Sunday, August 01, 2010

Plagiarism

The allegation that a justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines plagiarized articles published in legal journals is very serious matter not just for the court but for Filipino society as well. Plagiarism is simply closely imitating (copying) ideas of others and passing them as your own without due reference to the author. In academe, this is considered as The Sin as it represents dishonesty of the highest degree. Students, professors and researchers caught doing so face expulsion or termination of employment. In journalism, it is considered as a breach of journalist's ethics and may warrant a suspension and dismissal from the media outfit.

The University of the Philippines in Diliman (UP) proposes in its code of student conduct penalties for plagiarism. For the first offense, suspension for a semester and for the second expulsion. These penalties are stiffer than previous ones when the length of the penalty of suspension was determined by the student disciplinary tribunal. Other universities have similar penalties.

[Last summer, the Ateneo de Manila faced a plagiarism scandal not by its students but by its commencement speaker, business tycoon Manny Pangilinan. It appeared that parts of Mr Pangilinan's commencement speech was lifted from JK Rowling, Oprah and Barack Obama's speeches to graduates! Mr Pangilinan apologized and promptly resigned from chairing Ateneo's trustees.]

If one googles the internet on law and plagiarism, one may note that the law does not consider plagiarism as a criminal offense. It may be a civil or administrative one. However copyright infringement is. But plagiarism and copyright infringement may overlap, the former violates the owner's exclusive rights to a work. This may mean loss of royalties. In plagiarism the damage in reputation is done to the original author while the plagiarist gains reputation. This is until the plagiarist gets caught.

With the advent of electronic media technologies, it has been easier to plagiarize (students were the first to note this) and some students works (especially creative ones) may have commercial potential. Thus the line between copyright infringement and plagiarism gets even more blurred.

Professors have been catching up with the new ways to copy and software has been made to do some word and sentence "pattern analysis". But an experienced and well read prof can easily catch student copycats. For one thing, students who are just at the start of academic careers yet have not developed that writer's erudition in organizing thoughts. If they copy and paste and insert this in their own words, the break on thought patterns as revealed in the written work is indeed so obvious. And I have seen these even in graduate students' work!

Undergrads may be given a suspension but grad students may deserve harsher penalties. But none are given the proverbial "slap on the wrist". These offenses will end up on students' transcripts. A law professor told media that law schools routinely kick out plagiarizing students. This makes the allegation on a justice so serious.

The UP has stripped an anthropology graduate of her PhD degree in the mid 1990s when it was found that she lifted text from various sources and passed these as her own in her PhD dissertation. The Supreme Court upheld the university's right not to discipline the "graduate" but to protect the institution's academic integrity by stripping a doctorate which she obtained due to fraud. And she was not the first case, there were others!

Plagiarism is indeed a serious offense. It is a corruption of the highest order since it corrupts the most of intangibles, truth.

The allegation against the Supreme Court justice has been referred to an ethics committee. We hope that the court acts on these allegations to protect the integrity of justice in the land.

In science, plagiarism is just as serious. Plagiarized science is bad science and may have life and death (literal meaning used here) consequences!

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