“(N)o plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate.”
— Judge Learned Hand
I begin today with a quote from Learned Hand — properly attributed with a link, as is the style here — because he was right. More or less.
Certainly, if you are nabbed for shoplifting a steak, you can’t justify yourself by pointing to the bags of groceries for which you paid.
But the case in which Hand made that comment ended up with a proportional judgment. Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures (1940) concerned a movie for which the film company had lifted copyrighted material from a play without attribution or compensation, and the Supreme Court confirmed that the plaintiffs were only due a percentage of the profits, not the entire net proceeds.
Plagiarism is wrong, but it is not a simple duality, a case of yes or no, on or off. There are degrees of plagiarism, and while it can’t be fully justified, it can be explained in ways that — unlike the case of our shoplifting grocery patron — assign a proportion.
But let’s stick with that example for a moment, and consider the case of a shopper who doesn’t use a cart and has his arms full but realizes he also needs batteries. He slips the batteries into his jacket but then forgets about them and pays for everything else. Confronted in the parking lot by the store manager, he apologizes and offers to pay for the batteries.
He definitely stole them, but should the manager press charges?
I guess it depends on how much he wants to play the hardass, and, in my experience, how he feels about the shopper and so here we are.
Juxtaposition of the Day
For Stantis and Kelley, there is no room for error or good intentions, and Harvard’s motto, “Truth,” is either on or off, true or false.
Harvard’s own analysis of Gay’s plagiarism confirmed that it happened, but said it did not rise to the level of a serious breach of academic honesty. Gay apologized, then went back and re-edited the papers in question to add the appropriate quotation marks and footnotes.
But there was already blood in the water, and it didn’t get there by accident.
In an interview with Politico, conservative Christopher Rufo explained how he had engineered the attacks on Gay, saying that he was dedicated to ending Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, but that his efforts had nothing to do with race or sex. I report, you decide.
And he praised the Harvard alumna whose interrogations kicked off the crusade to eliminate progressive college presidents, and who praised herself on Xitter:
Her celebratory appearance on Fox raises many questions, beginning with the notion that forcing the resignation of someone who had been president for six months was “long overdue” and that Gay’s testimony that extreme language could be tolerated under certain circumstances made her antisemitic.
But she confirms that this is part of a war on progressive institutions, and if you think this was an isolated case, go back to that Christopher Rufo interview.
Juxtaposition of the Day #2
Jones and Margulies point out the inconsistency between how Gay’s lack of attribution is being treated compared to how conservatives responded to Trump referencing Hitler without footnotes.
Ironically, they cite the wrong source: Trump has said he has never read Mein Kampf and that may be true.
What his ex-wife told a Vanity Fair writer in 1990, and the writer confirmed, speaks for itself: He had it, he read it.
You can believe Trump or you can believe Ivana, but he’s clearly quoting someone close to the original source, and he offers no footnotes.
In any case, accusations of plagiarism didn’t stop Republican senators from voting to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Granted, this analysis dismissed his thefts as minor, but I was under the impression that conservatives don’t believe plagiarism comes in degrees.
Harvard’s student newspaper, which called for Gay’s resignation, published what purports to be an analysis of her academic failings by a member of the school’s honor council who writes that her work would have caused an undergraduate to be suspended for a year.
Two problems: One is that the writer states that the council votes on such matters, but only represents one of those votes. The other is that the Crimson extended anonymity to this writer, which is roughly the same thing as failure to attribute the remarks.
Plus the “Oh shut up” factor.
In my undergraduate days, more than a half-century ago, Notre Dame’s students abolished the Honor Code’s fellow-student-reporting requirement, under which professors left the room during exams, as performative and useless.
Or, as I wrote then, plagiarizing the tune:
Oh, they built the honor council to protect the Rights of Man
Saying “Watch out for the cheaters, and catch’em if you can!”
Well it’s not that no-one dared, it’s that no-one really cared,
I’ll be glad when the Honor Code goes down!
I’ll be glad! I’ll be glad! I’ll be glad when the Honor Code goes down
(to the bottom of the)
Freshmen and sophs, juniors, seniors and the profs
Will be glad when the Honor Code goes down
Well if things had gone as planned and had worked out as they should
All the Bad would refuse to associate with the Good.
So to be one of the guys, turn your head and shut your eyes
And be glad when the Honor Code goes down!
The overall point being that, remembering those undergraduate days, I am well aware of what self-assured prigs — both hard right and hard left — college kids can be, which is why you should always take their asinine extremism in context.
Most of them outgrow it. Others get elected.
I go after Chip Bok (Creators) often enough that it’s only fair to praise him when he recognizes the double-standard our civil war is operating under.
The critical factor being that this was never about Claudine Gay, and it certainly isn’t over.