Write, right, rites, reads discussion

So, anyone read any good threads lately?

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message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason | 6 comments Mod
Shortly after arriving at GR, I got friended by someone whose reviews--and the dazzling frequency and clarity of those reviews--were a pleasure to read. Shortly after that, I realized that a review I was reading in the Washington Post had actually been posted by that friend, without attribution.

I agonized for days. I contacted another friend, asked what I should do--out the person? contact the authorities?--and was advised to do a personal note. Good advice. I sent a personal note, got a shame-faced apology, felt a little priggish having made any noise about it at all, but, well, okay. All was well, and all was well.

Then another review came along, and ... I was paranoid. So I googled it, and found the original source. And then I began puzzling about, and found numerous odd thefts, an inconsistency I couldn't figure out (occasional attributions, yet some plagiarizing that reconfigured the syntax of the original better to fit the review), and so on. For months I kind of followed the person.


Why did I care? Why didn't I just delete the friend, move on with my life? I admit to an initial anger--a sense of betrayal of a common trust, or maybe just (to be honest) a fury that I'd been hoodwinked--but that quickly faded into a kind of puzzled set on-going questions:

--what made me care about issues of review authorship in a place like Goodreads?


--what is the status of the author, period?


--why am I worried about the rules? What the hell are the rules? Aren't we figuring out the rules? Couldn't we come up with some new ones? (Hadn't this person already wrote his/her own?)


--so on.

I'm an academic. I teach composition, and lit theory--so the status of the author is a troubled one for me, regardless. I beat my first-year students about the head and neck with the need to attribute, to write one's own thoughts, to attend carefully to the property of others. And I beat my lit theory students about the head and the neck with the death of the author and the rise of the reader and the complexities of intention, interpretation, blah di blah di blah.

So ... I guess I'm intrigued in how all that abstract shit manifests in concrete, pleasurable, painful, and puzzling ways at Goodreads.


message 2: by Jessica (last edited Jan 30, 2009 09:35PM) (new)

Jessica | 14 comments Mike, I love you dearly -- er, "love" you dearly? -- but I feel like a lot of the questions you pose above can't possibly be sincere!

We KNOW the basic rules! And this is one of the only real sacred rules that we have, and we all know it, and I thought that we all respected it! I mean, questions of authorship are interesting, definitely -- by all means, let's talk about them here! -- but come on, honey, some of this stuff is real simple. You know why you cared.

Wait, okay, I sound like a big jerk because I'm totally assuming that you feel the same way I do, which is exactly how I got into this mess.... since clearly not every other bookloving dork in cyberspace shares my values and unexamined yet cherished belief that plagiarism is probably the most heinous of intellectual crimes. And I mean, I get that people are absentminded and sloppy. I'm absentminded and sloppy myself! I leave a trail of cellphones and gym membership cards and other important items scattered in little piles all over the city, and nearly every month I pay a late fee on my credit card and phone bill because I just forget when they're due.... but I have priorities. I don't have children, but when I do, I hope I don't forget and leave them in the parking lot one day, no matter how absentminded I become. And if I do become too forgetful to remember -- which I might, lotta that in my genes -- I'll have to stop bringing my kids to the supermarket. And putting my writing in public places. And stuff like that.... Plagiarism, as I understand it, is not by definition necessarily active; that is to say, people don't need to do it on purpose for it to be plagiarism. It's like how there's child abuse, and child neglect, and they can come take your baby away for either beating it silly or forgetting to feed it. What I'm trying to say is that intentions aren't everything in my book (haha), and omitting citations accidentally might be less reprehensible, but it's still WRONG! If you're not going to be careful about feeding your baby, don't have one; if you're not going to diligent about citing your sources, write your thoughts in your diary. Don't publish them! Not to speak ill of the dead or anything, but remember the Stephen Ambrose fiasco, when he was all, "Uh, whoops, I forgot, I'm really busy." Isn't that what happened? Dude! You're a HISTORIAN (er, you were, R.I.P., sorry Steve)! That's, like, the one thing you HAVE to do as part of your job! You probably don't have to get up early or sit in a cubicle or replace the toner or have your boss crush your spirit or whatever, you have the most funnest job ever, and all you have to worry about is dealing with other historians and writing down where you got your stuff from! That's IT! It's so EASY!!!

Okay, so things do get complicated, and it's not always so black and white. I steal ideas from other people all the time -- isn't that one of the main reasons we read books? -- and I know I quote people and present their thoughts as my own all the time without meaning to. But that's REALLY REALLY different from copying something verbatim and letting people believe that you wrote it. Honestly, I try to imagine how I'd feel if someone did that to me -- like I was dicking around on the internet and read something someone else was saying on a blog or something, and realized I wrote it? -- and that's got to feel just incredibly creepy and awful and violating. Ugh!

Mike, you care -- er, I care because whether I like it or not, this site and the people on it have become an embarrassingly big part of my life, and there're reasons for that. People here care about things that I care about a lot too, and it feels fucked-up to deal with something like this.... and maybe it also feels fucked-up to care about whether or not people are citing their reviews on the book-themed social networking site that ate my life, but I do. It comes down to values. We all like books, and babbling on dorkily (and often too heatedly) in writing; these are the things that unite us, and the world out there is a hard, cold, lonely place full of people who don't care about the things I think are important, so I hide out here, way more than I should, and I clearly have some very idealistic, perhaps not-as-important-as-I-think notions about what's going on here, and I get my panties all in an irrational twist and blow off my Friday night freaking out if an idol's revealed to have feet of clay.... And maybe it's silly, and maybe it isn't entirely. But there you go.

message 3: by C. (last edited Jan 30, 2009 09:49PM) (new)

C. (placematsgalore) | 7 comments Word.

For me, there are two issues at stake here. The first is that the trust some of us had has been violated. That's ok. Hurtful, but ok - not illegal. This is the internet and so no one has to tell the truth. Maybe we should have been more prepared for that. Maybe we just got too used to people not lying. Maybe we were naive.

The second issue is different. Plagiarism is serious. Out in the real world, you can get arrested for this stuff! I can't think of a single reason why goodreads should be treated differently from everywhere else. Fraud is fraud no matter where it takes place.

message 4: by Jessica (new)

Jessica | 14 comments This is pretty good:


shellyindallas That was a good article, Jessica. I was wondering why I was so offended by what happened yesterday. What all that had to do with me. In the article you posted the guy references a NYT article that says readers shouldn't really be bothered so much, that half the time the hijacked content isn't even that good. I don't think that's the point, though. I think in the end it comes down to ego--my own. Fuck you if you think you can lie to me. I know people do it all the time, and get away with it. But when you catch them in the act it is such an affront to your sensibilities. You feel duped. And when you feel duped, or when I feel duped I should say, it causes me to question my smarts. Why didn't I know better? Why didn't I recognize that? I hate to feel stupid, so I in turn get defensive.
The other part of it has to do with justice. So many of us follow the rules. And we don't just do it b/c we are afraid if we don't we will face repercussions, we do it b/c it's the right thing to do. I was a failure of a student. I didn't graduate High School. I ended up going to college in my 30s and one day I showed up for my "History of Mexican Revolutions" class on test day with my blue book ready for what I hoped would be another 'C' when I noticed a young girl about three chairs down from me with two blue books: one blank, one already filled out. I thought "You bitch! Here I am at fucking 33 and you at 20 and you got here by cheating?!" It's just plain wrong. Part of me wanted to raise my hand, to pull the professor aside. But everybody knows it's wrong to be rat, too.
At least the girl with the filled in blue book had something to gain. All her bullshit gets her a college degree, maybe even a high GPA. But why in the hell would someone on an internet sight feel compelled to pass off something that isn't theirs to total strangers? If it's a favor, if they want to let the rest of us know about a really good review, then fucking say so. (See Msg 4)
one last thing and I'll get off my soapbox and move on. I get irritated when goodreaders whine about the decline of the website and the lack of intellectual conversation and boo-hoo about poo/potty/sex talk on GR. About how the conversation in groups is little more than gossip, and (gasp) frivolity. I hope these fuckers recognize that what is TRULY offensive material, the stuff that is antithetical to this website, is not pics of poop or gossip about "The Hills," it's plagiarism.

message 6: by Eric_W (last edited Jan 31, 2009 06:28AM) (new)

Eric_W (ericw) Hi folks. My two cents worth. There is an issue that has not been raised and that's violation of copyright. To lift an entire review from someone else is a clear violation of copyright law. That is illegal and can be penalized. Plagarism, while unethical, is NOT illegal. It's reprehensible and very disappointing.

I remember the Ambrose scandal well, had read the Childers book (it's much better, by the way) and had read most of Ambrose's stuff and I remember being very disappointed with him. As Jessica (love your writing, by the way) said, he had the "funnest" (love that word) job and it's not that hard to do it right. (The fact that he pawned off most of the work to grad assistants is a whole other issue.) The same with Doris Kearns Goodwin (and remember she paid a substantial settlement for her lack of attribution - at least that was morally honest - Ambrose to his discredit just blew off the whole thing.) Of course, we borrow ideas from others; that's the beauty of shared knowledge and reading and Goodreads.

I love reading what others have thought about a particular book and how they handle the ideas. Ideas can't be copyrighted; only the manifestation and expression of those ideas. And we borrow on the ideas of others to express our own reformulation of those thoughts. I would be very unhappy if someone copied my review and presented it has their own. (Isn't "their" so much better than his/her?)

To me, what makes it worse, however, is to receive the accolades for something I had not done. Nothing wrong with citing another's excellent review and applauding it. But to take credit for it, is what really, really, really bothers me. If someone told me I had written a great review that I had actually not written, I would be ashamed, and immediately point the kudos in the direction it belonged.

Books mentioned: Wings of Morning The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II

The Wild Blue The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45

http://www.slate.com/id/2091197/ (article re historians defense of Goodwin. Has very pertinent definitions of plagarism.

message 7: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 43 comments I think what bothers many of us is that it's not a one-time incident, it's not something that can be ascribed to sloppiness or family illness...as painful as the latter may be.
Once at the college where I teach I had to call a student out for plagiarizing not one but 2 papers...we met with the Dean. At first she denied it, but we had both papers from the websites where she'd bought them. She burst into tears and told us she had an eating disorder, that she suffered from bulimia.
Well, we felt bad for her, and made appointments for her with a counselor, but what did the two really have to do with each other? Perhaps they are both about deception finally, hiding one's true self.
In any case, it seemed beside the point.
The issue here is that the writer was spoken to privately, a number of times apparently, and yet the plagiarism continues...it begins to seem very sad. Like something she cannot stop herself from doing...

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments Basically I agree with Mike that it's wrong, with Jessica that it's obvious why it's wrong and with Donald that it's baffling and somewhat interesting to try to figure out what compels this behavior. But mainly I just think she should remove these reviews or at least credit the reviews to the people that they were written by. Not doing so by now is also a bit strange. And the apologism by others, though well-intentioned, was also odd to me. It's not "sloppy" or "accidental." Consider that she had to go into the meat of the Niebuhr review and apply html code in order to italicize the titles. That's a detail I noticed which made me think that this person clearly has gone out of their way to appear to be writing thoughtful reviews...that and the complete plagiarism. When I first saw the accusation I thought maybe like a sentence or two was stolen from elsewhere...but the whole review? Then I find out multiple reviews? Then the real kicker: A PLAGIARIZED REVIEW ON A BOOK ABOUT PLAGIARISM?? If that's not a big ol' solid "fuck you" to the reader's sense of trust and admiration, then I don't know what is.

message 9: by brian (last edited Jan 31, 2009 07:31AM) (new)

brian   i read an interesting article that explained that the oscars, the grammys, the pulitzer awards are important in that they are so full of shit. they allow people to exclaim, "omfg! can you believe they gave it to that piece of shit rather than these other ones that are so much better!" -- the awards allow us, by rejecting one thing and holding others up high, to feel that the medium, the form of which we speak, is legitimate.

i think something of that nature is happening here. goodreads is not facebook. it is not myspace. it's way more special. it's smarter. it's populated by a smaller group of people who are more singularly focused and, at the risk of sounding like a snob, more intelligent, cooler, more sensitive, idiosyncratic, and both more discriminating and open minded.

and we all take it kind of seriously. and it feels weird to know that someone has been pulling the wool over our eyes. that the things that make this unique and different and special... are not so unique and different and special.

and this is not an attack on a specific person. i think donald nailed pretty well various thoughts on why it happened and i, personally, am not so concerned with that any longer... what i find interesting is what shelly addressed: why are we so upset? and i think it's because we fear that it kind of de-legitimizes our involvement in this thing. but it shouldn't. as with the various award shows, it should strengthen it in that it proves how seriously we all take it...

message 10: by Jason (last edited Jan 31, 2009 07:01AM) (new)

Jason | 6 comments Mod
Great comments, all.

EDIT: so I post as a little flurry of smart posts pop on, and some of the things I'm saying Brian, MyFleshSingsOut, and Donald all said. So let's see the following as an "amen" and not the negligent self-indulgence it might seem to be.

I wasn't being insincere in raising the questions, yet I do think, if pushed into stating a firm position, that publishing whole verbatim chunks of other people's writing as your own violates community rules. Period. Still, I'm interested in why, as Shelly so precisely puts it (#5), *my* ego is involved. Why does it bother me? I see any number of more shameful misbehaviors daily, and particularly in this context (rather than a class, or a more-formally published piece) citing others seems annoying but easily-dismissed. I kind of prefer a plagiarist who seems to really care about books, who disseminates worthy reviews even if under a deceptive authorial persona, to the mindless trolling yahoos who flame-and-run, or to the notion of corporate flacks joining and participating in an online network in order to sell product, or to authors who join here merely to promote books and (sometimes) harangue readers. Why didn't I just delete the plagiarist's account, ignore reviews, move on?

It says something about what I want from this site, which intrigues me because I'm not particularly sure what I want from this site. [EDIT: See Brian, right above, for a very good answer.] Fit these issues of plagiarism into other debates: what is a review for, and what are comments on those reviews for?

I guess I'm also curious about why people plagiarize. I understand cheating--don't like it, but it makes clear precise Machiavellian sense. But inconsequential appropriation? I had a student once who would come to see me twice a week with questions about drafts for his papers. Each time, we'd spend twenty minutes playing around with ideas, structure, language. And he'd come back the next time with a new draft. Halfway through the semester, his roommate turned him in--this guy had hired someone to write his papers. He'd spend literally hours of time with me, then go home and spend time translating my advice to this other writer, and then repeat the process. He clearly cared about the final grade, but he also put so much work into the whole game--in some ways, he was *doing* the work of writing, and he was engaged in elements of collaboration we endorse (meeting with a prof, or with a writing group, for feedback) and other kinds we don't. Cutting and pasting from google--that's sloppy, stupid, usually painfully dull in both motive and outcome. But these other cases suggest something about the anxiety of writing, of being part of a writing/reading community, that I find very compelling. That I feel myself, in some way... I respond differently, but I understand this anxiety.

James Kincaid has argued that "[p:]lagiarism is best understood not as a sharply defined operation, like beheading, but as a whole range of activities, more like cooking, which varies from deliberate poisoning to the school cafeteria to mother's own" (see http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/ethics/purloined.html). I guess the instance we're addressing seems unlike poisoning to me, but I'm not sure where I'd put it.

(I found the above source, and a number of good articles, at http://www.indiana.edu/~tltl/projects/plagiarism/articles.html.)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments Jessica wrote: "The issue here is that the writer was spoken to privately, a number of times apparently, and yet the plagiarism continues...it begins to seem very sad. Like something she cannot stop herself from doing...."


message 12: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins (eddiewat) | 19 comments I was disappointed when I first discovered what Ginnie was doing a few months ago, but soon enough I was just fascinated by it. It reminded me of Bruno Bettleheim's appearance in Woody Allen's movie Zelig. In the film he posed as a psychological expert and provided commentary on why Zelig was such a faker and chameleon. But then soon after Bruno's own death it was discovered that he himself was a big fake.

I honestly think Ginnie created the whole aged librarian persona, which was a stroke of some kind of genius, because who's going to be suspicious of a smart little old lady?

I found reviews of hers that were collages of 3 or more reviews, and in some instances she shifted geographical references in the original review to southern California where she supposedly lives.

One of my theories is that she did it to be the top reviewer. It was too late in the game for her to be tops at Amazon, but not too late at Goodreads, and it worked!

message 13: by Jason (new)

Jason | 6 comments Mod
Re Eddie's points about top reviewer: great article by Garth Risk Hallberg at Slate about Amazon reviewers and online criticism.

message 14: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 31, 2009 07:15AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments Good comments, Eddie, funny too.

My mind's started to wander to other things about her profile which could be utter bullshit as a well. I was also waiting for someone to chime in with the idea that she's just doing this as some sort of social experiment...but I think it's probably just what it appears to be: person with the requisite emotional problems craving praise on a website.

On a more general note, most everyone seems to agree that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and I don't think this should be lost in the discussion by reaching a bit too far to come up with excuses for the plagiarist. Her silence on the issue seems like a clear admission of embarrassment and shame to me. So perhaps it can just be let go. Now if this happens AGAIN, then I think there's some kind of pathology there. Doubtless, her reviews will be scrutinized from here on out by her readership.

And don't people realize the power of Google yet, btw? If you suspect someone of plagiarism you simply cut and paste and use ""'s around the text and hit "Search" and you'll find it immediately. I call people out on this on other forums all the time, usually people trying to lift wikipedia info...

message 15: by Jessica (last edited Jan 31, 2009 07:25AM) (new)

Jessica | 14 comments Yeah Mike, thanks for starting this group, and thanks to Eric for suggesting it. I feel like whenever something upsetting happens here, my faith in Booksters is ultimately affirmed by the response, and that's great. I really liked the comments above, and appreciate Shelly's personal story about cheating and thoughts about criticism of the wrong kinds of behaviors here.

I do have a cooler head this morning and am kind of over the actual incident, so I've been trying to think a bit more seriously about those good questions of Professor Mike's that I blew off so indignantly. A lot of people above have identified important elements of what's wrong with plagiarism, but I feel like there's this special, emotional sense of horror and outrage that makes me feel much more self-righteous than usual.... and Mike is right, I do need to examine why, because it's not all obvious!

What I keep coming back to in my mind is the phrase "identity theft." Whenever they talk about that in the news I get all fussy and irritated: "That's not my identity they're stealing! I am not my social security number!" My position has always been that those people are stealing information and credit, not people's identities, and "identity theft" is a sort of offensive misnomer.... But if I think about it, the main reason plagiarism upsets me so much is that while I am not my SSN, I am my writing, or I think I am. The idea of someone passing off someone else's words as their own is disturbing not just for the duping angle (though it is) but because it's a dishonest masquerade of oneself -- a stolen identity!

So I guess there is some strong, unique privilege I automatically grant to writers' or artists' works which is pretty unexamined, and Mike's right, it's worth thinking about more closely. Some of it has to do with this ideal about expression of the self or whatever through writing.... which gets back to why this incident freaked us out so much. This was someone who many of us felt that we knew, based on personal writings. I mean, that's why I like this site so much, is because you really get a sense of people (or think you do); this is why I don't like even the cited reviews that are taken from professionals. I've always liked the personal reviews, even those that err on the side of not saying much - or anything -- about the book. Like this one, for example:


message 16: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W (ericw) Jessica wrote: "Yeah Mike, thanks for starting this group, and thanks to Eric for suggesting it. I feel like whenever something upsetting happens here, my faith in Booksters is ultimately affirmed by the response,..."

Jessica: Nicely said, and that review is certainly poignant given the context of this discussion.

message 17: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 31, 2009 07:31AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments Mike wrote: "Re Eddie's points about top reviewer: great article by Garth Risk Hallberg at Slate about Amazon reviewers and online criticism."

Interesting article. Thanks. Never thought about that kind of publishing house promotional technique before, even though in retrospect it seems like a very unsurprising, obvious sort of thing.

message 18: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins (eddiewat) | 19 comments Perhaps plagiarism in non-fiction is considered more reprehensible, where (supposedly) original thoughts and ideas are stolen, but in poetry plagiarism (or appropriation) is much more common, and even accepted. For instance there's a traditional form, the Cento, which is composed entirely of lifted lines. The difference probably being that in poetry words are thought of more as material to be used creatively, whereas in non-fiction words are used for much more utilitarian purposes.

I'm facinated by Ginnie's acts because of the creation of what I'm assuming is an entire fictional persona, so I don't see it as necessarily stealing someone's thoughts or identity. There was an "art" involved in many of her stolen reviews, either in collaging multiple reviews together or inserting seemingly personal asides within impersonal stolen material or making small changes in stolen reviews to fit her created persona.

message 19: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 43 comments I've always found it interesting how "borrowing", "lifting" is accepted in poetry, while not in fiction.

there is a lot more I want to comment on, but I've an appointment now, so later...

message 20: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins (eddiewat) | 19 comments Maybe because there's at least the potential for some actual $$$ in fiction!

message 21: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 31, 2009 09:29AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments Donald wrote: "Raymond Carver used a ton of Chekhov lines in one of his poetry books, though I think it was credited. "

It's all about context. I'm reading this book right now called Wittgenstein's Mistress which utilizes a lot of famous names and famous works of art as subjects within the narrator's inner monologue. In it there have been uses of the term "rosey fingered" to describe the dawn, but it also was mentioned earlier that this is that famous descriptive motif from The Odyssey before doing so. There's a tasteful, ethical way to "plagiarize", we tend to call it ((con)textual) allusion. It's not all black and white but there are some clearly defined lines between certain types of uncredited use of arrangements of words.

message 22: by Ben (new)

Ben | 20 comments I think anyone is in the right when they get seriously offended and upset at plagiarism. It should tear and burn at your sense of justice and betrayal. I can only imagine how much worse it is when you have an admiration for the person that you found out did it. Although I've been a member for awhile, I've only been using this site for purposes other than keeping track of books, recently. Since taking on this excursion I've developed an admiration for the insights and abilities of some of you (Brian, Mike, and Jessica, for example). I think if I were to get as close to these people as some of you were to Ginnie, I really would have been upset, and I'm impressed at how well most of you handled the whole thing....

message 23: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins (eddiewat) | 19 comments It's also about sophistification of use. For instance, if Ginnie did all this plagiarizing in the service of creating the larger fictional persona of an elderly librarian complete with 3 professional sons, etc. then it could be viewed as a very interesting work of performance-type art, but if in the end it turns out she actually is a retired librarian who's simply too lazy to write her own reviews then it's tawdry and shameful.

There's also the possibility that the further you get from "Art" the less acceptable plagiarism (or borrowing) becomes.

message 24: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 43 comments I somehow doubt she's a performance artist...

message 25: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins (eddiewat) | 19 comments I don't think she is either, Jessica, at least not intentionally; but I do think there's the distinct possibility that her entire profile is fictional, which for me still elevates the interest level of the whole thing a notch or two.

message 26: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 31, 2009 10:02AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments Eddie wrote: It's also about sophistification of use. For instance, if Ginnie did all this plagiarizing in the service of creating the larger fictional persona of an elderly librarian complete with 3 professional sons, etc. then it could be viewed as a very interesting work of performance-type art, but if in the end it turns out she actually is a retired librarian who's simply too lazy to write her own reviews then it's tawdry and shameful.

There's also the possibility that the further you get from "Art" the less acceptable plagiarism (or borrowing) becomes."

I'm with you here. It's just that I highly, highly doubt that this is performance art. In any case, what you describe as sophistication of use is essentially what I meant by the importance of the context the use is employed in. For an example off of the top of my head: if you are having a round table discussion about philosophy in a class or something and you say "I think, therefore I am" there's clearly no need to mention that this is something Descartes wrote. But if you tell an 8 year old that you invented this notion of "I think, therefore I am" you're clearly just plagiarizing. And to do this on goodreads where there's a range of what people will recognize or not it's best to be clear about when you're alluding to something more specialized. Now, most people will understand an allusion to Hamlet (or at the very least have a knowledge that this is a famous saying) with "To be or not to be" but not so much with something more obscure like "The rosey fingered dawn" or even worse an entire amazon.com review that someone else wrote...obviously.

message 27: by Ben (last edited Jan 31, 2009 10:04AM) (new)

Ben | 20 comments Eddie wrote: There's also the possibility that the further you get from "Art" the less acceptable plagiarism (or borrowing) becomes."

Very interesting thought, Eddie. It makes me think of all the memoirs out there (take Running with Scissors for example) that are written in ways that may resemble the person's life, but contain many outright lies as well. In these instances, it pisses me off if the author tries to portray the book as (almost) completely accurate and doesn't at least use the term "based on" or something equivalent to it. But even if they don't, it still doesn't seem quite as bad as it would be if it were a total outright lie. And perhaps it does become less repulsive depending on the level of truth and yes, the level of creativity...

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments A lie can at least be original. Not so with pure plagiarism.

message 29: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins (eddiewat) | 19 comments MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "A lie can at least be original. Not so with pure plagiarism.


True, true. This is all making me think of Orson Welles' movie F for Fake... Now the art forger in that film really lived his li(f)e to the fullest, with real pizazz!

message 30: by Ben (last edited Jan 31, 2009 10:17AM) (new)

Ben | 20 comments Message #31 MyFleshSingsOut: " A lie can at least be original. Not so with pure plagiarism." Great point! I guess that's where creativity comes into play, and the fact that the person is at least displaying some type of ability.

And yet, part of me thinks that the whole Ginnie thing wouldn't be as bad, if she had in fact created the whole librarian persona and is really a 35 year old male or something. Perhaps it's because in my mind, that way her persona is at least creative and her plagiarizing somehow becomes an extension of her created persona. It's awful and disgraceful either way, but it's something to think about...

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments If there were really some redeeming, instructive, thought-provoking, etc, qualities to the "performance art" scenario, then I'd agree that it would be better on the whole than the more plausible (by my lights, at least) reality which is the less redeeming one.

I mean, I guess one could say that the "performance artist" in question was trying to start a conversation about plagiarism, but that can be done without lying to people for months and months and stealing reviews by other people.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments Also, to Eddie, I've been meaning to check out F For Fake for a while now. I've heard some good things about it from friends with similar taste. Is it a good movie? I couldn't tell what your thoughts were from the brief mention.

message 33: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins (eddiewat) | 19 comments MFSO - it's a great movie, worthy of endless contemplation. It's been put out on dvd by Criterion with some great extras also.

message 34: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 31, 2009 11:03AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments I can't believe I didn't think of this earlier:

Jonathan Lethem has some interesting things to say about the blurrier, or grayer, regions of "plagiarism v. non-plagiarism" issue(s) which can be read in this essay he wrote for Harper's here:

The Ecstasy of Influence: A plagiarism


You an watch/listen to him speak about these ideas here:

"Jonathan Letham discusses his book "You Don't Love Me Yet" and shares his thoughts on open-source art and the public domain as part of the Authors@Google series. This event took place on April 17, 2007, at Google's Mountain View, CA, headquarters."

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 35 comments I like Lethem's example of how the phrase "Stop, in the name of the law!" was "reappropriated" into the Supremes refrain "Stop, in the name of looooove..."

Eddie - thanks for the film tip. It's on my list.

message 36: by Books Ring Mah Bell (last edited Jan 31, 2009 11:34AM) (new)

Books Ring Mah Bell Thank you so much for the group and all of the above posts/comments... I do not have the ability to write as eloquently as most of you, but I was enraged beyond words yesterday in the now infamous Ginnie/Irony thread...
When David called out the original review, I thought, "hmmm" . Then there was the link Jessica posted... And sure enough, as I did the research, there were several books that she's "reviewed" that were the same... stolen, with no props to the source.
And that was it! I'm sorry if Ginnie's husband is dying. Really. but if you can take the time to cut and paste a review, you can at least throw the stupid by-line in there.
What amazed me even more were the people that saw nothing wrong with it. I see it as theft. THEFT!
Then people are saying Ginnie was being attacked and I seriously saw NO ATTACK. I saw genuine concern over an issue.
Throw this on top of me having nice happy feelings towrd Ginnie. Her "reviews" have directed me to other great books... it stinks to be duped!
I see the reviews some of you write as pieces of art. ART! A chunk of the writer's heart and soul. you don't take something someone else has put effort into and claim it as yours!

message 37: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 43 comments yes, yes, and yes. And in looking over her profile page again, I found warm, friendly comments from many of us; no wonder we feel so betrayed--

message 38: by Jesse (new)

Jesse | 2 comments this reminds me of that scene in "the squid and the whale" where the kid plays "hey you" by pink floyd for the talent competition. he ends up winning, but he picked such a famous song, there was no way he wouldn't get caught. then when the school counselor asks him why he did it he says, i felt like i could have written the song, so the fact that someone else already wrote it didn't really matter to me. it seems like it was obvious ginnie would get caught, yet it's easier to copy and paste and then have people say they liked your reviews than it is to spend a good hour or two writing out your own thoughts. but you guys all know that.

message 39: by Jessica (new)

Jessica | 14 comments Nice, Jesse. I think that's a great plagiarism scene. The kid honestly seems confused about what everyone's problem is -- I really like how he puts it, that he doesn't get what the big deal is since it felt like his song, and in his mind he might as well have written it. I think that whole episode suggests some very interesting stuff about, on the one hand, how people relate to art, as well as the kind of pressures and strange psychological stuff that could lead to plagiarism. That is all about skipping the drudgery of actual creation, and hoping just to reap the benefits of artistic expression, which I kind of get. I mean, I don't get how plagiarism solves the problem, but I do definitely relate to the problem of wanting to skip the bleeding-at-your-typewriter agonies and just having your finished product already, which is, yeah, very nonsensical on the one hand, but inevitable on the other. I mean, in a way that's a different issue from the wanting-approval-and-attention motivation, and in a way it's not so much, if you can get over the hurdle of minding that you didn't actually write the song or review, and feel that you did. Then maybe the attention and approval gives you the satisfaction of having actually created something, even though technically you didn't.

message 40: by Jessica (new)

Jessica | 14 comments I mean, I bet most of us know what it's like to read a novel and think, "I wish I'd written this." It's a very intense and powerful feeling, and seems different from other kinds of literary appreciation in its unique combination of admiration, identification, and wistful envy. I guess I can see how that feeling could turn into wanting to pretend that you had written the novel, right? I mean, if I could go around acting like I was Anne Carson and could somehow get over the detail that I'm not, and didn't feel weird about people congratulating me all the time on my wonderful books but actually felt I'd earned their praise, it might be pretty fun. I could think, "Well, maybe I'm not doing much with my life these days, but at least I wrote Autobiography of Red!"

(All this is not to say that this is in any way what's happened here, I'm just sort of free-associating about plagiarism in order to procrastinate.)

message 41: by C. (new)

C. (placematsgalore) | 7 comments The plagiarised review about a book about plagiarism seems like it could be evidence of a bizarre sense of humour, to me. I don't know what's going on here, but it's weird.

message 42: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins (eddiewat) | 19 comments Choupette wrote: "The plagiarised review about a book about plagiarism seems like it could be evidence of a bizarre sense of humour, to me. I don't know what's going on here, but it's weird."

Very weird indeed, but I think it's more like evidence of a deep pathological issue.

message 43: by brian (last edited Jan 31, 2009 02:55PM) (new)

brian   i've been in deep thought about all this. yes. i have. me. brian. here's what i think:

I want to address the issues because they relate to this load of horse shit several of you are trying to feed us in the name of some zen-like, completely non-critical compassion (which you're all very welcome to). And that's exactly what it is, Matthew, Koeeaddi, Abigail (we meet again), and Jude. Pure, unmitigated horse shit.

There was no mob. Look again! There were some people MATTER-OF-FACTLY bringing the attention to light, addressing it, waiting for a response. The discussion only got a little heated when Matthew came in and inanely suggested that plagiarism is "unfortunate" and not at all wrong in this case, which is the biggest load of unfounded, relativist crap I've read on here in quite some time. Here's the logic you asked for, Matthew: Ginnie has had this matter brought to her attention several times before, and she has done nothing to correct it. There's intentionality. Cutting-and-pasting an article verbatim is the clearest form of plagiarism there is. Plagiarism is theft. Here you have intentional theft, which under most prevailing definitions thereof is wrong -- unless you're lamely attempting to apply Marxist dogma to intellectual property.

And, well, shit, I am oh-so-sorry if plagiarism doesn't rise to a sufficient level of offense, in YOUR opinion, to be brought to be brought up here, but my opinion is very different on the matter, and I promise you that I am bringing it up each and every time I happen to see it -- regardless of whether the plagiarist is twelve years old or a hundred years old, whether s/he is a paraplegic, a manic-depressive, or a sloe-eyed albino. I don't discriminate. If you have the TIME and the MENTAL ENERGY to be on this site and post reviews, then you do have the time and mental energy to cite the sources. It's as simple as that. How much more effort does it take to copy and paste the byline along with the article in its entirety? Zero, that's how much.

I don't really care about the merits of the individual case, or who was in the right. Group attack can be defined with one word: cowardice.

Nice, Abigail. Let's all board the peace train. You see, I do care about the merits of the individual case, and it seems quite a few other people do, too... And these people -- David and I, notwithstanding -- are smart, reasonable, and kind people. We (I feel safe to say) are not about to presume that every single person who plagiarizes is going through some cataclysmic personal events that somehow make them do so. There's no cowardice here. We just wanted the issue addressed and rectified. That is all. We didn't grab our clubs and beat her into submission. If she would have responded to people's concerns BEFORE (many times before), then this wouldn't have happened. As it stood, she ignored PMs critical of her plagiarism and DELETED public posts on her review threads that brought the issue up. How exactly are you supposed to engage a person when they do that? Oh, I know your likely answer! You don't engage her at all. You humor her. You patronize her. You pat her on the head and say, "Poor, poor dear!" You demean her by treating her like a child who is so incapable that she can't attribute a fucking article. Sorry, I'm not playing that game, Abigail.

As for you, Jude, and this comment: As for it not being a group attack- no one tried to pull back from the pack mentality and consider the person at the center- or speak to her. that's what i noticed- the only oblique reference to her was all the "don't take this personally."

Hmmm, maybe that's because Matthew turned the whole thread into a debate about plagiarism itself, and not about Ginnie Jones in particular. I'm not backing away from a trite argument that plagiarism is okay on GR because it's merely a "conversation" (which WAS in fact his argument)... Whether you actually read what was said and to whom, or you read what you imagine in your head is your decision, surely, but much of the content of this thread was about the issue of plagiarism itself and not merely about this instance. I'm not gonna sit back and allow an apologia for plagiarism to stand just because you somehow, through some distorted prism, imagine that it's a frontal attack on the person of Ginnie Jones herself. And, yes, I did speak to her in the very first comment... Maybe you didn't see it because you were too busy dreaming up other parts of the discussion in your head. It was the post where I said, simply, "Shouldn't this be attributed?"

I'm not sorry for one damn thing I wrote on this thread. I am sorry that anyone has to go through hard times, whether health-related or otherwise, but these health problems were not caused by me and have no relevance to the matter at hand.

If any Goodread "friend" here has a probably with anything I said, I gladly invite you to drop me at your earliest convenience. I welcome it, in fact.

message 44: by Ben (last edited Jan 31, 2009 03:01PM) (new)

Ben | 20 comments If anyone wants to add this to the conversation, they can -- I'm not sure if it's appropriate or not, but I figure it couldn't hurt to throw this in the mix should someone deem it relevant..(it's copied from portions of Joe Biden's wikipedia page):

"During his first year there, he was accused of having plagiarized 5 of 15 pages of a law review article. Biden said it was inadvertent due to his not knowing the proper rules of citation, and he was permitted to retake the course after receiving a grade of F, which was subsequently dropped from his record.[17:] He was admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1969.[16:]

In September 1987, the campaign ran into trouble when he was accused of plagiarizing a speech by Neil Kinnock, then-leader of the British Labour Party.[102:] Kinnock’s speech included the lines:

"Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? [Then pointing to his wife in the audience:] Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?"

While Biden’s speech included the lines:

"I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? [Then pointing to his wife in the audience:] Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I'm the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?"

Though Biden had cited Kinnock as the source for the formulation many times before, he made no reference to the original source at the August 23 Iowa State Fair debate in question or in another appearance.[103:][104:] While political speeches often appropriate ideas and language from each other, Biden's use came under more scrutiny because he somewhat distorted his own family's background in order to match Kinnock's.[9:][104:]

A few days later, Biden's plagiarism incident in law school came to light.[17:] It was also revealed that when earlier questioned by a New Hampshire resident about his grades in law school, Biden had inaccurately recollected graduating in the "top half" of his class, that he had attended law school on a full scholarship, and had received three degrees in college. He had in fact earned a single B.A. with a double major in history and political science, had received a half scholarship to law school based on financial need with some additional assistance based in part upon academics, and had graduated 76th of 85 in his law school class.[105:]

The Kinnock and school revelations were magnified by the limited amount of other news about the nomination race at the time,[106:] when most of the public were not yet paying attention to any of the campaigns; Biden thus fell into what Washington Post writer Paul Taylor described as that year's trend, a "trial by media ordeal".[107:] Biden lacked a strong demographic or political group of support to help him survive the crisis.[101:][108:] He withdrew from the nomination race on September 23, 1987, saying his candidacy had been overrun by "the exaggerated shadow" of his past mistakes.[109:] After Biden withdrew from the race, it was revealed that the Dukakis campaign had secretly made a video showcasing the Biden–Kinnock comparison and distributed it to news outlets.[110:] Also later in 1987, the Delaware Supreme Court's Board of Professional Responsibility cleared Biden of the law school plagiarism charges regarding his standing as a lawyer, saying Biden had "not violated any rules".[111:]"

message 45: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 43 comments Brian: are you trying out David's tactic from yesterday??? (or just trying to make me feel like I'm losing my mind..?)

message 46: by brian (new)

brian   heh.

not only did i plagiarize davey-boy, but i plagiarized his plagiarism joke!

message 47: by [deleted user] (new)

Brian, you are a wise, wise man. You only plagiarize the very best...

If you're gonna go down in ignominy, you might as well go all the way.

message 48: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 43 comments I had the same confusion when you & DFJ used to steal his avatar...and at the same time too. (too much for this ole head of mine).

I applaud David for the clarity and reason of that post.

message 49: by Jessica (last edited Jan 31, 2009 03:10PM) (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 43 comments of course, #51 refers to the post he just left on the GJ thread.

(in case you tend to confusion as much as I do).

message 50: by Jason (new)

Jason | 6 comments Mod
What's weird is that I liked Brian's version of that post better. David's had too much of that Salingering whine, while Brian's seemed more aggressively Rothian. Kudos, Brian!

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