I believe Senator Rand Paul is in dire need of a lesson on plagiarism. In my short career writing for the Las Vegas Guardian Express, I have eschewed political op-eds, preferring to keep my opinions nested in film reviews, but Rand Paul’s conduct over the last week is not the usual lowering-the-bar-of-political-discourse that is the backbone of right wing machinery. I’m very much a leftist, but my disdain for party politics keeps me on the sidelines.
I have little incentive to assist a Democratic Party that furthers the civil liberties debacles of the Bush Administration. I am not even particularly upset the senator threatened Rachel Maddow to a duel. Yes, it places Senator Paul dead center in the “war on women narrative” which from a strategic standpoint has been a loser for the Republican Party. I think Maddow can handle herself in the blood and guts arena of political debate and (as they’d say in pro-wrestling) does not need a run-in from yours truly. If we still did live an environment where disputes were settled by duels, I believe she would win decisively. That does not address why I think Rand Paul needs a tutorial.
I have worked as an English Instructor at the community college level for over six years. I have seen a lot of writers come though my classroom, some good, some bad, most just need guidance. Every year, I teach students about plagiarism. I teach them why it is wrong and I teach them about the different forms plagiarism can take. I do not know if Rand Paul is stubborn, I do not know if he is speaking in bad faith. I do not know if this is personally his fault or the error of staff, but, quite frankly, he is making my job harder by confusing the issue, by treating it as no big deal (but then again, weirdly, challenging critics to a duel). Even though he has a graduate education and even though he is familiar with the proper citation procedures for scientific papers, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. The rules and conventions for essays and speeches do differ in some regards from scientific works. The differences among MLA, APA and AP alone make me weep angry, red tears. Nevertheless, there are constants. Let us take a minute to review two rules relevant to both freshmen and sitting U.S. senators.
Rule one: Wikipedia counts as source. In most writing classrooms, we do not allow the inclusion of Wikipedia entries as a source. This is not because wiki sources are inherently bad, it is because students use it as a crutch instead of developing their research skills. It is a great starting point for many essays and articles, but it should not represent the foundation of the finished work. That being said, neither he nor his staff are in a writing class, so there is no one to stop them from citing the entry on Gattaca, and for the purposes of a sitting U.S. senator I do not see anything wrong with it in and of itself. That being said, if you get your information on Gattaca from a Wikipedia entry, then you are citing Wikipedia. This includes plot summary information, no matter what Senator Paul says to the contrary. If you are quoting a line of dialogue from the film, yes, then you can claim to cite the film; otherwise, it is plagiarism.
Rule two: citations make it clear to the audience the words and ideas you are using come from a third party. In a speech, this mean stating the names of sources. Often students who use Wikipedia think they are being sneaky by not acknowledging it as a source, when all they have really done is secure themselves an F for violating academic conduct. Without a proper citation it is automatically plagiarism.
It would be easy to make snarky remarks, accuse Rand Paul of being ashamed of the original source, but I don’t think that’s what is going on here. Andrew Kaczynski reports Rand Paul is in, as we say in professorial circles, deep do-do for plagiarizing several pages from a Heritage Foundation study for his book, Government Bullies. As the Heritage Foundation is an established right wing think tank, one would think he would want to promote them. As a rule, right wingers love to reference the Heritage Foundation, that is the whole point of conservative think tanks, to lend academic credibility to right wing positions.
Will Senator Rand Paul take this lesson on plagiarism to heart? Doubtful. He seems far too unwilling to admit from mistakes much less learn from them, but this doesn’t mean you or anyone else has to repeat them. Always give proper credit and never take short cuts. Plagiarism is abhorrent because it is intellectual theft. In a country that treats hard work as a virtue, Rand Paul has spit in the face of the hard work of others, taking credit for their ideas as his own creation. This is why plagiarism is wrong. This is why I am making a big deal about it in the first place and it sends the wrong message to students: it is okay to plagiarize.
By David Arroyo