Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Plea for a Professional Plagiarism Policy

Question for anyone who might know anything (particularly all you academic-types out there) ....

Last year I was writing a paper for my Intro to New Testament class (and a very good paper, too, if I may say so myself -- all about how John presents Mary Magdalene as the composite of all the other women in the gospel, thereby cementing her as the ultimate apostle. But, I digress....)

ANYway, while organizing my notes for that paper, I couldn't figure out why I had written the same notes in two different places. Until, that is, I realized that it was because the material from which these notes were taken was in two different places. Lest you think I'm jumping to conclusions, see for yourself:

John, on the other hand, does not present women in tandem with men and subordinate in comparison with them but in stark contrast to men, with the women appearing in the more positive light.
John (unlike Luke) does not present women in tandem with or subordinate to men. Instead, they stand in stark contrast to men and, generally, in a more positive light.

Two women in John hold the place occupied by Peter in the Synoptics: Martha as confessor of faith and Mary Magdalene as recipient of the Easter protophany and the apostolic commission to proclaim the Easter kerygma to the church.
These two women, Martha and Mary Magdalene, hold the place occupied by Peter in the Synoptics: confessor of faith and recipient of the Easter protophany and of the commission to proclaim the Easter kerygma.

Come on, Easter protophany? Easter kerygma? That's just way too many big words to be coincidence.

The original (by copyright) is from a book adressing the Gospel of John; the ... ahhh .... re-visiting takes place in an article about women in the New Testament; I don't know about the other gospels, but I do know that once I took my highlighter to the pages in comparison, the beautifully white page turned very yellow.

The craziest thing about it is that the guy ends his article with "One endorses the forthright observation of [copied author's name]" and has a block quote from aforementioned book. His citation notates the page of his quote, and adds "See pages [rest of the copied chapter]." Which could be seen as a reference/citation, but it's the only book title and reference given in the whole article. Besides, no where else is the original author's name mentioned, except to introduce that final (and only) quote (which, I might add, came long after many other non-quotes).

But why would he direct people right to his original (very original) source?

And, lest there be any confusion, they are both VERY well-known and authoritative scripture scholars (at least from what I can tell of the works that they've written and been involved in).

Needless to say, my prof was THRILLED at my discovery, but I've hesitated to take further action (even though he very much encouraged me to) because I'm not sure of the best way to go about it ... and feel somewhat stupid about what if I get blown off?

But then, this weekend, it all came back up again. Why, you might ask?

Well, I was at the monastery library, looking through books for some possible additional resources for me to use in the New Testament class that I'm teaching. As I'm flipping through one of them, the thought crosses my mind: "Hmmm. I didn't realize that those 'three stages of gospel development' were official classifications. ... [reading further] ... Hey, wait a second, this sounds awfully familiar ..."

Again, to give a sampling:
It would seem to go without saying that the Gospels are based on the words and works of Jesus of Nazareth, a historical figure from the land of Palestine who lived some two thousand years ago. However, the recognition and acceptance of this truth is central to our understanding and sppreciation of the Gospels. For if the Gospels are not based on historical realities – if Jesus' proclamations and Resurrection never happened – then all that they teach is little more than a flight of fancy or an idealistic vision.
The Gospels are based upon the words and works of Jesus of Nazareth, a historical figure from Palestine some twenty centuries ago. Recognizing and accepting this claim are central to understanding and appreciating the Gospels. For if we do not base them upon events that really happened, then they teach us little more than flights of fancy or idealistic visions that we have no reason to accept, much less live our lives by.

Try to imagine yourself in the position of an early disciple of Jesus. You, along with the rest of the disciples, walk with Jesus; you hear his inspiring message proclaimed from the synagogues and hillsides; you touch him and are touched by him; and you witness the marvelous effect he has on everyone he meets. Gradually you find yourself captivated by this man and his message. You find in him the answer to all your hopes and dreams, and you are certain that in this man from Nazareth you have discovered true freedom, joy, peace, love, and fullness of life.
Imagine yourself in the position of Jesus' early disciples. You walk with Jesus. You listen to his inspiring message proclaimed in synagogues and on hillsides. You touch him and are touched by him. You witness the marvelous impact he makes on everyone he meets. Gradually, you find yourself enthralled with this fellow. He speaks to all your hopes and dreams, and you are certain that in this man from Nazareth you have discovered fullness of life.

With this second set, I'm not sure who took from whom, since one of the books is the New Testament textbook used to teach my high school sophomores -- thus, I don't know the original copyright date. And I don't know the professional esteem either one of these two holds.

Here's what confuses me (in a what-is-this-world-coming-to kind of way):
If I can spot two of these incidents without even trying ... how many more are out there?
These are religion books, books about Jesus .... you'd think at least theologians who remember what was said about stealing and rendering unto Ceasar ...
And one of these is a high school religion textbook?!?!? Yeah, that's a message I want to send my kids ....
Heck, these are more similar than the Synoptic comparisons we've been doing in class!
And why in the world did that first guy actually point you to the source?
Even more so ... why didn't anyone check it?

But my biggest question to all my academics out there in blogland, to quote one of my oft-visited blogs .....

What Now?

I'm not asking if I should report it, because there's no question about that ... I just want to know HOW. Do I contact authors? Publishers? Originals? Copiers? And how in the world do I phrase it (especially on the second one where I'm not sure who's first)?



Blogger Lorem ipsum said...

'Heck, these are more similar than the Synoptic comparisons we've been doing in class!' Thank you for the best line of the day.

My theory is that the original author is such an integral scholar in the field, his readers would not see much need to footnote him beyond a cursory mention (his word is gospel, as it were). Which is inconvenient for non-scholars who want to know more, but it's a thought.

In the meantime, when you footnote the paper, cite both sources in the same entry - 'Smith, The First Book, publication information, page 123, and Jones, The Second Book, publication information, page 456.'

Next paper: a study of ethics and copyright law and customs in religious scholarship.

11/10/2005 8:58 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

I'd consier notifying someone of the similiarities, if for no other reason than no one else is likely to spot them. Given the amount of written literature out there on this subject, it's unlikely that anyone will run across the two items side by side again.

That's just my opinion though, I could be wrong.

11/10/2005 12:06 PM  
Anonymous jeana said...

I would contact the author and/or publisher of book 1, alerting them of the article copy... Something along the lines of, "I was using your book for my paper, blah blah blah... and I discovered so-and-so's source uses yours but does not give you proper credit. I am not contacting author 2 or his publisher, but I just thought you should know in case you would like to notify author 2 or pursue any measures appropriate with copyright law. "

As for the second situation, if you don't know who came first, maybe just contact both publishers and alert them to the commonalities. They will know whose is whose and will probably reprimand authors accordingly. The publisher of original author will be outraged and perhaps want to seek some damages or something, and the publisher of the copyist will get scared that this author is putting them at risk and so will want to deal with them. In any case, it is important for the publishers to realize how much plagiarism is going on right under their noses.

You go, girl.

11/10/2005 1:44 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

Lorem ~ I don't think either of the first two are so above-and-beyond-all-others expert that would make it that straight-forward; the other two ... I don't know either one. When I wrote the paper, I only cited the original, and dismissed any information from the "other" source.

Jonathan ~ Yeah, I'm definitely planning on notifying someone ... it's just the who & how that I'm trying to work out.

Jeana ~ How come I notify both authors/publishers in the second case, and only one of them in the first case?

11/10/2005 4:03 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I'm not quite sure I followed what was what or which was which who was the whoop-dee-doo author and who wasn't but I'd say the book with the earliest copyright date should be considered the original.

If both were published in the same year then one of the authors might have to do time for breaking and entering.

I'd contact the author if you can get an address. If you can't, I'd contact the publishing house.

11/10/2005 4:11 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

In justice, I feel it needs to be brought to the attention of the publishers of the second and third sources. Whether or not is intentional theft of thought, none of us can know for sure. But for certain, the failure to properly and completely represent the original source for these thoughts is the failure of the author and the publisher whether directly or indirectly.

While I recognize the validity of Lorem Ipsum's point about the status of the original scholar, from a fairness perpsective, we have to consider what about the reader who only finds the second and third sources. They would have no context for knowing that the thoughts belonged to anyone other than the individual author they had.

This is scary, but unfortunately not surprising. As a society, we have become very lax in this regard.

I have been both a college administrator and teacher and am amazed the clear acts of plagiarism performed by otherwise "good" people including peers. For example, the college where I previously worked passed a new academic integrity policy and at the end of the document lists acknowledgements and thanks the university's and college's whose policies they reviewed. However, they failed to properly cite that the entire opening was lifted directly from one of those sources. An unknowingly reader would think that college had authored the statement.

11/10/2005 5:55 PM  
Anonymous Lorna said...

Just to say a friend is struggling with the what to do in a similar kind of case. I've sent him a link to your post, so maybe he can offer some advice as to where to do from here. (or what he did, which equally may not be what you should do!!)

11/11/2005 12:39 AM  
Blogger ~m2~ said...

steph i am in my english comp course and had to do my first *research* paper and the most difficult thing to do, in my opinion, is paraphrase. and based one the examples you have shown above, whoever was *borrowing* from who was not so good at paraphrasing and then giving credit.

it's not even a line in the sand: if you take someone else's piece and use it almost in its entirety, subbing out words here and there, that's plagiarism if you don't cite the author and the text right alongside. in fact, your examples are so extreme in their similiary, you would need an entire quote it seems. why bother changing a word or two?

may i assist a bit in cementing your find and recommend diana hacker's writer's reference if you don't already have your own copy? more specifically, that link will take you directly to research and documentation; once the page loads, on the right-hand side you'll find a menu that can take you through various processes of the proper way to cite a paper according to the MLA. hope i helped and didn't hinder :)

lorna told me you were just talking about this - i just wrote an essay and had to use citations for the first time extensively and probably screwed it up somewhere, but i'll know tuesday where i need to make corrections...

11/11/2005 4:27 AM  
Blogger ~m2~ said...

by the way, my professor made a good suggestion about paraphrasing (which is 100% legal as long as you cite where you are paraphrasing from): read the paragraph or article you wish to paraphrase three times, then put it away and write it in your own words. that way, you can't do what the authors of the texts you put side-by-side did, almost ver batim with bait & switch :)


11/11/2005 4:29 AM  
Blogger jean said...

In the seminary I am attending, plagarism is cause for dismissal. We must footnote all references, but not directly quote, paraphrase, summarize, and cite the reference.

11/11/2005 1:50 PM  
Blogger see-through faith said...

jean I didnt' quite understand your comment. Can you quote. We can but it must be clear that its a quote and no more than three lines (or three sentences maybe) it's important we put our own thoughts in too, and show when we are summarisiing someone's thoughts or works.

It's hard at first, but I've found not using many quotes really shows if I understood something or not, because if I didn't I can't summarize. I'm with Penni too - if I can make a summary or paraphrase without the book open, so much the better.

Research is hard work, but I've done one or two papers that I'm actually quite pleased with.

11/11/2005 3:26 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Quoting and paraphrasing must have the original source cited. No question about it. I know of cases where Doctorates were revoked due to illegitimate use of other's material or downright falsifying data used in statistical analysis.

11/12/2005 12:55 PM  
Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

Hi steph - what I did when I found plagiarism was contacted the publisher (in one case that was a journal editor, in the other that was the graduate program that had granted the Ph.D.). Funnily enough, it didn't even occur to me to contact the person from whom the plagiarism was taken - perhaps b/c in both instances they were big enough names (and in another country) that I couldn't quite imagine doing so? But mostly I think I was concerned with fixing the problem, and so I figured the body that had been responsible for putting out the work was the most relevant. I think contacting the plagiarized authors is certainly a good idea.

The journal article that plagiarized was very like your first example - very very very very very sloppy paraphrasing. It *did* cite the author in question, but retained some very distinctive wording on that author's part (like your examples). If the original sentence said, "A, therefore B," the journal article said, "B, which was a result of A." (Where A & B were multi-word phrases of a lively turn.)

What's disheartening is that the journal editor I contacted declined to do anything about it, and declared that since the (article) author had cited the (original) author, it wasn't plagiarism (because the reader knew where the information came from). Okay, the reader knew where the info came from, but not whose language it was! If a student of mine had handed in such sloppy writing, I'd have nailed them, so I'm not very satisfied with the journal editor's response. In his defense, I suppose you *could* argue that the information in question was quite basic and therefore the language was pretty generic, but I thought that "the law does not bend to protect fools" was fairly vivid language.

But anyway. My short answer is, I would contact the publishing house of the plagiarized material, but certainly contacting the original authors would be useful as well.

11/14/2005 8:30 AM  
Blogger Lucy N. said...

I say "burn the bastards."
I thought I noticed similiar "plagiarisms" while I was working on my Master's degree (in ministry, no less!), but, unlike you, did not document it. However, because I can and often do string together a nice series of words, phrases, sentences, thoughts from time to time, I have been accused of plagiarism (I think many theologians are suspect of decent writers!). That HURT, bigtime!!! I was innocent. But for PUBLISHED writers to do it -- go as high as possible. And keep us posted, please?!?!

11/14/2005 9:52 PM  

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