Plagiarism Seems Silly

23:56 Fri 29 Feb 2008. Updated: 02:29 01 Mar 2008
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When I read this morning that a Bush aide, Timothy Goeglin, plagiarized part of a column for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, I was perplexed. Is it that hard to write your own opinion on something?

It almost seems like more work to find someone else’s opinion and then to pass it off as your own. I further thought, and was going to write about, how stupid it seemed to even attempt plagiarism of that kind in the Internet Age. All it takes is someone’s Google search finding a similarity, and the cat’s out of the bag.

But then I read this and realized that while my earlier supposition on discovery was correct, it also took a while before people noticed, because apparently he’s plagiarized things before.

He’s since resigned, in certain ways surprising—the Bush administration playbook calls for more denial, including denial of the obvious, followed by claims of lacking recollection, followed by claims that other factors are being ignored and that the accuasations represent a double standard, wrapping up with a fervently-expressed devotion to “looking into” the matter. After which it’s forgotten about.

Anyway, it’s just hard for me to quite get it. I’ve always had a thing about attribution, so perhaps that’s part of it: not giving credit where it’s due seems so obviously wrong to me that I have trouble seeing why others wouldn’t react that way also, which is clearly not a rational expectation. But when you add to that the fact that it just doesn’t seem to save all that much effort or time, plagiarizing instead of creating, and the fact that getting caught and exposed is so (it seems to me) likely, it’s really difficult to see why people would do it. Is it some gateway thing? First you start looking at other writers for stylistic tips or at other sources for ideas, then you start tweaking phrases you like, then you start taking sentences, and eventually you’re snarfing entire paragraphs or even columns while changing a minimal amount and somehow still believing (or pretending to believe) that the ‘core’ is yours and that you’re still a creative agent?

That, or you just don’t care but need to produce a certain amount at a certain standard to ensure you get paid, and you figure the risks are really low in comparison to that payday, and that everyone around you is doing so many things that are so much worse that it just won’t matter if you do get caught.

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