What Honest Abe Would Think About Email
February 21, 2011
On this President’s Day, I sit in snowy Bavaria, contemplating the state of our world today. The weekend edition of my sleepy town’s paper reported on a University of South Carolina study that found 92% of the participants lied when communicating via Email (all efforts to find the original study failed so for the purposes of this post, I am going to give the newspaper the benefit of the doubt).
The study participants were given $89, then told to let an unknown recipient how much money they had in the kitty and how much they were willing to share. A whopping ninety-two percent who used Email to convey their message were dishonest about the amount they had available to them (to their advantage). For those in the study who were required to write a letter instead, only 63% (still a huge number) lied about it.
You might argue that most people have a skewed relationship with money and are therefore dishonest about such things. But even when it comes to plagiarism, people risk being tossed out of school, or as in the case of Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s most favored politician, some risk being tossed out of office.
Having experienced what it feels like to see my own words in print under someone else’s name (a political science professor whom I greatly admired lifted a full two paragraphs from a graduate studies research paper I had written and claimed it as his own), I am following the plagarism scandal that Mr (can I still say Dr?) zu Guttenberg has swirling around him. He is accused of plagiarizing almost 100 different passages from newspapers and other published works in his doctoral thesis. While he has claimed his innocence (and part of me really wants to believe him), the piling evidence is stacked against him.
When an elected official plagiarizes, what does this teach our children? It opens up the opportuntiy for discussion about what is right and what is wrong. And yet I wonder, beyond the initial learning moment, whether they too will be pressured to keep pace with the increasing demands and give in to the temptation to do a quick cut and paste at crunch time.
Zu Guttenberg, a German royal (yes, we have those, too) with 10 first names, launched his political career while raising a young family (okay, his wife did the heavy-lifting) and writing a 450+ page doctoral thesis. Nonetheless, we must hold him to the same standard as anyone else. Cheating is cheating, no matter how many names you possess.
In our 24/7 Internet world, it’s imperative that we maintain a high level of integrity. It’s too easy to lift ideas and call them your own, all in the name of ‘saving time’. But, as in the case of my wayward professor who landed in the hospital with a broken pelvis after playing soccer shortly after I confronted him (in a letter), life teaches us that there are no shortcuts. Sooner or later someone will discover you’ve lied in an Email, or in a published work.
My power of slow advice to you all is to give credit where credit is due. Source it, people. It won’t make you shine less to give someone else the kudos for their hard-earned work. In fact, in this day and age, you might be the rare 8% who stand out as a superstar because you actually told the truth.
- German minister accused of plagiarising thesis (telegraph.co.uk)
- German minister rejects quitting in plagiarism row (reuters.com)