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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Why do academics plagairize?

It seems like an incredibly risky move to copy someone else's work. I have heard of a few famous episodes in economics, but most of the stories you hear come from other departments on campus. Perhaps this is a cognative dissonance problem on my part.

Nevertheless, the Chronicle of Higher Education has some amazing examples and some valuable reading for students and faculty alike. For example:
In 2002 Judy Tzu-Chun Wu came across a newly published anthology on the American West. Ms. Wu, then an assistant professor of history at Ohio State University's main campus, often wrote and taught about the American West, so she began flipping through the book. She was surprised when she saw a chapter on Margaret Chung, the first U.S.-born female Chinese doctor, who also happened to be the subject of Ms. Wu's 1998 dissertation.

"I remember thinking it was odd that someone else was working on Margaret Chung," says Ms. Wu. "I thought, How does this person's take compare to mine?"

This person -- Benson Tong, then an assistant professor of history at Wichita State University -- had a similar take. Very similar. In fact, as she read, Ms. Wu's curiosity turned into anger: The chapter was nothing more than a condensed version of her dissertation, she believed. There were phrases and descriptions that seem to have been lifted nearly verbatim, along with unattributed facts Ms. Wu had spent long hours pinning down.

Why would someone risk using such an obscure person in a book when they must have some confidence that the scholar they are ripping off would read the book? Mr. Tong even disputed the fact that he had copied the material. Willful plagiarizing should be punished with dismissal from the academy, but that is because I don't plagiarize.

Absolutely amazing. This is a lesson for students, especially graduate students. The academy is populated with the same percentage (if not more) of jackasses than the regular population. Just because someone has a PHD doesn't make them smart - a painful reality lesson we all go through after our degrees are conferred and we attend our first faculty meeting.

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