Stealing Ideas

Unless you can present your ideas in a clear, crisp manner, you cannot prove you have any ideas. That is why plagiarism is not so much an open declaration that somebody else has ideas you like better, but a declaration that you don’t have any.

January has seemed to be a turning point in society’s patience with liars and thieves. One U.S. website, bemoaning the doping revelations by Lance Armstrong, remarked he not only lied to everybody, he even lied to Oprah. Observers of that interview would agree. Armstrong did not only tell a lie, he is one.

The Gubernator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was asked in January about his own lying, and he denied it. He said when his wife confronted him about adultery, he came right out like a man and admitted it. No lies. Oddly, the interviewer did not ask him about his marriage vows.

Notre Dame football sensation Manti Te’O in the same timeframe was exposed for a fabricated girlfriend/cancer/death story that plucked for a moment at the hearts of those that believed him. The backlash is just beginning at presstime.

In Toronto, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) ran into a public relations firestorm as its president, Chris Spence, was exposed as having plagiarized in an op-ed piece he submitted to the Toronto Star. According to the Star, “After a TDSB student is found to have plagiarized, the ‘minimum consequence’ is a mark of zero and the notification of others.” (Emphasis added)

Now people are investigating whether Spence’s academic theses were plagiarized. If a liar can get a Ph.D. in education and run a school board on stolen ideas, just think what a brain surgeon could do.

In January, University of Waterloo (Ont.) professor Dongqing Li was suspended for four months without pay. Odd how society evolves. A few years ago he would have been fired.

Wood Industry design columnist Paul Epp addresses the issue of stolen ideas from time to time as he explores the wood industry’s world of design. Suppliers to the industry see their machinery, hardware and tooling innovations replicated in pot metal and plastic, looking like a drunken Arkansas Elvis impersonator.

Canadian manufacturers slave over the design and manufacture of a successful product, only to see the design knocked off by someone else with no R and D investment. Such an allegation has even made it to the courts recently. American furniture manufacturer Herman Miller is suing Toronto-based Nuevo Americana for having copied the iconic Eames line of lounge chairs, ottomans and other products. Although the principle at play here is trademark infringement — not plagiarism — the underlying accusation is similar: someone has stolen someone else’s ideas.

A documentary recently aired on CBC, titled Counterfeit Culture, which documents the explosion of knock-off products over the past 25 years, constituting a global industry worth about $700 billion.

In the worlds of academia and journalism, there is no higher crime. In the case of Spence, he became an educator for the kids. Clearly, teaching young, impressionable minds that you can be successful as a thief if you can bully those that would expose you is not acceptable.

Imagine the surprise of Martin Bazant, an associate professor at MIT in Massachusetts, as he was leafing through scientific literature and found his own work stolen by Li? According to Bazant, most of it was literally cut-and-paste.

Wood Industry may be just a little magazine for small manufacturers in the frozen north of a former British Colony, but our magazine and our industry are important. The “big guys” of the world need a world to be big in. For that reason – that you are important – Wood Industry continues to pursue answers on plagiarism within our own industry, even as it now involves the Wood Manufacturing Council, the University of British Columbia, FP Innovations and Conestoga College.

Like the TDSB, magazines have a duty to report plagiarism. According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi, in its Accountability section, “Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.” That applies, even if you are bullied.

Important? How would you like your child to sleep in a crib that was supposed to have been made by a top manufacturer, but was not? How would you like to rely on leadership from a published “expert” that was a fraud?



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