Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's not just your plagiarism, it's your reaction to your plagiarism

(Crossposted from Rabett.)

(Hello folks! I'm Brian Schmidt, newest blogger in the Eli Rabett bunny mill. My old blog's atBackseat Driving and I'll be hanging out here from now on. I can't touch the science as per Eli and John, but as a lawyer I have a nodding acquaintance with plagiarism, and will blog on non-climate stuff as well.)

At WattsUp, a "Professor Bob Ryan" commented on May 19th on one of the Wegman plagiarism posts:

Many students, no matter their origin, paste sections of text into their work files picked up from on-line sources. They then, because they are relatively inexperienced, get these copied tracts mixed up with their own commentaries and two years later when they start drafting their thesis inadvertently plagiarize. Unwittingly, when drafting a paper from one of the chapters for publication, some of this copied text is again inadvertently introduced. I and a co-supervisor working up the paper making corrections as we revise their work may spot the problems but then we may not.

That turned out to be similar to Wegman's defense, if you call it that, as reported by John Mashey and summarized by Andrew Gelman.

Professor Bob continues:

So to any who find Wegman guilty as charged remember this: one day when you are a senior academic and when the fire of self-righteous indignation does not burn quite so bright, it might just happen to you.

Or maybe we might feel differently, and I can speak as someone who came close to standing where Wegman stands some years ago. A large, student-authored project I was involved in stumbled partway into the problem of Professors Bob and Wegman, where shoddily-cited work transformed into un-cited work that was interspersed with all the properly-done work.

Two differences between our student project and Wegman's, tho. First, we caught our own problem before it was published instead of having someone else do it. We actually checked our own cites, and a praised-be student editor turned in the problem to me. Second, we reacted to the problem immediately. I lost a week of my summer tracking down errant paragraphs, digging them out of their rabbit holes, deleting them and replacing them with properly-cited summaries.

By contrast, Wegman knew of his problem since March 2010 (Mashey at 9), and did nothing about it even though it had by then been published in a supposedly-peer reviewed journal. When someone else finally tracks it down, Wegman then offers a minimal errata with citations, not even a removal and redo of the plagiarized material.

So no, I think this story's not over, and as someone who lost a week of California summer reacting differently to a similar situation, I think it doesn't deserve to be over.

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