Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thinking Ethically

Thanks to everyone for a lively seminar yesterday. It was good to see everyone participate in the discussion. Before I address next week's topic, I want to pass along some links that I've received. Here is the link to the web site that Elspeth mentioned: Common Errors in English Usage. Here is the link to the book that Angela mentioned, A Passion for Narrative, plus an interesting blog that she passed along: the Grammar Vandal. And here is the link to the article that Mark mentioned in class, How to Read a Book, plus the link to a blog on writing that he recommends. For those of you who missed James' comment, here's the link to 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.

Also, to follow up on our discussion of doctoral studies and professional development, here is a link to a book that Keith Mercer (who finished his PhD in 2008) recommended to me: The Chicago Guide to your Academic Career. I would also strongly recommend that you visit the CHA's web site, Becoming a Historian.

Next week, we will move to the question of ethics and historical scholarship. I had originally intended to use part of the provocative book by Jon Wiener, Historians in Trouble, but I couldn't find a sufficient extract freely available online and I did not want to assign another required textbook. I encourage you to visit Wiener's web site, which contains links to many of his articles in The Nation. In addition to the cases that Wiener tracks, you may want to check out the University of Colorado's "Report on Conclusion of Preliminary Review in the Matter of Professor Ward Churchill," which is next week's supplemental, i.e., not required, reading. If you google Ward Churchill, you will find plenty of background information on this case.

The required reading for next week consists of the AHA's "Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct," plus three pieces related to the Doris Kearns Goodwin case:
1) David Gates, "No Ordinary Crime."
2) Doris Kearns Goodwin, "How I caused that story."
3) Timoth Noah, "Historians Rewrite History."

I picked this case because it's a fairly discrete story that we can cover well in our seminar. You are not expected to read through the whole AHA web site carefully; rather, review it and note the main points -- so don't spend too much time on this. The main thing is to familiarize yourself with the Goodwin case and be prepared to talk about where the line should be drawn between carelessness and plagiarism.

Gates' piece in Newsweek asks "Why Should We Care?," which is, I suppose, the sort of question one expects from Newsweek. But it does raise an important point: the question of stakes. To what degree is our attitude towards honesty and accuracy determined by the politics of the historical topic? (This question will set up our discussion for the following week: politics and history).

The backdrop to our discussion is the popular perception that plagiarism is rampant and public morality is in a steep decline -- something the internet gets routinely blamed for. But, if nothing else, the internet has facilitated a revolution in fact-checking and a higher degree of scholarly transparency. It may be easier to plagiarize than ever before, but it's also easier to catch plagiarism, too. In the Age of Google, it is much harder to get away with making stuff up when a fact-check is just a click away.


Anonymous said...

It's so much easier to find plagiarism than it used to be. Type a sentence into Google and the essay will often pop right up. There are also websites for teachers/professors to use to track commonly stolen essays. Very helpful. -Angela-

Jerry Bannister said...

My comment on carelessness prompted a friend to send me this piece, which is not exactly what it first appears to be.

Alan Lensink said...

Here's a link for the contentious Churchill essay, which he refers as "a 'first take' reading, more a stream-of-consciousness interpretive reaction" to September 11 (Churchill, "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens," 10). What I find troubling - in addition to his neglect of scholarly diligence - is that his guiding principle seems to be revenge.

The University of Colorado should have felt embarrassed before they hired him.

Joanna said...

I had a lot of thoughts in class today about authorship and the like, but I think I'll just stick to sharing this link about academic integrity, or the lack thereof.

Biographer fooled by poet's hoax love letter.

Joanna said...

Oh, here's the follow-up that just ads to the fun: