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Thursday, May 08, 2003  

Around the blogosphere

•Barlow turns up

Ted Barlow is back. He is busy updating his blog. Now that our campaign to get him to resume posting has succeeded, I suggest we begin one to get him to change his blog template to something less plain. That's the thing to make him feel rejuvenated vis-a-vis his blog. I'm up for it. Julia? Charles?

•The copy boys

(And girls.) Calpundit Kevin Drum and intrepid sociologist Kieran Healy are discussing plagiarism. My last entry on the topic was before the Agonist deservedly dropped from Higher Beingness to Playful Primatehood. I was not amused by his virtual theft of information from Statfor and contempt for the reporters who do the actual work he took credit for.

However, like Kevin, I am often amused by plagiarism.

This is true. I worked at a company last year in which one of our guys in Taiwan was assigned to research a particular market opportunity for us. He spent a few weeks on it and delivered a 3-4 page report when he was done. It took me about ten seconds to know that he hadn't written it, and another 30 seconds or so to pick out a phrase or two, type them into Google, and figure out which magazine article he had copied.

The problem was that he just didn't realize that professional prose from magazine writers is colorful, bouncy, uses telling details, quotes sources, and just generally sounds way different from even good writing done by normal people. As Steven Taylor put it in Kieran's comments, "I love how students seem not to understand that if they are writing in pidgin English one minute, and then lapse into Harvard-sounding prose the next, that I'm going to notice."

That is why I find plagiarism funny much of the time. The perps, many of them likely longterm sneaks, don't realize their ruses are so easy to see through. When I did some teaching of undergraduates I could also spot the 'bought' papers within seconds of seeing them. Sometimes, the students would fail to change the canned title even. And, they were usually either frat boys or ESL students, the persons most likely to need help with academic language. Either a miracle had occurred in comparison to their previous output or something less remarkable was going on. I rarely turned them in, insisting they redo the papers themselves instead.

Kieran lets the plagiarists bother him.

The most annoying sort of plagiarism is the low-expectations variety. To my mind, plagiarism ought to be about copying something really good in order to get a better grade. But for many students, it’s just about turning in something that will help them scrape by. Plagiarism is hardest to spot if the student’s highest ambition is a C and so doesn’t mind copying something that’s already a poor piece of work. That’s why the File Cabinet method is the most insidious variety. It’s hard to spot (the work’s already bad) and hard to prove (it’s not published or online).

I am not saying plagiarism is always a laughable matter. But, sometimes, I find it easiest to kick back and just smile when observing what duplicitous creatures human beings are. As far as I know, no other animal even comes close.

•Amistad replica teaches history

MB at Wampumblog reports a working model of the Amistad is docked in Portland. But, it is in her Portland (Maine), not my Portland (Oregon).

The Amistad comes to Portland!

Well, sort of. Actually, it's a replica of the (in)famous 1830's slave vessel appropriated by the African captives it was transporting for sale into slavery. It docked in Portland harbor on Tuesday, and will be available for boarding and tours through next week.

If I am ever where it is, I will definitely take the tour.

7:11 PM