January 7, 2007

Posner on plagiarism.

Posner's new book is about plagiarism:
Richard Posner, moreover, is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and a law professor at the University of Chicago who turns out books and articles with annoying frequency and facility. Surely, under deadline pressure, he is tempted every now and then to resort to a little clipping and pasting, especially since he cuts members of his own profession a good deal of slack on the plagiarism issue. In the book he readily acknowledges that judges publish opinions all the time that are in fact written by their clerks, but he excuses the practice on the ground that everyone knows about it and therefore no one is harmed.
Is ghostwriting plagiarism? The clerks are ghostwriters. It's true everyone knows about it, but that doesn't mean it's not bad.

Anyway, in "The Little Book of Plagiarism," Posner seems to give judges a pass. But then he's hard on the professors who are soft on plagiarism (by other professors). The reason: Politics! All those lefties in academia:
[T]he left, which dominates the professoriate these days, is soft on plagiarism because the left is uncomfortable with ideas of individual creativity and ownership. (Surprisingly, he fails to take a whack at French theorists like Barthes and Foucault, who argued that in the strictest sense there is no such thing as an “author,” because all writing is collaborative and produced by a kind of cultural collective.)
Academic lefties don't preen over their own creativity and fawn over the creativity of writers they admire? I haven't read the book -- it's not even out until the 16th -- but it seems to me that professors are soft on plagiarizing professors because they feel a natural sympathy toward one of their own.

15 comments:

Dave said...

When I was a freshman in college a fellow student caused a great deal of controversy because she apparently wrote a paper, turned it in, and then realized that two paragraphs that should have been indented and cited as another writer's work were formatted as if they were her own writing. As I understood the story she told the professor this before he had a chance to look at the paper, and he allowed her to resubmit it properly formatted and cited, but this caused a great deal of controversy. Apparently, even admitting that you (inadvertently) plagiarized is a problem.

Odd, these academics.

Tim said...

"...but it seems to me that professors are soft on plagiarizing professors because they feel a natural sympathy toward one of their own."

I'm not a big fan of the communal ideology of the taxpayer-subsidized professoriate, but I suspect this assessment is more accurate than Posner"s. The collective security needs of the tribe promotes a defensive response Posner misattributes to ideology (although defense of the ideology certainly falls within the security needs of the tribe too).

dreamingmonkey said...

Unlike professors and other writers, judges and lawyers aren't paid for the originality or novelty of their content - they are paid to get it right (or in the case of judges, 'get it final'). For lawyers, I don't even think the term "plagiarism" applies. I would never rewrite an argument that I or somebody else has written before if it will get the job done right on whatever particular set of facts are in this particular case. Also, whenever you can cite to someone else, you do! That's one thing I enjoy about practicing law: it has a functional approach to language -- people getting the job done rather than just playing genius.

Freder Frederson said...

Also, whenever you can cite to someone else, you do! That's one thing I enjoy about practicing law: it has a functional approach to language -- people getting the job done rather than just playing genius.

As long as you credit that person and don't pass it off as your own work, right? It is only plagiarism when you try and pass off work that is not your own as original. And to do that in any field--and of course in academics it is assumed that the author of a paper is equally likely to be a secondarily credited graduate student (this is especially true in the sciences) than the primary author. But that's just the way the academic pecking order works.

Elizabeth said...

The problem here is the presumption that academics are soft on plagiarism. I;ve seen no persuasive evidence of that, so I'm uninterested in how he explains it, except to roll my eyes at the idiotic posturing about the evil bogey of the left. I've never encountered a laissez faire attitude toward plagiarism among the academics I've worked with in my 12-13 years of teaching. When a luminary at my university, Stephen Ambrose, was shown to have done sloppy citations for borrowed work, he dropped in stature and was roundly condemned among his colleagues here. As for students, I don't know any instructor who doesn't nail at least one or two per semester for plagiarizing. I grade papers with my browser set to Google so I can paste in suspect passages and phrases. I recognize such passages because I've assigned lots of in-class writing all semester to become familiar with each student's voice and style. I fail any plagiarized assignment and file a report with the Student Judiciary office. With that on record, a second offense can result in suspension from the university.

Ricardo said...

Let me see if I understand this argument. If some leftie professor at Harvard Law School had held Posner to higher standards while he was a student ... presumably inculcating him with the concept that plagiarism is not just about being materially harmful to someone but that it is, well, WRONG ... then Posner would be ruling differently today. Is that what he's saying. An admission that his lack of basic ethics (in this issue) is the fault of someone else? And oh, by the way (and why am I not surprised?) that someone else is a leftie.

hdhouse said...

I ghosted papers all the way through my liberal arts doctorate...at the time the pay rate was $2 a page double space. Things got better when I started ghosting for law school types.

My illogic is that I learned more than they did and got paid for it. This was before the Internet and the best and latest I had was the Lockheed Data Base...outright verbatim theft was not very possible.

I don't have an ounce of guilt about it.

tjl said...

"I don't have an ounce of guilt about it."

Of course not, hdhouse, since for devotees of Barthes and Foucault, all writing is produced by a cultural collective. And in the great cultural collective, it matters little that some do the work and others get the credit. "From each according to his ability," as Lenin used to say.

LoafingOaf said...

but it seems to me that professors are soft on plagiarizing professors because they feel a natural sympathy toward one of their own.

Why doesn't that also apply to being softer on one of their political own? It does seem like most of the higher profile cases of plagiarism are exposed - and punishment is demanded - by people outside the author's profession and/or people of opposing political views to the author.

I've never encountered a laissez faire attitude toward plagiarism among the academics I've worked with in my 12-13 years of teaching. When a luminary at my university, Stephen Ambrose, was shown to have done sloppy citations for borrowed work, he dropped in stature and was roundly condemned among his colleagues here.

The article that's linked cites that case and mentions another observer (not Posner) who pointed out that right-leaning publications were the ones who exposed and led the charge against Ambrose.

As for students, I don't know any instructor who doesn't nail at least one or two per semester for plagiarizing.

Posner is talking about a double standard, where students are treated more harshly than their professors. That rings true to me.

I hope when you're grading papers with Google and looking for the 1-2 students per semester to nail that you look at each paper you're alleging plagiarism against on a case-by-case basis. There are different levels of plagiarism. Sometimes it's a serious offense, like when a student steals whole paragraphs and you can't really call the paper his own work. Sometimes it's so small and nit-picky that, IMO, it is not true plagiarism and should be handled between the professor and student with no huge fuss.

Ann Althouse said...

Loafing: I do proctored exams, not papers. I feel well-defended against plagiarism this way.

Gahrie said...

hdhouse:

I ghosted papers all the way through my liberal arts doctorate...

I don't have an ounce of guilt about it.


Anyone who has been subjected to your knee jerk leftist rhetoric on this blog can't be a bit surprised.

Here's a suggestion. Go look up the word integrity in the dictionary, then find someone to teach it to you.

Anonymous said...

When a luminary at my university, Stephen Ambrose, was shown to have done sloppy citations for borrowed work, he dropped in stature and was roundly condemned among his colleagues here.

Does anyone know if his book sales went down as well? My guess is that most non-academic readers didn't care that much.

We had a long discussion about him in one of my Historian's Craft classes. Our professor showed us the offending passages on the screen and he was livid. Livid like he was the one plagiarized from. Frankly, yeah, it's sloppy and should have been cited. But I'm with loafingoaf, you've got to distinguish between true ripping off and sloppy citation.

As for plagiarism as a lawyer it was said: "Also, whenever you can cite to someone else, you do! That's one thing I enjoy about practicing law: it has a functional approach to language -- people getting the job done rather than just playing genius.

As long as you credit that person and don't pass it off as your own work, right?"

I don't think a lawyer writing a persuasive brief (in support of a motion, for example) has any obligation to "cite" to the source of his argument. I'm not talking about citing cases that say what you want to say (Cite! Cite! It's obviously in your best interest). I mean, the parts of the writing that is just you, being persuasive. Frankly, I'm not sure how you'd do it anyway, I mean, you can't exactly put "See My Managing Partner's Brief in Support of a Motion Very Similar to this One Filed Approximately Seven Years Ago In an Unrelated Case, p. 8."

I don't know, maybe that's not what you meant.

hdhouse said...

i'll look that up i fyou look up plagiarism. talk about knee-jerk (empasis on jerk!)

i never said i copied anyone's work verbatim ever. nor do i subscribe to that nor do i approve of that. i wrote original papers after doing the research myself. the paper mill in nyc who bought my stuff did whatever they wanted with them but as they weren't electronic the potential transmissions were very limited by today's standards.

not let's get back to your mis-understanding of plagiarism....that is stealing work verbatim and not attributing it..you can grey scale it if you wish..but that is the essence.

Think of it as the white house punching out a position statement and say some gasbag like Rush reading it without attribution...get the idea?

Now let's take (apart) Ann's post. Third full paragraph starting with "[T]he left, which dominates the professoriate these days...."

Well Ann, you seem to be quoting. Where are the quotation marks? Or are you trying to just pass that little paragraph off as a paraphrase of Posner's work (hence the [T]) or just sneak something by us by blurring the source.

Unclear writing can be plagiarism in disguise.

Gahrie said...

hdhouse:

You allowed others to claim your work as their own for profit. You are as culpable as they were in an act of plagerism. And you are aware of this despite this new protestation, as in your original post you show conciousness of guilt by saying..."I don't have an ounce of guilt about it. "

If you did nothing wrong, why was this statement necessary? You only feel guilty, or deny guilt, about things that are deemed offenses.

Anonymous said...

hdhouse: Are you unfamiliar with blockquotes?