Monday, December 13, 2010

Plagiarism is the highest form of flattery... right?

One day when I was in the trenches of the FSView, editing hell out of some Word documents that my writers submitted, I nudged my mouse a bit. I was reading through a review for a movie that had just been released, and when I nudged my mouse the cursor on my screen absentmindedly hovered over a bit of text. As I read ahead in the review, out of the corner of my eye, I could see a little yellow box pop up near my cursor.

That's queer, I thought.

What was even more queer was that the little box was a url. To Roger Ebert's website. In two clicks I was reading one of his recent reviews (for the same movie) and I happened to read the same sentence there that I had just read in that Word document. Hmm.

A mediocre newspaper lost an above-average writer that day due to plagiarism. The writer said in defense that she normally looks at other reviews to get ideas, but she ends up changing the words before she "writes" her reviews. Naturally, I began suspecting all of her past reviews of "sharecropping," (I just made that up. Mad copyrights on that!) but I couldn't find another instance of intense borrowing. To be honest, I think I was okay with her continuing to write (so sue me, we were really hurting for writers), but she just stopped submitting things.


One day, years later, while I was sitting at work at my current job, in the front office of the History Department of Florida State University, a professor came in and started telling this story while holding up this paper he had:

"So I get this paper from a student. The front page is full of the instructions he wrote to someone else on how to write the paper. The rest of the paper is plagiarized. And some of the paper is plagiarized from my own work on the subject." [Lots of paraphrasing here; it's been a while.]

I'd heard about cheating before, but this was simply stupefying. I could not believe it.

A few months later at the same job, I came across The Chronicle's piece on "shadow scholars," people who work at companies that write academic papers for students. You know, "for reference use only." It's a good read.


Finally, this morning, whilst checking my social media, I found a tip from someone pointing me to this blog post. Now, I didn't know the person sending me the link, and I didn't know the person who posted on this blog, and I didn't know what it was all about. When I finished reading the post, it took me a second to figure out that I, too, may have been plagiarized.


The above really weird recommendation blog post from Andy "Short Stack bassist" Clemmensen is a huge ripoff. (The Google cache is here. The original post is MIA as of right now.)

The first 1.5 sentences are from the first part of the final paragraph of my Kanye review. And the middle third of the second paragraph is all mine as well.

Does it really take less time and effort to rip people's words from different reviews? You (or, more likely, some intern somewhere) really can't slog together 277 words for your bullshit column?

Give me a fucking break, Short Stack.


Update 12/13/2010. 9:44 AM EST:

Feel free to harangue world-renowned bassist Andy Clemmensen on Twitter!

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