Should we just accept plagiarism?

When my mother attempted to teach us manners as a children she would strictly enforce the no-elbows-on-the-table rule. But when we would question her elbows on the table she would reply that she was old enough to know it was wrong. This is a bit how I feel about the news that Zygmunt Bauman has plagiarized texts. From websites no less!

His accuser, Peter Walsh, a University of Cambridge PhD student, said the websites are at times mentioned in passing as sources, but Professor Bauman does not make clear, through quotation marks or indented text, that he is directly reproducing material.

The Times Higher Education article is interesting in that it demonstrates the sensitivity and care it takes for a PhD student to accuse someone of Bauman’s status. Another academic in the article both says that students would have been failed for doing this but everyone is prepared to give Bauman a chance to explain himself. “He suggested that Professor Bauman’s apparent indifference was the result of “generational differences”.”

The list of venerable established scholars who have been caught plagiarizing is surprisingly long. Recently Jane Goodall blamed “chaotic note-taking” for her plagiarism. The sad thing is that I have heard this excuse from students caught plagiarizing. Being caught seems relatively inevitable in a digital age and the excuses everyone uses are equally sad.

Bauman and Goodall are old enough to know plagiarism is wrong. But does this excuse his plagiarism or make it worse? The question we could ask ourselves is plagiarism as well as the no-elbows-on-the-table rule an anachronistic remnant and we should just ignore these rules since everyone is doing it (not just the kids)?


The quote above is from a Slate article The End of the college Essay. The photo is by Kristina Alexanderson and its called Plagiarism. The fun part is that the photo on Vader’s screen is my photo Reaching for my morning fix. Christina uses the photo to discuss what plagiarism is and how a Creative Commons license can help in situations such as this.

The top 10 laws of the Internet

In its effort to supply basic education to readers who daily use the internet but may be unaware of its history The Guardian today lists the top 10 laws of the internet. Very nice! Well to be honest I did not know all of them but I have definitely followed most of them.

Here is the list – but dont forget to read the whole article with explanations, examples and discussions:

1. Godwin’s Law
The most famous of all the internet laws, formed by Mike Godwin in 1990. As originally stated, it said: “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” It has now been expanded to include all web discussions.

2. Poe’s Law
Not to be confused with the law of poetry enshrined by Edgar Allen Poe, the internet Poe’s Law states: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”

3. Rule 34
States: “If it exists, there is porn of it.” See also Rule 35: “If no such porn exists, it will be made.” Generally held to refer to fictional characters and cartoons, although some formulations insist there are “no exceptions” even for abstract ideas like non-Euclidean geometry, or puzzlement.

4. Skitt’s Law
Expressed as “any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself” or “the likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.”

5. Scopie’s Law
States: “In any discussion involving science or medicine, citing as a credible source loses the argument immediately, and gets you laughed out of the room.” First formulated by Rich Scopie on the forum.

6. Danth’s Law (also known as Parker’s Law)
States: “If you have to insist that you’ve won an internet argument, you’ve probably lost badly.” Named after a user on the role-playing gamers’ forum

7. Pommer’s Law
Proposed by Rob Pommer on in 2007, this states: “A person’s mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be from having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.”

8. DeMyer’s Laws
Named for Ken DeMyer, a moderator on There are four: the Zeroth, First, Second and Third Laws.

The Second Law states: “Anyone who posts an argument on the internet which is largely quotations can be very safely ignored, and is deemed to have lost the argument before it has begun.”

The Zeroth, First and Third Laws cannot be very generally applied and will be glossed over here.

9. Cohen’s Law
Proposed by Brian Cohen in 2007, states that: “Whoever resorts to the argument that ‘whoever resorts to the argument that… …has automatically lost the debate’ has automatically lost the debate.”

10. The Law of Exclamation
First recorded in an article by Lori Robertson at in 2008, this states: “The more exclamation points used in an email (or other posting), the more likely it is a complete lie. This is also true for excessive capital letters.”

No twittering in court

A post on Slashdot this morning dealt with a juror who posted twitter comments about a trial (while it was in progress) and the effects of this may be to declare the trial a mistrial.

“Russell Wright and his construction company, Stoam Holdings, recently lost a $12 million dollar lawsuit brought by investors. But lawyers for the firm have complained that juror Johnathan Powell’s Twitter comments broke rules when discussing the civil case with the public. The arguments in this dispute center on two points. Powell insists (and the evidence appears to back him up) that he did not make any pertinent updates until after the verdict was given; if that’s the case, the objection would presumably be thrown out. If Powell did post updates during the trial, the judge must decide whether he was actively discussing the case. Powell says he only posted messages and did not read any replies. Intriguingly, the lawyers for Stoam Holding are not arguing so much that other people directly influenced Powell’s judgment, rather that he might have felt a need to agree to a spectacular verdict to impress the people reading his posts.”

This is an interesting example of the way in which new technology practice is clashing with established rules and ideas. During the recent Pirate Bay trial in Stockholm there was a vertible information orgy with live audio feed, spectators twittering from within (and outside) the courtroom and live bloggers en masse – in addition to traditional media channels. Yet the interesting thing was that the audio tape picked up the judge telling individuals in the courtroom that no pictures could be taken. On a least two occaissions the judge asked whether a laptop and a phone was being used to film the proceedings.

Everybody was filmed, photographed and interviewed entering and leaving the courtroom. All the participants were activly seen courting and presenting their cases to the media on the courtroom steps – but no photographs in the courtroom.

When a witness who was to be heard at a later date was discovered in the audience he was asked to leave. Before leaving he asked whether he was allowed to listen to the radio. The judge understood the futility of the rules when he replied – well you cannot stay in here.

The “no images” rule in Sweden or the no communicating in the US are rules which need to be explained logically to the participants. Naturally the principles of justice and equality must be upheld and should not need to be questioned at every turn…

How to write (or not)

Miss Cellania has added an amusing list of grammatical rules to her blog. The list is funny but it is also worth remembering:

Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat)
Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
Be more or less specific.
Remarks in brackets (however relevant) are (usually) (but not always) unnecessary.
Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
No sentence fragments.
Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.
Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
One should NEVER generalize.
Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
Don’t use no double negatives.
Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
One-word sentences? Eliminate.
Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
The passive voice is to be ignored.
Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
Kill all exclamation points!!!
Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth shaking ideas.
Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
Puns are for children, not groan readers.
Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
Who needs rhetorical questions?
Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.