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VIEW: Research! No Plagiarism (an old piece from Social Pages 2006)

Sana Bucha's article (Jul 17 2011) 'When Incredibles Sulk' vs. The Economist (14 Jul 2011) : 'Pakistan and America In a Sulk'. Not everyone agrees that this is a case of plagiarism even though it seems pretty clear-cut. Am posting an old forgotten piece inspired by a similar case (several in fact).

As the debate on what constitutes ‘Plagiarism’ rages on amongst many, clearly the line between ‘research’ and plagiarism appear to be blurred. That the plagiarized piece is subject to copyright and demeaning to self and publication when discovered seldom affects the ‘amoral’ or will never deter an ‘immoral’.

Perhaps some do not recognize it as a crime. There are several types of plagiarists; Ignorant, indifferent and irresponsible. They commit unintentional plagiarism in their ignorance, through indifference do not cite sources and because of negligence alter the content by paraphrasing wrongly. While a lot can be found on this subject on the internet, yet here I am, once again, giving close encounters of my own with the plagiaristic kind and you would be surprised how many of these lurk out there. The good news is that oftentimes they are easy to detect with the simplest of strategies, our own version of detection software.

When faced with a flawless piece of writing, listening to the warning bells helps for there may be a genuinely good writer out there (who will, no doubt be mortified to know that his/her writing has been subjected to such scrutiny) but 5 times out of 10, it is a smug plagiarist as a quick Google search will verify. The internet may have made the plagiarizers' life easy but detectors and fact checkers can not complain either. Most Plagiarists do not take the time to change more than a few lines of the content and this is how you get them, by typing in the suspect lines. Sometimes, it is not always the newbie who is plagiarizing but a well known veteran and I do not envy the person who gets to confront them.

And they called it ‘Research’

Surprisingly, persuading an otherwise intelligent person that plagiarism is not research is harder than it seems. Consider an article discovered to be plagiarized from not one or two but several websites. In a bid to avoid absolute condemnation of an otherwise keen writer, h/s was informed diplomatically that the ‘sample’ sent in was good and h/s should send in the real piece now. His reply: Sample? That was my ‘research’. ‘Research’ in their world could be cutting from one website and pasting it onto MS Word.

A word of advice; do not kid yourselves. We know research and that was not it. Research is there to assist in the development of original ideas or to back up ‘your’ viewpoint with appropriate citations.

When one fellow was told to rework a piece, he went and massacred said piece by reshuffling all sentences, putting what came after commas before. The result made the poor editors hair stand on end. Yet another went to Wikipedia, cut the webpage onto word and sent it in; an entire webpage means the blue underlined thingies (links) were still there. When asked to rework with citations, back came a reply, sorry no can do, do not have the time’. The article was on the merits of Ramzan by the way.

I suggest that if you have taken the trouble to cut and paste, take a few seconds more and type in 'taken from…' at the end. Why mislead the editor? It is their job to find you out and if they are any good at it, be warned that they will. Folks may get by with this cavalier attitude towards life in some universities, but they will find the going hard in the real world. Instructors are not always out to get you but good editors are. For if they do not, foreign newspapers come out of nowhere and threaten their publication and credibility with nasty lawsuits.

The End

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