Image sourced from here. Plagiarism!
Few will disagree plagiarism is an art, which if perfected and executed well, can reward handsomely. I remember in our college days if the topic to write a dissertation on didn’t have previous years’ works to ‘help’ us, we’d immediately press for a change till the professors relented.
The trick then was to replicate whatever was already available with some tweaking here and there to put stamps of ‘originality’. Since the professors almost knew the narrations by heart, it wasn’t difficult for them to ferret out the extent of copying in the newly submitted dissertations. The ones that were more original used to score more marks.
These thoughts crowded my mind as I came upon The Statesman’s April 28 report about 3 teachers – one from CU, 2 from JU – found guilty of plagiarizing 2 theses co-guided by them. They are likely to face disciplinary actions. Some days back, a CU college teacher had to return his PhD after his thesis was found plagiarized.
Notwithstanding my college experience, developments such as above are indeed alarming. The need to really work to explore new ways of looking at things already known gets shortened by the eagerness to reach the finishing line any which way possible. In cases of higher learning, the end cannot justify any means, and it is important to drive the message among the future aspirants.
Having said that, it perhaps may not be out of place to say that plagiarism is something that is happening around us all the time, sometimes even unknown to the person doing it. I’ve been reading this piece, Cheated By The Brain by Carey Goldberg that cites the example of George H. Daniels, a historian, who in 1972 admitted having unintentionally committed plagiarism in his well-received book, Science in American Society. This is what he said:
I have certainly been aware that I had an extraordinary ability to remember material when I wanted to, but I have never before realized that I did it unconsciously.
Though George committed to his mistake, his colleagues didn’t take kindly to his ‘guilt’. He faced so much criticism that he left teaching for 7 years. Last year around this time, young novelist Kaavya Viswanathan was similarly in the dock for lifting passages from others’ books in hers. The brouhaha that resulted saw her earning bad reputation in spite of her writing skill.
Writing on Kaavya, in this editorial in The Telegraph, the argument in support of ‘genteel’ plagiarism takes the line: What would Einstein, for example, have had to go on without Newton’s apple, and where would Newton be without Galileo?
Indeed so. The point is we work on the knowledge expounded earlier to enhance and enrich it further. It can rarely be completely new concepts that have never been dealt upon in the past.
Yet, for all that matter, writing theses papers that are ditto copies is an unpardonable crime, if only because it has the cascading effect of choking any effort for new works.
Time the authorities get wise to the disease and take corrective measures to stamp it out altogether.