A cautionary tale

Plagiarism. In recent memory, at least one US presidential candidate and a famous scientist have been accused of passing off other people’s words as their own. The candidate dropped out of the race. The scientist’s name, once revered, is mud.

To anyone who lives in a society where plagiarism is viewed as a serious offense that can lead to immediate expulsion from school or vilification in journalism or politics, it may come as a surprise that in some countries, it is a minor pecadillo. An embarrassment better swept under the rug.

One of those countries, sad to say, is Brazil.

I came across a recent and extreme case through an American friend, a respected scholar in her field whose PhD dissertation was published in Brazilian Portuguese by a university press. While routinely Googling her name for citations, she found a scholarly article published in an online journal – which also has a print edition – that plagiarized several pages from her book, word for word, and then went on seamlessly to do the same with an article by a famous anthropologist who passed away in 2010.

Going through the article line by line, my friend was shocked to find that the supposed author had only written two or three original lines. Ninety-nine percent of the paper was plagiarized.

My friend immediately contacted the journal’s publishers and got no reply. It took several increasingly irate emails to elicit a grudging response, and weeks before the offending article was removed from the web.

The plagiarist is a doctoral candidate. She may lose her scholarship. She may be sued by the publishers of the authors whose works she copied and pasted. There is no guarantee at all that she will be expelled – even though more examples of plagiarism have turned up in other papers she published. Even her MA thesis.

After all, people who live in glass houses don’t throw stones.

Russian around Havana

I’m feeling a bit bereft because I’ve just finished reading all of Martin Cruz Smith’s beautifully written Renko novels. It turned into a project that lasted several months, starting with the most recent, Tatiana, and going back and forth till I finally decided to reread Gorky Park and move forward from there. After that strange, meandering journey with the poetic Russian chief inspector and sometime exile – an itinerary including lyrically rendered visits to Moscow, Alaska and Siberia – the last novel I read was Havana Bay. Incredibly enough (or perhaps not, since the author took the pen name “Cruz” from his abuelita), it includes a sensitive portrayal of Cuban Santeria. One could even call it emic – seen from the practitioner’s point of view. My only complaint is that it gives the impression that the only orishas worshipped in Cuba are Chango, Oshun, Oggun and Yemaya. Otherwise, I highly recommend it. But be sure to read Gorky Park, Polar Star and Red Square first.

(PS Since this is “a view from Brazil,” I should also add that I only managed to enjoy that journey without gaps of several months by purchasing the Kindle editions from Amazon)

FrenchMottershead’s SHOPS project

FrenchMottershead visited Bahia from January 7th to 27th to work on SHOPS, “an ongoing, international photographic project, uncovering communities formed by independent, local traders”. I worked with them as a writer/observer/cultural consultant and am currently writing an essay on that experience for the book they will publish in 2009. Here is their blog on the project so far: shopsproject.blogspot.com

10 Feb 08 – They’ve just added a “making links” blog