29 June 2012


Don't vote for plagiarism.

There's a political scandal in Romania. Obviously. There's always a political scandal, in any country, at any given time. This one, however, held my attention for more than a minute. So, it must be special.

It turns out that the prime minister is a plagiarist. There is no doubt. Anyone can look at his PhD dissertation and at the book from which much is copied. His party, however, cares more about the source of the accusation (which is likely the president) and fights back by ‘restructuring’ the academic committees that are supposed to deal with such situations.

As a general guideline, in such cases the thesis committee is shamed, but forgiven. Because it's their field, they should have noticed that the text is copied; but, realistically, every person has some blind spots. It could be that they indeed didn't notice the plagiarism. There is reasonable doubt.

As a hard rule, however, the author who plagiarised is both shamed and stripped of the PhD title. There is simply no excuse for copying someone else's work without acknowledgement. It is a textbook example of intellectual dishonesty. One can't copy so much text by mistake; it must have been on purpose. There is no reasonable doubt.

This kind of behavior is a violation of a fundamental principle upon which academic life is based. Specifically, people deserve recognition for the results of their intellectual work. Without a culture that observes such principles, it's very hard to have good researchers. Most good researchers come from the small fraction of people for which recognition is much more valuable than money. Most people, which by definition are not part of this small fraction, tend to simply not understand the previous sentence. Either that or they assume it's dishonest. Such people (most people!) simply can't and won't work on something that is sure not to benefit them financially, and has a very, very small chance of pushing the world forward. Ironically, such work underlies much of the cool stuff that surrounds us.

If you take away recognition, by creating a culture in which intellectual theft is OK, you take away a very powerful motivator. Those who would be good researchers choose other careers instead. You create an environment in which almost no new knowledge will appear. This is the problem. The petty political quarrel between the prime minister and the president is nothing, absolutely nothing, by comparison.

I want to live in a world in which knowledge is respected. I want my child to live in a world that knows more than today. I am grateful that, as a result of new knowledge, I enjoy things that my grandparents didn't even dream when they were children: TV, movies with incredibly realistic special effects, computers, printers, LCD displays, smartphones, affordable and easy to apply paint in bright colors, internet, credit cards, cash machines, non-stick frying pans, contact lenses, bar codes for fast checkout in a store, roller blades, video games, RADAR, digital photo-cameras, and so on.

Take a stand. Don't let politics destroy the chance for a good academic life in Romania.


Anonymous said...

take a stand how ... :)?

Radu Grigore said...

I (1) publicized the issue, and (2) signed a petition for stripping him of the PhD title. (There are also petitions asking for resignation. I didn't sign any of those.)

You can take similar steps. Or you can get creative.

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