Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trib: Much ado about.... Mt. Lebanon board chief's blog

The Tribune-Review is now reporting about the alleged plagiarism of school-board president, Josephine Posti:
Mt. Lebanon School Board President Josephine Posti temporarily pulled her blog off the Internet and issued an apology after being accused of plagiarism this week – an accusation about which experts disagree when it involves speech online.

Elaine Gillen, a resident, former candidate for commissioner and frequent critic of the school board, said material on Posti's blog, "Center Court," was copied from other sources without attribution.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may seem ungracious to point this out, but because Matt Santoni quotes me in the piece (the first reference, not the second) in a way that subtly changes the meaning of what I said, I feel obliged to supply the full, relevant quotation:

"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. Repeating them isn't 'plagiarism' in an ethical sense -- even though repeating them might be foolish and problematic on other grounds. In my experience, politicians who simply repeat talking points come across as empty-headed creatures. Repeating facts and figures without citing a source is likewise not 'plagiarism,' but that kind of un-sourced repetition, too, presents a lot of other risks. Like lying to the public."

It was an email interview.

Mike Madison

August 25, 2011 6:24 PM  
Blogger Bill Matthews said...

From DRAFT MTLSD Social Networking Policy (For Board Discussion 05/16/11)

"... Employees are reminded that they are professionals and are representatives of both the District and the community in all aspects of their lives and should conduct themselves accordingly when utilizing social media/networking..."

This policy was within inches of being approved, when it was tabled at the May 23, 2011 meeting.

Maybe the policy will be revised to remind Board Members that they are professionals and are representatives of both the District and the community in all aspects of their lives and should conduct themselves accordingly when utilizing social media/networking.

As to employees, my position was this language was far too far reaching. But as to Board Members, it may deserve consideration.

No - even for Board Members, this is far too far reaching.

Nevertheless, plagiarism is plagiarism and does not turn on the definition of is.

August 25, 2011 9:58 PM  
Blogger Matt C. Wilson said...

But that depends on whose definition of is your definition of is secretly is, right?


August 26, 2011 8:25 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Most discussions of plagiarism, including that article, miss the mark because they talk about “not citing sources” and “not giving credit” but overlook what makes plagiarism plagiarism: deception.

When you plagiarize, intentionally or not, you deceive people into believing that you created something you didn’t; you deceive people into believing that the thing is imbued with your trustworthiness and not someone else’s; and you deceive people into believing that the quality of the thing should count toward your reputation.

Every time I hear someone try to explain plagiarism and fumble, I secretly hope James Carville will appear and shout, “It’s the deception, stupid!”

So if you want a reliable test for what’s plagiarism and what’s not, consider whether people are deceived. For example:

You’re an actor reading your lines in a movie.
Not plagiarism: nobody gets the false impression that you created your lines, even though you are trying to pass them off as authentically yours, because everybody knows how acting works: you read the lines from a script. There’s no deception.

You’re the President of the United States giving a speech written by unnamed speechwriters.
Not plagiarism: nobody gets the false impression that you wrote the speech by yourself because everybody knows that big politicians use speechwriters. No deception.

You’re a PR agent for a big company piecing together a press release from internal business documents you didn’t write.
Not plagiarism: nobody gets the false impression that you wrote the press release from scratch because everyone knows that press releases are faceless assemblages of internal sources. No deception.

You’re a political-activist blogger shoveling today’s talking points on your adoring readers.
Semi-plagiarism: most people know how the talking-points political crap-o-sphere works, but some people don’t, and those people get the false impression that your reporting is original. Some deception.

And now, our favorite example:

You’re a blogger copying something you didn’t write into a post on your blog. You don’t credit the source, nor do you give your readers any indication of where your work ends and the copied work begins.
Plagiarism: Nobody expects your posts on your blog not to be written by you. So if you don’t make sure your readers know where your writing ends and someone else’s begins, they’ll get the false impression that you wrote what you actually copied. Deception.

See? It works. What makes plagiarism plagiarism is deception.

August 26, 2011 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deception - sounds like the District Budget Process!

John Ewing

August 26, 2011 11:01 AM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...

This is terrible. I think that Josephine Posti should resign.

August 26, 2011 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Kim Ressler said...

If Ms. Posti had advocated for a $75 million renovation and agreed to remodel Building C, would she be receiving this kind of scrutiny on her words?
And who is planning to attend the Community Relations Board conflict resolution forum on September 21?

August 29, 2011 9:32 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...


Do you believe that plagiarism isn’t plagiarism if the people who point it out are your critics?

If Mrs. Posti did plagiarize, are you okay with it? Is it allowable because she’s “receiving this kind of scrutiny on her words”?

I know you don’t like the messenger, but what about the message? Are you going to look at it?


August 29, 2011 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Kim Ressler said...

Tom, I do not dislike the messenger. I truly appreciate any forum that allows for an open exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, the posters on this blog do tend to the negative and critical. It is a shame that the positive postings are so seldom commented upon. I wish I were better able to deal with the moods induced by the anger that is so often vented here.

Also, I cannot stand fully behind each post that Ms. Posti made without giving due credit. I have made some small efforts to blog myself, and I have given full credit to any quotes I have used from other sources. I believe that Ms. Posti's subsequent actions with her blog even hint that she may agree with you, although I certainly do not know this for sure. Even if direct quotes are not used, one could note sources for paraphrasing. But, did Ms. Posti intend to deceive? Was she naive or intentional? This we do not know. Some of us are still learning social network protocol as we go along.

Calls for resignation do seem a bit harsh, however, don't you think? That was what prompted my comment. Keep up the good work.

August 30, 2011 8:16 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...


Thanks for your responses.

I don’t think there’s as much negativity as you seem to believe there is. The news media have always been, for the most part, critical in their reporting of government. That’s not only because of the press’s function as the “Fourth Estate” but also because everyone expects their government to do things properly, and, when something happens that everyone expects, it’s not news. But when government screws up, it defies what’s expected, and that’s news. So you have to expect that, even in a mostly positive world, news reporting (online or otherwise) is going to be more critical than not.

I agree with you that, at least for the cases I’ve seen, most of the problems on Mrs. Posti’s blog could have been avoided with something as simple as four words: “According to the PSBA, ...” But it does look like she copied a lot of text verbatim, and for that readers expect you to use quotation marks or a block quotation, in addition, to make it clear which words are yours and which words are someone else’s.

I also agree that the “plagiarism demands resignation” thing is baloney. Plagiarism is a real problem, especially in a context where students can see a respected authority doing it, but it’s not like Mrs. Posti built her career on a foundation of plagiarized work. As David Brown pointed out, context matters.


August 30, 2011 10:04 AM  

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