Thursday, July 05, 2007

On citing sources for facts

The huffingtonpost asserts the unfairness of the following plagiarism incident:

When he was a senior at Tulane University, he took a Political Science class about the British Political System. For his term paper he wrote about the functions of the British Cabinet. The night before the final he got a phone call. It was from the Tulane honor board: He was charged with plagiarism, the caller said. He was devastated, and did badly on the final.

The next semester there was a hearing. At the hearing, the student listened to a tape of his professor's testimony. The professor recommended expulsion: Not only had he plagiarized, the professor said, he had flunked the final. The supposed plagiarism was that he had listed ten functions of the British Cabinet without giving a source. He had done so because he believed that this was common knowledge, such as saying the sky is blue, and thus did not need a citation. He had not copied word for word -- he had paraphrased the source he used. The honor board gave him a WF for the course -- withdrawal with an F.

IPBiz suspects that the fact that "the sky is blue" is more common knowledge than "ten functions of the British cabinet." In the law business, writers tend to footnote a lot, provided that the references support the advocated position. However, in the area of patent reform, there is a tendency NOT to give references for certain alledgedly obvious facts, which are in fact neither obvious nor in fact true.

One can find on the internet the text: There is a crisis of patent quality. Vague, overbroad patents lacking in novelty that fail the constitutional mandate of “promoting the progress of science and the useful arts” are being issued. The grant of a high volume of patents (over 350,000 a year [sic]) at a staggering rate (upwards of 90% of patent applications are granted) produces increasing uncertainty about their merit. Low quality patents risk more litigation and confer the economic rewards of monopoly with little benefit to the public.

Of course, the patent office has yet to grant 350,000 patents in a year and the grant rate has never been anything near 90%. The interesting thing about the above-mentioned text is that there is a warning in the body of the paper containing the text that the paper is NOT to be CITED.

In the end, it's probably better to cite than not to cite, as the Tulane student learned the hard way.

On plagiarism, see also -->

On patent reform, see also -->

Getting the Patent Reform Wars on Track

***Separately, see pennlive for the quote:

American writer Dorothy Parker wrote, "The only 'ism' Hollywood believes in is plagiarism."

Perhaps not as striking as the Harvard Business Review's "plagiarize with pride," but conveying the same sentiment.


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