Publish, Plagiarize, and/or Perish?

Publish, Plagiarize, and/or Perish? (CCCC 2006 Chicago — Day 2)

Lila Harper, Central Washington University, Ellensburg. “What Can We Learn about Plagiarism from Master’s Theses?”

Is often asked, “Why in the world are you reading so many of these theses?” For the past 3-4 years, she has read, copy-edited and checked the references of every completed MA thesis. Not normally on the grad committee, nor directing student research. With the help of a half-time assistant, she checks theses for correctness. About 50-60 theses a year. Also teaches in composition, has cross-disciplinary experience.

Initially assumed that plagiarism would not be a problem. Found a student’s thesis that included an unexplained acronym, and when searching to see whether it should be spelled out, she found the student had plagiarized several pages from someone else’s website. While communicating expectations about plagiarism is very important for foreign students, she finds problems across cultures. Graduate students often fail to clarify indirect or secondary citations. (Some faculty argued that there is no need to differentiate between direct and indirect citations.) Some students assume that one only needs quotation marks when the student quotes the entire sentence. She notes that some of this confusion is tied to the kind of style manual the student refers to. Plagiarism at the MA level is particularly troubling, since students are no longer considered outsiders who are being asked to write in the discourse mode of the insiders. By completing an master’s thesis, the student is demonstrating membership in that scholarly community.

She focuses not on the theft of knowledge, but on the value of transparency and accuracy that is threatened when full citations are considered a last-minute formality. Poor citations damage reproducibility. She noted that faculty members in the humanities often assume that handbooks from other disciplines do a good job teaching the rules surrounding citation. She found that style manuals were prescriptive (direct, emphatic guidance – thou shalt do this, focused towards researchers), permissive (which emphasizes options; Chicago Style Manual is much more optional that MLA – these are focused towards editors, describing general practices in particular journals); descriptive (in the sciences, where students are given different examples and presumably left to their own devices).

She showed examples from the MLA Style Book and Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers, in which Hacker was more strict than the MLA. While she had to cut considerably from a longer article, she concluded with a list of practical guidelines. Her final statement was the suggestion that introductory textbooks use the citation style that students will be expected to demonstrate.

Joel Bloch, The Ohio State University, “Blogging about Plagiarism: Dealing with the Problems of Generation 1.5 Students in an Academic Classroom.”

Bloch began by referring to his earlier work, in which he argued for the abolishment of the criminal metaphor for plagiarism, and instead suggests a games metaphor, in which there are rules that have consequences, and the rules must be discovered through active efforts. He focuses on immigrants who came to America during their school years. He described a course that is “all plagiarism, all the time.” He describes the plight of ESL students strangled by the 5-paragraph essay they were forced to write in high school. The metaphor “we stand on the shoulder of giants” reminds us that literacy is important in learning new information. The organizational patterns of academic writing force student to make abstractions. Vernacular literature achieves cohesiveness with “and,” but academic literacies require writers to show a wider variety of connections, and to make those connections more explicit. A writing sample showed a combination of “and” and more complex linkages (I didn’t catch the technical term he used to describe those connections).

I was fascinated by his discussion of how the military leadership of Somali positioned a literacy program as a weapon against foreign influences, but I’m not typing much because I’m still waiting for the “blogging” part of the talk. I’m not quite sure what to make of his references to the movie Girl, Interrupted, which seemed unnecessary. (Of course, maybe I missed something, since I’m multitasking, listening and writing at the same time. I’m not just taking notes, I’m composing complete sentences and correcting typos, so perhaps I missed something because my attention is divided.)

He uses blogging as a way to give students the opportunity to develop their ideas in the classic process-oriented classroom, but also a way they can express themselves using the vernacular. He also has students cite each other (a strategy I also use for informal class discussions). He asked students to blog about their personal lives, with the understanding that whatever they write can be read by anyone. He compared the work ethic and family importance of the blogs his generation 1.5 students write, the social blogs written by students who attend his daughter’s “wealthy” private school. [But those girls are not writing for academic credit. Certainly the generation 1.5 students have a cultural perspective that may distance themselves from the boys/friends/pop culture topics one expects to find in an adolescent girls’ weblog community, but I’m sure that when those girls become college women writing for their professors, they will change the topics they write about for class.]

Students either worked so closely with primary texts that they plagiarized, or they moved so far away from them so quickly that they barely mentioned them. (He also asks students to blog responses to an article before contributing a more formal reflection.)

Indicated that building a whole course around plagiarism was designed to let students write from a position of expertise. Presented an example in which a West African student drifted away from the text completely, contrasted with Asian students who stuck very closely to the text.

“By using blogs as a form of continuous online discussion,” it was hoped students would use them “any way they wished.” The study focused on a single student, so he was cautious about conclusions.

Mike Palmquist, Colorado State University, Fort Collins. “Beyond Twentieth-Century Paradigms for Scholarly Publishing.”

Palmquist says the scholarly publishing crisis is “overblown.” In fact, there is so much demand for scholarly works, there isn’t enough capacity to meet it. [There was a bit of a buzz in the audience at that, but we resolved to save our questions until he’s finished. He says there are more books being published now than ever before, but of course they’re expensive, small runs.]

Noted that a small press can be put out of business if it misjudges the market for the book. “Academic publishing is essentially a barter system. We do the work, they take the risks… it works out pretty well.”

Notes that the acquisitions editors may only have MAs, which calls the system into question. A really successful book has 3000 copies. Printing and distribution technologies require 9-14 months, so books are already out of date when they hit the shelves.

Sympathy for junior colleagues in the humanities, where books are so central to the faculty evaluation process.

Argues for adopting a digital publishing model that enhances, rather than replaces, the traditional model. No change at the initial analysis (is the idea good), but drop the market analysis, replacing it instead with a faculty analysis. If it’s a good book that only 400 people would be interested in, a digital publication model can do a better job. Instead of in-house publishers doing all the editing of a book, shift that responsibility to the editors of series. Shift the copyedi
ting to faculty, in collaboration with students. Cut down the publication time to as little as a month. “I’ve actually done it in a week.”

Estimated 10-20 thousand people see a very successful book.

He proposes a model of publishing a free digital web version, and also a print-on-demand version. Example – “Writing Selves and Writing Societies.” A PDF of the entire book downloaded 21,000 times. 67,000 visits to the site, 31,000 unique individuals.

“Legitimacy should be a reflection of the strength of the editorial review board.” Says there’s a fundamental flaw in the system if commercial viability is such an important part of the publications winnowing process.

Benefits of a distributed, collaborative publication mode.

  1. Reduces distributed costs.

  2. Authors retain copyright.

  3. Supports publication of work that would not be commercially viable.

  4. Ensures scholarly merit is the most important factor.

  5. Reduces amount of time to get work out there.

  6. Increases access to published work.

  7. Ensures that the work is easily accessible for longer periods of time.

Mike Edwards (sitting next to me as I type) asked the speakers whether they had any concerns about people blogging their presentations. Harper said she hadn’t had much experience with conference bogging. Bloch said he blogged last year, so he’d be hypocritical if he complained. Palimquist said it depends on what the bloggers are writing. [I joked, “Oh, I’m slamming you completely!” and he said “Then I’ll come after your website!”]

Another audience member noted that the elite quality of opera is what gives it its cultural cache. Palimquist noted that Stuart Moluthrop and Nancy Kaplan’s earlier promises that everyone will be a publisher is a bit misleading, since “I don’t have time” to be my own publisher.

Palimquist ended with an invitation to anyone who has an idea for a good book to send it to him.