Wednesday, July 25, 2012

From Nicholas Rowland and the BBC: Plagiarism in Dissertations Ending Careers

Nicholas Rowland over at the Installing (Social) Order blog has written on "Plagiarism in Dissertations Ending Careers".  This is perhaps unintended consequences of open access--an enhanced monitoring of rules and an increase in the costs of rule bending in the service of career ambition and academic status in markets for academic prestige and its benefits (position, grants, readership, reputation, etc.). 


(From Viewpoint: The spectre of plagiarism haunting Europe, BBC News OnLine, July 24, 2012 "A spectre is haunting Europe, and this time it is the spectre of plagiarism and scientific misconduct. Some high-profile politicians have had to resign in the last 18 months - but the revelations are also shaking respected European universities. . . .Last February, a reviewer of German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's doctoral dissertation discovered and documented some plagiarised passages. When the papers pounced on this, zu Guttenberg denied any wrongdoing, calling the accusations "absurd". If he had messed up the odd footnote, he said he would fix it for the second edition. Within days, a group of people formed around a wiki they called GuttenPlag Wiki and proved him to be quite wrong. He had to resign just two weeks later. . . . Meanwhile, the leading scientific journal Nature has accused the Romanian prime minister [pictured above] of plagiarising part of his PhD. He denies wrongdoing and has been backed by a Research Ethics Council, but the accusations have now been upheld by two academic panels in Romania, including one at the University of Bucharest, which awarded the PhD in 2003. " )

 Rowland touches on one of the more interesting  transformative consequences of an increasingly severe move toward transparency cultures.  But transparency, as norm and technique, can cut in many directions.

  This problem of transparency can be understood from its role both as technique and norm, as the need for formal constituting structures of organization and as the “tight grid of disciplinary coercions that actually guarantees the cohesion of that social body.”[1]  As technique, transparency is understood as the aggregate of methods of producing information for use in managing power relationships.  As norms it serves as the expression and policing of the normal and thus the acceptable—right conduct, right rule and right relations among individuals and the social organs that manage their relations. Both as norm and as technique, transparency is deployed in two quite distinct arenas.  It is used within an organization or community to enhance its operation and discipline its members; it is used externally to enhance legitimacy (norm) and accountability (technique) among stakeholders who have an interest in but not a direct participation in the operation of the enterprise. "In our day, it is the fact that power is exercised through both right and disciplines, that the techniques of discipline and discourses born of discipline are invading right, and that normalizing procedures are increasingly colonizing the procedures of law, which might explain the overall workings of what I would call a 'normalizing society.'[2]

[1] Michel Foucault, "Society Must be Defended": Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976 37 (David Macey, trans., St. Martin's Press (Picador) 2003).
[2] Id. at 38-39.

From Larry Catá Backer, Transparency and Business in International Law — Governance between Norm and Technique (March 17, 2012).  Transparency is a potent construct. More importantly, in a world that continues to embrace the ideology of mass movements (culture, society, politics, economics) transparency also serves as a critically important technique for empowering the masses in systems grown so complicated and remote that voting and other conventional measures of accountability have lost their power.


Plagiarism in Dissertations Ending Careers

Yesterday, BBC News' "Viewpoint" series ran a special on "The Spectre of Plagiarism Haunting Europe", which documents how some high-profile politicians (and academics) are stepping-down from their posts after plagiarism was discovered in their dissertation theses and publicized via Wiki pages.

The suggestion, in the concluding remarks, is:
Dissertations need to be published online with open access to permit easy checking, and a random sample of theses defended in the past five years needs to be reviewed in order to identify weak points. However, there is currently no funding for such measures, so it's unclear whether German universities will really get serious about plagiarism, or keep muddling on.
Evidence suggests this is not an exclusively German plague, so similar measures may be required in other European countries too, possibly all, to ensure that higher degrees awarded in Europe's universities continue to attract the respect they deserve.
This sort of "watchdog" work by experts and non-experts alike seems to held hold the tide of "creeping tolerance for scientific misconduct" ... pieces like this one, and many more, which are bound to come, should be front-page news for students and faculty alike.

Professor Rowland continues:

I think my favorite part of transparency is that it completely decontextualizes what are otherwise intensely complex, overlapping realities with long histories of collateral damage that must be balanced somehow in the day-to-day lives of all of us stuck in organizational settings.

Unlike, for example, the decontextualizing consequences of, say, medical clinical trials where patients can insist that their personal lives cannot be decontexutalized for the sake of science and that their lives are free of the institutional attachments organizations must follow, we have no such luxury (nor near the burden), but the lesson is worth exploring -- consider, for example, a single law professor speaking out over a controversial issue  ... your singularity (or 'contextualized personhood') would be squashed under the weight of transparency (funny, also how transparency seems like a piece of Saran Wrap, but its like a lead weight -- good, Orwellian double-speak).

Rowland highlights a useful insight--transparency, legitimacy, and influence are distinct. And another--legitimacy reminds us how context, including social, political, economic and other context matters.  These amplify or diminish the effects of transparency and the incentives to produce or ignore  facts or data that might be "harvested" for transparency purposes, both as the provider of information and the means by which engagement can be effected (again transparency as norm and technique). This is well known in the context of the Internet.  Transparency can reveal all--we will all be naked--but in a sea of naked bodies exposed there may be little that is distinctively visible. But the power relationships that contextualize information are better exposed. That is both bracing and destabilizing--power in the 21st century prefers to remain hidden and visible only when, internalized by its objects, it appears in the form of the conduct or values of its objects. We balance good and bad. Thus, we move from transparency to exposed power relations in systems structured under ideologies of mass politics.

1 comment:

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