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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Bauman, plagiarism, blah, blah

Another week, another plagiarism scandal. THE is reporting that one of Britain's favourite blah blah sociologists Zygmunt Bauman has been a bit naughty and caught out by a Cambridge PhD student. The claim is that Ziggy was a little lax in attributing his  debt to Wikipedia. Oh well,  when your USP is to publish more words than any comparable blah blah sociologists I can see how it might be necessary to cut a few corners. But the sage of Leeds isn't giving up without a fight. Taking a leaf out of Maria Miller's book he is brazening it out with a "the rules don't apply to me" type defence. THES quotes him as saying that in 60 years he had :  

“...never once failed to acknowledge the authorship of the ideas or concepts that I deployed, or that inspired the ones I coined” and goes on to say: “All the same, while admiring the pedantry of the authors of the Harvard Guide to Using Sources, and acknowledging their gallant defence of the private ownership of knowledge, I failed in those 60-odd years to spot the influence of the obedience to technical procedural rules of quotations on the quality (reliability, effectiveness and above all social importance) of scholarship: the two issues that Mr Walsh obviously confuses.”and then: “As his co-worker in the service of knowledge, I can only pity him.”

Brilliant. An object lesson. When caught with your trousers around your ankles first assert against all the evidence that they are in fact securely belted round your waist. Then say that in the purely hypothetical circumstance that  they might be  around your ankles this  would, in any case, be irrelevant. Then patronize the person that points out that the Emperor is naked and exposing himself in a vulgar fashion.

And what of the bold Polity Press, publisher by appointment to Bauman and a whole host of sociology's blah blah merchants? Apparently no one was willing to comment and, I assume, no one was prepared to admit that they had been the publisher's reader. Shame also on the "senior Cambridge academic" who was prepared to opine that Bauman had “a strong prima facie case to answer” but didn't have the cojones to allow their name to be published. If you are that senior you surely have nothing to be afraid of: Mr Walsh, who in his more humble position has much more to fear,  has put his head above the parapet so why shouldn't you? Of course in academic life as elsewhere it has always been the way of the generals to shove the subalterns over the top first.

5 comments:

Unknown said...

Well said! It seems, for no good reason, that empirical standards for theoretical work are different from those in applied work.

Anonymous said...

I see it from quite the opposite angle: someone wanting to earn his 15 minutes of fame by discrediting an old and distinguished colleague. Look more carefully: Bauman does not evoke Wikipedia as authority, but as a source for illustrative examples, and he acknowledges his debt to his sources, never stealing a thought, even if not carefully attributing every bit of generally available knowledge to a particular author.

Colin said...

Well Anonymous we don't have to discuss this is the abstract as the IPKat has now put some examples online: http://ipkitten.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/zygmunt-bauman-liquid-copyright-or.html

Assuming these are accurate, they look like the sort of thing that would cause a world of shit to fall on the head of a student at my university.

If one were feeling magnanimous one might indulge what has become known in the trade as the Beijing defence, you know, the: "Oh, I'm sorry [I've been caught out], I was writing quickly, I had forgotten which part of my notes I had written myself and which part was 'paraphrase'".

If Bauman had done that he could have minimized the reputational damage, but instead he took the route of denial, obfuscation and a rather pathetic attempt to belittle the person who called him out. All a little shabby really.

As to how distinguished Bauman really is - as opposed to hyped up - there can be legitimate differences of opinion. But that is neither here nor there and certainly of no relevance to the facts of the matter.

thabo mophiring said...

Plagiarism is being used nowadays as a way to discredit rather than as a way to ensure people get due credit
I think Anonymous may be closer to the truth than this article.
The plagiarism police should perhaps on the advancement of knowledge rather than the technical minutiae of academic credit attribution

Kolbeinn Stefansson said...

Anonymous may well be correct about Peter Walsh's motives. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that he just wants "to earn his 15 minutes of fame …".

I just fail to see how his motives are relevant. Sometimes valid criticism is motivated by the wrong reasons. The only relevant question is whether the charge of plagiarism is true or not. After looking at the IPKat blog it is difficult to concluded that it is not.

I am also baffled by Anon's defence that "Bauman does not evoke Wikipedia as authority". He/she seems to be saying that we only have to cite our sources when we argue "ab auctoritate".

As for the advancement of knowledge, I am deeply sceptical that Bauman's contribution to knowledge are such that they justify giving him a free pass on plagiarism. Bauman's contribution is something that can legitimately be questioned. Being somewhat familiar with research literatures that attempt to test his theories I have a strong impression that they don't fare too well when confronted with the evidence.