Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Did the president of the school board plagiarize?

Did the president of the school board, Josephine Posti, plagiarize in her public writing about school issues on her blog, Center Court?

Her critics at the Lebo Citizens blog, which first reported the alleged plagiarism, sure think so. But others, such as David Brown, who wrote to Blog-Lebo about the issue, think the accusations boil down to deceitful “context switching” to make a hard-working volunteer look bad. Mrs. Posti, herself, explained it as an “oversight” where she “had neglected to cite sources” a few times. Which brings us to an important observation.

Whether you believe Mrs. Posti did anything wrong is going to depend not only on the evidence but also on what you already believe about Mrs. Posti. Her strongest supporters, for example, are unlikely to conclude that she did anything wrong, regardless of the evidence. Her most-vocal detractors, in contrast, probably don’t need more than a change in the wind to condemn her and, as always, ask for her resignation – loudly.

That’s why, in situations like these, if you want to understand what happened, you can’t go by what people tell you. You have to look at the evidence yourself.

So that’s what I did.


Looking at the evidence

Is there evidence of plagiarism?

First, let’s be clear about what plagiarism is. It’s the act of presenting someone else’s work in a way that gives people the false impression that it’s your own. Even if you have permission to use the work, and even if you don’t mean to give anybody the false impression that it’s yours, you can still plagiarize by not taking the expected care not to plagiarize. It’s like speeding: you can do it willfully or just by not paying enough attention; both ways will earn you a ticket.

To look for evidence of plagiarism, I examined the articles on Mrs. Posti’s blog, looking for text that matched other documents on the Internet. Then I reviewed the matches and kept only those that showed substantial, unexplained duplication.

Here’s what I found: Blog-Lebo analysis of suspected plagiarism, August 2011.

First, the findings make it hard to believe that Mrs. Posti just forgot to cite a few sources. My search found not three cases of apparent plagiarism, as originally reported on the Lebo Citizens blog, but eleven. Second, in some cases, the duplicated material seems to have been edited in ways that would reinforce a reader’s impression that the work was Mrs. Posti’s own.

So, looking at the evidence, it’s hard to believe that there’s nothing wrong here.


Does it matter?

I asked a number of people that question. Their answers ranged from, “It happens so often it’s not worth worrying about” to “I have a serious problem with this.”

My take is that it is a problem. If we want our children to believe that plagiarism is worth avoiding – and we do try to teach them that in Mt. Lebanon – we can’t expect them to believe us if our actions demonstrate that we don’t believe it ourselves. When someone plagiarizes, and especially when students see that person as a respected authority, how that person handles it – and how we handle it – matter.

In this case, Mrs. Posti handled it by effectively denying it. On her blog post about the subject, “Corrections,” she explains it as an “oversight”:
Recently, a resident accused me of plagiarism as the result of information she received and published from an anonymous source. The anonymous source found three of my 435 blog posts where I had neglected to cite original sources that I had pulled information from. I apologize for that oversight and have made corrections to those posts.
I have a hard time squaring this explanation with the evidence. If it happened once or twice, I could believe the oversight explanation. But more than ten times? That’s not an oversight.

And now, in anticipation of those people who will say I’m out to get Mrs. Posti or that this is mere political mean-spiritedness, I have only this to say: Before you come after me, look at the evidence, and tell me there’s not a problem here. Because, once you understand that there is a problem here, you can understand why it can’t be ignored.

And one more thing: I have nothing against Mrs. Posti. I think she’s trying to serve her community in difficult times – and under a lot of scrutiny. On the plagiarism thing, it looks like she made a mistake in judgment and compounded it with another. We all make mistakes.

But judgment matters. And so does plagiarism.

So I do hope that Mrs. Posti will take care of it, herself. Because, if she doesn’t, I don’t think the rest of the school board will be able to let it pass. Not anymore.

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36 Comments:

Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

Wow, Tom! Eleven examples?! That is tragic. My source only identified three incidents. I just posted a link on a new Lebo Citizen thread where colleges are seeing a rise in plagiarism. Just think how Josephine Posti and the Board are compounding the issue by ignoring this situation.
Elaine Gillen

August 30, 2011 3:15 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Elaine,

I don't think there's any evidence that the school board ignored the situation. Until recently, the situation wasn't quantified to the extent where it was clear that there even was a "situation."

Likewise, I don't see much reason to think that Mrs. Posti was trying to pull a "fast one" on the public. One explanation that's consistent with the evidence is that she just doesn't understand what plagiarism is. Another is that she doesn't think it's a big deal.

Cheers,
Tom

August 30, 2011 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Michael Goodin said...

You asked an excellent question with "does it matter"? Ms. Posti has a public position for which she volunteered and won. She uses her blog as a means of communication for her public position. In addition, Ms. Posti is president of the school board. Most educational institutions have plagiarism policies that can have severe consequences. Ms. Posti ought to expect a higher level of accountability than your average person who writes a blog. We would not be discussing the plagiarism of a Mt. Lebanon soccer mom who does not hold public office. Therefore, yes, her plagiarism matters.

I cannot speak to the Ms. Posti's intentions for plagiarizing nor whether her actions were purposeful or neglectful. Nonetheless, I think there ought to be a consequence for Ms. Posti beyond blogger schadenfreude. Ms. Posti's obtuseness is rather concerning.

Michael Goodin

August 30, 2011 4:00 PM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

There are excellent tutorials on the School District website that go into great lengths explaining plagiarism. I asked my kids if this topic was ever discussed at school. They said, "Quite a bit." I find it difficult to believe that Josephine doesn't understand what plagiarism is. She is an English major, in addition to being a Mt. Lebo grad.

The person who came forward with the information initially had some concerns having me expose it. This person believed that it would not be taken seriously coming from me since I am "a mortal enemy of the School Board." So we went to various people in the media, hoping that it would be exposed through those channels. Unfortunately, we were up against bigger news stories. This person asked me to print the letter. So that is some background to this non-situation.

I am pretty sure that Posti doesn't believe it is a big deal. She tends to dismiss anything that comes from her constituents, as does the Board majority.

I appreciate the work that you put into this, Tom. How many blog posts does Blog-Lebo have? I can't even imagine. My blog has 295 posts and it hasn't been around as long as your blog has. I don't think there are any examples of plagiarism on Blog-Lebo, because you cite all your work. Always. So suggesting there can be a few incidents within the 435 blog posts doesn't cut it for me. There are no excuses.

Elaine Gillen

August 30, 2011 4:23 PM  
Blogger Joe Polk said...

Elaine -- there have been 2,395 posts since Blog-Lebo was launched back in August 2005. Mike Madison launched it on August 10, 2005. Tom and I (once again) missed celebrating the blog's birthday earlier this month.

August 30, 2011 4:29 PM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

Not too shabby, Joe! More than five times as many as Center Court has. Congratulations!
Elaine Gillen

August 30, 2011 4:56 PM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

Tom, if there is no evidence that the school board ignored the situation, isn't that evidence that they did?

Will Posti take down her blog again to make corrections? Will she apologize again? Will she write nasty things about Tom on her blog, like she did with me?

So many questions.

Elaine Gillen

August 30, 2011 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe,

Your first BL post is dated August 31, 2005. Happy anniversary -- just under the wire!

Thanks for the great work that you and Tom do in keeping the blog going.

Mike Madison

August 30, 2011 10:17 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

2,395 posts, of which well more than half are news aggregations of Tribune, Almanac, and P-G articles. Did I just see some people taking credit for the entire quantity of articles?

I'm pretty sure I just saw a bunch of people congratulating and accepting congratulations. But you cited your sources and posted links, so you think it's okay to add all those reprints in the grand total that you are so proud of and taking credit for?

Why, in the very prior post to this one, a person has no idea even what sport it is you are talking about without drilling down to the source. I don't see much value added there, certainly nothing transformative, except the slim value of compilation, which is something, but then a computer could do that if all you're going to do is copy the first two paragraphs.

While you are boldly and emphatically contorting logic and morality to rebut that, could you look something up for me?

What is the number of actual original articles on Blog-Lebo? Shouldn't you be congratulating yourself on that number instead? I'm shocked, shocked to find that that you would deceive your readers as to the true breadth of your canon!

By the way, copying two whole paragraphs is a lot, compared to other news aggregators. Fair use might not be an adequate defense if their legal departments find out. I normally wouldn't make a big deal about all this but, you know, glass houses.

August 31, 2011 1:47 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

David Brown,

As always, thanks for your criticism. It helps us do a better job.

But, if I may, it seems that once again you’re focusing on the messenger and ignoring the message. (It also seems that you’re conflating copyright infringement and plagiarism.)

In any case, to get back to the message, let’s say that I buy your premise that we at Blog-Lebo are the worst kind of hypocrites. Does that assumption change anything that Mrs. Posti has done?

David, if the president of the school board plagiarizes, repeatedly, are you okay with it?

Cheers,
Tom

August 31, 2011 9:04 AM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

As a (in your words, Tom)most-vocal detractor, in contrast, who probably doesn't need more than a change in the wind to condemn her and, as always, ask for her resignation – loudly, how would you like Josephine Posti to take care of it? And if she won't, how would you want the Board to take care of it?
What about Dr. Steinhauer's Key Communicator group? Are they/you OK with it?
And how about the Policy Committee? Are they OK with it?
Have they/you looked at the evidence that was provided on Lebo Citizens when this story first broke? There were more than three incidents exposed in the final analysis.
What about the pledge that students and parents are to sign? Does it carry any weight when the president of the school board is guilty and apologizes? What is a parent to say to their children when students are disciplined for plagiarism? If it is OK and swept under the carpet for Posti, why do children have to pay the price? Is this a form of bullying, another School District policy violation?
Elaine Gillen

August 31, 2011 11:35 AM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...

What you are all fogetting is that you are dealing with a very large and a very well entrenched Machine - that has A LOT of clout! Anyone that has lived in Mt Lebanon or has ever heard of our community knows exactly what I am referring to.

What Josephine did or didn't do aside, does anyone really think that it will matter - and even if it does, so what? She's protected!

August 31, 2011 2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just moved here Mr. Kendrick. Please tell me about the "Machine." Nancy Rule

August 31, 2011 5:03 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

Tom,

So now you're all about fine distinctions! When the onus is on someone else you feel free to adopt a broad expansive personal definition of plagiarism that suits your needs. But when the spotlight is on your own practices out comes the scalpel to differentiate plagiarism from copyright infringement. As if that distinction makes any difference!

Of course I know of the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. But they are identical in the most important respect: they are both examples of copying someone else's work to one's own prestige. So it's germane and fully on point.

I'd have thought you'd show at least as much contrition as you're asking of Ms. Posti. I guess you see your infringement as de minimis (as I do actually) but you refuse to afford Ms. Posti the same courtesy. Actually, I think the people you appropriated from, repeatedly, are likely to have a much stronger opposition to that idea than the people she copied. So if your infringement is de minimis, so is hers. And if her infraction is major, then yours is worse.

And can you please stop badgering me with that same stupid question you cheerfully ask in every post, repeatedly, as if I was dodging the issue and I might actually condone real plagiarism? I already answered it, twice. I don't think you'd appreciate the same behavior in return.

It's also not true that this debate breaks down along party lines. I don't think the Tribune is any fan of Ms. Posti but you conveniently ignore that their article mostly agrees with my description of what is and is not plagiarism, as do Wikipedia and your own legal expert Mike Madison.

So in that manner and in many other ways in this debate you have been picking and choosing information selectively and stretching words and concepts to make your points. You don't get to redefine plagiarism and then use your personal definition to attack someone, repeatedly. That's not intellectually honest. The low road is not a good place to be on your high horse.

You can also drop the "don't blame the messenger" act you trot out whenever the heat gets turned up on your own behavior. When you exaggerate and distort to smear someone, your hands get dirty too. That makes you an actor, not just a reporter, and so your actions become a valid target of criticism. If you think people don't see you taking your potshots and then jumping merrily back behind your "messenger" shield, repeatedly, you are much mistaken.

Finally, it's insulting to read that I'm "unlikely to conclude that she did anything wrong, regardless of the evidence". If you think that, you don't know the first thing about me. I'd have defended anybody just the same if someone tried to smear them this way, because it's just wrong.

You're just wrong, and you should just drop it.

August 31, 2011 5:37 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

David,

As before, you launch a lot of attacks but ignore that even if they’re true (which they aren’t), none of it changes whether someone else plagiarized. And, if you continue to persist in your belief that this plagiarism isn’t “real plagiarism” but manufactured mud-slinging, I’ve got an experiment for you.

Take the document comparison that shows the extent of the copying and remove my introduction and all evidence of who did the copying. Then print it out and walk around showing it to random people (who know nothing about the incident in question) and ask them three questions:

(1) Do you think this is plagiarism?

(2) Do you have a problem with what you see here?

(3) If you learned that these articles were written by the president of the school board, how would it affect your answer to the previous question?

We don’t need to debate whether there’s a problem here. We can measure it. If you’d like to meet with me and plan an unbiased experiment (not the questions above) by which we can test our beliefs in this matter, I’m game.

Maybe we’ll both learn something. Interested?

Cheers,
Tom

August 31, 2011 9:23 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

Um, no. We might as well check the Urban Dictionary...

I'll concede that the average person might agree with you, but that's because the average person hasn't thought about it much. That's what you're counting on, right?

Heck, at first blush, I thought it looked pretty bad too, until I got a little nagging feeling that something wasn't right and I decided to read more about the subject. That's when I realized it was being blown way out of proportion.

So no, I'll rely on experts. I would be willing to ask some plagiarism experts. The question should not be "Are these passages exceedingly similar?" I've already granted that. The question should be "Is the copying of this material from those sources for this use plagiarism?"

There's a much greater chance we’ll both learn something. Interested?

September 01, 2011 1:13 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

David,

Sure, I’m game.

As for our experts, how about teachers? They’re already widely acknowledged as plagiarism experts (our community entrusts them with educating our children about plagiarism). Further, teachers are skilled at detecting plagiarism. They’re perfect!

And teachers are readily available! We can survey a large sample to get a distribution of responses.

We’ve got our experts. Now, how about the experimental design?

Cheers,
Tom

September 01, 2011 8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a care with my name.
-- Dame Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are related, but they are most certainly quite distinct. That is not hair-splitting. Do not take my word for it. No less a legal expert than Judge Richard Posner, who has no stake in Mt. Lebanon or Josephine Posti, has written an entire book about plagiarism and what distinguishes it from copyright infringement. You can throw some royalties his way here.. A short version of his views was published earlier, in The Atlantic Monthly.

For those of who you aren't lawyers, Judge Posner is perhaps the most widely-respected federal judge in the country, aside from the Justices of the Supreme Court, and he may be more widely respected than some of them. He is a former faculty member at the University of Chicago and widely published on a broad variety of legal and non-legal topics.

Judge Posner's bottom line aligns with mine and, I think, with Tom's. Plagiarism, unlike copyright infringement, is a form of fraud, whose victims are misled readers themselves. (The victims of copyright infringement are authors, who go uncompensated when their works are reproduced or performed without their permission.) Judge Posner writes: "The stigma of plagiarism seems never to fade completely, not because it is an especially heinous offense, but because it embarrassingly second-rate; its practitioners are pathetic, almost ridiculous."

When I was interviewed by the Trib, in a passage that did not make it into the newspaper, I gave my own thumbnail definition of plagiarism: "Don't misrepresent someone else's words as your own." During that interview, I specifically declined to give an opinion of any kind regarding Josephine Posti. But by Posner's definition as well as my own, I think that there's no doubt that many of the passages that Tom has cited demonstrate plagiarism in this case. Perhaps all of them do. The material was presented in such a way as to make it appear that Ms. Posti was its source and author. Yet she was not.

I have absolutely no doubt that there is zero copyright problem whatsoever in Tom's reproducing passages of others' work in order to make his case. The reproduction may be de minimis (that legal doctrine is rarely if ever invoked successfully in the litigated cases), but it is certainly fair use, and in all cases there is no recognizable economic injury -- something that copyright law requires, and that plagiarism, as an ethical offense, does not.

That's all I have to say about that.
-- Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump

Mike Madison

September 01, 2011 8:30 AM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...

I volunteer to help with the experimental design... ;)

September 01, 2011 2:23 PM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...

... I have a better idea.

My Mt Lebanon teachers used to advocate and practice, "Street Justice". SSSOOO, let's form a panel of teachers AND students who can evaluate the evidence AND decide the Jospehine's fate. The findings of the panel can become the new standard for acceptable conduct and the definition of plagiarism for the Mt Lebanon School District.

September 01, 2011 3:15 PM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

Tom, I am posting this comment again since my questions to you went unanswered.

As a (in your words, Tom)most-vocal detractor, in contrast, who probably doesn't need more than a change in the wind to condemn her and, as always, ask for her resignation – loudly, how would you like Josephine Posti to take care of it? And if she won't, how would you want the Board to take care of it?
Elaine Gillen

September 01, 2011 3:18 PM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...

I like my idea. The kids can learn something in the process - and, they will have a motivation to take the effort seriously since the definition, and Josephine's fate, will become the future standard for the District.

September 01, 2011 3:29 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Elaine, thanks for your patience and your earlier question. Here’s my answer.

If I were on the school board, I would quietly have a discussion with Mrs. Posti and ask her to explain how this all happened and what she intends to do to make sure it never happens again. If I believed her – and all it would take is something like “I got lazy and screwed up. It was bad judgment, and I won’t do it again.” – that would be the end of it.

As far as “punishment” goes, which I think is what you’re driving at, I don’t think there needs to be any. The current public exposure is probably enough to ensure that it doesn’t happen again and that other people who might be tempted to plagiarize will think twice. Reasonable people may disagree with me on this, but going further seems disproportionate to the problem, when judged in context.

Cheers,
Tom

September 01, 2011 5:59 PM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

What I am "driving at" Tom, is asking you what you meant by your last paragraph.
And your comment about "don’t need more than a change in the wind to condemn her and, as always, ask for her resignation – loudly," was uncalled for. We are talking about a person who should be leading by example. We expect more from our children than a professional who is president of our school board. The school board has double standards. As I had said previously, how does a parent respond to his or her child who was caught plagiarizing and has consequences and our school board president gets away with plagiarism? There is just no way to justify it. I feel sorry for the kids. Do as I say, not as I do. Good lesson there.
Elaine Gillen

September 01, 2011 10:25 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

Mike,

I think Judge Posner agrees with me:

Plagiarism is also innocent when no value is attached to originality; so judges, who try to conceal originality and pretend that their decisions are foreordained, 'steal' freely from one another without attribution or any ill will.

This is particularly apt as much of what Ms. Posti copied regarded legalities. Also:

...not all unacknowledged copying is 'plagiarism' in the pejorative sense. Although there is no formal acknowledgment of copying ... neither is there any likelihood of deception.

In reading those articles, I never had the impression that she was the original author. Even though I had no idea where they were from, they were obviously from some somewhere else. I knew Jo was not personally tracking different versions of bills or analyzing their impacts. So the people crying that they were deceived are either like the hockey player who takes a dive to draw a penalty or admitting they are rather gullible.

Here's something someone else said:

Plagiarism is most problematic when the source material is in some way 'original' to a particular speaker, and it is least problematic when the source material is essentially generic and intended for un-sourced repetition. Political 'talking points' fall into the 'least problematic' category, on that spectrum.

I think what many people are really objecting to is the promulgation of talking points by Ms. Posti and they are using an inappropriately simplified charge of plagiarism to blunt the impact of those points. In reality, what I have said, what you have said, and what Judge Posner said, is that you cannot merely compare the texts, you have to also include the contexts. That is what Tom, Elaine, and others fail to do every time they merely point out how similar the texts are. They do not admit of different kinds of plagiarism and certainly not "innocent plagiarism".

Finally, Mike, your last paragraph argues against a position I did not take. My point was that it is debatable whether Blog-Lebo copying the first two paragraphs of hundreds of newspaper articles is fair use, particularly since that point is being decided between AP and Google right now, and Google only copied the headlines and ledes. It had nothing to do with how Tom has presented his ideas on the plagiarism issue, and everything to do with how there are nuances and shades of meaning throughout these kinds of issues and how easy it is for well-meaning people to innocently wander into the gray area. That being the case, we shouldn't be so hard on one another.

But there are certain people who live to seize the gray area, and call their gray white and your gray black. That's the real problem here.

September 02, 2011 2:10 AM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

I know Mrs. Posti to be a extremely diligent student of all affairs requiring her attention. I give her credit for that.

Accordingly, I also gave her credit (now underserved) for her writings.

Further, the response was lame. Mrs. Posti acknowledged 3 instances of failure to attribute, when there appear to be many more. And who was to know better?

It was plagiarism and those who find it extremely disappointing (at least me) are justified in our disappointment.

September 02, 2011 9:03 AM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

Kids, are you taking notes? If you copy text, make sure it is something that your teacher agrees with. Then you won't get into trouble. Also, if you do get caught, play dumb. It will help. Apologize, if you have to. And then promise it won't happen again. If it gets ugly, threaten to call the school board president.
You should be fine.
Elaine Gillen

September 02, 2011 9:06 AM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

While I am writing ... it occurs to me ... when James Fraasch published about School District affairs, several of the now silent board members were disgusted by his audacity to study a topic and share HIS findings and beliefs.

The now silent board members showered much disdain on James, both in public and private.

Maybe James' mistake was confining his writings to his own thoughts ... and not the consensus of a wayward Board or other unattributed authors.

Strike that, James made no mistakes.

September 02, 2011 9:18 AM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

Kids, something else. Forget what you were taught in third, fourth, and fifth grades.
http://www.mtlsd.org/lincoln_elementary/librarycurriculum.asp
Pay no attention to the Bibliographic citation guide on the District high school website:
http://www.mtlsd.org/highschool/stuff/mla%20documentation%207pdf.pdf
And for goodness sake, don't use "Noodle Tools," the paid service that helps you create your own Work Cited pages that is available at http://www.mtlsd.org/highschool/sourcedocumentation.asp
Word of caution, kids: Don't follow the high school plagiarism tutorials that are there. http://www.mtlsd.org/highschool/highschoolplagiarismlessons.asp They haven't been updated to include the notes I provided in my previous comment.
Elaine Gillen

September 02, 2011 9:32 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

David, you’ve accused Blog-Lebo, and me in particular, of falsely reporting non-plagiarism as plagiarism in order to “smear” the president of the school board. You’ve conceded, however, that the “average person” – in other words, the public – when presented with the evidence might just agree that it’s troubling. How, then, did we report falsely to the public, let alone “smear” anybody, if the public, left to its own judgment, would probably agree with us?

To escape this obvious contradiction in your argument, you have implied that the way the public understands plagiarism is wrong. You have implied that what almost all of us were all taught in school, what almost all of us require of ourselves in our own writing, and what almost all of us expect from other writers when we read their writing is wrong.

The right definition of plagiarism, you suggest, can be found only by ignoring what we all know about plagiarism and instead cherry-picking from Judge Posner and Mike Madison in a way that focuses on the copied-from source material and all but ignores whether the public, when presented with that copying, is deceived by its context and presentation into believing something false about its authorship, and all but ignores whether the public, when made aware of this deception, is fit to judge for itself whether it’s troubling.

But you don’t ignore the deception aspect completely. You just dismiss it, claiming that there was little likelihood of deception because you “never had the impression she was the original author.” Are you willing to accept that other people, including me, did get that impression? When Mrs. Posti edits the material she copies to insert a narrative reference to herself and other school board members into the middle of a copied paragraph, what impression are readers supposed to get?

David, I’m willing to believe I’ve screwed up somewhere, and I’m bending over backward to give you room to show me where it happened, but so far you’re not making much sense. The explanation you propose is hard to believe. The alternative explanation is simple, fits all the evidence, and requires no suspension of disbelief:

It’s plagiarism, and that it was done by the president of the school board is something most people would find troubling.

If you still think it falls into a “gray area,” let’s do our experiment. Let’s go to the public and find out whether this is a bone fide case of public-troubling plagiarism. If you don’t think the public is qualified to judge for itself whether it finds an instance of plagiarism troubling, then let’s take it to people the public trusts to teach the public what plagiarism is: teachers. Let’s ask them what they think. And then we’ll know.

I’m still game. Are you?

Cheers,
Tom

September 02, 2011 10:34 AM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

No, I've made my points and now this has just become tedious.

If you do it yourself, just remember there are reasons that experts at trials have to meet certain qualifications.

September 02, 2011 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No one in this world, so far as I know ... has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."

H.L. Mencken

It is strange and dis-embodying to be quoted and cited to support propositions that I did not argue and with which I do not necessarily agree. It is even stranger to see Judge Posner characterized as agreeing with anyone in this discussion. I am quite certain that Judge Posner is entirely unaware of it.

Did Josephine Posti plagiarize material? I believe that she did, but that's a conclusion with which some people obviously disagree. Were some people, even many people, led to conclude that she was the author of the material in her blog and that is now the focus of Tom's inquiry? Clearly so. Were those people gullible? Maybe. Was she in fact the author of that material? No.

Either one concludes that Jo Posti plagiarized material that she posted on her blog, or one concludes that she used her blog to post -- under her own name -- material that neither she nor we regarded (or should regard, apparently) as worthy of independent, critical presentation. I do not see how both propositions can stand at the same time. Under either proposition, the affair presents a huge disappointment.

As for the copyright status of the news clips that Tom and Joe present from time to time on the blog, I have little doubt that their work is distinguishable from Google's vis a vis the AP -- even assuming that the AP prevails on what I think is an extraordinarily broad claim, which it may not.

Mike Madison

September 02, 2011 8:48 PM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

David, without you, there is no experiment. Its sole purpose was to help you see what I suspect you are now realizing: that the public would be genuinely troubled by what Mrs. Posti had done, all things considered, all things in context, and even when you presented the evidence, not me. In Mt. Lebanon, the president of the school board is probably the single most visible representative of our community’s pride and joy – our schools – and therefore the last person on earth the public would ever hope to catch doing something like plagiarizing. What makes the story newsworthy, then, isn’t that it’s a particularly egregious case of plagiarism but that it utterly defies what the public expects from its celebrated school district and the people who lead it.

September 03, 2011 11:48 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I'll volunteer as a member of the "general public" to say that yes, I am disgusted by this act of plagiarism, particularly because of her role as a school board member.

It's a classic example of "do as I say, not as I do." If my kids are ever caught plagiarizing, I'll just have them show the teacher a copy of Posti's "retraction" letter.

"Mistakes were made." Yeah, right...

September 04, 2011 3:00 AM  
Blogger E. T. Gillen said...

I brought this up at the Policy Committee meeting today. It went as expected.
Elaine Gillen

September 06, 2011 9:38 PM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...

More than anything else, this matter is a question of character - not only Josephine's character but the character of every Board member who touches this situation.

Please carefully consider the character of these individuals when you vote. These are the same people whose leadership will direct the values that will be instilled into your children.

My thoughts - ERASE THE BOARD LEBO!

September 07, 2011 12:20 AM  

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