Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Plagiarism is dead? Production of scholarly work, and other academic thoughts

The other day I was reading an article on Hybrid Pedagogy titled Plagiarism is Dead; Long Live the Retweet: Unpacking an Identity Crisis in Digital Content. I was an interesting article, which had me nodding in agreement in some areas, and induced an eyebrow raising expressions of curiosity in other parts.  I thought I would pull out some quotes, as I've done in other readings, and react to them, and in some cases respond.  It's an interesting article, and it's food for thought.  I would say that it also pairs well with the Times Higher Education article that Peer Review is not as old you think.

One of the first things that jumped out to me what the following. It should be noted that any emphasis in these quotes is my own:
It is long since time for academic publishers and tenure and promotion boards to re-examine our “business as usual” in the light of ubiquitous knowledge sources and publication tools. Given a multiplicity of wikipedias, what constitutes credibility and reliability for centers of scholarship and thought? For providers of professional credentials? Who is welcome to contribute to a scholarly field and how should the contribution be evaluated as worthy of consideration by others — and credited when re-used? In what sense are collections of knowledge and archived thoughts relevant to have and to share? Are these collections properly physical, or virtual, or both? Is there any sense in trying to assign “credit” to the shapers of our thoughts, and (as I am interpreting the quotation from Pope in the opening) can/should we separate the source of the idea from the format in which one talented author has chosen to frame it?

This is an interesting thought.  It reminds me a lot of Marshall McLuhan's the medium is the message. It is true that certain media are privileged in our society, and the medium that is most privileged in academia is the peer reviewed research article. Even informed opinions that go through research articles to try to build (or take down/attack) a point through the use of rhetoric aren't seen as as high as the peer reviewed article because they aren't research - they are just your 'opinion' (well, research is also an educated opinion/guess given a certain amount of data - but anyway).  If we take that researched opinion and post on it on blog, like this one, it is seen as even less valuable. After all, it's not peer reviewed before it hits the wires - not that peer review is the end-all-be-all of scholarly publishing.

Even in Wikipedia there needs to be a source for your statements. For example, a while back, I was editing the Wikipedia article for my hometown (a small village) in Greece.  This information was first hand knowledge (having grown up there).  Wikipedians reverted back my edits because I did not cite anything.  Had I put this stuff on my blog and claimed it was collected via oral interviews it would have (most likely) stayed on.  Eventually page on Wikipedia for the village was removed and it redirected to the bigger city (nearby) because the village was too small to have its own local government, so administratively it belonged to the city next door.  The road signs still point to the village name, the post office still needs you to put the village name if post is to be delivered, but wikipedians doesn't see this as a worthy page to stand on its own - regardless of its history. This does bring up the question of what is valued, and valuable to, others, and how different powers work to shape what we know.

It is time to move beyond the gotcha games of traditional citation protocols, admit that each of us can absorb and manipulate only a small portion of what is significant to know and say on any given topic, to stop closing our ears to the voice that does not come bearing a research review chapter. Somehow the “gates” of peer review, the weighting of elite versus popular publication modes and media, and scholarly club memberships must be stripped of their power. We need more diverse books, voices, attitudes, journals, and styles.

This is quite interesting, and perhaps this is where you might want to pause and go read both the THE and the DP articles in total.  I am not on the tenure track, I will most likely never will (at this point it doesn't make economic sense for me, for one thing).  However, I have quite a few friends and colleagues who are on the tenure track, and I've had experience with being in conversations (a fly on the wall, really) when matters of academic hiring, tenure, and promotion are concerned.  Even when someone is hired for an academic post (tenure track), even in departments that are supposedly counter-cultural and resist the pressures of traditional hegemonic practices, people in those departments still utter sentences like "I really like candidate x because they have published a lot of articles in high impact journals y and z".  Just like your university's name (when you complete you BA) is seen as a proxy for your capabilities, so too are journal names and impact factors the same.  It's really sad because what people are looking at are not what you write, but where you published it.  You could be writing the most absurd bulls*t, but if it's in a prestigious journal...well...hey...peer reviewers can't be wrong ;-), whereas you could publish some really golden stuff on your blog or a lower impact journal, and people won't pay as much attention to it.  When did we make that switch from substance to façade?
Academic writers are not permitted naked original thoughts — or even naked obvious thoughts. Instead, peer review demands that they first establish their credibility by a thorough repeat of, and genuflection to, all that has gone before. Introductory paragraphs in social sciences journals have become clots of citations crafted to prove that the writer is familiar with the brilliant work of (with any luck) the anonymous peers who are vetting the submission — or at least his or her former teachers and friends.
On the one hand I agree with this passage, but I still have some troubles with it. On the one hand I think that the literature review is important.  I think that anyone who wants to research something should do their homework first and make sure that people who are reading their work should be assured that this person has done some legwork first.  Here is an example.  If someone wanted to research if there is a difference in learner outcomes between learning x face to face and learning x online.  You know what?  There really isn't a need to do this because it's been done ad nauseum, and there is a name for it: no significant difference. If you proposed this as your dissertation topic (for example) you'd most likely be told to go back to the drawing board with your proposal.

That said, excessive genuflection, as the authors put it, to what's come before also makes it hard to read - especially in APA.  Some articles I've written and many I've read have 2 lines of citations in parenthetical citations.  While can be necessary for some things, it might not be for all cases.  Furthermore, these types of excessive genuflections (with APA formatting at least) make it hard for the layperson to actually read what you wrote.  As someone who's been a student for a very long time I've learned to skip the citation when I am reading for meaning so that I can get the idea.  Most people don't skip the parentheticals because they've been trained that it's important info, so they should attend to it.
One source of difficulty here inheres in the competing purposes of content producer versus content consumer. The producer must establish credibility and prove her knowledge base for a gatekeeping audience while simultaneously communicating a coherent thought. The consumer (presumably) is reading for the thought first, and only secondarily wondering if there are similar thinkers out there and whether they may have slightly different nuances on the same topic. While I am not convinced that hyperlinks can overcome their inherent temptations to distract and derail coherence for online readers, certainly respectful links to the actual work produced by the name in the parenthesis or the note would assist the reader to decide what the op.cit. actually said. And here intellectual property rights and subscription costs emerge. While this issue is litigated, academic print may be digitized, but it will remain constrained, archaic, and increasingly detached from real communicative power.

I don't know if hypertext will solve the issue.  As a matter of fact, the non-permanence of the internet is an issue for scholarly citations in my opinion.  There are many times when I've linked to something on the web (just a link, no further info), and years later that link is dead and the file name tells me nothing of what the file was originally.  I think some standardization of citation information is important in order to ensure that when links go dead that the information can be retrieved elsewhere (if it's still around somewhere).  Sometimes even that isn't possible.  When I was working on my Masters in Applied Linguistics I was looking into examples of data-driven learning.  There were some interesting sites created and hosted on Geocities that I used as examples.  Guess what? Geocities is gone, and the links I used in my papers are no longer available.  People can only go by my descriptions of the learning activities, and they can't try them out themselves.

As a side note, one of the issues I think is an central here is this fetish we have with research and publication as the golden standard for job getting, tenure, and promotion.  There are additional important elements in the job of a faculty member, participation in committees to improve the institution and the professional associations they are members of (these take time and effort!), and mentoring and teaching of students (these take effort as well!).  The production (or over production?) of research is not only causing problems described in the DP article, but it promotes paranoid fear of plagiarism amongst faculty (who have no reason to be that paranoid), and it devalues others aspects of the professional lives of faculty.

Your thoughts?

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