[EAS] Is It Orignal?

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Fri May 20 23:49:53 EDT 2005

(from Edupage, May 20, 2005)

Software designed to uncover plagiarism is increasingly being used not
only for student papers, where it got its start, but also for academic
journals, where it is turning up instances of self-plagiarism as well.
Although some dismiss self-plagiarism as unimportant relative to
plagiarizing another's work, the practice of republishing one's own
work in various venues strikes others as similarly objectionable.
Christian Collberg, assistant professor of computer science at the
University of Arizona, characterized self-plagiarism as vita padding
and said that self-plagiarists who are funded from public sources are
misusing taxpayer money. Collberg is working on a software application
specifically designed to uncover instances of self-plagiarism. Though
not as concerned about self-plagiarism, Cornell University is testing a
plagiarism-detection application on an archive it maintains of articles
in physics, math, and computer science. Among the 300,000 articles in
the archive, the tool has found a few thousand instances that warrant
further investigation.
Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 May 2005 (sub. req'd)

In technology fields there is a steady growth of a kind of
inadvertent duplication of the past, by ignoring work done longer
ago than, say, 15-20 years. Differences in nomenclature,
inaccessibility to online searching (e.g. material in discontinued
journals and older monographs) can be enough to make ideas of the
past invisible to even well-intentioned researchers in the present.
Mind you, present-day researchers in technology often have little
education in the history of technology, nor have they anywhere near
the skills, and certainly not the motivation, to search diverse past
sources as capably as historians.
If software such as described above could be made to work at a more
conceptual level, the Patent Office should start checking patents
against the older professional literature. Heck, even the present
George Santayana's quote "Those who cannot remember the past are
condemned to repeat it" is often cited in attempts to lessen
mankind's toil. But for technologists it need not be a condemnation
at all, but a potential collective license for "originality." --PJK

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