Avoiding plagiarism is a simple task. All that is required is: whenever a non-original idea is used, a person must isolate the idea in a quote or paraphrase and cite its source. Unintentional plagiarism is often no more than a failure to put a surname inside of brackets at the end of an external knowledge claim, and add a corresponding entry in an attached works cited page.
Intentional plagiarism is a more pernicious issue. An article from The Walrus paper, “The Globe and Mail’s Plagiarism Problem,” outlines the case of Chris Spence who, being the head of a school board, should have known better than to leave his references un-sourced. The article uses Spence as “one of many examples” of the use of non-original sources “unattributed or slightly re-worked” (Lorinc). Could be said that, if this is plagiarism, that people plagiarise in common speech all the time? Plagiarism is an issue in cases of formal speech and works, where citations and the sources of ideas are important. Plagiarism is also an important concept in entrepreneurship and creative endeavours, where one could unintentionally infringe on intellectual property and copyright laws. Simply put, quoting a work of literature or the words of a popular figure without citation in a conversation with friends is not plagiarism, but doing the same in an academic essay or selling other people’s ideas as your own is. Context matters.
An overlooked and unknown example of plagiarism comes from one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein. Einstein apparently had many great revelations which ended up simply being the repackaged ideas of Sir Isaac Newton and other earlier scientists. An article for the John Chappell Natural Philosophy Society, citing Newton’s Opticks states, “In Newton’s Query 30 he writes: ‘Gross bodies and light are convertible into one another’ . . . Newton’s Opticks also reveal that he believed gravity would bend light. This is further evidence that many of Einstein’s ideas are not original” (Ricker). Even superficial academic research into Einstein’s sources reveals that his genius was arguably more oriented towards theft than to the generation of new scientific ideas. If he had cited his sources, there would be no issue, as current science is intentionally built on the foundation of past science. Einstein did not, and must thus be seen as a plagiarist as well as a physicist.
Now, do I think that Einstein was a bad person because he plagiarized? A little, but ultimately we can trace and source his ideas back for him, so it is hardly a major issue. However, we mustn’t allow the ideas of people to go unsourced and unacknowledged, thus I give Einstein as a cautionary example. Be sure to cite your sources to both avoid legal and reputational repercussions, as well as to maintain the honour of original ideas in art, philosophy, and science.
Note that it may well have been the case that citation was not considered necessary or standard in Einstein’s day, and that he had no nefarious intent behind not citing Newton. Let it also be known that Newton had started developing a theory of relativity of his own, though the science of his day was likely not yet advanced enough for him to complete it the way Einstein did.
Lorinc, John. “The Globe and Mail’s Plagiarism Problem.” The Walrus. https://thewalrus.ca/the-globe-and-mails-plagiarism-problem/. Accessed 2 October 2020.
Ricker, Harry H. “The Origin of the Equation E = mc2.” John Chappell Natural Philsophy Society. http://www.naturalphilosophy.org/site/harryricker/2015/05/23/the-origin-of-the-equation-e-mc2/, Accessed 2 October 2020.
Please note that this was a homework assignment that I took too far lol