Plagiarism rampant in the digital world
Apparently, being good with chimps doesn't make you good with words.
Celebrated British primatologist Jane Goodall recently admitted to not citing sources for a number of passages in "Seeds of Hope," which she wrote with Gail Hudson.
"This was a long and well researched book," Goodall said in an email to the Washington Post, "and I am distressed to discover that some of the excellent and valuable sources were not properly cited, and I want to express my sincere apologies.
"I hope it is obvious that my only objective was to learn as much as I could so that I could provide straightforward factual information distilled from a wide range of reliable sources."
One "reliable" source happens to be Wikipedia, the paper and other writers have pointed out.
A passage in the book read: "Bartram's Boxes, as they came to be known, were regularly sent to Peter Collinson for distribution to a wide list of European clients."
Wikipedia said, "Bartram's Boxes as they then became known, were regularly sent to Peter Collinson every fall for distribution in England to a wide list of clients."
Among the Post's fact-checking:
"Goodall marvels at the majesty of trees. 'In ancient Egypt,' she notes, 'the sycamore was especially revered – twin sycamores were believed to stand at the eastern gate of heaven through which Ra, the sun god came each day.'
"Nearly identical words are found on a Web site called 'Find Your Fate,' which covers astrology, numerology, palm reading and matters relating to love and life."
Now, I know all too well about plagiarism as different sites use content created and published by OnMilwaukee.com and claim it as its own.
On another front, I've experienced it, as well. Besides this column, I'm an instructor at a state school. One of my classes is on "Writing for the Web." I know, catchy title.
In this course, I have my students blog. I figure if one needs to learn how to write for a web-reading audience, they should actually do the writing. I compare the student's published work with how they write for their assignments. When it doesn't match, I double-check passages on Google.
Lo and behold, phraseology is used somewhere else, written years ago by someone else. I use it as a teaching moment. Rewrite all your posts in your own words, or take an F.
In real life, the consequences are not as great – unless the offender is caught. If a writer doesn't get caught, which I'm guessing Goodall and Hudson were counting on, they move on and collect their pay.
We live in a society that is now accustomed to information at its fingertips. Technology has made a number of affordable – often free – places for well-written, well-researched information. For writers on a deadline, this has only increased. When exposed, we see how wide-spread and often unnoticed this disrespectful practice truly is.
NOT ENLIGHTENED: HBO announced that its series "Enlightened" will not make it to a third season. Even though Laura Dern was given a Golden Globe for her performance on the show, it wasn't enough to bring in a solid ratings effort. The first season of this dark comedy was welcomed with only low 6-digit household numbers, which is small even in the world of pay cable stations.
If you haven't caught the little-person-takes-on-the-corporate-world show that Dern and co-star Mike White created, catch the multiple reruns while you still can.
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