new coating to avoid germs in hospitals, canes for the blind that really let you know what’s out there, and how to keep vaccines viable for longer–the better for the vaccines to help children in inhospitable regions.

Science inquiry is cool and it’s time we reclaim it as an American value.

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Jun 7th, 2009 by Dr Karma

As many of you know, my most common form of artistic expression is making lists.  Usually these free-form poems take the form of “to do” and “groceries,” but occasionally, something with more substance emerges.  For example, my book group is currently making a list of books we know we should have read, but haven’t.  We’ve also asked one of our members to compile a list of must-read graphic novels.

As it’s summer, I’m sure we’re all thinking about expanding our reading, our viewing, our cooking . . . something about summer makes us want new things.  So I want to make some lists, but I need your help.  Help me expand the following lists & help me think of new lists.

Shows you’re probably not watching, but should be (netflix them):

1.  Whitest Kids U’ Know–it’s the next generation of sketch comedy (currently on IFC)

2.  Breaking Bad–the dad from Malcolm in the Middle finds out he has cancer.  To provide for his family, he uses his chemistry teacher powers to make meth (currently on AMC).

3.  Slings and Arrows–this series ran for three seasons.  It’s a Canadian show about a repertory theatre troupe.  Their productions mirror the comic drama of their lives.  Very funny.  Mark McKinney, of The Kids in the Hall, is a writer, creator, and star.

breaking-bad

Websites you should be checking out:

1.  www.mentalfloss.com  This is the companion site to Mental Floss magazine, which I love.  It feeds all of my trivia needs, but with a wonderful dry humor.  The website not only features articles from the magazine, but also great work by bloggers–they have links to other cool pages, quizzes, and daily trivia articles on awesome topics (best libraries, strange but true ways of death, etc.)

2.  www.theonion.com  This amazing satire site now has video reports.  The satire is so good that some people think the news is real.  For example, years ago, they reported on the annual “gay agenda convention,” which made fun of the idea that there is a gay conspiracy/agenda.  Several preachers sent the article to their congregations, citing it as evidence of said gay agenda.

While you’re perusing The Onion, don’t forget to go to the AV Club, which features media reviews, interviews, and Dan Savage’s sex column.

3.  http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html  Each day, they feature a different astronomy picture.  Discover the cosmos!

whirlpool-galaxy

Nonfiction authors you should be reading:

1.  Sarah Vowell–she’s a favorite of NPR and Jon Stewart.  Her writing is clever & good for you history buffs.

2.  Mary Roach–she’s a science reporter with three great books.  Want to know how cadavers are used for research & health?  Want to know how people investigate the afterlife from a scientific point of view?  Want to know what sex researchers are up to in their labs?  Yes, you do.

3.  Terry Jones–yes, the Terry Jones of Monty Python, who got his degree in medieval studies.  Check out his editorials for The Guardian & his amazing Medieval Lives, where you can learn about the actual lives of knights, minstrels, and damsels.

terry-jones1

Okay, I have to get back to grading.  Add to the list and to the list of lists!

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Karma’s Simpsons article on Mental Floss
May 18th, 2009 by Dr Karma

is here:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/25661

Yea! (Even if they did edit it down.) Yea!

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Karma’s Simpsons article on Mental Floss
May 18th, 2009 by Dr Karma

is here:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/25661

Yea! (Even if they did edit it down.) Yea!

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