the original kStyle blog.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Job Hazards

Integrity is on the decline and plagiarism on the rise. Several of my authors across several disciplines have been caught-caught! -by my copyeditors lifting chunks of material from the Web. Now, I don't believe in jealously guarding intellectual property. Sharing ideas is essential to evolution of the intellect, soul, art, human existence. I believe the collage/found objects artist and the DJ and the quilt maker are creating their own art by juxtaposing others' art in fresh new ways. It's a gestalt thang, baby. Once I confessed to my dance professor that I'd taken a section of her choreography for a dance I was making. She was like, “Baby, that's fine, as long as you make it your own.” Which I did.

Which these authors don't. The point of us paying an author to write, it seems to me, is that he should have new ideas or a new take on old ideas, even just a better way of organizing basic instructional material to make it more accessible. Yes, the steps of performing CPR will always remain the same. No, that does not mean you can lift them verbatim from a web site without a citation.

I have one author team who is hyper-vigilant about avoiding plagiarism. They are running every single word of their book through a search engine to make sure they haven't lifted anything unintentionally, subconsciously. I think I love them. The lead author explained to me that plagiarism is rampant among his students these days, and it bothers him a lot. It's been on the rise in recent years, and has recently exploded.

But why? WHY?? A colleague suggests that the Internet is an irresistible content orchard. Pluck a shiny red paragraph off a tree, and then you are free to lounge in the pool or vegetate in front of the TV. It's not entirely fair to place the entire blame on the authors, however. Let's face it: companies are greedy. They push for more and more content, sometimes cramming books into a saturated market. Authors are “sold” on writing a book, sometimes to learn that the deadlines are tighter than they imagined and the pay, less. Still, many authors actually manage to write their books and do it well.

On a related note, I recently hired an indexer with a very good resume and references, even though he is part of a spiritual organization that…. Let's just say, if it looks like a cult and walks like a cult…. Whenever I send him a chapter for indexing, if I don't hear back that he received it, I convince myself that they all jumped off a cliff after a spaceship or something. So I email him, and he replies, “Yes, sorry I forgot to respond, busy with indexes,” and I think, “Whew, safe for another day,” but I'm not sure if I can hire him again, even if he turns in the most beautiful index ever. It's too much worry.


Blogger Ann said...

Maybe one reason plagiarism has gotten more pervasive in American culture is because people aren't interested in what they're writing. If you don't like to write, and if you're being asked to write something that has been written a million times before, I can understand why you might be hesitant to put a lot of thought into it. (If kids in schools are being asked to write an essay that they can download off the Internet, then perhaps it's time to change the subject of the essay?)

Which isn't to excuse plagiarism--ESPECIALLY if writing is your job. If you don't like to write but your job requires writing, then you do what the rest of us do with jobs we don't always enjoy: Suck it up.

12:19 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

I think that's also true, Ann. Alas.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked with a Homosexual one time and felt exactly the same way (in reference to the Indexer). Would he show up for work, or would he be too tired from last night's circuit party crystal meth orgie with anonymous strangers?

4:10 PM  
Blogger Larry Jones said...

I kind of like Ann's point here, and I wonder if the issue goes back to the school system. School is where most of us who write got started, but students now have easy cyberaccess to billions of web pages, and thus they are acutely aware that everything they can think of to say has already been written. But if they have (dull) assignments, and until they have an original thought, the temptation simply to use something they have found must be intense.

Bad, of course. Bad, bad students. And the pros should definitely be spanked or something.

5:05 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Anon: I appreciate un-PC thoughts done with panache. Thanks for the chuckle.

Larry: Hey, you've wandered over! That's great! (Or should I say, "Hey, you've wandered over^ That's great^", so as to appear less maniacal.)

The thing is, though, that it's a time-honored tradition throughout educational history to have a core of classic assignments that students should master. I think the blame lies more in our culture, with the "get someting for nothing" mentality. Damn kids. And their damn MTV.

6:46 PM  

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