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Monday, Feb 17, 2003

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Creative cheating

IF there can be creative accounting, why not creative cheating — going by the more familiar name of plagiarism? All that you need to do to have an idea of the incredible spread and variety of this art and the survival capabilities of its practitioners is to take the help of the Internet search engines which throw up (no pun intended!) thousands of entries. It is obvious that like some mythological characters who grow new limbs as the old ones are cut off, ever new instances of creative cheating keep sprouting as old ones are exposed and when one thinks one has seen the end of it. May be, we should sound the clarion a la Marx and Engels: Plagiarists of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your face!

Governments and high dignitaries can never be caught with their hands dripping in ink, because they can always pass on the blame to some hacks who prepared the documents or the speeches for them. This was what the UK Government did when whole chunks of its dossier on Iraq were found to have been stolen from obsolete stuff published in old periodicals. When one of Indira Gandhi's speeches was found packed with paragraphs lifted from an article by a Pakistani author, or when, more recently, passages from the speech of the then President, Mr K.R. Narayanan, delivered many years ago, were found to have been included without acknowledgement in the address of the Vice-President, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, to the presiding officers of legislative bodies, it was obvious that they could have had nothing to do with it.

Among political luminaries, only Winston Churchill and Jawaharlal Nehru were known to be capable of either writing their own speeches or speaking extempore. And even Churchill could not escape being accused of sly peppering of his famous wartime orations with resonating rhetoric from great writings of old. For instance, his "I have nothing to offer but toil, tears, sweat and blood" or the inspiring "We shall fight on the beaches...." were alleged to have been transplanted without attribution from classics of ancient Rome and Athens.

The temptation to plagiarise is well-nigh irresistible in the domains of academia, scientific research and journalism. The "publish or perish" syndrome drives scientists and academics to have their names on as many papers as possible, even if that means adoption of some sleight-of-hand tactics. The case involving Dr B.S.Rajput, physicist, who had to resign from his post of Vice-Chancellor of the Kumaon University, following confirmation of the charges of plagiarism by an independent Commission of Inquiry, is just one of many examples.

Journalists who have to beat deadlines and run out of stories, in their desperation, cut and paste from already published material, with only a few link sentences being their own.

As against plagiarism in the raw which is bound to be spotted by some wise guy or other some time or other, there is the clever technique of paraphrased rehashing in one's own words of somebody else's writing. This, of course, takes some effort but it is well worth it, since it makes it difficult to establish the connection and the perpetrator goes scot-free!

B.S. Raghavan

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