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home : letters : letters April 30, 2016

6/16/2014 6:51:00 PM
On plagiarism, the theft of thought

To the Editor:

“Eighty seven years have passed since the founders of our country provided us with a new nation, and created it based on freedoms and devoted to the idea that all of us are born as equals.” – Gary Meinert

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” – Abraham Lincoln

Assume for a moment you had never read them before, which of the above two quotations emits emotion, grabs your attention and is purely a thing of beauty? If you chose Lincoln’s first lines of the Gettysburg address your comprehension of the obvious is incredible! 

Both quotations express a similar message so why do we prefer Lincoln’s version? Because comparing the 

two is like drinking the richness 

of eggnog or the blandness of skim milk. 

Wikipedia’s definition of plagiarism is: “The wrongful appropriation and stealing and publication of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions’ and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”  

By this and all other definitions I have plagiarized President Lincoln’s speech by “stealing and publication of another author’s … thoughts, ideas, and represented them as one’s own original work.” Even in describing Lincoln’s richness of words I may have plagiarized one of Dr. Sowell’s comments when he was asked his opinion of CNN News. His response was: “Watching CNN News after watching Fox News network is like drinking skim milk after you have gotten used to eggnog.” I used only two of his words but they are so unusual and uniquely connected together by thought am I guilty of plagiarism? Quite possibly. 

These two examples are probably plagiarism or at least worthy to have credit given to the authors. But, not all plagiarism is a close call. Two of us who write opinions to The Lakeland Times have become suspicious of a fellow contributor’s work. I chose one of the individual’s letters and after a few hours copying sentences and entering them into Google there was absolute undeniable proof of blatant plagiarism. Slightly more than half the sentences were identical copies of other writer’s works according to the Google findings, and I actually stopped with two small paragraphs yet to examine! 

To confirm my findings I met with a friend who is a retired professor from Cornell who specialized in copyright law which includes plagiarism. He agreed I had found unadulterated plagiarism, or as he insisted in calling it, theft of another’s work. Plagiarism has been found to be similar to kleptomania because once the person is successful the practice is usually continued. Considering that the offender has been printed frequently in our paper it is highly unlikely I stumbled onto the only letter plagiarized, so I emailed two documents of evidence to our Lakeland Times editor. One sheet was an exact copy of the plagiarized letter to the editor with the sentences which had been plagiarized highlighted in “Bold.” The second sheet was filled with actual copies of complete sentences taken from Google which provided proof from where the plagiarism originated. Our editor has taken a quick and firm response to this problem so we should not expect to see it happen again. 

Before I conclude I would like to address the young men and women who will be entering high school or college. Plagiarism is theft! It is a theft of thought and hard work done by others. It can ruin your future when you are caught. Yes, I said “when you are caught” because you will be and when that happens you might fail your class or even be expelled from school. Yes, it is that egregious of an offense. With new technology plagiarism can be caught quite easily. One company having great success is turnitin.com. A professor, teacher or editor only has to scan a document into a program and within seconds it will indicate whether plagiarism has been used and if so, how much. The days of using Cousin Louie’s essay from UCLA are gone even if you are across the country at Harvard. Write your own thoughts and become a contributor to the vast library of knowledge. You will be better for it and besides, being labeled as a cheater cannot be a pleasant experience.

I have been writing to The Lakeland Times for many years as have others such as Messrs. Laadt, Boyd, Duddles, Luedtke, Ihlenfeld, Myers, Gullan and Ms. Luedtke. We often disagree and debate in “spirited” responses, and in spite of our often differing opinions I believe we respect each other’s intentions and writing abilities. We write because it provides an outlet for our thoughts and exasperations. It is also cathartic since none of us can cure the ills of the world we find a release in writing.  

But, when even one of us succumbs to Seneca The Younger’s temptation, “Whatever is well said by anyone is mine,” we are all viewed equally and badly.

I thank the editor and Lakeland Times for handling this episode wisely. As always, I can be reached at gkmeinert@msn.com.

Gary Meinert
Boulder Junction & Green Valley, AZ





Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2014
Article comment by: Gary Meinert

In response to all those who contacted me regarding details of the plagiarism. I have just sent out copies of the document to them and will to others who show an interest. My email address is: gkmeinert@msn.com

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2014
Article comment by: Gary Meinert

You are absolutely correct Mr. Moore. I should have made that point clearer. Also, quotation marks should be used even if the author is unknown to the writer. Thank you for making a good point. Gary

Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Article comment by: Vern Moore

As a scientist, I appreciate this letter by Gary Meinert. I would just point out that it's OK to use others writings, but the source should always be acknowledged.



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