Plagiarism 101

30 September 2008 at 5:30 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Famous Plagiarists.com opens its politics website with Joseph Biden, currently running for Vice President of the United States of America.

Newsbusters.org features a recent article by Tom Blumer citing New York Times reporting on various times Biden was caught plagiarizing from Neil Kinnock, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey.

Plagiarism is big news.

Bothered by her conscience, an American, who is an Obama fan, asked me if plagiarism is such a big deal. After all, how can she vote for a presidential candidate who chooses a plagiarist for his running mate?

As a teacher, my answer is an absolute yes. Plagiarism is an absolute no-no, as far as students are concerned.

Since I am bound by school regulations to fail any student that plagiarizes and since I do not want my students to fail, I make sure that no one can plagiarize in my class. What I do is, throughout the term, I ask my students to write some pages of their term papers in class, while I look over their shoulders, making comments and asking them to revise right there and then. I collect their papers in stages, asking them to type everything out in term paper form only from the drafts they have written in class or submitted earlier.

As a scholar, my answer is a qualified yes. I am often asked to serve on discipline, awards, or similar boards, where the employment of a teacher or the granting of an award depends on whether an article has been plagiarized.

Why qualified? Let us look at the commonly-accepted definitions of plagiarism.

One of the simplest explanations comes from the website of Washington College in Maryland, which actually just quotes at length from Michael Harvey’s The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing (Hackett, 2003).

According to Harvey, plagiarism includes the following:

“1. Quoting material without attribution. The most obvious kind of plagiarism.

“2. Passing off another’s idea as your own, even if it’s been reworded. Changing an original’s wording doesn’t avoid plagiarism. The underlying idea of plagiarism is unacknowledged borrowing of ideas, not specific words.

“3. Imitating a passage’s structure or argument without attribution. Suppose a source presents an assertion and three supporting points. If you adopt that particular structure, including the particular examples or supporting points, you need to provide a citation to the original. This holds even if you substantially revise the wording.

“4. Concealing the extent to which you’ve borrowed from a text or other source. Citing a specific passage in a work doesn’t give you license to draw on the rest of the work without citation. This can be the nastiest kind of plagiarism because it’s so sneaky.”

Although Harvey makes perfect sense if you are talking to students, he is not completely right when you are no longer in the classroom. The key to plagiarism is fooling people that the words you utter or write are your own and not someone else’s.

This is the dictionary definition of plagiarism: “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”

If you do not represent the language and thoughts as your own, it is not plagiarism.

For example, if you said, “You must treat others the way you want them to treat you,” you are obviously copying the Golden Rule. But this is not plagiarism because everybody knows the Golden Rule, and no one is fooled that you thought of it all by yourself.

Similarly, if you said, “The best thing to do when somebody says something bad about you in the office is to ignore it and even say something good about that person,” you are just paraphrasing the biblical advice to turn the other cheek. Since most Christians are expected to have read the Bible or at least to have heard the passage in sermons, this is not plagiarism.

On a very sophisticated level, when a writer uses a passage from a famous writer and the work is meant to be read by specialists (as happens with literary theory), there can be no plagiarism. For example, if you wrote in an article in an ISI literature journal that the words in a poem have meanings that deliberately contradict the meaning of the whole poem, you are merely repeating the thoughts of famous critics such as Cleanth Brooks and Jacques Derrida. Everyone reading an ISI literature journal has read Brooks and Derrida, so there is no danger that the thought will be attributed to you. This is one reason, by the way, that there are relatively very few footnotes in high-level literary theory journals.

(First published in The Philippine Star, 11 & 18 September 2008.)

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Philippine Journals on the Web

30 September 2008 at 5:23 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Less than four months in existence, the Philippine Journals Online project has succeeded in dramatically increasing the readership of scholarly journals published in the Philippines.

This is clear from a report by the London-based International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), which is funding the initial year of the project in cooperation with a Canada-based computer server.

From June 1 to August 31, the philjol.info website counted 20,695 downloads, coming from 122 countries, of articles from Philippine journals. I do not have the figures yet for all the journals on the site, but I have those for the journals published by De La Salle University (DLSU).

The Journal of Research in Science, Computing and Engineering had 461 downloads.

The Asia-Pacific Social Science Review had 660 downloads.

The DLSU Business & Economics Review had 678 downloads.

The Asia Pacific Education Researcher had 917 downloads.

Ideya had 1,228 downloads.

Malay had 10,977 downloads.

All in all, the DLSU journals had 14,921 downloads.

There are some interesting observations that can be made from these statistics.

First, the DLSU journals account for 72.1% of all downloads from Philippine journals. (Allow me to boast a little bit about this, because I manage these journals.)

Second, since DLSU prints at most 600 hard copies of each journal, it is clear that web publication is a much cheaper and more effective way to reach scholars around the world. Even a journal displayed on a university library shelf (usually, only the current issue is displayed anyway) is much less visible than one on a website, where it is searchable by Google Scholar or even plain Google.

Third, Malay is published in Filipino. Its articles cover many fields of scholarship, including mathematics, the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Since the number of downloads of Malay is more than half the number of total downloads of all Philippine journals, it is clear that Filipino is the scholarly language of choice of scholars around the world interested in the Philippines.

It cannot be said that it is our OFWs in 122 countries that are downloading Malay. The articles are heavy, academic stuff, many of them written in jargon comprehensible only to university researchers. Clearly, the OFW audience for these articles is minimal. Instead, readers of scholarly journals are usually university professors writing their own articles and looking for fresh data or new theories.

Fourth, the numbers of downloads and downloading countries are simply amazing. The Philippines is starting to attract scholarly attention.

Here are the 26 journals currently on the website: Asia-Pacific Social Science Review, Augustinian, Budhi: A Journal of Ideas and Culture, DLSU Business & Economics Review, Emilio Aguinaldo College Research Bulletin, Far Eastern University Communication Journal, Far Eastern University English Language Journal, Hapag: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Theological Research, Ideya, Journal of Research in Science, Computing and Engineering, Kritika Kultura, Kritike: An Online Journal of Philosophy, Loyola Schools Review, Malay, Mindanao Law Journal, Philippine Computing Journal, Philippine Information Technology Journal, Philippine Journal of Neurology, Philippine Journal of Psychology, Philippine Journal of Public Administration, Philippine Population Review, Philippine Sociological Review, Philippine Studies, Tambara, The Asia Pacific Education Researcher, The Philippine Scientist.

Note that there are two ISI-listed journals on the website: The Asia Pacific Education Researcher (DLSU) and The Philippine Scientist (University of San Carlos). Being on the ISI list means being one of the most frequently cited journals in the world.

Other ISI-listed journals based in the Philippines (but still not on the website) are Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, Philippine Agricultural Scientist (UPLB), Philippine Entomologist (UPLB), Philippine Journal of Crop Science, Philippine Journal of Science (DOST), Philippine Journal of Veterinary Medicine (UPLB), Philippine Political Science Journal (UP Diliman), and Sabrao Journal of Breeding and Genetics. If the editors of these journals want to be on the website, they can visit http://www.philjol.info/.

(First published in The Philippine Star, 25 September 2008.)

For Reading Teachers

11 September 2008 at 7:22 AM | Posted in News | 4 Comments

Because you are reading teachers, I do not need to convince you that everybody must read. I do not need to explain to you why everybody must read. I do not even need to tell you how everybody must read. That is what you do every day as reading teachers.

What I want to talk about today is what everybody must read. That may sound a bit odd to some of you, because reading is reading and very often, as long as we and our students can read, we are happy. Reading is a skill, and like many skills, it seems to be irrelevant what we read. We think of reading like driving. As long as we can drive a car, we should be able to drive an SUV. We might take a little time learning how to drive a truck, but we surely can, as long as we know how to drive a car. Driving is a skill. Reading is a skill. If we can read today’s newspapers, we should be able to read a book. That is what some of you believe. I have news for those of you that believe that. You are wrong. Boy, are you dead wrong.

Driving is indeed a skill, but it is not true that you can drive anything if you know how to drive a car. It depends on where you are driving. If you learned how to drive in, say, Midwest United States, where the speed limit is 40mph in small towns, I think you will have big problems driving in Los Angeles or New York or worse, in Manila. Yes, given a little time, you can adjust to the way people drive in places where traffic rules are routinely violated and speed limits hardly ever respected.

Swimming is also a skill, and if you know how to swim in a swimming pool, you can indeed swim in the ocean. But I don’t think you can swim the English channel or even Manila Bay, except after a while.

After a while. Given a little time. That is what I want to talk about today. If we know how to read a newspaper, we could read a book, after a while, given a little time. But time, my dear reading teachers, is what our students do not have. Time is what we do not have. We have time only to read newspapers. Most of us, most of our students, do not have time to read a book. If you learned to drive in Dumaguete, where the only thing you have to avoid are the tricycles, you will die if you drive to Baguio from Manila, because you will not know how to avoid the big buses driven by drivers taking shabu. If you learned to drive in the Midwest in the United States, you will die when you get to the Los Angeles freeways. If you swim only in swimming pools or in tourist beaches, you will drown when your cruise ship capsizes. True, after a while, given a little time, we could learn to survive on the North Luzon Expressway or LA or in the middle of the ocean, but we don’t really have time.

You know why we have to read books and not just newspapers. I don’t have to go into some philosophical discussion about the need for everybody to converse with the great minds of the past that produced the great books. And yet, many of us have neglected the most important element of reading, namely, not how or why to read, but what to read.

I will break the mold of a keynote speech by asking you to do something now. Take out a piece of paper and write down the numbers 1 to 5. List the titles of 5 books that you think all human beings should read before they die.

Now we will make another list. Write down the numbers 1 to 5. List the titles of 5 books that you think all Filipinos should read before they die.

Now we will make a third list. Write down the numbers 1 to 5. List the titles of your 5 favorite books.

Okay, now you have a list of at least 5 and perhaps as many as 15 books. Encircle the titles that you think your students, at the level you are teaching, should read.

If you did not encircle even one, you know what your problem is. None of the books you are teaching to your students are your favorites. How can you teach something that is not your favorite? I leave that to your teaching conscience.

If you encircled at least one, you know what you have to do. You have to redo your syllabus or even your curriculum so that, by the time your students finish the year or the term with you, they would have read that encircled book or those encircled books.

What to teach. Let me challenge you now by asking you to compare your list with that done by others, particularly those that make lists. When you go home, go to Amazon.com or any such website and look for lists. There are thousands, maybe millions of those. Compare your list to a couple of those. Better, compare your list to the one done by the Core Knowledge Foundation.

The theme of this seminar is “The Teacher as Reader and the Reader as Teacher.” You cannot be a reading teacher if you are not a reading teacher, a teacher who reads. You all know the old adage, you cannot teach what you do not have. You cannot teach the skill of reading if you do not have the skill of reading. You cannot teach the love of reading if you do not have the love of reading. You cannot expect your students to love reading if you yourself do not love reading. You cannot expect your students to read something new to them every day if you yourself do not read something new to you every day. Since you have read all those books in your three lists, otherwise you would not have been able to list their titles, then you must read books other than those. You must read something new every day. I am not saying that you must finish a new book every day, although I used to do that before my eyes deteriorated. I still finish a new book every week and sometimes more than one. What I am merely saying is that you must finish or at least start – in case you cannot stand the book – a new book at least every week.

A physical education teacher plays basketball or swims or whatever she or he teaches every day. A piano teacher plays the piano every day. A math teacher solves equations every day. A cooking teacher cooks every day. A reading teacher reads every day. Otherwise, you should not be a reading teacher.

It’s as simple as that. You teach reading, you read. If you cannot stand reading, if you hate reading, if you do not want to read, if you do not have time to read, my goodness, please find another job. Everybody else teaches what they do every day. You must read every day.

Now, to go back to my metaphor about driving and swimming. We learn to read using paragraphs and newspapers and easy stuff like that. But in real life, newspapers are not enough. You know this. You know why everybody has to read books. To survive in this world, which is very, very complex, everybody has to read books. They may read them now on the Web or on handheld computers, but they read them. We reading teachers like to point to the Harry Potter books as proof that everything is not lost for books, because more people bought those books than bought computers. But if everyone read only about Harry Potter, the human race would be in big trouble. We need to read the Great Books, and I don’t think even Rowling would consider her books Great Books. There is a danger that our students will consider her books Great Books. That is the danger that is facing us today. That is the challenge that we have today. We must get our students to read all those books that you have in those lists that you made. They may not read them in our classes, but they have to read them sometime before they die, or believe me, they will die. They will die not only spiritually or intellectually, but even physically. For only those that have learned the lessons of the past will survive the present, and there is only one way to talk to the people in the past, and that is to read what they wrote.

Tell me what you read and I will tell you who you are. Teach that to your students and you have become a truly reading reading teacher.

(Keynote address at the “Seminar on The Teacher as Reader and the Reader as Teacher” of the Nilda Sunga Training Center in Quezon City, Philippines, on 16 May 2008.)

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