Letters to the Editor

An honest effort is needed even in the Internet age

Dear Editor,

The recent discovery of the plagiarism committed by GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis over 20 years ago, bears out just how the “Internet Age” makes it easier to catch plagiarisms.

A story several years ago on NPR’s All Things Considered profiled a University of Virginia professor’s new innovation to catch Internet cheaters — a search engine that can locate patterns of phrasing and match them to other works. The device has already turned up a number of cheaters not only in academia, but also in other areas of our lives, e.g. the 2010 Governors race!

Welcome to the “dark” side of the information age. While we have arrived at an era where so many things can be done to manipulate information, we have forgotten its true value – “its ability to challenge our minds.”

When I was a student two generations ago, a written paper was an ordeal with a purpose. Research was laborious, hours spent in the library unearthing facts and information in hopes of seeing a pattern emerge that might result in a thesis; I did not get paid $300,000.00 either!

The work was not unlike what I later experienced as a beginning runner. At first all you have to show for your efforts is exhaustion, frustration and limited success, but with time and effort, a magical sensation of achievement.

But today’s world of instant success, why bother and greed character traits, a person can look up a pre-written paper — and turn it in as if it were original work, e.g. the work of Justice Greg Hobbs that McInnis portrayed as his own albeit 20 years ago.

The research can be bypassed. The toil can be forgotten. The emerging pattern will appear instantly and effortlessly, the thesis will be already crafted; all a person must do is download and turn it in.

What should disturb us all is not that this system exists, but that it is so widely used. According to the study of 21 colleges and universities by Duke University, it was revealed that a full 10 percent of students on college admitted to some form of Internet plagiarism, and 5 percent lifted their work entirely from Web sources.

We should not be surprised by these phenomena. Our age of instant information offers in nearly every aspect of business, academia, and media, the temptation to exalt outcome over process, to overvalue doing something quickly over doing it effectively and honestly.

Somehow, our citizens have come to believe that the money or pride matters more than integrity. Well, not somehow, we have allowed this to happen.

Our lessons about achieving excellence, getting into the “best” schools and colleges, getting elected to public office and the general opulence and promise offered of e-business have sent a dangerous message to our citizens people: you can have it all and have it now.

Maybe public exposure will put an end to this character defect, but I doubt it. In the long run, society at large will have to re-establish the values of effort and process, rather than simply holding up too high the rewards of success, power, being elected, or money.

All in all, this will be a difficult task, but the message must go out loud and clear, that there is no such thing as instantaneous writing, and those shortcuts short-change. That message may sound old and familiar, but that’s because it is lifted from the familiar lessons of life, not some site on the Internet.

I thought it was character not image, how naive I am. Scott, if plagiarism is a “nonissue” than so is this election.

Jim Martin
Boulder