Please Plagiarize

July 15, 2010

No sooner had I posted an entry on plagiarism, I attended a conference in New York City where the operative rule was summarized as “please plagiarize.” And, “repeat all the wise things you’ve heard, but claim them as your own.”

More formally, the conference organizers said “full freedom of expression is encouraged at the [conference]; therefore the entire event — including all sessions and all conversations — will be governed by [the organization’s] not-for-attribution policy.  This means that participants are welcome to make use of the information received during the workshop, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speakers or moderators, nor that of any other participant may be revealed; nor may one cite the workshop as the source of the information.”

One concern in the world of ideas is giving credit where credit is due, especially for new ideas and insights.  That’s what gives rise to injunctions against plagiarism and insistence upon proper citations.  Another concern, and somewhat in tension with the first, is a wondering about how to encourage full candor.  When participants in a conversation don’t know who will hear what they say or what reprisals may be visited upon them, caution may well be prudent — and the result a less vital and informative discussion.  Hence this not-for-attribution rule.

Within the academy itself, we have a formal norm for academic freedom: no reprisals for candid expressions of what one thinks.  Tenure is one means of assuring respect for that norm.  But the world outside the academy has no such norm for academic freedom,* and thus other means are used, such as this not-for-attribution rule.

(*No, the First Amendment is not such a norm; it only enjoins the government from from visiting consequences on one for expressions of points of view.  And another important difference between the First Amendment and academic freedom is that the latter, as a professional norm,insists that one always speak the truth as one knows it.  The First Amendment has no attendant obligation.)

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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