You can't fool all of the people all of the time

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 21, 2003

Abraham Lincoln and Moses are the inspiration for our first response to last week's column on plagiarism:

"You can fool most of the people most of the time, but not all of the people all of the time," Exshaw writer Ruthie Oltmann observed. "Be sure your sins will find you out – eventually!"

As you may recall, earlier this month The New York Times admitted that one of its reporters, Jayson Blair, in a "long trail of deception," had plagiarized and fabricated news stories reported in their paper. Blair's breach of trust cost him his job and raised a furor around the world.

David Forbes, a former Cochrane newspaper editor and journalism instructor at Carleton University, knows who the real fool is when such fraud is committed:

WARREN, I have worked with journalism students now for about eight years. One student thought she could submit a report to me by taking directly off the Internet an article written by someone else. The only thing she changed was "son and daughter" to "daughter and son" and thought this would make it "her" article. I have no idea where she got such an idea. In the years I have spent in journalism, never was such a practice acceptable. On this occasion, because it was her first term, she was treated with a measure of forgiveness, receiving only a zero and a stern warning that plagiarism just doesn't cut it in journalism.

Blair endeavoured to fool all, but is, in the end, the real fool. He cannot be forgiven for what he did. May this be a lesson to all journalists and would-be journalists.

—David Forbes, Medicine Hat

DAVID is not the only one to encounter academic dishonesty at Carleton. Thanks to a note from coffee companion Jack Popjes, I learned that this is the same institution where, according to a CBC News Online item (July 4, 2002), "29 engineering students got 0, after professors caught them cheating on essays about professional ethics." Ethics? Yeah, right!

Sadly, however, Carleton is just one example of a moral epidemic that has spread across the learning landscape.

If you want to know more about campus plagiarism, check out "Guide to Plagiarism and Cyber-Plagiarism" ( published by the University of Alberta. This helpful Web site deals with understanding, preventing, detecting and reporting plagiarism, and offers links to related resources.

Plagiarism fertilizes the growth of cynicism, according to another coffee companion. Computer consultant Dean Colpitts wrote:

WARREN, I believe the times of a sheep-like belief of what we hear, see and read in the media are long past, and have been replaced with a strong analytical response as to how true a story really is. That in itself is a healthy thing, from my point of view.

But I do believe the erosion of belief is having a negative effect in other areas of life. This is not the media's fault, but perhaps a sign of the times and – if you like conspiracy theories – a preparation of people for a much more sinister time when they trust very little.

—Dean Colpitts, Edmonton

PLAGIARISM is just one variety of theft of intellectual property or fraudulently claiming as one's own that which was produced by another. There's also the matter of unauthorized use or copying of someone else's intellectual property to avoid royalty payments, whether writings, computer software, music, videos or paintings.

Or photographs, as Canmore coffee companion and documentary filmmaker Susanne Swibold has reminded me. Susanne sees plagiarism as a symptom of competition gone amuck.

Perhaps such disrespect for the rights of others can be traced, in part at least, to the loss of a religious consensus within the land, Waiparous stained-glass artist Gwenyth "feather" Mills ventured over coffee the other day. Plagiarizers and their lowlife ilk "no longer fear hell nor aspire to heaven."

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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