12/14/2008

SINS OF OMISSION, SINS OF COMMISSION

SINS!
When you plagiarize, your omission becomes your commission. More on that in a moment.

Blake Stacey has the latest evo/creo skirmish outlined in the following must-read post, which touches not only on the question of the First Amendment rights of students, but the rather brazen habit of plagiarism that is widely embraced by most students. At the risk of moralizing, plagiarism is not just bad manners, it's intellectual theft and typically fatal to one's scientific career.

Science has a pretty high standard in this regard compared to the popular culture. If a scientist had attempted to take credit for 'inventing the Internet' or pronounced an ongoing war 'mission accomplished', they would never be able to live it down. That Joe Biden is the Vice President-elect after being caught red-handed with someone else's life story should tell you something about the political class, which is that they are able to overcome our low expectations.

Now, in my experience most creationists have the same leaden attitude toward citation as the politicians. Many of them are hopeless plagiarists of the 'cut-and-paste' variety. There's an almost-incestuous use of the same discredited arguments from the same sources by some of these guys, and even the material that seems new to me is, as often as note, compiled from the work of others. The most pernicious examples are when real scientists are 'quote-mined' from sources that have been selectively-edited. To no one's surprise, the edited versions are the ones that are selectively requoted over and over again by creationists, who give the impression of being clueless: they are not only unaware that their sources have not only been discredited, but they have not even considered that possibility that it might be bad form to pilfer the arguments of others word-for-word and unsourced.

As the witty Kristine Harley commented recently on an earlier post, "How everlastingly exhausting it is to try to go to the conceptual grocery store with creationists who keep losing their keys between the front door and the car door."

Now, I have some first-hand experience with this sort of thing. A few months back I had to publicly correct a Young Earther who had swiped a picture of 'Francisco Ayala' from the Internet to decorate his Power Point, but (ack) had gotten the wrong Ayala! He allowed he was going to correct this, but the last I checked he's still using someone else's picture of the wrong Ayala to make his point, probably because the Spanish author looks a bit more seedy in his pictures than the slick, well-groomed evolutionary biologist.

In a more personal example, I once sent an email to an Old Earth Creationist of my acquaintance which attached a copy of a presentation that I have given to various groups on the history of the Big Bang model, including the Power Point and a PDF file of the content. It contained some text on the question of cosmological 'fine tuning'. Imagine my surprise when, at a later meeting of a group to which this fellow belonged, he quoted my work verbatim as part of a presentation to the group as if it was his work. I sat, slack-jawed, in the front row of seats during the presentation less than ten feet from the guy. I finally 'reminded' him gently in front of the entire group that he was quoting from my work. The look of puzzlement on his face haunts me, because as a high school teacher, I know that plagiarism has reached epidemic proportions in the youth culture.

For that reason, I regularly require students to submit written work in my Biology courses to the on-line integrity software 'Turnitin.com'. This becomes especially important at the end of the course, when I have students write essays based upon a rubric prompt on one of four general topics within evolution. Students are expected to cite APA style within the text as well as provide a bibliography, and they are expected to have some primary sources. I'd be willing to guess that the unfortunate Mr. Creasy's editor utterly failed to do something similar, based upon the information available to me.

By the way, the newspaper that reported it (The Roanoke Times) also forgot to fact-check before printing the text of the student's article in their Friday edition, and yours truly was one of the first (perhaps the first) to leave a note to their staff to inform them of this lapse.

Anyway, the key point is this: plagiarism of the crass wholesale 'cut-and-paste' variety shown in the student's 'essay' is inexcusable. It's not my job as a teacher to tell kids what to 'believe' where evolution is concerned. They should make up their own minds, and they should use their minds to produce their own work, not steal the work of others and represent it as their own. The moment they fail to acknowledge that work, they become thieves. Sins of omission become sins of commission.
CHEATING!

1 comment:

mattheath said...

You said: "Science has a pretty high standard in this regard compared to the popular culture. If a scientist had attempted to take credit for 'inventing the Internet' or pronounced an ongoing war 'mission accomplished', they would never be able to live it down. That Joe Biden is the Vice President-elect after being caught red-handed with someone else's life story should tell you something about the political class, which is that they are able to overcome our low expectations."

Is there a layer of irony I am missing here? You've linked to an unequivocal take down of the story that Al Gore claims to have invented the internet and a story pointing out that Biden had earlier credited the "first in my family to go university" thing to Kinnock (and so it's very possible that he just let it slip his mind the second time).

If a scientist whose work had been fairly important in the early internet claimed to have "taken the initiative in creating the internet" or if a scientist giving the same chalk-and-talk lecture for the nth time forgot one reference, they would live it down as easily as Biden and Gore have.