Just wondering, in case it matters to anyone.

Sincerely,

Ryan Anderson

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Thanks for putting this up, Ryan. You beat me by three hours (when I was asleep). For those who are unaware of the context, a discussion of 'World Anthropology' was launched by Nikos Gousgounis in the Anthropology of Anthropology group using a long unattributed quote from Max Forte's website. This was noticed and pointed out. As an Administrator, I have been a consistent contributor to this conversation and I expressed my personal dissatisfaction. We hoped that the issue would be resolved consensually, but it has not. Over the weekend it escalated, along with at least one other question of our governance which we will also address in the Forum. I had already asked the Administrators to help form an OAC position on plagiarism for discussion in the Forum, but our time zones and other commitments inevitably make it a slow process to coordinate. So what I am saying now is my opinion and not our common policy.

The issue of plagiarism has come to prominence because of the juxtaposition of private property in ideas and the internet. Privatization of the cultural commons has become a major strategy of corporate capital. In academia this has manifested itself as a scare about whether students deserve the grades they get. Accumulation of capital in ones own unique published scholarship has become the main measure of individual worth. There has always been a tradition of making ones sources available to readers, but also an informal pooling of ideas with less concern for attribution (seminars, private exchanges etc). The Open Source and Free Software movements, not to mention initiatives like Creative Commons licences, have grappled with ways through this vexed question of author's rights.

In my view what Nikos did and his subsequent failure to retract or modify his position does not conform to the standards we might expect here. But we are a social networking site and the Admins are not policemen. We prefer to let the community express itself on these issues and, in the thread mentioned, they have. Should we establish a plagiarism rule and, if so, how can one be introduced that does not stifle free exchange? Surely we should not insist on standards borrowed from formal academia and the capitalist publishing industry? The Admins have been accused in the past, sometimes with justification at first, of intervening in the OAC's affairs with a heavy hand and we have publicly said we would rather do nothing than something we later came to regret. In this case, we must clarify policy; but I hope that members will bear in mind some of the issues I have raised here.
I don't understand the logical or sociological connexion between "the privatization of the commons", and the "scare about whether students deserves the grades they get". Could you explain it a bit ?

Before the monetarist counter-revolution of the Reagan-Thatcher era, weren't there already strong rules against plagiarism in academia ?
The contradiction between mechanical reproduction and an 18th century concept of individual authorship was addressed by Walter Benjamin in the 30s. This has been magnified under the conditions of the digital revolution in communications where anything can be reproduced and disseminated widely at almost no cost, where remix is the art form of the day and where antiquated systems of command and control struggle to cope, with a growing air of hysteria, but not much practical success. If this is all news to you, there are lots of places you can check it out.

Ryan asked on the thread whether the rules of the universities don't hold on the OAC. The OAC certainly does not aim to reproduce the norms of the universities, but rather to extend them in a more open manner including to non-academics. One of the problems with the culture of this experimental community is that academics dominate discussion in ways that assume conformity to what they are used to. The issue of plagiarism has always been considered significant because the 20th century academy was constructed along the lines of a medieval guild. Individual apprentices are inducted into an attenuated learning process established and regulated by the masters. They emerge with a licence to practice what they have learned. This system is breaking down for all sorts of reasons, including the collapse of the assumption of a job for life.

Plagiarism is now a huge problem in the academy because there is no way of controlling where students get the material for their essays, as you once could when they were stuck with libraries. Instead of asking how assessment might be modified to accommodate this state of affairs, the academics lynch anyone found out. The Dutch and Scandinavians have already moved to team assessment, where all members get the same grade, in recognition of the growing value of collective work under contemporary conditions of knowledge production. So this is a problem that will not go away and does require rethinking the premise of individual authorship. Concern for objective measures of worth like publications has led to the systematic denigration of less tangible qualities that are also important in academia like being a good teacher and colleague. I don't see why the OAC should unthinkingly borrow this model and we have every incentive to develop new ones. Many people who like to think of themselves as progressive have unwittingly internalized these archaic social forms.

The link between what is going on in the universities and the corporate drive to privatize what was once a cultural commons should be obvious. Hollywood is where it is because movie-makers wanted to escape the restrictions of Edison's intellectual property in the new technologies on the East Coast. When Walt Disney invented Mickey Mouse, he ripped off a Buster Keaton movie without attribution. Now Disney sues Chinese cartoonists for using the logo. There is no doubt which was the more creative period. Making a movie these days is a nightmare because you have to get permission for every Macdo sign you may have included in a shot. And everywhere a creeping erosion of public freedom tries to stop us taking photos, a right granted by the US Congress before world war 1. My favourite example is when the firm that publishes US law court records tried to charge for the privilege of citing them. The whole world is involved in the fight over intellectual property, one way or the other, with Pirate Parties busting out all over Europe.

In the light of all this, to claim private property in a term like Open Anthropology boggles my mind, but apparently not everyone's. On the other hand, the issue of lifting of an unattributed post as if it were ones own writing is disturbing. As I mentioned in my previous post, we have been trying to find consensual methods of dealing with it rather than lay down unworkable rules that would restrict conversation. That's what we are having this discussion for. I still find it surprising that authoritarian resort to regulation along lines perpetuated by the universities would be your starting point.


Harry Ingleton said:
I don't understand the logical or sociological connexion between "the privatization of the commons", and the "scare about whether students deserves the grades they get". Could you explain it a bit ?
Before the monetarist counter-revolution of the Reagan-Thatcher era, weren't there already strong rules against plagiarism in academia ?
Keith:

"Should we establish a plagiarism rule and, if so, how can one be introduced that does not stifle free exchange? Surely we should not insist on standards borrowed from formal academia and the capitalist publishing industry?"

So attributing the work to someone else is somehow stifling free exchange of ideas??? Is that really your argument? This seems like a pretty easy fix, but once again it is being framed in this weird bureaucratic language about freedom online. What about the rules of creative commons, where work can and should be shared, but always with proper attribution? Fair use? This isn't just about mirroring the academic publishing industry, and you should know that.

If the plan is to create some way of sharing and publishing in a new form, it does seem like you are going to need some amount of rules or ethics about "borrowing" as you call it. Otherwise, nobody is going to put anything up here that they value, unless of course they want to see it under another name the next day.

"On the other hand, the issue of lifting of an unattributed post as if it were ones own writing is disturbing. As I mentioned in my previous post, we have been trying to find consensual methods of dealing with it rather than lay down unworkable rules that would restrict conversation."

How does linking to the original post and attributing the author RESTRICT anything? This is standard operating procedure everywhere online, yet for some reason people here at the OAC are having a hard time figuring that out. That doesn't mean it's authoritarian, it's called a "fair use" of the common pool resources. It's absolutely standard for online ethics, and I think it's ridiculous to frame it all in this whole "authoritarian" language. Are there no rules in the commons? Or does the individual suffer for the whole? Do we allow individual acts denigrate the common resource of ideas, or should there be at least some rules of use? At the present rate the well is going to run dry real quick.

"In my view what Nikos did and his subsequent failure to retract or modify his position does not conform to the standards we might expect here."

Standards? What standards? There are no standards here about any of this. That's part of the problem.

"I still find it surprising that authoritarian resort to regulation along lines perpetuated by the universities would be your starting point."

I made a mistake of putting anything about the rules in place in universities, since you guys are pretending that this is all about openness and academic freedom. Let's frame this under the s.o.p. of EVERY OTHER online community, and maybe some of the guidelines of creative commons and fair use. Standard practice is this: if you lift something, you link to it and you attribute the source. It happens all day every day, and it does not restrict any idealistic notions of freedom.
Just one more.

"Ryan asked on the thread whether the rules of the universities don't hold on the OAC. The OAC certainly does not aim to reproduce the norms of the universities, but rather to extend them in a more open manner including to non-academics."

Non-academics are online everywhere. There are literally thousands of blogs in which people cite and reference other blogs or online resources. There are some basic ethics about doing so, and in general people are able to follow this. It's ironic to me that a bunch of anthropologists can't agree on the same basic principles. Again, this is not about reproducing the norms of the university publishing model. I brought up the university because the irony is that students are taught by professors (and there are many here) to properly attribute their sources. I was referring less to the academic publishing model, which is about restricting ACCESS to resources. The case here with Nikos is not about access to an actual resource, it's about not lifting someone's material and putting it under your own name. Let's not confuse access with attribution.

Keith, your responses have conflated the issue at hand. Nobody is saying that Nikos should not have been able to access Forte's site. They are saying that he should have given credit where it was due. Big difference.
Finally:

I opened this up on the main page for a reason: not to elicit a response from the administrators and call for some kind of top-down "authoritarian" action, but instead to get some people to actually look at this, evaluate the issue at hand, and maybe participate. Please stop assuming that I am asking for some kind of top-down approach to this. That's your assumption. My mention of universities was purely out of irony, because all professors and students are fully versed in the idea of proper attribution. Funny how that just disappears here.

Basically, Nikos needs to make the changes. That's my opinion. This is self-policing from the trenches. Hopefully the OAC as a community can figure out a way to adopt some sort of ethical practice about attribution and citation. This does not mean, in any way, that it needs to impose some god-awful system of control and legality like we see with Wiley-Blackwell. It means, ultimately, participation and some form of the golden rule.
Ryan, I am rally happy that you came up with this straightforward question and put it to the fore. Judging from my experience of the past days, this question is vital for the future of the OAC. And Keith, I am supportive of your critical stance towards intellectual property and your intention not to replicate academic rules (or rituals) at the OAC in an unreflected way. Here in Brazil, the “free software” movement is a real social movement, and it has my sympathies.

Please allow we to readdress the problem in another way. When I started to include the computer in making music sometimes in the 1990s, I was fascinated by the idea of sampling. I could take sounds from pretty much everywhere and make use of them. Some people were against sampling, and the question where creativity ends and theft starts is still widely debated, sometimes in courts. Anyway, my intention would have been to take bits and pieces from somewhere and make music with it. Not to take a song and say it’s mine. But Nikos, coming back to our initial point now, didn’t do music; he took a song and said he composed it. And fort this case, I agree with Ryan that the usual web procedures of conduct apply.
Ryan, I like your third effort the best of the three. It was worth waiting for. I think we have both been willing to ascribe to the other positions that they do not hold. In bringing this issue to open discussion on the OAC front page, you did the right thing. We could post a notice saying 'Plagiarism is wrong', but what good would that do? Better to get people to exchange views and perhaps redress the situation. Certainly we have all learned a lot from the episode and may emerge stronger for it.

Things are rarely as black and white as they seem. The weird thing is that Nikos has a story, that he has shared with me privately, about how the site he took it from was itself unattributed and he has been in direct exchange with Max about it. What I don't understand is why he has not made this case public in a comprehensible way or done something about the thread announcement. Perhaps he can come here and tell us all. Perhaps it's an honour and shame thing.

Thanks too for your contributions, Florian, and especially for this last note.



ryan anderson said:
Just one more.
"Ryan asked on the thread whether the rules of the universities don't hold on the OAC. The OAC certainly does not aim to reproduce the norms of the universities, but rather to extend them in a more open manner including to non-academics."
Non-academics are online everywhere. There are literally thousands of blogs in which people cite and reference other blogs or online resources. There are some basic ethics about doing so, and in general people are able to follow this. It's ironic to me that a bunch of anthropologists can't agree on the same basic principles. Again, this is not about reproducing the norms of the university publishing model. I brought up the university because the irony is that students are taught by professors (and there are many here) to properly attribute their sources. I was referring less to the academic publishing model, which is about restricting ACCESS to resources. The case here with Nikos is not about access to an actual resource, it's about not lifting someone's material and putting it under your own name. Let's not confuse access with attribution.

Keith, your responses have conflated the issue at hand. Nobody is saying that Nikos should not have been able to access Forte's site. They are saying that he should have given credit where it was due. Big difference.
"What I don't understand is why he has not made this case public in a comprehensible way or done something about the thread announcement. Perhaps he can come here and tell us all. Perhaps it's an honour and shame thing."

It's an easy fix, and I don't see why he does not just go change the post and cite Forte. I do not understand either. Mistakes happen. No need to dwell on that. But when there is an easy road to the solution I can't understand why someone won't take it.
Keith,

In the light of the recent comments and arguments from Ryan and Florian, do you now agree with the idea that your attempt at establishing a connexion between, on the one hand, concerns about attribution in intellectual life, and, on the other hand, capitalists' economic interest in the privatization of commons does not hold much water ?
Whatever you say, Max, sorry Freudian slip, Harry.

Harry Ingleton said:
Keith,

In the light of the recent comments and arguments from Ryan and Florian, do you now agree with the idea that your attempt at establishing a connexion between, on the one hand, concerns about attribution in intellectual life, and, on the other hand, capitalists' economic interest in the privatization of commons does not hold much water ?
Is Harry in fact Max?? Boy, this is getting really bizarre!

Keith Hart said:
Whatever you say, Max, sorry Freudian slip, Harry.

Harry Ingleton said:
Keith,

In the light of the recent comments and arguments from Ryan and Florian, do you now agree with the idea that your attempt at establishing a connexion between, on the one hand, concerns about attribution in intellectual life, and, on the other hand, capitalists' economic interest in the privatization of commons does not hold much water ?

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