Friday, November 08, 2013

Why You Should Care, or Project Plagiarism Matters

I keep forgetting to show my students stories of why and how academic citation matters "in the real world."

I'm going to start collecting them here, so that I have somewhere easy to point to.

I've spoken before about why I think plagiarism--or, rather, the habits of academic honesty that plagiarism violates--is a big moral deal.

It certainly is a big deal in academia, and the big deal that it is can properly be called a moral deal because the procedural standards are oriented toward properly moral goals--honesty, diligence, courtesy, etc.

Whether it is a big deal, moral or otherwise, outside the academy is worth pondering.  I don't believe that my students believe my insistence on proper attribution does them any good outside of the classroom or has any goal not restricted to the "academic" part of academic integrity.

I came across several examples this week that might be useful for Project Plagiarism Matters.  Just one will have to suffice for this post, however.

I wouldn't have noticed this one but for my colleague at Huntingdon, Dr. Jeremy Lewis, who reminded me that students are protected, as well as imperiled, by proper citation.

When College Students Plagiarize You, You Must Have Said Something Worth Saying

Yes, it's the college student who got in trouble here, but the person whom he plagiarized is a writer, who has a stake in having her work acknowledged.  She also has a stake in having her work benefit herself, rather than some privileged white dude.  ("Lord, prosper the work of our hands!")

It seems worth reminding students that they might some day write for a living--incidentally to whatever employment they find or as a substantial part of their careers.  They learn proper citation now as part of a system of proper attribution that protects writers from having their work stolen for others' benefit.

This system is especially important for those of us in the essentially charitable enterprise of education.  We accept a modest salary in exchange for bettering the lives of others by passing along ideas that we have learned from others.  There are only a few concrete ways we can augment that modest salary, and almost all of them have to do with generating ideas worth sharing and publishing them in income-producing ways.

But even for those of us outside academia, the protection of our intellectual and artistic work--enacted legally by copyright protection, but morally by accusations of plagiarism--still matters.  My students might not go on to be researchers or authors, but they might go on to be bloggers.  Many of them are already users of content-sharing social media--instagram and such.  They might go on to be technical writers of some kind.  They might be speech writers or website designers or nurse-educators or anybody else who would create something with words.

They might like to know that some fussy old fuddy-duddy of a professor like me is training those who come after them not to plagiarize them.