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Friday, May 25, 2007

Note to Wiese: Plagiarism Is Lying, Cheating, and Stealing

I come home from the Cities to find plagiarism in the news. SD Watch broke the story of Dennis Wiese's plagiarism of a column on immigration, and the Argus followed up with confirmation yesterday.

I see plagiarism and hear excuses for it regularly in my classroom. Mr. Wiese's pseudo-apology and rationalization in yesterday's Argus sound literally sophomoric:

"If it's wrong, I'm sorry," Wiese said Wednesday. "It is not illegal - matter of fact, I don't find it to be unethical if you have asked the permission to utilize that." [Ben Shouse, "Wiese Column Not Original Work," Argus Leader, 2007.05.24 -- see how that's done, Mr. Wiese?]

If it's wrong? Oh, let my English students assure you, Mr. Wiese, it is wrong. Every school year, I spend the first day of every English class explaining that plagiarism is lying, cheating, and stealing. The plagiarist lies by claiming, "I created these words; they are mine" when someone else actually created and owns those words. The plagiarist cheats by gaining credit (in my kids' case, a grade; in the case of the Wiese column, public recognition for the content, style, and persuasive force of the essay) without doing the work that other honest writers do. The plagiarist steals by claiming ownership of intellectual property that is not his.

Plagiarism is lying, cheating, and stealing. Plagiarism in this case may not be prosecutable. Wiese's alleged permission to use the material may mean that he committed no crime against the original author(s). However, Wiese has still acted unethically against the public by making a blatantly false claim of authorship. South Dakotans have a right to know when they are reading the opinions of their neighbors and when they are reading the propaganda of some out-of-state organization that hides its agenda behind the voices of local mouthpieces. Sources matter. Readers have a right to know them. Writers have an obligation to cite them.

Wiese has also made my job just one more snudge tougher by setting a bad example for my students, who love to find examples of adults behaving badly and then citing that bad behavior as an excuse for their own unethical actions. If my kids are reading the blogs or the Argus, they'll come back in the fall and say, "That Wiese guy plagiarized, and what punishment did he get?" If Wiese were in my class, he'd get a zero for the paper. If Wiese were a student at SDSU, he'd get disciplinary probation, suspension, or expulsion [SDSU Student Conduct Code of the University Community 01:10:25:02]. If Wiese were a nationally recognized author, he'd lose his book contract. If Wiese were a news producer, he'd be fired.

Wiese and my students both need to understand that plagiarism is a violation of ethics, if not law. Instead of his self-justification, Wiese should come clean, offer a sincere apology, and accept whatever consequences may ensue.


  1. At this time, I'd like to come out with this disclaimer....

    All my thoughts and writings are original and any comparison to other published works are in fact, coincidental.

    Besides, who'd want to lay claim to my thoughts and writings, anyway?

  2. But it does raise the question...

    "Is it reasonable to expect our public and elected officials to maintain a high code of ethics, even surpassing that of their constituents?"

    As Mike Meyers (as Linda Richman*) says, "Talk amongst yourselves!"

    *=have to make sure I'm citing my sources!

  3. It is reasonable to hold everyone to a high code of ethics. None of us are perfect -- we all screw up -- but that unshakeable imperfection excuses no one from the pursuit of moral perfection. (I think that's a Christian ideal -- numerous believers ask themselves "What would Jesus do?" even though they don't stand a chance of ever acting as consistently morally as Jesus did.)

  4. I'm not going to disagree with your view of holding everyone to a high code of ethics... but I wonder if these folks that we trust to act on our behalf in public decsions and discourse shouldn't be held to a more stringent code.

    And while the point of "we're all human" is a valid one, I personally think that if you are going to be a representative of "the people", then you'd best be prepared to take on that responsibility of being the ideal example of our ethics, pure and simple.

    It's like when you take your kids out on a field trip; they're representing your school and your town. And if they do anything stupid, it gives your school and town a bad name. Same can be said with politicians that don't behave themselves.

  5. Cory, this is a bit off topic, but a lot of kids I know don't seem to have much of a problem with lying, cheating, and stealing content off the internet.

    They steal music and videos all the time.

    So it's not a great leap to lift passages of an academic resource in include in a paper.

    I see this becoming a huge issue.

    There's a growing chasm between those of us in the content creation business, and those who would "borrow" our work.

    People see nothing of pirating movies, music, and books.

    And I'm sure that attitude carries into the classroom.

  6. Steve -- Indeed, there could well be a connection. When people learn a lack of appreciation for intellectual property rights in their file downloads, that attitude will manifest itself in other pursuits.

    Jackrabit1 -- Trust me: I don't offer the "We're all human" as an excuse for any misbehavior. We must acknowledge our imperfection, recognize the challenge of being moral, then rise to that challenge instead of sinking into complacency, whether we're running for office or just raising a family.

  7. Steve/CAH

    Though, there are a lot of cosmetic connections between pirating music and movies and plagiarism, the core reasoning is different.

    Plagairism is a major ethical breach, though in all reality, a minor (maybe nonexistent if Mr. Weise's case says anything) lawful offense. Pirating movies is a major lawful breach, but the ethics are less clear.

    I completely agree with CAH's post on the ethics of plagiarism. It is lying, cheating and stealing.

    The RIAA and the MPAA have ensured that music and movies are no longer intellectual property, but commercial entertainment that should be bought at for the maximum amount possible.

    Young people pirate movies and music because it costs an arm and a leg for them legally. They plagiarize because they are two lazy to do the work and reason through their own ideas.

    The two actions are driven by completely different psychological and societal triggers. I need some more convincing before the two can be linked.

  8. "The two actions are driven by completely different psychological and societal triggers. I need some more convincing before the two can be linked."

    Well it seems to me that they are driven by precisely the same trigger: selfishness, and the thought that they can get away with it because the Internet is large and anonymous.

  9. "Note to Wiese: Plagiarism Is Lying, Cheating, and Stealing"

    I disagree.

    It is lying and cheating. Period.

    By introducing stealing into the equation, you complicate matters in ways that, to be blunt, are completely unnecessary, not to mention in a conversation introduce the conflict from the inevitable "opinion being expressed as factual" defense mechanism that does kick in from people - since it is a fact that the act of plagiarism closely mimics - if not consists of the acts of cheating / lying more so than staling ever will, BUT it is a common opinion that there is stealing involved.

    Not to mention that, in my opinion, the use of stealing - and justifying its use can create conflict between existing terms, for example:

    "The plagiarist steals by claiming ownership of intellectual property that is not his."

    Claiming something you don't own - as in saying something not true (IE deceptiveness), which is ALREADY COVERED by lying.

    Sure, one wants to emphasize the severity and intellectual dishonesty plagiarism - the act, and justification for it alike - holds, but lets not try to go so far that we end up distorting our language, and being redundant in our thoughts at the same time.


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