Drops from the Fire Hose – October 30, 2012 – Ethics

It’s been almost a month since the MBASA did a themed Drops from the Fire Hose. I’ve come across a number of Ethics-related articles, so I saved them all for this one post. Hope you enjoy!

Lance Armstrong and the Contagion of Unethical Behavior — Standford Social Innovation Review

The multidimensional ripple effects of Lance Armstrong’s crisis (or LiborRaj Gupta, African dictatorships, and others) are too numerous to list. While very grave, the most troubling effects are not related to the first-line perpetrators and victims—the coaches, doctors, sponsors, the US Postal Service, other athletes, the Tour de France event, the Olympics, other sporting events, the media, etc. Some of these were directly engaged in unethical behavior; most were victims.

Nor are the second and third line victims and perpetrators the most worrisome: the donors to the Livestrong Foundation and purchasers of Livestrong products in support of a supposedly ethical hero and winner; the taxpayers financing the legal proceedings; dedicated boards of corporate sponsors and the Livestrong Foundation; the cancer care community, which unwittingly used tainted funds for a good cause; the families of all of these; and countless others.

Rather, let’s consider how far contagion carries us. Children and teenagers feel emboldened to try potentially life-threatening drugs through illicit sources and without medical supervision. Early-stage queries (such as French newspaper L’Equipe’s accusations years ago) are dismissed in favor of a legendary reputation protected by financial power and fame. The slippery slope toward a culture normalizing cheating—or normalizing any unethical behavior—just because “everyone is doing it” becomes, well, normal.

Creative Plagiarism — Chronicle of Higher Education

I happen to be a novelist as well as a critic and a literature professor. My first novel, Jane Austen in Boca, was described in its publicity materials as “Pride and Prejudice set in a Jewish retirement community in Florida.” As that description suggests, I used Austen’s plot line and perspective as the scaffold for my contemporary satire. (The description is an indication of how the publishing industry, which inveighs against plagiarism, loves adaptation, which provides a handle for marketing.) Unlike Larsen and Viswanathan, who borrowed naïvely from noncanonical works, I used a canonical work as my template and made that clear in my title. But the process that I followed wasn’t so different from theirs—nor were the results. My story, like theirs, contains extensive borrowing, but the result is nonetheless something new.

I am not willing to go as far as some theorists, who say that the term “plagiarism” should be discarded altogether. Extremism in this area seems ill-advised. As an author, I am attached to the idea of intellectual property. And yet there must be a way to disapprove of uncredited borrowing while being empathetic toward writers struggling to find a creative path through the thicket of existing expression.

Handling an Insulting Remark — Chronicle of Higher Education

When Professor Hades and his sycophants started their bonding ritual in your seminar, you could of course have jumped up and shouted, “You ignorant pigs! You perverts! You spawn of Satan!” That would have been very satisfying (Ms. Mentor glows at the thought), but it would just turn the group against you.

To change people’s behavior, one needs a different set of rules and expectations. Different rules may not change people’s hearts, but they will make people act with civility. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, in so many words, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me; religion and education will have to do that. But if it keeps him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.”

Why Are We Obsessed With Cheaters? — The Huffington Post

We also tend to categorize cheaters into different “species.”

There are the copy-pasters: Lehrer (in his blog posts), Zakaria, and Bonacolta. As readers, we might project that cheaters in this category ask us: “Can you tell from my writing that I didn’t come up with these ideas on my own?”

Then there are the alleged exam collaborators: The Harvard students accused of violating the instructions for a take-home exam; the Stuyvesant students who readily admit to taking part in the organized sharing of exam answers and homework assignments. Collaborators seem to ask: “Can you tell from our supposedly ‘individual’ responses that a group of us in fact worked together?”

And then there are the fabulists like Membis and Lehrer, who invent — or heavily manipulate — quotations and sources. They seem to ask: “Can you tell that I made this up entirely?”

If we initially fail to pick up on the signals, our anger at the cheaters’ moral betrayal (once their actions are exposed) is compounded by our frustration at having missed the signs, and our taking offense at the writer’s show of nerve and disrespect.

The fabulists appall us most because the ability to distinguish truth from fiction is a basic, evolutionarily crucial skill. (By contrast, the ability to identify plagiarized text or monitor students’ exam practices is not.) Any emotional slack we might otherwise cut the fabulist is canceled by the full force of the realization that a liar has made fools of us.


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