Friday, August 10, 2012

Plagiarism: Check out the facts

Imagine! Jonah Lehrer, the author of the New York Times bestseller, Imagine: How Creativity Works, has been exposed as a plagiarist. And print and e-book copies of the book are now being pulled from distribution, according to Mark Nichol, editor of the Daily Writing Tips blog. "Like most individuals," Nichol writes, "who have been part of an early twenty-first-century wave of high-profile literary fabricators and plagiarists, his promising career as a writer is over."

Nichol, while explaining that he would prefer to leave the psychology of motivation for such invention to others to analyse, offers some interesting observations on media "criticisms that book publishers do not double-check facts".

He writes:
One of the fundamentals of journalism is veracity in reporting, and most periodical publications consider assiduous research and fact-checking integral to professional reporting and writing. Some professionally produced publications — including mostly magazines but some newspapers as well — employ staff or freelancers responsible for conducting research and contacting sources to verify quotations and quantifiable information, even though it is the reporter's or writer's responsibility to submit accurate content.

But lapses occur constantly: I’ve edited for several newspapers and magazines that, like many other periodicals, often have a space to acknowledge and correct significant factual errors. I’ve also read newspaper or magazine articles about incidents or events with which I was intimately familiar, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a given that even the most well-written article will get something wrong.

Nichol then offers practical advice on the use of quotations:
It’s one thing to slightly alter a quotation for grammatical effect or because the original statement was elliptical and requires more context, or to rebuild one from incomplete notes. It’s one thing to restate another person’s opinions or conclusions (which might themselves not be original). These are acceptable, standard practices.

It’s another thing to slide down the slippery slope of thinking that it’s too much trouble to contact sources to coax them into saying what you want them to say — just reconstruct a conversation from random comments and punctuate it with a bon mot in your source’s voice that she would have said if she had thought of it. It’s another thing to agonise that your article or essay or book is lacking, and to rationalise that the only way to remedy the shortcoming is to invent or copy

And he then adds the perfect conclusion:
Whether it comes to contemplating bank robbery or writing, opt for earning your money the hard way — honestly.

Read the article in its entirety here: "The Facts Are Good Enough".

Also read:
And for those who are not clear about what plagiarism is exactly, here's a primer: "What is plagiarism?"

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