Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Expat Living: "If you plagiarize, expect an 'F'"

"Effing A!"
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday's Korea Herald came early, but I was so busy grading that I failed to notice it until nearly 6 p.m., when I finally took a break from evaluating final essays and opened the paper to the "Expat Living" section, where I saw, in great big, bold letters:
If you plagiarize, expect an 'F'
"What sort of jerk would threaten that?!" I growled, my hackles raised at the challenge. Below which, of course, appeared my column. "Oh, that," I muttered, realizing that my editor, the recently-stabbed Matt Lamers, had survived long enough -- this week, at least -- to re-title my latest "Language Column," which I'd modestly titled "Netting the plagiarist" (or something innocuous). I guess that I'd better hold off on that glowing obituary that I've already written for him. Better luck next time, Matt. Anyway, here's what I wrote on language:
The academic plague called "plagiarism" has a fascinating etymology, as I have recently learned, for it penultimately derives from the Latin word for "kidnapping," plagium, from plaga, "net" - an obviously handy device for nabbing the unfortunate individual to be abducted and held for ransom. More directly, "plagiarism" stems from the Latin plagiarius, by way of the obscure English synonym "plagiary." A plagiarius was a kidnapper!

I had never realized that plagiarism was such a serious crime, but, armed with this borrowed erudition, I henceforth intend not merely to flunk plagiarists, but also to arrest and march them off to jail, where they can reflect on their crime and reform their behavior. Students shall learn that plagiarizing a term paper has dire consequences indeed.

Many plagiarists, however, believe themselves too clever to get caught. For instance, some who plagiarize from online websites, and imagine themselves cunning, will borrow a passage from one online source but cite a different one. Such individuals think that I will check only the cited source, see that the topic is the same, find no plagiarism, and therefore conclude that all is well. Such plagiarists misjudge me, and therefore make careless mistakes.

One such cyberplagiarist recently submitted a paper on vivisection that briefly summarized the history of this experimental science, mentioning the pre-Socratic medical theorist Alcmaeon, who lived in the Greek colony Croton on the southern Italian coast and vivisected animals to demonstrate that cutting their optic nerve left them blinded. The plagiarizing student cited a rather lengthy article on vivisection, perhaps thinking that I would not bother to read it.

Well, I did not bother to read it; I merely had my trusty computer search the article for "Alcmaeon," and the name did not appear. Obviously, the student had found that name in some other uncited source. My suspicions aroused, I selected a phrase likely to have been copied from a source, plugged it into Google's search engine, and quickly found it in a brief, four-paragraph encyclopedia entry on vivisection that happened to mention Alcmaeon of Croton. Reading through the entry, I found entire stolen sentences and determined that my piratical student had kidnapped Alcmaeon and netted much else from that single, short entry. Further investigation established that the student had not used the lengthy article at all.

I confronted my student with the proof. Usually, plagiarists bow to that evidence and confess. This one, however, proved cheeky and tried to deny the obvious. I called BS on that.

Seeing that I accepted no denials of what was so easily proven, the student turned truly cheeky, pointed to the grade of "F," and informed me: "I can't accept this."

Profoundly annoyed now, I retorted, "You have to accept it. Listen carefully. You are being held to global standards now. If this were an American university, you might be expelled from school. You would certainly get an 'F' for the course. Now, you stop complaining and go work on cleaning up this essay for the final draft. Get rid of the plagiarism, do the work yourself, and turn in a better essay."

The student protested against my unfairness because some students had submitted no first draft at all, so a plagiarized paper should at least receive a grade higher than "F."

"If you plagiarize, you get an 'F,'" I stated. "That's automatic for egregious plagiarism. But only the final essay counts toward your grade."

At that, all protest stopped, leaving only the plagiarist's irritation at getting entangled in his self-woven dragnet.

If only all student protests were so easily thwarted.

Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog, Gypsy Scholar, at - Ed.
I wrote that column by borrowing from a Gypsy Scholar blog entry of a couple of weeks ago, so I suppose that -- like Cheong Jean-gon -- I'm guilty of 'self-plagiarism'.

Now, back to grading final essays...

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At 5:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering, is self-plagiarism actually possible? Can you steal your own words and ideas any more than you can steal your own hat or pencil?

At 5:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that it's a misnomer, but what's being referred to by that term here in Korea (and I've only heard it here) is republishing material with few changes beyond altering the title, the abstract, and the introductory and concluding paragraphs.

There is a type of dishonesty about this practice -- which is used to meet publish-or-perish requirements -- but to call it "plagiarism" seems erroneous to me.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you plagiarize, expect an 'F'

"What sort of jerk would threaten that?!" I growled, my hackles raised at the challenge. Below which, of course, appeared my column. "Oh, that," I muttered,..."

See, what'd I tell you about the D-?

Did you look back on your muttering with fondness?


At 11:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Look back? Never . . . for fear of turning to a pillar of salt.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:49 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

Patrick Scanlon in "Song from myself: An anatomy of self Plagiarism." Featured in Plagiary (2007) meanders around a bit but finally ends with eh, MLA says yes APA says no, Thomas Jefferson did it. It's kind of like the definition of obscenity. The article is really quite good and I don't do it justice but basically it's an idea that's really hard to define.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

BohInK, you've been silent a long time. Passed out on that couch? A different sort of SOFA agreement?

Good to hear from you, though. Interesting, too, what online acquaintances come up with. I'll have to read that article . . . in a few days, when the grading is behind me.


Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:45 PM, Blogger Bohemian in Korea said...

Truth to tell, The Bohemian was on 'walk about' and I was immersed in my own self loathing and crapulence but he came back and kicked something like sense back into my head. Regardless of my silence I never quit reading.


At 7:58 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Walk About? I saw an Aussie film Walkabout way back in the early 80s . . . but more to the point, I'm glad that you're still around.

Jeffery Hodges

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