Friday, January 18, 2008

Poshard's revisions to plagiarized thesis completed

Knowing how Ohio University dealt with its plagiarized theses, it should be interesting to see how SIU President Poshard dealt with his plagiarized Ph.D. thesis. The SIUDE reported:

Graduate School Director David Wilson said the school received the corrected version of Poshard's doctoral dissertation last month.

Several faculty members, including English professor and plagiarism expert Gerald Nelms, reviewed the corrected dissertation before it was submitted to University Microfilm International, Wilson said.

Dean of Library Affairs David Carlson said Morris Library received a copy of the dissertation, but it must be bound before it is put back on the shelf.

A seven-member panel of SIUC faculty leaders reviewed Poshard's dissertation and its source material following anonymous claims in August that Poshard plagiarized portions of the document. In October the panel released a report that stated Poshard committed "inadvertent plagiarism" and should correct his mistakes.

Poshard did not return two messages for comment on the issue, but SIU spokesman Dave Gross said the president spent a considerable amount of time fixing the paper

IPBiz notes that past history suggests that Professor Nelms is more of a plagiarism apologist than an expert on plagiarism. See IPBiz post Page 54 of the Poshard Ph.D. thesis: a real problem as to plagiarism

Let's go back to a post by "DoctorFreeRide" from November 2005, relating to the Ohio U. business:

If you were putting it in your own words, you probably wouldn't cite it. Why put it in the textbook authors' words? Maybe because it's so clear in the textbook. Maybe because that way you know you haven't misstated the fact. I can only imagine that the faculty reading theses with uncited word-for-word quotations from textbooks either (1) don't realize that these are word-for-word quotations, since the faculty haven't spent quality time with the textbook in so long, or (2) do realize that they're word-for-word quotations but view this as a minor instance of plagiarism since it's not the kind of thing that would require citation if the thesis writer had expressed it in his own words.

DoctorFreeRide's explanation didn't get into the "everybody knows it" situation, as with Abraham Lincoln using the Bible, without citation, in the "House Divided" speech, but such situation would not excite cries of plagiarism.

The "Problem with Poshard" at page 54 is that none of the conventional excuses cover the situation. As noted on IPBiz: How a "summary" from Gallagher's 1975 book materialized in a "summary" in Poshard's 1984 thesis is not explained. Apart from the copying issue, there is a substantive issue. The thesis is about how things changed between 1977 and 1983 (Poshard Ph.D. thesis, page 4). If the "summary" of the 1984 thesis is copied from a 1975 book, how is the summary capable of addressing changes that happened between 1977 and 1983?

Reviewing the literature covering a very obscure area doesn't require word-for-word copying. Further, a thesis author is SUPPOSED to review the literature, not rely on somewhat else's review. BUT the real killer here is that COPIED words from a REVIEW PUBLISHED IN 1975 were used to represent the state of things BETWEEN 1977 and 1983. That's a problem that "plagiarism expert" Nelms, and others, simply don't want to address, or even talk mention.

IPBiz notes separately that the doctorfreeride post included a comment (in the year 2005) that foreshadowed the defense of Poshard in 2007:

KUDOS to Thomas Matrka for having the courage to bring these issues of blatant plagiarism to the highest levels of your University! I can imagine his frustration when professors and administrators have tried to pass off the incidents of plagiarism as unwitting or unintentional on the part of the thesis authors.

Note from the Dec. 21, 07 article by Scott Fitzgerald :

Poshard said Friday the work was tedious, but he was glad to have done it.

"It took a little time. I had to pull articles that were 45 years old," Poshard said. "Many of them (articles) were not available online. None of my mistakes were intentional. I'm glad it's done."


Commenter Geoffrey Nathan at wrote:

It’s amazing how misinformation gets repeated, like a meme. The President of Southern Illinois University (not just Edwardsville) was essentially exonerated—it turned out that the literature review section of his dissertation was not adequately marked with respect to where quoted material began and ended (even though the sources were named). This isn’t exactly ‘large quantities’, but the level of internecine politics at SIU are such that it gave great delight to some of the administration’s enemies to entertain such exaggerations.

Geoffrey Nathan fails to mention that Poshard's SUMMARY of the literature was copied from a book, which book itself summarized literature PRIOR TO the dates of relevance to Poshard's thesis. There are at least TWO things wrong with this.

A commenter, in turn, criticized Nathan:

In the first place, there was not even the pretence of an independent inquiry: the single person responsible for the “exoneration” was an associate professor in the SIU English Department. The conflict of interest is too obvious to require further discussion. In the second, that individual, as he admits, applied a wholly subjective standard: “most scholars [none of whom he troubles to name] defining plagiarism emphasize the importance of a conscious intention to cheat, and I see nothing in the forms of the infractions in this dissertation that make me think that its author was intending to cheat.” To the contrary, intent—like drunk driving, running red lights, or claiming income tax exemptions to which one is not entitled—is not a consideration when defining plagiarism; the only applicable criterion is whether one has included purloined material or not. In the third, the unintentionally comical associate professor apparently believes that plagiarism doesn’t really matter as long as it appears in a Ph.D. dissertation rather than a published book. As he says, “It is important…that anyone reading the Poshard dissertation remember that this is the writing of graduate student Glen Poshard, not University President Glen Poshard.


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