Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Lessons on Cut and Paste

It's the Internet, the modern-day wild west. We all cut and paste. I recently learned a lesson about cutting and pasting that I'd like to share, lest any of you get caught in one of my future traps.

Well, let me back up a bit. A few months ago a Roman Catholic over on the CARM boards dialoging with me and a few others cited the following quote:
“According to his (Luther’s) knowledge of early Christian literature, there was a sizeable gap in time between the writers of the New Testament and the earliest Church Fathers. Luther regarded Tertullian, who died in 230, as the earliest writer in the church after the apostles…..he apparently did not know the writers who later acquired the title “apostolic fathers”. He was therefore, able to invoke the historical and chronological argument in a form no longer available to theologians of the twentieth century.” Pelikan, “Luther the Expositor”, pg 84
Now it is entirely possible the person citing this quote actually has Luther The Expositor (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959) by Jaroslav Pelikan. That is within the realm of possibility. Let me point out also the guy using this quote has made a number of comments on how awful my research is (that's putting his insults mildly). Here's the kicker: he probably took this quote from one of my writings. (see footnote 27). The quote he used is exactly as I posted it, and upon checking, my reference should have been to not only page 84, but page 83 as well, as that is where the quote begins. What are the possibilities the guy read this book and cited the quote in the same wrong way I did? I guess it's possible, but it certainly would seem more likely he lifted the quote from my paper, or from someone else who read and cited my paper. If I'm correct, the irony in that the guy who despises my research is using it anyway, and he probably isn't really reading some of the secondary sources he's citing.

Now fast forward. A few weeks ago I nailed Real Catholic TV misusing a 1532 Luther quote. In order to put up the context of the 1532 Luther quote, I had to scan the pages in. If the text was already somewhere on the Internet, I couldn't find it. Scanning is a hassle. I hate messing up the spines of my books.

A Roman Catholic blogger decided to help Real Catholic TV against my blog post. He eventually posted the same exact 1532 quote I earlier did, with the same exact documentation, directing his blog entry specifically to me. He prefaced the quote with "As for the 1532 sermon, here is the context of that statement..." After citing the quote he stated, "So, there you have the context of the 1532 sermon, which I do not doubt you have already, but now all those reading along have it too." Why would I need the same exact citation quoted back to me? Odd, but I gave the guy the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he did indeed have the same exact book, cited the same exact quote, and documented the quote the same exact way.

I then asked a question based on some other lines and pages from the same 1532 sermon. It became obvious from the responses given that the person didn't have the book being cited. In fact, he couldn't even name the sermon in question. Eventually, he conceded somewhat that the quote may have been taken from my blog, and revised his entry to reflect my blog as the possible source.

Based on these two experiences, I've come up with a possible solution to find out if people are really doing their own research when they challenge me, or if they're simply taking what I post, re-posting it, and then having me respond back to my own research. My opponents are clever: I do all the grunt work, and then this or that opponent comes along, re-posts it, spins it a particular way, and then has me respond back to my own time and effort.

This is what I'm thinking of doing. I'm thinking of encoding slight tactical errors from now on in anything I cite from my own readings so as to avoid anyone else forgetting where they took the material they claim to have, and to have read. It won't be any serious sort of error. Perhaps it will simply be an extra comma. I'm posting this simply as a warning. If you take material off my blog and try to pass it off as your own research, you will find yourself in an embarrassing situation.

Keep this in mind as well. Shame on you if you don't check my stuff before you use it. I am not infallible, I do make errors (as shown above with the citation of Pelikan). Why not simply check my work before you use it? How do you know I've cited something correctly? How do you know the next line I didn't quote in a document that I did quote doesn't refute my point?  I can appreciate that someone trusts the posts I put together, but as the text on my sidebar warns,

He that has ever so little examined the citations of writers cannot doubt how little credit the quotations deserve when the originals are wanting.

For what it's worth, I do try to document when I take stuff from other websites (I've never been good with documenting images, as this blog post proves). I can't say I've always been consistent on this.  But I plan on being more diligent myself in making sure I give credit where it's due. A simple "hat tip" to someone isn't a bad thing.


Ed "The layman" said...

Copying and pasting is a helpful time saver if you've already read the material, but it is abused by the lazy and people that want to appear more learned than they are.

Of course once somebody commits an error others pass it on and compound it with their own. you could almost use it as a textual criticism experiment to find the "original" plagiarizer.

James Swan said...

Of course once somebody commits an error others pass it on and compound it with their own. you could almost use it as a textual criticism experiment to find the "original" plagiarizer.

I've come across a number of examples of this, especially documented in my series, Luther Exposing the Myth. Here's an example from that series-

A quote from Luther was cited as:

'Let Your Sins Be Strong, from 'The Wittenberg Project;' 'The Wartburg Segment', translated by Erika Flores, from Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften, Letter No. 99, 1 Aug. 1521. - Cf.

The "Wittenberg Project" refers to Project Wittenberg, an on-line source for Luther-related documents. " 'The Wartburg Segment', translated by Erika Flores, from Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften, Letter No. 99, 1 Aug. 1521" refers to this web page from Project Wittenberg. If one looks at the page carefully, it isn't "The Wartburg Segment" but rather It's a letter Luther composed "From the Wartburg" and only a segment is translated:

Let Your Sins Be Strong:
A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon
Letter no. 99, 1 August 1521, From the Wartburg
Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores
from: _Dr. Martin Luther's Saemmtliche Schriften_
Dr, Johannes Georg Walch, Ed.
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.),
Vol. 15, cols. 2585-2590.

There's no such thing as "The Wartburg Segment", but if you do a Google search on this phrase, you'll get a number of incorrect citations.