Archive for June 15th, 2007

Carrying concept of tenure too far!

June 15, 2007

For several years I was a student of Sigmund Freud. Then someone told me Freud was dead, which explained why his classes were so boring. … If you ask me, they are carrying the concept of faculty tenure much too far.

— Patrick F. McManus, The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw

As quoted here 🙂

Citation plagiarism

June 15, 2007

Kerim has some thoughts on citation plagiarism:

However, even if we discuss the kind of practice Poser does find acceptable, where someone simply lists a source they know is important even though they have not read it carefully themselves – I still must beg to differ. For one thing, it is the source of much intellectual laziness. People cite the works of major thinkers without bothering to read more than someone else’s summary of their ideas, and the ideas themselves get diluted to the point where they no longer serve any analytic value.

I agree with Kerim, and also feel strongly against citing resources that I have not read. However, there is one subtle point beyond listing sources known to be important–it is also a question of attribution. For example, for the Lifshitz-Slyozov-Wagner theory of coarsening, one of the papers is in German; however, not referring to that paper will be depriving that author of the credit for his contribution. Fortunately, since many text-books do discuss the theory, the way I would deal with this problem is to refer to some text book and not give reference to the original papers at all. In other cases, where the material might not have made to the textbooks yet, I generally refer to the paper or report which alerted me to those papers and say references therein.

Going through Kerim’s post, I do realise however, that there is one important difference between papers in materials science and those in anthropology:

The problem is that it isn’t enough to cite Bourdieu if you mention “habitus” or to cite Appadurai if you mention “ethnoscapes” etc., these ideas are overdetermined (cf. Althusser) and require each scholar who uses them to explain again what exactly they mean by the term.

This is precisely the problem we avoid in materials science; in most of the instances, when we refer to a paper, the concept in question is determined exactly. This is not to say that there are no cases where there is ambiguity–the word nano for example is used in a very ambiguous manner. But the field itself evolves in such a way that those ambiguities are sorted out as early as possible to allow for discussions to be built upon earlier work without having to define the terms every time. In some sense, this fixing of terminology is also a result to mathematisation of the field–in the case of nano for example, an exact definition narrows down the usage of the word to a particular size distribution, thus avoiding any ambiguities in its use.

Update: Bill Poser at Language Log feels that citation plagiarism is no plagiarism at all!