I listened to the comparison between the speech made by Melania Trump just less than four days ago and the one made by Michelle Obama earlier during the Obama campaigns in 2008 in horror. If you live under a rock, on Monday this week, that would be 18th of July, 2016, Melania Trump, the wife of the presumed republican candidate for the forthcoming US presidential elections was the main speaker at the Republican National Convention. The speech that Melania gave in part largely mirrored a speech that was given by Michelle Obama in 2008 during the Democratic National Convention. And hence accusations of plagiarism started flying about. The greatest of the consequences of this if you asked me, is embarrassment.
Without trying to weigh the level of awkwardness this might have caused to not just Donald Trump himself but Melania and Trump’s supporters, this issue just got me thinking of how deeply we are rooted in plagiarism as a society and how we do not seem to notice that with the advancement of technology, you are just a click away from being discovered. I will also try not to talk about those students who copy-paste stuff from the internet including the highlighted link lines which are often in a different color. And have you heard that in some business proposals for research students, the only difference sometimes is the cover page? I think students must really think teachers are idiots.
Here is a little story. When I was in my fourth year, a colleague and I were sent to a second year class to listen to their presentations and give them direction in the final editing of their term-papers. One of the students had copy-pasted part of a paper my colleague had published earlier in a school journal. Afterwards, we asked the student if she wanted to reference her paper and you can therefore imagine how hard we laughed when she insisted that she was the originator of the ideas. This student was a grown woman and looked like a senior at a corporate so we did not want to jeopardise our chances of getting a job in case we met her in ‘her territory’ while job-hunting . We just noted that down and let the lecturer follow it up with her…
You might be thinking that everyone plagiarizes, so what? In simple plain terms: plagiarism is a criminal offence so if you cannot do the time, do not do the crime. You know the way they say that inflation has not affected the wages of sin and it is still death? The increased number of people who are likely to plagiarise because of the available avenues such as the abundant internet has not reduced the rigorousness of the punishment that will befall you in case you are caught plagiarizing.
Before I move on to what could happen to you if you are caught plagiarizing (sometimes being caught is the actual offence), perhaps we should be clear with what plagiarizing is. Merriam Webster dictionary defines plagiarism as the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person.
So here are some of the repercussions that you could be staring in the face if you insist on giving in to that moment of foolishness that tells you to simply plagiarise.
Plagiarism can literally ruin your career
I am not being an alarmist. Ask Jayson Blair and Jonah Lehrer, they know this story well. At just 27 seven years of age, the career of New York Times journalist Jayson Blair hit a sharp bottom following allegations and evidence of plagiarism. In a report by the same paper following Blair’s departure at the end of his career at New York Times, the actions by Jayson Blair were termed as: veering towards professional self-destruction. That was in 2003. See how serious this can get? More recently in 2012, Jonah Lehrer, a rising star in science journalism was also put on the spotlight after accusations of plagiarism started trailing him. This gave his flourishing career a big dent.
And you know that these two are not the only available records of people who have been caught plagiarizing, right? This was just to highlight how that rush for a short-cut can move your career from the pinnacle right to the bottom. So before you copy-paste a presentation in the boardroom, think.
2. You are putting your reputation on the line
Once an accusation of plagiarism begins to hang on your shoulders, people begin to study you under a microscope and lack the ability to totally trust you again except if they are able to double check your facts. Now this does not sound like the best thing that can happen to a human being. And remember that time is not even a factor in this. You can plagiarise today and the thing comes back to haunt you 20 years later when you are approaching the apex of your career and it all comes tumbling down. In 2012, Romanian education and research minister was accused of plagiarism and she had to consequently leave office after it was found that a large part of her academic papers had been plagiarised. That was 30 years on… talk of ghosts from the past! If you plan on being someone remarkable in your future, please note that anything you do can and shall be used against you by your detractors. Let plagiarism not ruin your reputation for you.
3. For students, it is academic suicide
So you have decided that thinking through your Master’s thesis is too much work and you would rather just plagiarise and get over and done with it? Here are some facts that you should know: plagiarism can get you expelled from school, can lead to the destruction of your work, expulsion from your course and of course can lead to legal action being taken against you. In some cases, if you have a case of plagiarism against you, academic institutions could bar you from taking a degree course.
Read further on the consequences of plagiarism before you decide to pull a ‘Melania Trump’, okay?
I have a persistent thirst to know things and that has pushed me to read a lot of books and ask questions including stopping strangers on the road to ask them questions about the inspiration behind their hairstyles… Apart from the madness, I am generally a very bubbly, reasonable and energetic person.