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An Open Letter to Shi-Min Fang from Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein (2341 查看)

November 08, 2012 09:42PM
An Open Letter to Shi-Min Fang from Robert Root-Bernstein, Ph. D., Professor of Physiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824 USA; rootbern@msu.edu. Dated 3 August 2011.

A number of people, including myself, have accused you of plagiarizing my work. You and your followers have denied it. Let’s use this difference of opinion to educate ourselves about what constitutes plagiarism in and see if we can reach an accord.

Let me begin by stating that I am basing my arguments on The Universal Copyright Convention, to which the People’s Republic of China and the United States both adhere.

1) You admit that you used my article “On Defining a Scientific Theory” as the basis for an essay that you published online in your blog in 1995 and subsequently in a book. The full bibliographic reference for my article is: Root Bernstein, R. S. "On Defining a Scientific Theory: Creationism Considered," in Evolution and Creationism, Ashley Montagu, ed. (Oxford: The University Press, 1984), pp 64 94.) It is copyrighted by the Oxford University Press.

2) You and four of your Chinese colleagues have sent me various English translations of your essay. Although there are some differences in the specific wording of each translation, all display exactly the same development of the argument in the same order using the same examples.

3) According to copyright law, a person may plagiarize another person’s work in several ways. The first is to copy their words without attribution. The second is to use more than a certain percentage of a work without explicit permission from the copyright holder. For example, in the U. S. one may not quote more than 250 words from a single source, even with attribution, without obtaining explicit permission from the copyright holder. I am told that in China, an essayist must not copy more than 3% of a text and that a student who copies more than 25% may be denied his or her degree. A third form of plagiarism consists of lifting another author’s arguments and examples without explicit permission. Accordingly, one may plagiarize a work even in the absence of copying its language and even with attribution, especially if the arguments and examples are unique and constitute a substantial portion of the work plagiarized.

4) Others claim, and I concur, that you have plagiarized my work in all three ways. Let’s take a look at each, one at a time. You claim that you have not plagiarized me because you have not copied my words. Translations of words and ideas from one language to another pose a special problem in plagiarism cases, since differing grammars and cultural idioms will necessarily create alterations from the original text. Re-translations back into the original language cause further distortions. While it is always difficult to prove copying of words when using translations, many of your sentences have the identical structures and occur in the same order as mine and this is highly suggestive of copying. Therefore, in considering plagiarism in translation one must look beyond exact verbal duplication.

5) Beyond exact verbal duplication, it is necessary to ask how much of the original text has been used in formulating the second-language text and whether the second language text copies the verbal logic, the development of the argument, and the specific examples of the first language text. With regard to your essay, the answer is that you plagiarized me all of these ways. Many of your sentences (retranslated into English) have the same logical structure and occur in the same order as mine. This is highly suggestive of copying. Moreover, this identity of logic and sequence certainly exceeds 250 words and you certainly did not obtain my permission to do so. Finally, whether or not it can be proven that your essay simply translates mine, it can certainly be proven that the argument and the order of the points that you make are identical to those in my article, and the majority of examples are also identical. Since these arguments and examples constitute virtually the whole of my article and they also constitute the whole of your essay, I must conclude that your essay is a copy of mine. In verbal logic, development of argument and choice of example, your essay replicates my article.

6) You and your followers respond that you have incorporated several of your own examples in the place of mine. This does not alter the fact that the development of the entire argument, the exact order of the points, and the majority of the examples are still drawn from my own text.

7) You and your followers also argue that you did cite my name in publishing your article, but the only evidence you have provided to me is a photograph of a page in Chinese from an undated book on which my name appears. This evidence is inadequate for two reasons. First, the issue is not whether you cited me in your book, but whether you cited me in your original blog post in 1995. I have been presented with evidence that your original blog post did not cite me, and that you subsequently altered your post to incorporate my name only after you were accused of having plagiarized my article. Even if you did cite me in your original blog post, and even though you cite my name and even the source of my article in your essay as it now appears in book form, the claim of plagiarism still stands. Because you use the same logic, the same development of argument and very largely the same choice of examples as my original article, and because you draw on no other sources, your essay is a representation of my work and you are still under the obligation to obtain my explicit written permission to publish your essay in any form.

8) In addition, you and your followers have argued that my own essay “On Defining a Scientific Theory” is itself a popularization or “summary” of other people’s scholarship and therefore not protected by the same copyright laws as scholarly works. I gather that you believe that because you think you could have found the ideas in my article expressed elsewhere, my work is derivative and not therefore a copyrightable work. This is simply untrue on two counts. In the first place, Oxford University Press did copyright my essay. It is protected under law. Indeed, popularizations of all kinds are protected by copyright. Secondly, my article was not a popularization. It is a scholarly work published by a major university press. Moreover, you cannot find any other author arguing that a scientific theory must satisfy four sets of criteria simultaneously: logical, evidential, sociological and historical. You may find other scholars who have argued one or two of these together, but I know of no one who has argued any three of them together, and I am quite certain that I am the first scholar to argue that there are historical criteria that must also be part of the mix (see also my book Discovering [Harvard University Press, 1989]). Thus, my essay represents a unique and important scholarly contribution to the study of science. In plagiarizing my work, you have therefore stolen a scholarly synthesis of intellectual ideas that is unique to me, and which occurs in no one else’s scholarly or popular work. In other words, you could not have found these ideas anywhere else, nor could you have invented them yourself.

9) You and your followers have also argued that same criteria for citations do not pertain to popularizations as to scholarly essays and books. This argument is simply irrelevant. A popularizer may not plagiarize any individuals work whether they cite it or not.

In short, I maintain that whether you have used my exact words or not, you have certainly plagiarized my work by copying my unique scholarly argument, the logic and the points I use to substantiate it, and most of the examples I laboriously found to support it. I further maintain that because of the extent of this plagiarism, which consists of your entire article, you have plagiarized me in both your blog post and in your written essay. This plagiarism stands whether or not you cite my name in your blog post or in your written essay because of the extent of the material borrowed. Stated another way, your essay is an unacceptable copy of my work both because of the extent of the material borrowed and because you drew upon no other source or sources but mine in writing it. Due to this replication, you were obligated to obtain my explicit written permission before posting your blog or publishing your essay.

Now, what do I want from you? The answer is simply an apology. I am a teacher and I welcome this opportunity to teach about the complexities and subtleties surrounding the protection of intellectual property. We all make mistakes. What is important are the lessons we learn from our mistakes. The lesson here is that all you needed to do was to ask permission if you could popularize my essay and I would have said “yes!”. I was, after all, in the building right next to yours at MSU when you wrote your essay in 1995! And, like most scholars, I am always very pleased to have my work used by other people – as long as I get credit for having done that work! So my advice to you and all other scholars is something I learned very early in my career: it never hurts you to credit everyone who might have contributed to your own ideas; it always hurts you to leave anyone out. It never hurts to obtain copyright permission, even if you may not need it; but it always hurts to try to get away without obtaining that permission.

I look forward to your reply!

Sincerely,
Bob Root-Bernstein, Ph. D., Professor of Physiology, Michigan State University
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An Open Letter to Shi-Min Fang from Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein (2341 查看)

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