Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Unwritten Rules

There are many different types of bloggers in the blogosphere, particularly the J-blogosphere. Some people are funny, some are intellectual; some are serious, some are personal. Some are writers, some are pundits; some are original, some are linkers. I like to think that this blog is a combination of many types of blogs, but of all the types, I tend to be a linker. As many have noted over the past couple of days, as Jews we like to say:
Kol hamoer davar b'shem amro mevi geulah l'olam - All who say a matter in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world. (Megillah 15a - thanks to Ariella and Robert)
For whatever reason, I have always felt that this was one of the more important ideals in life. If a person is the originator of a thought or idea, it is only right to accord them the credit they are due. More importantly, it is disingenous to present an idea as if it is one's own... when in fact, the idea was taken from another. It is a plea for respect which one does not deserve.

In high school and in college, I would often run into a problem with my teachers. They would inform me that my extensive quoting of others was unacceptable, and that I needed to have more original material on my papers. I felt that the authors and writers had already said perfectly that which I would have liked to say, and there was no need to add to it; but the teachers felt I needed to do more of my 'own work'. I slowly learned to cut down on the quantity of material I was citing, and to expound in my own words on the ideas they presented - or even my own. This has manifested itself nicely on this blog, where I often cite a few lines from other bloggers or articles and then give my own take on the issues at hand.

This week was a dark one for the J-blogosphere. A noted anonymous J-blogger, DovBear, was found to have plagiarized a number of articles by another anonymous blogger going by the name DovWeasel. DovWeasel sent an e-mail to 53 e-mail addresses, including some 40 bloggers or so (some names, such as my own, were listed under 2 e-mail accounts). DovBear sent an apology to those bloggers within a few hours. The following is a list of some of the posts and events that took place in the days following, for those who wish to understand the full background:
Plagiarism is terrible and inexcusable. If an onymous blogger such as myself or many others would do such a thing, we would be risking our jobs. A college student would be failed or expelled. My friend was in a class last summer, and related a story to me. In his class, his professor announced that she would allow all those who plagiarized for their paper an opportunity to walk out of the class and drop it, or she would fail them. If I recall correctly, the first week, seven of twenty students were failed. The next week, four students walked out.

As bloggers, we do not have such stringent standards. Nobody's actions in the J-blogosphere have a terribly far-reaching impact in the real world. Nevertheless, we must have standards. Plagiarism cannot be accepted, it cannot be merely shrugged off. We cannot excuse or minimize deplorable acts of dishonesty that bespeak a lack of integrity. Our standards should be - nay, must be - much, much higher.*

One of the most troubling aspects of this incident were the responses that were seen across the J-blogosphere. Commenters all over, both on DovBear's blog and others, rallied not only to support DovBear but to go a step beyond even the forgiveness he asked for, actually minimizing what had been done and shrugging it off as if nothing had happened. Some went so far as to claim that there was no problem with his actions whatsoever, and attacked DovWeasel for bringing the charges to light in the first place.

These reactions are mind-boggling and saddening. While it is obvious to most reasonable bloggers and readers that plagiarism is terrible, it seems to be less obvious to some that obfusication, hypocrisy, and minimization are horrible as well. This is not something that can merely be shrugged off. This is not something that we just turn the other cheek to and pretend it never happened. As a community, we must both look out for each other and help keep an eye out both on and for one another.

"Forgive and forget", people like to say. We can always forgive, as long as a person is truly remorseful and is sure to never make the same mistake again. But we must never forget. We must always be aware of what we do and what goes on around us, and ensure that some things never happen again. We can forgive. But we cannot ever forget.

* Thanks to all those who helped with the writing of this post, including I'm Ha'aretz, PhD for that line specifically.