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» propos du plagiat from Journal en ligne [phnk.com]
Depuis une semaine, les intellectuels amricains Richard Posner et Gary Becker dbattent sur leur blog du plagiat. Rcemment, le dbat ressuscite dans un scandale acadmique que ni Richard Posner ni Gary Becker ne citent explicitement : il s'agit [Read More]


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John Alcorn

Professor Posner: I posted late (just when you were posting your reply to comments). Your reply again emphasizes the deterrence approach (including expulsion) for student plagiarism. If you have a chance, is the Akerlof/Yellen approach that I outlined in my late post applicable to plagiarism? Would it change any of your thinking? Thanks for your patience and consideration.


"Because faculty copying is more likely to be detected (the copy will be contained in a published work) and because exposure of a professor or other professional writer as a plagiarist is in itself a powerful shame sanction, and because as several comments point out computer search engines make detection of plagiarism ever easier, I continue to believe that the sanction of expulsion should probably be reserved for students."

I think there is a flaw here, Judge Posner. It is more likely that a professor would use a search engine to check student work than their peers' work. Therefore, student punishments should drop while professor punishments should stay the same or increase.

I was disappointed you didn't address the issue of professor as "role model." By not punishing professors for plagiarism, one may be increasing student plagiarism.

I agree that the plagiarism a professor is caught with is usually distinct from the plagiarism a student is likely to engage in. Students are more likely to engage in wholesale copying. Of course minor plagiarism infractions should be treated differently than major ones, and therefore generally speaking students' penalties will be more severe (if one believes they should be treated equally). However, where the offense is the same, I think the reasons you offered don't hold up to scrutiny.


The only viable distinction I can see between professor & student plagiarism is the social value of dissemination of an idea: the professor's plagiarism will be published and spread to all who read it (but not the source), while the student's plagiarism will merely be stored away or destroyed.

Outside of that, however, there are no arguments favoring a lower standard for professors. Professors, like students, deliberately lift passages so they can either avoid the work of drafting a passage or so they can claim credit for the exceptional passage or both. True, a professor may "improve his skills" from the plagiarism, but so may the student, who must do the same "work" to find useful passages. The only distinction the comment above draws is effectively between wholesale mindless copying and excessive utilization of other's work, which has nothing to do with the difference between professors and students.

The real question I have is, if Judges Posner and Becker can find time to write their own opinions and articles (and even blog on the side!), why can't everyone else? Is it really too much to ask that the people who claim credit for works actually write them? The line between "applying research" and "plagarizing sources" is certainly fuzzy, but, where ever it is, all of the recent examples/scandals have occured far in the plagarism area.

More offensive still has been the unbiquitious "procedural defense," that the plagiarism occured solely because of some failed procedural safeguard. That is nonsense, pure and simple. If you are engaging in a method of "writing" that runs a substantial risk of including other's work, your duty to avoid plagarism is no less than someone who directly copies another's text into the work. It is no defense that you have poorly utilized a procedure created solely to serve as your defense.


"It is more likely that a professor would use a search engine to check student work than their peers' work. Therefore, student punishments should drop while professor punishments should stay the same or increase."

I see your point, but I don't think many professors do this. Most don't have the time. They have too many papers to grade, and it's a bit of a pain to hand-type excerpts of 100+ papers into a search engine to check for originality.

Student papers will probably be read only by one source: the professor. Academic papers will probably be read by many in the field -- most of whom will be very familiar with the general body of work in the writer's area of specialty.

I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that if a law professor tried to pass off a plagiarized law review article dealing with a specialized area of the law, he or she would almost certainly be caught. The experts in any given legal specialty simply know the literature too well.


I believe we need an absolute standard on plagiarism, namely none is acceptable. Once you start to blur that absolute and allow it for some and not others then what. For example is it OK for postgrads to plagiarise. They are more advanced students who may make it to professor some day?

But what about plagiarising your own work? As an example someone bleeds creative blood to draft a passage that magnificently summarises/describes some point. Then the person returns to the issue in a subsequent piece of research. Should he/she be re-writing that first briliant (by definition) piece, should he/she use quotation marks or what?


If something is wrong it is wrong for everyone. Posner is arguing for a status based exemption (or mitigation) to plagarism. He asserts that Professors are allowed to copy because it might benefit their established readership. Students, who can only benefit themselves, are a lesser interest and may not. (Of course the inverse proposition is neglected, a professor, by reaching a wider audience, does more harm)

Add this to the list of ways that L&E style analysis can perpetuate status inequality. The wealthy/powerful/respected get preferential treatment because their manipulations are more likely to have a wider effect. Go L&E! rah rah rah

One might counter that the professor somehow deserves this exemption because they have (we assume) previously proven themselves where a student has yet to. This is simply presuming a preference based on status instead of assigning one. One might just as easily say that the fact that the professor is relying on the work of others is evidence that they no longer deserve the status entitlement and the wider audience.

As someone already pointed out, if a professor can learn from having plagarized, so can a student. If a student hurts his/her peers by copying, so does a professor hurt other professors.

When you base a difference in treatment under the law on a difference in status then you are endorsing that difference as it currently stands. In other words, you are preserving the status quo in the hierarchy.


I suppose that given the topic, my failure to credit the work of Professor Duncan Kennedy in background to the above critique is particularily ironic.


You can't possibly be serious. Is this a late April Fool's Day joke?



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