A Note on Plagiarism

All content on this blog has been created or properly cited by Dr. Adam Cathcart, who managed to claw his way through thirteen years of public education and four university degrees without resorting to plagiarism or academic dishonesty.  The closest he (I) ever came to crossing this line was in receiving assistance from my magnificent pianist and partner in chamber music, Fred Kwok, in voicing a fugue in a Cleveland Institute of Music practice room in 1998.

As for my present line of work (university professor of Chinese history), I was not born speaking or reading Chinese and it takes a constant (often losing) effort to keep my current skill set intact and branching into new fields of inquiry such as the modern history of Tibet, or consolidating knowledge of a dynamic field of study like China’s relations with North Korea.  I didn’t get here by ripping off sentences from Jonathan Spence, or spending all night playing video games, thus necessitating intellectual theft from Yale’s Sinologist emeritus.  I also maintain an active performance schedule as a classical cellist, and, no less, this is something that simply cannot be faked: you either get the job done and move people’s hearts and minds, or you stink.

Which is all to say that plagiarism of this blog is not simply lazy or intellectually dishonest, it is bullshit. Today I received my first hits from turnitin.com, a software which detects plagiarism, which indicates to me that some sorry undergraduate has seen fit to copy-paste my work and represent it as their own.  (If you’re a graduate student ripping me off, good luck changing the coffee filters in the gas station; if you’re a high school student, stop smoking crack, learn another language, and write your own papers.)  Which leads me of necessity to my new plagiarism policy:

If you are detected plagiarizing from this blog, I expect an e-mail (to cathcaaj@plu.edu) explaining what you did and why you did it.  I want a copy of your assignment.  I want to know what about my work you couldn’t resist, but refused to cite.  I want a simple apology.  Look at it as a learning opportunity to have some contact with someone who writes every day, who takes ownership of the content of his work.  Because our minds are sovereign entities and, I suppose, we have already exchanged ideas.  Perhaps you are just looking for a collaborator on a project you’re working on? If you were to read this blog regularly, you would probably realize that I enjoy crazy projects and celebrate unlikely alliances.  I suppose I’m glad you found my work interesting, but I also find it galling if not downright humorous that you thought you could pass off my wickedly distinctive and insurmountable authorial voice as your own.

If you are an instructor — a university professor in particular — I’m quite sure you’re busy, but I would greatly appreciate a heads-up from you (cathcaaj@plu.edu) about your case since I may be interested in contacting your plagiarizing student just to say hello and to reemphasize those values of academic integrity which are at the core of our enterprise.

A final word to the plagiarist, as plagiarism in some ways represents a deep challenge: If you want to take me on in the field of technique, let’s throw down, seriously.  I think I can outwrite you in terms of quantity and quality, like, over a period of years during which you might somehow get your shit together and then start actually writing.  Let’s have a contest, seriously.  Stop f***ing around!  Je desteste ça!!@!@!


  1. Adam, ich muss hier mal ein Lob hinterlassen. Ich finde diesen Blog sehr originell und er hebt sich deutlich von anderen Blogs aus und über China/Korea ab. Die ungewohnte Perspketive ist alles andere als Mainstream und sehr gut fundiert. Weiter so.

    1. Danke sehr. Ob mein Blog lobswert ist, und nuetzlich fuer Besucher/inen die etwas anders vom Netz-stimmen brauchen, und die ein Asie-Blog ab- und ausheben von der grosse Klang anderen Quellen koennen, dann sicherlich bin ich froh davon. Und ja! Man muss immer weiter, immer nach vorn! Besonders ueber verteilte Korea und, trotzdem alle Enttaeuschung (waehrend nachvollziehbare Berichtung aus Nord Korea sind so spaerlich, aber Sie wissen dass schon), unserem Volksrepublik-Nachbarn. Nach etwas Neu zu streben, mit ein Gestus die mit eigenzinnliche Sehnsucht gepraegt ist! Ein Zeil. Ein Lob fuer Ihre wichtige Perspektive und Netz-Arbeit auch, und noch’ mal herzlichem Dank!

  2. I can understand your pissed-offness. Even if you employ all the detection tools available, plus those hapless fools in the CIA, its a hard trend to contain.

    In tubbyland this phenomenon can be primarily attributed to the heavy intakes of international students required to keep departmental finances in the black. Start failing too many copyists and you simply do yourself out of a teaching position. So much for the corporatisation of the tertiary sector.

    In my last uni teaching year in China, I had the whole 200 students sign a statement in Mandarin (plus add their thumbprint) to a document stating that they would provide full references and not indulge in any cut and paste. Since I wasn’t re-signing, it was with great pleasure that I failed 80% of the scumbags. Sort of fun to now see that the pay differential between Chinese grads and migrant workers is about 200rmb.

    Nowdays, I opt for an elitist view of tertiary education, since the democratisation of tertiary education has simply allowed hod carriers to add letters to their business card. These parvenus are not my equal.

    1. I haven’t thought a whole lot about how this problem plays out in Chinese universities (as my blog is currently blocked in the PRC, less of a reason to do so), but that’s a very interesting point you make.

      The culture of rote learning, lack of explanation or understanding as to _why_ one is doing a writing assignment are certainly contributing factors, but most of all it is just way too easy. There have been some very good essays on this subject lately in Chronicle of Higher Education.

  3. Thanks for the link. While Chinese students and profs can plagiarise each other to death, and do so with impunity, some western journals take this problem seriously. The Lancet has simply placed an embargo on Chinese submissions.

    Even I couldn’t muster sufficient sarcasm to adequately jeer at the notion of peer review in China.

    As an aside, I took up you sugestion re China environmental blogs or similar. What I did find was a number of warm and furry (lots of green border) sites obviously PRC supported. Lots of Xinhua links on environmental problems, but no remedial substance, and one or two Western shills buying into the whole deal.

    1. As for the “shills,” I would probably assume that Tom Friedman belongs there, more interested in stimulating interest in green tech. in the US via the Obama state of union type of argument (“they are doing it faster! get to work Americans!”) than really caring to understand the largely depressing CONTEXT of Chinese environmental technology and the size of the problems that they need to address in the PRC.

  4. I love it. The passion, the proactive approach, the gangsta rap and reference to Spence (the nicest Sean Connery look alike I’ve ever met).

    Surprising to still see plagiarism such a hot topic. My mom and brother, both high school teachers, have told me about the advances in software that detect various degrees of cheating, and the level of sophistication and functionality have increased dramatically since I started college (2004). One would guess the probable threat of getting caught would deter most offenses, but judging from this post, I guess not.

  5. So sorry this happened to you. I hope that one of these idiots takes you up on the trow down, so that you can put them to shame.

  6. Wow! There is not much more to say to that. Plagarism is a serious offense. It is not tolerated by any accredited academic institution. It’s obvious why. You should always give credit to those who deserve it. As Prof. Cathcart stated, it is dishonest and lazy.

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