Saturday, August 16, 2008

Routman's copied lines from wikipedia: enough to walk the plank?

An AP story gives the fragments from Wikipedia that led to the allegation of "plagiarism" against Ohio University senior Allison Routman by the University of Virginia:

“when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa”
“German speaking minority outside of Germany”
“who had been released from a concentration camp”

Whether or not this passes the Frank Zappa/weasel test for theft of creativity is less than obvious. Even if, hypothetically, this passes for plagiarism, putting Routman ashore in Greece, and at risk, is not commensurate with the "crime." The University of Virginia screwed this up. It is hard to reconcile what did happen to Routman with what did NOT happen to Poshard.

See also

UVa expels plagiarizing OhioU student from ship!

**UPDATE. A blog at USNews contains a comment (purportedly) from Routman's father, which includes the text:

This was not a research paper. Students were told that they didn't even need citation pages. The paper was meant to be the student's opinion and it was.

The movie was a subtitled movie shown on a loop so students who sat down in front of a screen might be seeing it in the middle, at the end, etc. It was hard to track the events chronologically.

Plagiarism means taking someone's ideas, opinions, or meaningful units of language without attribution. Ms. Routman did not use Wikipedia's ideas or opinions, and there is not a single Wikipedia sentence that appears in her paper. These are short, factual sentence fragments.

"Brief, factual phrases do not belong in quotation marks, and

they do not require attribution, because they are merely building blocks of language that cannot be owned by anyone. Also, when one is reading written material in work on one's own manuscript, it is a banal waste of time to make minor modifications in phrases that fit both documents. The

way to refer to someone who had just been released from a concentration camp is to identify them as someone "who had just been released from a concentration camp." What would the university suggest a student do: Find a way to change a word or two in the above phrase? That is pointless.
[quote seems to be of one Jeremy Shapiro.]

The post does get into the issue of intent: If you want to expel cheaters, then pick on those students who really intend to cheat. Of course, as the Poshard incident demonstrated, that can be a tricky, slippery slope. Poshard, in writing his Ph.D. thesis, copied a whole lot more than Routman did, but walked on the basis of inadvertent plagiarism. Who had the better argument for "inadvertent" plagiarism, Poshard or Routman? Poshard should have been "put ashore" at Crab Orchard Lake.

Of the line --universities are understandably terrified of plagiarism --, one notes that universities worry more about plagiarism of students, than of professors (e.g., Laurence Tribe, Doris Kearns Goodwin, recall what Dershowitz said about the culture of copying in the legal area [!]), and even the handling of student plagiarism is mixed. In that, are universities worried about the presence of plagiarism, or a revelation of what they do with plagiarism, once revealed [ask THOMAS MATRKA, an OhioU alum]


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