Sunday, March 26, 2006

Plagiarism is all around us

I think I originally decided to join BondBloke's blog because I thought I might post quite a lot about European politics. My desktop is in fact cluttered with half written posts about such matters, such as the status of workers from the new Member States, and exciting stuff about the reform of the German federal system and what happened when Paolo di Canio met holocaust survivors in Italy. But I guess that I often get stymied by the need to do thorough research on such matters before posting, and so I end up writing nothing. Which brings me to the subject of this post. Plagiarism. I.e. what happens when you cannot be bothered to do any proper research before writing, or at least when your research is limited to copying what other people have written. I learned this afternoon via Opinio Juris (although they got it from someone else), that Vladimir Putin's economics PhD thesis is allegedly plagiarised. A report appeared in The Australian. This follows hot on the heels of the allegations of serial plagiarism, many emanating from the blogosphere, against Washington Post Blogger/Columnist of the right Ben Domenech. As an academic, I have come across many minor instances of plagiarism, and I have been part of a panel considering one serious allegation of academic malpractice which had plagiarism connotations. However, much of the plagiarism we find around us is of a much more banal character. For example, I once found a couple of sentences in a book proposal which I saw had been drawn from a PhD thesis which I happened to have in my possession. I drew the attention of the publishers to this, and declined to comment further or make any accusations.

It is so easy, of course, to plagiarise - and even to do so rather unconsciously - when using the internet. The cut and paste facility may be used at one point to create a quotation. Somehow the quotation marks get lost and the sentence becomes assimilated into one's own text. It's frightening to think how easily this could happen, and how serious the consequences would be. At the same time, especially when using hyperlinking online, it is so easy to reference one's sources, and it's important to do that when blogging as it is when writing in other contexts. I hope we've always managed that so far in our meagre efforts.

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