Friday, October 12, 2007

Sun-Times: Poshard off the hook

DAVE NEWBART of the Chicago Sun-Times writes of the announcement of the Poshard committee decision:

A committee of seven faculty leaders was appointed by the Carbondale chancellor -- who also works under Poshard -- and they met eight times over the past three weeks. They found nearly 40 instances of citation errors or other problems in the paper.

The committee found no specific style was required by the SIU Department of Higher Education, where he studied at the time. Instead, Poshard used an "informal style'' used by other graduate students then.

But there also were "many instances in the dissertation where the words of others are present in a continuous flow with student Poshard's own words, so that readers cannot distinguish between those sources," the report states. The instances of unquoted and uncited texts are "pervasive" and "significant," it said.

In an interview with the committee, Poshard said he couldn't recall "hearing instruction on the meaning of plagiarism'' but simply thought it was intentionally stealing others' work. The committee found there was no definition of plagiarism in the graduate student handbook at the time.

Newbart's text brings up the concept of "inadvertent (unintentional?)plagiarism":

A committee of faculty leaders at SIU announced Thursday [Oct. 11] that the university's top official committed "inadvertent plagiarism" in his doctoral dissertation, which he wrote as a student at SIU in 1984. The paper therefore needs to be corrected, but he will remain the university's top official and face no further repercussions.

IPBiz has previously noted a well-publicized student plagiarism incident at Princeton University in 1981, three years before Poshard's thesis. The resultant court case established that appropropriate student conduct on citation and a definition of plagiarism were fully articulated in the student handbook.

IPBiz notes that, in the patent business, ignorance of what's in the prior art is no defense to copying the prior art, intentionally or unintentionally.

The report of the committee is available on the internet. One irony is that the committee, in recommending an update of Poshard's thesis, states that the corrections should be consistent with the Turabian style, style that was disclosed in 1973 (Kate L. Turabian, Univ. Chicago Press, 1973). The committee noted that Turabian did not define plagiarism but did provide information on how to cite properly. There is discussion of a letter from Bruce Swinburne.

IPBiz finds it a bit scary that Poshard considered the literature review chapter the most important chapter.

The report states that the entire thesis is available electronically.


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