It is always nice to see your own words in print. There is a feeling of satisfaction to see an article or a manuscript you have written in its published form. Wait! Did I say it is always nice to see your own words in print? Well, there is one time when it is not nice but rather disturbing to see your own words in print. When is that? When your words have been plagiarized by others.
Gee, These Words Sound Like Mine
The other day I got a new catalog in the mail from a school that I have listed in my Walston's Guide. I gave this school a poor write up in my book because I feel that they are sub-standard in their academic prowess. Over the last month, the new, interim president has been communicating with me via email, and we have struck up a friendship.
I read through their new catalog, and they still have some disturbing words about the whole issue of accreditation, which is the single most abused topic by bad schools. However, that was not what disturbed me the most. What disturbed me were a couple of small paragraphs that seemed terribly familiar.
"Gee," I thought to myself, "These words sound like mine." Sure enough, I pulled out some of the literature that I have written for CES, and I laid the CES literature and their catalog side by side, and they had plagiarized my words! I emailed the president and let him know that I was not happy about this. Take a look at these two sets of words for yourself, and you tell me if you think they plagiarized my words:
Accreditation And Recognition
Accreditation is great for the right purpose. For example, if one is going to work for the government or if one is going to be a teacher in public school, you must have a degree from an accredited school. Whether or not a school is accredited makes no difference in titles. If you have a Doctorate Degree from a non-accredited school, you are still every bit as much a Doctor.
Our school's literature from 1995 to 2000
Some Important Information About Accreditation
Accreditation is great for the right purpose. If you work for the government or for a public school, you must have a degree from an accredited school. However, if you are working for an employer who does not require an accredited degree, why spend the extra money earning one? Further, whether or not a school is accredited makes no difference in titles. If you have a Doctorate degree from a non-accredited school, you are still every bit as much a Doctor.
Not only did they plagiarize, but they "edited" it a little to attempt to make it appear as though it were in their own words. However, in so doing they messed up the grammar.
When you use the term "one" as a subject of an introductory dependent clause, then the following subject in the independent clause must also be "one." If it isn't, it is a grammatical error.
Sometimes people make the mistake of shifting from speaking about "one" to speaking about "he" which is still not correct (remember, it has to be "one" again), but at least it is in the same person, i.e., 3rd person. However, not only does this plagiarizer not use the term one, but he shifts the person of the subject from third person (one) to second person (you) and thus lays a burden of responsibility on the reader that is ludicrous.
The plagiarizer wrote: "For example, if one is going to work for the government or if one is going to be a teacher in public school, you must have a degree from an accredited school."
The correct way this should be written is: "For example, if one is going to work for the government or if one is going to be a teacher in public school, one must have a degree from an accredited school."
This is easy to understand when you give the subject an actual name. Example: "For example, if Rick Walston is going to work for the government or if he is going to be a teacher in public school, he must have a degree from an accredited school."
Since the words one and you are not the same person, this might be how his error would read if we used actual names (and pronouns) for all of his subjects: Example: "For example, if Rick Walston is going to work for the government or if he is going to be a teacher in public school, you must have a degree from an accredited school." You see, when the plagiarizer shifts to the word you, he is speaking to you!
Why should you have to have an accredited degree if Rick Walston (or someone else) is going to work for the government or a public school? Now, that's bad grammar. So, not only does the plagiarizer steal my words, but when he attempts to edit it to "fool" others into thinking that these are his own words, he messes it up and shows that he is both a plagiarizer and a grammatical novice.
This is not the first time that I have been plagiarized. Another "school" ran by a Dr. Parker quoted my words in his school's literature without giving me credit. But, there is even more.
Major Magazine Rip Off
One of the most egregious ripoffs of my words came from perhaps the biggest name in Christian magazine publication. I told one of our Board members about it, and he just laughed and said I was nuts (especially since it was that magazine). So, I handed him both my article and the magazine opened to the article in question. After he read them both, he had no doubt that it was a simple ripoff. In fact, the "author" of the magazine article was the very person I had submitted my article to. I had submitted an article about the issues surrounding an accreditation snafu back when Middle-States regional accrediting agency was having some huge problems (1991). Soon after my submission, an article appears by this man on the same topic. I am sorry, but that's just too big of a coincidence. Oh, he used his own words for the most part, but it was my research, my process, and my conclusions.
Once Burned, Twice Shy
An ironic thing happened about four months ago: the author for the magazine who ripped me off still works for the magazine, and he called me at my office. This plagiarizer had the cheekiness to tell me he was working on an article about distance learning doctor of ministry degrees, and he wanted to know, since I was the "expert and I written a book" about this topic, what information I could supply him with for his article. I guess he figured that I was a dolt and had forgotten his thievery back in 1991. Well, friends, I have forgiven him, but I have not forgotten it. I gave him no information.
Out of Context
Another unfair use of my words happened when a terribly sub-standard school wrote a lengthy attack on accreditation in America, and he wrenched certain portions of my words out of context and made it look like I was in full agreement with his ridiculous conclusions. I called the man and confronted him.
In brief, I guess I am tired of being plagiarized and misquoted. I thought of a lawsuit only one time however (the major magazine). But, then I remembered that (1) Christians are not to sue Christians and (2) there was a time when I did not understand the concept of plagiarism very well, and there were a couple times over the years that a people might have a legitimate gripe against me.
So, I have learned more and better in the last decade about the whole plagiarism issue (which actually extends further than simply quoting someone's words as though they were your own). Here is the dictionary definition of plagiarism. "To use and pass off as one's own, the ideas or writings of another" (American Heritage Dictionary). People often think that they can take someone else's "outline," "main points," or "ideas," and as long as they put them into their own words, it is ok. Not so. As I said, plagiarism extends beyond simply taking the exact words.
However, in all of this, the words of Scripture and of our Savior come back to my ears and put me in contact with my all too frail human inadequacies:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:36-37).
. . . he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him throw the first stone" (John 8:7).
Then the master called the servant in. "You wicked servant," he said, "I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart" (Matt. 18:32-35).
A Good Turn of Events
I began this CoffeeTalk a couple days ago. I usually don't take this long to write one, but I had lots of things intruding upon my time, and so I set it aside. Well, I am glad I did because the president of the school that plagiarized my words called me yesterday morning. With tears and an open confession of repentance, he told me that he was sorry. He apologized profusely and asked for my forgiveness. My answer was swift and immediate: of course I forgave him. In light of all that God has forgiven me, what else could I possibly do? ("Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?"--Matt. 18:33)
That does not mean that I have to give his school a good review, but the man himself gets "a good review" for his contrition.
In brief, we all learn and grow, at least, we should.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Col. 3:13).
For those of you who might be interested: I have produced a six-lecture series on audio with notes. I cover the basics of good writing, grammar, punctuation, and more. I've had people with Master's degrees and PhDs go through these lectures, and some of them told me that they learned more on this subject from my six lectures and notes than they had from all of their previous education combined. You can listen to the lectures for free and downlaod the lecture notes as PDFa files (for free) at CES Writing Protocols Lectures.
Send comments about this, or any, Coffee Talk to Rick Walston at: CES - @ - ColumbiaSeminary.edu
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