Who does the bride resemble? Post your answers below!
Down in the comments sections, Sister Renee asks a really interesting question:
What is the difference between plagiarism and paraphrasing. How much does it have to be changed so that your giving the idea or drawing upon a story to make your own logical point?
There seem to be multiple, disjoint definitions of plagiarism. The one I’m most comfortable discussing is academic. The other(s) – and I assume that’s plural – are legal definitions, which arise in lawsuits over patents and copyright infringement and such. I’m not an attorney, so I leave it to you to seek out sound advice from a qualified professional who knows what he’s talking about, if this is what you’re interested in.
Before I go further I should note that I learned the precise definition of plagiarism in a meaningful and difficult way, when one of my advisors politely asked me for a chat a few years ago. She was reading a chapter in my dissertation, and she wanted to let me know that I had plagiarized at least a dozen people. She didn’t know exactly who I plagiarized, because that’s how broad the definition is. She just knew that the ideas I was constructing weren’t mine. It’s interesting to note that she was the only person who pointed this out. No one else, from the beginning of my education, up to and including the chair of the committee who was steering my dissertation, cared enough to point out the problem. I had been plagiarizing others throughout my entire academic life, from the beginning of first grade, up until that day.
Obvious cases of plagiarism include a former student of mine, who decided to cut-n-paste a page from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, rather than think up 500 words of something interesting to hand in to me. (If you take classes from Brother Boxer, you have to write papers, even if we’re studying single variable calculus.)
If you’re a bit more careful than that fella, you might consider stealing someone else’s work, and merely rewriting some of the stolen paragraphs in your own words. This is what I believe our old friend, radical feminist Sheila Gregoire did, when she published her feminist interpretation of the Bible, a few weeks ago. Of course, she might argue that she thought all her arguments up independently, but the likelihood of this is fairly remote, especially given the multiple sources from better thinkers that strangely lined up, precept by shoddy precept, with her kooky feminist ranting.
And then there is the duty of the researcher to properly cite sources for ideas not his own. The IEEE has a pretty good blurb about this here.
A great number of people, including celebrities, like Sheriff David Clarke, have fallen prey to these finer points of the definition. My understanding is that Clarke was not malicious. He merely failed to give proper credit for ideas he didn’t come up with independently. I should point out that I was well on my way to doing the same thing. I had to go back, and insert dozens of footnotes throughout about 200 pages of my own boring text, citing people who helped me develop my ideas.
Many times, you don’t really know who first thought up the idea. Who thought up the axiom of choice? Supposedly it was EFF Zermelo, but the idea had been implicitly used for a long time before that guy well-defined it. So, given that I used it, for something or other, I had to cite him. I also had to cite the guy who gave me the idea of using it to break down someone else’s proposition.
Some of my footnotes were pretty esoteric, and some of them were pretty informal. For instance, not a few of them look like:
I first encountered this idea in a private conversation with Dr. Joe Jackass, at Transylvania University, during the Penthouse Forum conference, on or about February of 2010. The idea is roughly equivalent to the Formal Statement of Midget Porn, first defined by Seymour Butts, in the mid 17th Century, with an exception in the case of transfinite sets, where the domain is restricted to denumerables. I’m also grateful to Cookie Monster and Big Bird, who helped me to understand its use when applied to standing on one leg in the supermarket…
This is very cumbersome, and while it reveals that you’re sorta well-read and well-connected, it’s also an admission that you’re not the groundbreaking genius that your grandparents always said you were. I find the insulation against a charge of plagiarism to be well worth the trade of an ego boost … and let’s face it, anyone who knows me, knows I didn’t come up with most of the shit I use in my arguments. I am of average intelligence, and just smart enough to understand some brainiac shit, and see its connection to yet unexplored areas, which is enough to get through grad school, but it’s a long way from being the next Isaac Newton.
Anyway, I hope this illustrates the scope and the spectrum of the definition. If you’re in school, be careful. Cite your sources, and give credit to the brothers and sisters who came before you. Otherwise you come out, at best, looking like a careless hack; and more often like a total fraud.