Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Baby Doc Paul and plagiarism

It's good to periodically revisit some basics. Rand "Baby Doc" Paul's recent problems over plagiarism made me reflect again on just what constitutes plagiarism.

The American Historical Association has a Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct (2005) which includes Section 4 on plagiarism. This excerpt gives a pretty good picture of what I think of as plagiarism:

Plagiarism includes more subtle abuses than simply expropriating the exact wording of another author without attribution. Plagiarism can also include the limited borrowing, without sufficient attribution, of another person's distinctive and significant research findings or interpretations. Of course, historical knowledge is cumulative, and thus in some contexts—such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, broad syntheses, and certain forms of public presentation—the form of attribution, and the permissible extent of dependence on prior scholarship, citation, and other forms of attribution will differ from what is expected in more limited monographs. As knowledge is disseminated to a wide public, it loses some of its personal reference. What belongs to whom becomes less distinct. But even in textbooks a historian should acknowledge the sources of recent or distinctive findings and interpretations, those not yet a part of the common understanding of the profession. Similarly, while some forms of historical work do not lend themselves to explicit attribution (e.g., films and exhibitions), every effort should be made to give due credit to scholarship informing such work.

Plagiarism, then, takes many forms. The clearest abuse is the use of another's language without quotation marks and citation. More subtle abuses include the appropriation of concepts, data, or notes all disguised in newly crafted sentences, or reference to a borrowed work in an early note and then extensive further use without subsequent attribution. Borrowing unexamined primary source references from a secondary work without citing that work is likewise inappropriate. All such tactics reflect an unworthy disregard for the contributions of others.

No matter what the context, the best professional practice for avoiding a charge of plagiarism is always to be explicit, thorough, and generous in acknowledging one's intellectual debts. (emphasis in original)
From this report from Luke Johnson, Rand Paul Adding Footnotes So People 'Leave Me The Hell Alone' Huffington Post 11/05/2013, it sounds like Baby Doc overstepped the boundaries in a print article in the Washington Times. And not for the first time: Andrew Kaczynski, Three Pages Of Rand Paul’s Book Were Plagiarized From Think Tank BuzzFeed 11/02/2013.

Still, as generally unsympathetic as I find Baby Doc's segregationist politics and thinking, I found myself having some sympathy with him over his descriptions in speeches of a couple of movies that supposedly had been plagiarized from Wikipedia. So he strung together a couple of words during a political speech in the same order they appear in a Wikipedia article. Who cares? And isn't Wikipedia crowd-sourced? How do we know he didn't write the original descriptions himself?

But this response on ABC's This Week is a good example of the kind of OCD response that Bircher types love, even when it sounds as whiny as this:

Maybe the non-FOX press should start inspecting FOX News broadcasts for unattributed quotes of Republican talking points, Republican politicians, and the FOX News guests who were spouting the same words in the same order a few minutes before.

Tags: ,

No comments: