Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Copy Cat Blues

NEW YORK (AP) -- A Harvard University sophomore promised to change her debut novel in future editions after acknowledging that she had unintentionally borrowed material from an author she deeply admired.

We have all pulled our hair out over the issues of intellectual property, plagiarism, etc. so I'm not going to start yet another discussion over this growing epidemic of intellectually-cloaked academic regurgitation.

In my opinion, the biggest issue with this book is the fact that it lacks the creativity and inspiration that I would want to see from a Harvard student or any college student for that matter. The book's concept is the same-old repetitive story, so why should we expect the actual passages to be any different? She should be more embarrassed that the only story line she could come up with is "hard working high school girl didn't get into Harvard".

I'm sorry. I really shouldn't badger this girl when there are a million authors out there doing the same thing. I'm just so sick of "chick lit".

On a brighter note, what I do want to point out and relish is this phrase from the article: "unintentionally borrowed".

I love it. I unintentionally borrowed 1,000 MP3s...or...I unintentionally borrowed all of your data and put it in my paper.

It's like saying "he accidentally fell on my knife" instead of I stabbed him.

Love it.


At 12:42 PM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

what I do want to point out and relish is this phrase from the article: "unintentionally borrowed".

I love it. I unintentionally borrowed 1,000 MP3s...

Wow. I'm not sure I've ever met a neuroscientist who doesn't believe in the unconscious. So far as I've read, this is the inverse of the Da Vinci code theft--duplication of focal snippets vs. themes or grand scheme. So I don't feel nearly so ready as you to discount her explanation. What makes you so sure she did this deliberately?

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Nels said...

The phrase "little bit pregnant" also comes to my mind.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger 21st Century Mom said...

On further inspection it seems she fell to a technique used in writing classes where you mimic the style of another author to see what it's like to write that way. I've had that exercise in a writing class or two. How you can do that unintentionally is beyond me, though. It ususally involves quite a bit of very intentional "compare and contrast" activity.

I'm pretty suspicious of how unintentional her writing is and, like you, kind of disgusted that she felt that mimicing an author she likes is a good way to write a book. Then again, she has a 2 book deal. It's just another version of the 'Million Little Pieces' story.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Murky: I definitely believe in the subconscious. That is why I think that if you are going to write a book in the style/genre/etc. of your favorite author, you should be extra careful to not be an intellectual pirate. That means that even if you are writing fiction, you better go back and check your sources (or source of inspiration) to make sure you aren't unintentionally borrowing something.

I can not fully form an opinon until I see an exact comparison among the passages in question, but regardless of whether it was a subconscious act or not, it exemplifies the type of problems professors are having with their students. The act of unintentionally borrowing passages seems to contagious lately.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

Here's an example of a passage:

Reported by the Associated Press:

On page 213 of McCafferty's book: "He was invading my personal space, as I had learned in Psych. class, and I instinctively sunk back into the seat. That just made him move in closer. I was practically one with the leather at this point, and unless I hopped into the backseat, there was nowhere else for me to go."

On page 175 of Viswanathan's book: "He was definitely invading my personal space, as I had learned in Human Evolution class last summer, and I instinctively backed up till my legs hit the chair I had been sitting in. That just made him move in closer, until the grommets in the leather embossed the backs of my knees, and he finally tilted the book toward me."

At 5:35 PM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

Yeah, I found that comparison less than dispositive.

At 7:35 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

Oh dear. i was interested in that book too.

And by the by, the line is, "He ran into my knife! He ran into my knife fifteen times!"
(from Chicago).

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

This article with the purported testimony of a teacher has me leaning heavily.

At 8:00 AM, Blogger she falters to rise said...

By the way Murky, I respect the fact that you are trying/were trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. We have all gone over a draft and thought "that sounds so good--did I write that" and had to go through our sources to make sure we didn't substitute notes for actual writing unconsciously. The more I teach undergrads, the more I tend not to believe them especially when it comes to these types of issues. I need to remind myself that not everyone cheats:)

Shrinky: I need to get new sources--no one mentioned anything about 15 times to me;)

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

It's not believing the best of people but being as cynical about groups as I am about individuals. People cheat but people also lynch and riot, especially when doing so serves a social concern, like witchcraft or the ambitions of second-class citizens. Plagiarizing is stealing glory, which probably appeals even more widely than "law and order" as a political plank (because not everybody has been mugged, whereas everybody wishes they were richer/more admired/more influential). More so in a sagging economy I imagine, in which I suppose you tend to see more concern for status and more envy.


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