Acknowledging Intellectual Debts

You are taking this course in order to learn as much as you can about the material it covers. No learning occurs in a vacuum. You learn from lectures and reading and surfing the net, by playing with ideas, by talking to other people about what you are trying to learn. That makes learning easier and a lot more fun. But part of the ethical code under which we function at a University requires that we acknowledge the sources of ideas we use in work of our own -- papers, assignments and presentations. When you turn in work that you have discussed with someone, or that contains ideas that you found in a book or on the web, you must indicate that fact. I expect you to talk to each other and to read materials other than those assigned. I also expect to see in your work evidence that you have done so. I cheer when we see a reference to a book or a web site that I haven't ever heard of, or a comment in one of your problem sets that says that you didn't understand exponential growth until Emily Liu helped you out. Learning to acknowledge intellectual debts is part of learning. It has nothing to do with grades or dishonesty. You should be reading, talking to each other, and telling the world that you have done so.

Some kinds of sharing, however, are unacceptable. You may not use the computer to copy someone's words and submit them as your own any more than you may use a Xerox machine to steal someone else's paper -- even if you acknowledge that theft! You may not have your friends do your work for you. Versions of some of the assignments in this course may have been given in previous years. You may not use answers to those assignments. To any of you who may be tempted to cheat: the best reason not to is that it's wrong. Another is that if you cheat you learn considerably less. A third reason is that you will be caught more often than you think. If I find evidence of cheating we will follow the procedures spelled out in the Academic Dishonesty sections of the UMass-Boston Code of Student Conduct

The penalties for infractions are severe: you will certainly get a 0 for the assignment and may get an F for the course (whether you are the giver, receiver or collaborator) and you may be thrown out of school.

For a humorous view of this serious situation, see Mike Baldwin's Cornered cartoon from the Boston Globe, September 6, 2005. (This copyrighted material is provided here free for educational use with the kind permission of Universal Press Syndicate.)

For more discussion, see these New York Times pieces on plagiarism and the internet and plagiarism as a moral question and the readers' comments on those articles. For an interesting discussion of dishonesty by practicing academics, see Andrew Gelman's blog entry . Finally, there's this video - in Norwegian, but with subtitles. I found it in Andrew Gelman's blog.