Faking Feedback

How to score brownie points over one’s opponents?

Or

How much lower can one stoop academically?

Disclaimer: This story has a no particular names, feel free to fill in what you like. This is not a work of fiction.

This is a story that I heard recently. Though the events mentioned in the story are almost 2 decades old. The story is set circa 1996. The
story is an esteemed academic institution in the state of UP.

In this institute in a particular department, among many other faculties there were two protagonists of our story. For the sake of keeping a track of their activities let us call them X and Y. Now as it happens in many academic institutes, and in between many academics, X and Y did not go along very well. Added to that they say that X was a bit eccentric to put it mildly and a crackpot to put it okayishly. Less said about Y is better. It would be rather revealed by actions. They would fight bitterly and did not see each other in a good light. Now, it so happens that in this institute at end of the semester the students are given feedback forms for each of the courses that they take. For this purpose another faculty member distributes the forms on the last day of the course. These forms are collected, sealed and given to the HoD for evaluation. Based on the feedback the HoD calls the faculty member to discuss issues worth discussing. This entire process is supposedly confidential and the discussion happens after the exams are over.

Now it so happened that in this fateful year, Y went on the last day of X’s class to give the feedback form to the students. The forms were duly collected, sealed and given to the HoD. Now comes the interesting part of the story. When the HoD started to read the feedback forms, he noticed that a few of them were a bit too harsh and nasty. Now it so turns out that though X was a bit eccentric, but was quite popular with the students. So this naturally created a doubt in the HoDs mind. Why only this year the students have given a bad review of X?

So the HoD glanced through the feedback forms which were a bit too negative. And guess what! He discovered that the handwriting in all of them was uncannily similar. How can different students writing negative feedback have all the same handwriting? Well one explanation is that they all conspired to do so. Practicing for hours on end to make sure all of their handwriting are similar! But an easier one is that a single person must have written all these negative reviews! Keeping this in mind the HoD compared these negative feedback forms with the handwriting of people he knew. And then guess what it matched the handwriting of someone from his department!

Now you will get 10/10 points if you have already guessed what happened next. It so turned out that the handwriting on the negative feedback sheets matched that of Y.  After this Y was summoned by the HoD to explain this uncanny resemblance between the handwritings. Well Y did not have much of an answer, even if any answer was given, it is not known to us. Perhaps Y will remember this episode for life. So after this Y was punished for faking student feedback form. This perhaps would be unique charge against a faculty in a premier institute. The punishment was of banishment from the department for one full semester. When he came back he was super embarrassed due to this. Or as they would put in Hindi किसी को मु़ह दिखाने लायक नही राहा

And it so happened that this episode was followed by exit of Y from this institute a few years later. It is said that in the new institute that Y joined he continued with his old ways of deceit and treachery, and of cheap tactics. The only difference being that there was no one here to challenge Y and his cheap ways. The sad part is that this continued for over a decade and Y was able to form an empire at the new institute. But then the Indian academia has many such people.

Reflecting on this I think how much lower can one fall academically to score brownie points over one’s opponents? On another hand I feel like laughing at botched up attempts to do this, reminds me of Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder.

What kind of person would indulge in this behavior? Is such a person fit for any confidential work? And why should any academic institute harbour such a person?

 

This story needs to be spread, told and retold for Y is still out there…

Plagiarism Vs. Copyright

It is in the interest of the publishers to confuse plagiarism with copyright. And many people wouldn’t know the difference. So here is a difference between the two:

First, plagiarism is a violation of academic norms but not illegal; copyright violation is illegal, but in truth pretty ubiquitous in academia. (Where did you get that PDF?)

Second, plagiarism is an offence against the author, while copyright violation is an offence against the copyright holder. In traditional academic publishing, they are usually not the same person, due to the ubiquity of copyright transfer agreements (CTAs).

Third, plagiarism applies when ideas are copied, whereas copyright violation occurs only when a specific fixed expression (e.g. sequence of words) is copied.

Fourth, avoiding plagiarism is about properly apportioning intellectual credit, whereas copyright is about maintaining revenue streams.

via Plagiarism is nothing to do with copyright

This would also relate to an earlier post, in making the difference between wrong and illegal. It can be exemplified in this case also.

Suppose for her research person A need a particular research article and she or her institution do not have access to it. What does A do?
She asks her friends in other institutes if they have access to this article. That means that the institute they are working in have subscription to the journal in which this article was published. Among her friends person B has access to the article. Suppose she sends A an electronic copy of the article. A is happy, that she got the article. B is also happy, that he could be of help to A. But strictly speaking this is illegal. In the fine print all the publisher website have Terms and Conditions which we have to agree to (without reading them most of the times and they are written in legalese). These terms and conditions prevent us from sharing these articles from anyone else who might not have access to. For example for JSTOR the terms and conditions are listed here. If you read these finely what emerges is the way in which the publishers control the flow of information. For example it says:

Institutional Licensees shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that access to the Licensed 
Content is limited to Authorized Users and to protect the Licensed Content from unpermitted use.

This clause essentially makes what happened between A and B illegal and just for sharing this article they might terminate the B’s institutional access to JSTOR. Now we can ask this question that whether the gesture on B’s part to help A was wrong and illegal both? As per definition by JSTOR this is clearly a violation of copyright. But what is the status of A’s research which emerges from this article given by B. Is it illegal? Can it be called as plagiarised (A gives proper citation of course)?  

If you apply Kolhberg’s theory of moral development, the person who has the most developed morality will perhaps help the other without bothering about the copyright!