by Dr. Rebecca J. Johnson
A cornerstone of both the military profession and academia is integrity. Words and deeds must track, and one’s actions must comport with the profession’s ethical and the individual’s moral standards, regardless of circumstance. The discovery of Jonah Lehrer’s self-plagiarism and fabrication of quotations highlights an important temptation students must guard against in their year at Command and Staff College.
First, to define some terms. To quote from MCU Academic Integrity Policy:
Plagiarism is defined as the presentation of another’s writing or ideas as one’s own without appropriate citation or credit. The misuse of another author’s writings, even when the exact wording is not lifted from the source, is unethical and academically dishonest. Such misuse includes not only the “limited” borrowing, without attribution, of another writer’s distinctive and significant research findings, hypotheses, theories, rhetorical strategies, and interpretations, but also the “extended” borrowing, even with attribution, of another writer’s ideas or interpretations to the extent that the student’s paper no longer meets the requirement for original thought.
Self-plagiarism is borrowing from previous writing without giving appropriate acknowledgement (yes, it is appropriate to ‘cite yourself’). Fabrication is making information up and passing it off as legitimate.
The action that ultimately forced Lehrer’s resignation from The New Yorker was his fabrication of quotes he erroneously attributed to Bob Dylan in his upcoming book. His account of the incident illustrates what makes this so important for CSC students. Lehrer notes:
“Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine,’ ” Mr. Lehrer said in a statement. “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.”
Students who plagiarize tend to be caught in a similar moment of panic: They were up all night with a sick child and didn’t have time to write their paper; they diligently researched a topic but failed to take appropriate notes so when they sat down to write their paper, they couldn’t find the reference they needed; or, they tried to economize by recycling a paper they wrote for their elective in their MMS.
All are violations of academic and personal integrity, and none will be tolerated at the Command and Staff College. Your Ph.D.s view people who plagiarize the same way you view the Stolen Valor guys who walk around wearing medals they didn’t earn. When you steal someone else’s hard word and showcase it as your own, you desecrate what we have dedicated our adult lives to pursuing — the accumulation and sharing of knowledge — and demonstrate your own shocking lack of integrity. When you recycle your own work, you demonstrate your own personal and intellectual laziness. None of these traits are acceptable in field grade officers.
We recognize it has been a long time since most of you have spent time in academic settings. The Library has created the MCU Communications Style Guide to provide guidance on what and how to cite appropriately. Your civfacs and milfacs are always there to help. You can also speak with the lovely folks at the Leadership Communication Skills Center, who are dedicated to improving your writing.
There are multiple resources available to ensure you never follow in Jonah Lehrer’s footsteps. There are multiple opportunities to hold accountable those who do. Jonah Lehrer has destroyed his professional reputation by engaging in sloppy, lazy writing. Learn from his mistake.