I have defended people from high school students to law professors. Most of them are outrageous abuses of electronic plagiarism detectors, which identify only similar strings of words (such as you might find in any text on this subject. It’s a long way from that to theft of originality, which is the only definition of “plagiarism” that makes sense in the Internet Age.. Still, careers are derailed or destroyed over the machine’s findings.
I confidently predict that sometime in the next year, a public figure (or even someone you know) will be accused of plagiarism. When that happens, read this first:
What plagiarism is — and is not
A brief definition: plagiarism is knowingly appropriating another’s original words and/or ideas and presenting them as one’s own.
As a student, scholar, and professional writer, I have long been familiar with the standards governing academic honesty and plagiarism. I applied these to many academic publications, including my master’s and doctoral theses. I dealt with student plagiarism at various times in my professorial career (1967-1980), and later, as a speechwriter and corporate communicator, I applied these standards to ensure that the content of my work products, including professional articles, was either original or properly attributed.
What plagiarism is – and is not full post
(1817 words, estimated 7:16 mins reading time)
Turnitin.com: Mindless Machine Requires Human Brain
“We cannot get grace from gadgets.”
The website of turnitin.com cheerily proclaims that “Turnitin helps educators evaluate student work and provide great feedback to improve student learning. The cloud-based service is available at an annual subscription for schools, colleges, and universities.”
Like all tools, this one can be turned to malevolent use. I am a practitioner of forensic linguistics (www.language-expert.net ) and every year I get more plagiarism cases. The accused include high school and college students and even law professors, and more often than not, turnitin is the weapon of choice.
All of a sudden, Plagiarism Rand Paul gets over 40 MILLION Google hits. But the charge is somewhat bogus.
Plagiarism, in my experience, is one of those charges that is meant to question someone’s basic integrity. Whether true or not (and it’s hard to decide; see below), the mere accusation brings stigma. I have more than once been consulted about a plagiarism charge, groundless upon investigation but meant to be part of a general moral attack. Let’s throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.