By Teresa Kelly
During Plagiarism Education Week, educators have an opportunity and an obligation to assess the presentation of academic integrity to students. When students violate academic integrity policies, changing their habits requires helping them understand that intentional plagiarism not only puts their academic careers at risk, but deprives them of a chance to learn and to contribute to the knowledge of others.
Many students don’t grasp that preventing plagiarism involves more than learning proper citation. They find it even harder to relate to the notion that when students and scholars use other’s ideas or simply invent support, they squander the opportunity to learn and to contribute to a greater body of knowledge. Sadly, very startling examples exist to demonstrate the broader academic cost of plagiarism.
The New York Times’ topical page, Times Topics: Plagiarism (2013) details recent cases of academic integrity issues involving famed primatologist Jane Goodall (Kaufman, 2013) and a bevy of German officials, including Education Minister Annette Schavan, who had her Doctorate revoked by Heinrich Heine University amid allegations that she plagiarized her thesis (Schutze, 2013). While Goodall added groundbreaking research and findings to her field, how much more might she have uncovered and shared about her beloved and often endangered primates? What additional impact could Shevan and her fellow government officials have made on German society if they’d followed not just the rules but also pursued the opportunities for actual research?
Perhaps no case illustrates the cost of plagiarism to collective knowledge more than the than that of the late, renowned World War II historian Stephen Ambrose, best known for Band of Brothers (1992) and D-Day (1994) as well as for his multiple works on the life and career of former President and Allied Forces Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Accusations of plagiarism dogged Ambrose, a prolific and popular writer, late in his career. He admitted shortly before his death to lifting passages from another author for one of his last works, The Wild Blue (2001). According to Kirkpatrick (2002), Ambrose argued that he “… wish(ed) I had put the quotation marks in, but I didn’t…I am not out there stealing other people’s writings. If I am writing up a passage and it is a story I want to tell and this story fits and a part of it is from other people’s writing, I just type it up that way and put it in a footnote” (Kirkpatrick, 2002). The defense rings hollow because Ambrose marketed his work as historical research, not historical fiction. n r
The greatest condemnation of Ambrose’s master historian status involves his self-reported relationship with President Eisenhower. Ambrose claimed for decades that Eisenhower approached him in his late 20s to write his biography after reading the younger man’s writings on the American Civil War. In many of his works, Ambrose made notes of dozens of meetings and “hundreds of hours” spent with the former President prior to his death in 1969 (Rayner, 2010).
In 2008, during preparations for events to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the publication of Ambrose’s two-volume biography of Eisenhower, Tim Rives, the deputy director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, uncovered numerous discrepancies, including accounts from Ambrose himself that describe how he sought out Eisenhower and contradict his earlier claims (Rayner, 2010). Even more damaging were copious notes from Eisenhower’s executive assistant Brigadier General Robert L. Schulz that detailed Eisenhower’s daily activities after he left the White House in 1961. Schultz’s notes put Eisenhower elsewhere or too ill to have met with Ambrose on many of the occasions the historian cited in his works (Rayner, 2010).
If Rives findings are accurate, Ambrose’s duplicity deprived others of the chance to build on meaningful research or discover information before it was lost to time. Nearly seventy years after D-Day, the voices like President Eisenhower’s have been silenced forever. Scholars who based their work on Ambrose’s stand on faulty foundations. Other lines of research may have been ignored based on assumptions that a researcher as thorough as Ambrose appeared would have explored every possible avenue, even if it didn’t contribute to the excitement or marketability of the ‘story.’
Rather than present plagiarism to students as a matter of breaking the rules or cheating, educators should use Goodall, Shevan, Ambrose and other examples as the true cost of violating research ethics – the chance to discover and share new knowledge. That chance, once squandered, never returns.
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Kaufman, L. (2013, March 19). Jane Goodall admits borrowing passages for new book. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/20/business/media/jane-goodall-admits-borrowing-passages-for-new-book.html?smid=pl-share
Kirkpatrick, D. (2002, January 11). As historian’s fame grows, so do questions on methods. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/11/us/as-historian-s-fame-grows-so-do-questions-on-methods.html?smid=pl-share
Rayner, R. (2010, April 26). Channeling Ike. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2010/04/26/100426ta_talk_rayner
Schutze, C. (2013, March 12). Germany’s plague of plagiarism. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved from http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/12/germanys-plague-of-plagiarism/?smid=pl-share
Times topics: Plagiarism. (2013, April 20). The New York Times. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/p/plagiarism/index.html