Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Googler's dilemma

As Eric Muller has pointed out, I gave an interview to the local Durham Herald-Sun on my involvement in the LeBeau incident. The story accurately reflects what I had to say: I've taken no joy in the duty to report an ethical violation that I was on no mission to discover. Of all the options--and I did consider several--going to the press made the most sense by far. This is the kind of work that we look to the press to do. I'm not one who longs for the day when the mainstream media crumbles before the power of the blogosphere. There's a place for both. I believed that this case was serious enough to be newsworthy, but it certainly was reassuring to find that Tom Bartlett, an experienced Chronicle reporter who specializes in plagiarism cases (a sad thing in itself), thought so too. He capably did his job, other journalists picked it up, and then a blog reader did further investigative work and added to the findings.

As the Herald-Sun story noted, I did find myself confronted (thanks to the power of Google) with a moral dilemma. And as Eric notes, there is no clear direction for what someone who discovers an instance of plagiarism by a university professor is supposed to do about it, or how. After the fact, it appears that my response was consistent with the American Historical Association's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. I quoted from these guidelines earlier in discussing what plagiarism is. From the same document:

All who participate in the community of inquiry, as amateurs or as professionals, as students or as established historians, have an obligation to oppose deception. . . . After leaving graduate school, every historian will have to depend primarily on vigilant self-criticism. Throughout our lives none of us can cease to question the claims our work makes and the sort of credit it grants to others.

Now, that's a very sensible guideline.

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