"Only be sure always to call it please 'research'"

It amazes and saddens me when politicians today will deny giving some statement or position that contradicts their current agenda and the host or interviewer then cues up the video recording of them making the contradicted statement. Back before we had widespread video technology, public figures could get away with such a flip-flop position. Who was going to pore over years of written newspaper articles, Congressional Records or transcripts to find one nugget of inconsistency? In our technology laden society, I have to wonder when people will realize that everything digital is going to be saved, indexed and cross-referenced. One just has to type in a few keywords to a search engine and be able to find almost anything.

Most students aren't going to be lauding a political position one day and criticizing it another; and even if they did, it wouldn't affect their course grades. But, they do have to write papers and computer programs and other original work throughout their academic career. Some will decide to take a shortcut and submit or copy material from an external source. If the source is used and cited properly, there won't be a problem; if the work is passed off as the student's own work, we have plagiarism.

As with my political analogy above, back in the day, when trying to take such a shortcut a student might be able to find a fairly obscure source unknown to his professor and get away with it. Not always. A colleague of mine from several years ago liked to relate a story about the first paper assignment in an Economics course he was taking. After the papers had been reviewed, the professor called on about 2/3 of the class, one at a time. For each of them the prof was able to point out some passage or data or figure within their submission and cite the original source (author, title, and publication).

In our technology laden society, I don't know who would actually crack open a dusty tome in the depths of a library when an Internet search could find the same materials much easier. The only problem with this approach--besides being against every honesty and plagiarism rule within a university's code of conduct--is that professors have access to the same Internet and search capabilities. Thus, it is much easier to identify work that was merely copied by students. In fact, there are programs that are designed to comb through the tubes that are the Internet in order to determine if plagiarism has been employed within submitted work. (And with multiple cores easily available, more documents can be examined in a shorter amount of time.)

Taking such a practice from school into a professional career can result in more than just a failing grade. Lawsuits have been filed for millions and billions of dollars for instances of the misuse of code segments and patented algorithms within programs. To protect themselves, companies use software checking applications to scour source code within their own developing products to identify any (innocently or intentionally) included copyright protected material.

By now you may be asking what's gotten me up on my soapbox about the topic of plagiarism. A current colleague sent me a link to the blog post in the photo below. It is an exact copy of my "A Tale of Two Cakes" blog post from this past February, links and photos and all. The origination of the copied article is given as "written by Michael," which is not my name. There was no other citation of the true origination of the post, either.

When I told her about this discovery, my wife wondered why anyone would want to use my words. I had to agree and wonder, myself, why it bothered me so much. I don't get paid for these posts nor do I get paid each time someone reads it, so no one is taking food from my table. (Technically, since I spend some of my time at work writing my blog, I do get paid for writing and posting them.) I guess the thing that rankles the most is that I wrote the article in first person. Thus, Kathy and Arti and Paul get mentioned by name and, for anyone not familiar with the original post, it appears that "Michael" works here in Champaign, is the Parallel Programming Talk co-host and bought the other cake. But that's me. As Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Stay in school, kids. Don't do drugs. And don't copy work and present it as your own.

Screen shot of "A Tale of Two Cakes" blog

Almost forgot to credit the title of this post as coming from Tom Lehrer's song "Lobachevsky." Bozhe moi!

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