Friday, January 21, 2005

Lit-Blogger Backbone Watch, Day Three

I've decided not to out the names of the lit-bloggers who agreed with my thinking. We don't need another Galley Cat situation.

"Thanks for approaching the litblog community and others with a solid argument" was a typical response.

Another lit-blogger said, "The examples that completely sold me on the fact that it is plagiarism are p.115 and p.134-- the ones that involve quotes could possibly have been coincidences, but those two contain such specific examples that in the context of all the others it's clear where Bissell was getting his material."

Stefan Beck of New Criterion threw out two of the examples, and refused to be quoted about plagiarism, but was the first to make this astute observation: "A straight-edge razor is not a safety razor, of course, and you couldn't perform an appendectomy with a safety razor. It reads like this Bissell fellow tried to change something about the sentence, but unwittingly changed it into nonsense. Kids used to do this in middle school: copy something out of the encyclopedia and then run the computer thesaurus over every word. The results were often similarly amusing."

The only e-mail person to say that what Tom Bissell did wasn't plagiarism was Daniel Radosh, who said, "Of the nine parallels you cite, only the first one tiptoes right up to the line of uncomfortable."

No, Bissell tiptoes up to and goes over the line. The first example I gave is a textbook example of plagiarism by paraphrasing. University after university in their guidelines give similar examples. They could use this one as well.

No one has grasped the MOST OBVIOUS example of plagiarism among the nine examples, the last one. I'm sure Bissell himself hasn't caught it. (Or he wouldn't have used it.) Scroll down and read the two similar quotes again, very carefully. First, one is a paraphrase of the other. Second is the idea that a sign from a 1990 protest alludes to Khrushchev. An unusual idea about a such a protest that year, when more likely the sign was aimed at statements from more recent Soviet leaders-- not a guy kicked out of Soviet government in disgrace way back in 1964 and whose public utterances were expunged! Feshbach's is a very unique idea-- which Tom Bissell stole. (Bissell plagiarized a mistake.)

Drew University:
"Although the student has rearranged some phrases and made some minor stylistic changes, this version still follows the basic wording and structure of the original while the student repeats ideas as if they were his or her own."

(More to come, kids. Stay tuned.)


radosh said...

Um, I said a lot more than just that, and given that the thrust of my response was the importance of context, it's ironic that you removed all of mine. Anyone who cares to read my full remarks will find them here.

Two problems I see with your rebutal and then I'll quit because I'm beginning to get the sneaking suspicion that, although your email suggested that you were open to persuasion, in fact you just wanted to chastise people who disagreed with and/or ignored you: First, journalism doesn't follow university rules, and shouldn't. The student and the journalist write for two completely different purposes. You should look for a J-school discussion of plagiarism instead (not that that would be the final word either necessarily). More importantly: Bissel did not paraphrase and present as his own someone else's IDEAS, he paraphrased statements of FACT that he found in a secondary source (something that is not forbidden, by the way). Your argument that because Feshbach made a factual error (and I'm not in the least convinced that he did) it becomes a unique idea is... well, a unique idea.

To demonstrate what I mean, I'd like to repeat a rhetorical comment I made in my e-mail to you, this time as a challenge: try to write a sentence communicating the information that doctors with too few supplies performed appendectomies with razors instead of scalpels (Fleshbach did not invent this fact, so surely anyone is allowed to repeat it). If you are convinced that Bissel's sentence is plagiarism, what can you possibly come up with that isn't?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Radosh:

Let me begin by saying that I've always respected you, particuarly the amazing column you used to write for NY Press "back in the day." (You'd still win my vote for "Best NY Press Columnist of All Time" if such a vote were administered today.

That said, the response by you and most of the lit-bloggers reminds me of the infamous "immanent threat" canard taken up by rightwing bloggers in the run up to war in Iraq. Sure, Bush said that we were 45 mins from total annhiliation, sure he said that Saddam had nukes and nerve gas and missiles and WMD, but did he ever say the phrase "immiment threat", those two words exactly side-by side??? NO!!! Therefore, everybody raising flags about Bush was a complete lying retard, according to the warbloggers.

I think you're all pulling a similar stunt here. Plagiarism isn't about ideas, or jokes, or a statement of fact that can only be phrased one way. No sir. It's about the syntax, discovered/created knowledge, and intellectual capital of one thinker being callously cut-and-pasted by a proven halfwit without a shred of integrity, and called his own. THAT'S ALL THIS IS ABOUT.

Bissell plagiarized because he assumed he would never be caught, and if he was, "who the fuck is this Fesh-whatever asshole to challenge me?" That same lazy grasping arrogance informs ALL of Bissell's work, hence the pent-up hostility to what a sleazy little shitbird he is.

Maybe I can't match you on IQ points, sir, but I assure you my nose is plenty well able to smell a big stinking pile of BULLSHIT in my living room.


Tim Hall

King said...

I would've either set Feshbach's observation slightly apart, with quote marks and his name-- or used my own material!