One of the sillier things we’ve done on the blog over the past almost year is the “Top Grad Student” fake virtual reality show series, based on my fave reality show, Top Chef. But who knew that Top Chef could also tell you everything thing you wanted to know about plagiarism, how we react to it, and how people can get away with it? Just like every school has an honor code that students are presumed to abide by, apparently there’s something called “Chef Law” where you aren’t supposed to steal someone else’s culinary ideas.
So to recap what happened on this week’s episode (spoiler alert!): It began with a seemingly innocuous scene where Richard Blais, the mad scientist and (imho) the most creative cheftestant, was showing Mike Isabella, a skeezy operator (again, imho), a Moleskine notebook full of his crazy musings, complete with drawings. So flash forward to the Quickfire challenge, when apparently Mike preps a Fried “Chicken Oyster” in a shell that was originally Blais’ fantastical creation. So throughout the challenge and the judgement, Blais gives Isabella the stink eye, while Isabella avoids his gaze; on the voiceover confessionals, Blais calls Isabella out for plagiarism, as Isabella claims that, though he got the idea from his competitor, others have done it before so it’s not copying. You know how this turns out–Mike beats Richard, and pockets 5K out of it. Richard is bent of shape, and Mike rubs everyone’s face in it by saying he was inspired by Richard.
Cut to post-challenge, when Mike is somehow pissed at Richard for not acting like either a winner or a loser should. Meanwhile, Antonia tells the other contestants what happened, that Mike basically cribbed off Richard (we get a flashback scene here, I think) for the win, to which everyone invokes “Chef Law” and how dastardly Mike is.
Ultimately, Richard bests Mike at the end of the episode, then talks some mild s**t (Blais might be full of himself a bit, but he’s too geeky, nervous, and seemingly well-meaning to be a brash trash-talking type) about keeping his best recipes for himself. So there’s order to the universe in the end, right? Not so fast…
Here are a few lessons we learn about plagiarism and plagiarists from the episode…
1. Keep it to yourself: Whether Richard was willingly showing off his little notebook or Mike is one of those nosy people who’s always in your bizness — in Chinese, his type roughly translates to “butt-following bug” — there’s no reason to let anyone know more than they need to, especially in a competition. I don’t know, I guess I know how Richard feels, since I liked sharing notes and all, but it’s something else to give someone your thesis and outline. Hold on to your best ideas for yourself and resist showing off more than you need to.
More of what we learned about plagiarism from Top Chef, after the jump…
While on my recent marathon road trip (Post Academic Business Travel Guide coming soon …), I saw a poster advertising an upcoming show by comedian Carlos Mencia. The first two questions that popped into my head were “What happened to his TV show?” and “Didn’t he get caught stealing jokes?”
If he didn’t get caught, he’s been accused of it. The top Google Instant search terms for “Carlos Mencia” are “Carlos Mencia steals” and “Carlos Mencia steals jokes.” This guy has enemies.
L’Affaire Mencia is important to academics and post academics because, on top of all their other duties, professors must be diligent about catching lazy students … and even then the schools don’t have the teachers’ backs. In the latest depressing plagiarism-related episode, about 600 students at the University of Central Florida got caught cheating on a test in a business class.
Whether you can catch students in the act or not, it is worth noting that these student cheaters will become hamster-world cheaters. Enter Carlos Mencia. Mencia allegedly stole jokes from several comedians–including the Cos!
More after the jump! Comedian Carlos Mencia performs during the Tour for the Troops concert at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, December 1st, 2009. Photo by Sara Csurilla, U.S. Air Force. Image from Wikimedia Commons, federal image, public domain.
It was only a matter of time before an academic wrote a letter to an advice columnist. In this case, last week a recent PhD wrote to Cary Tennis of Salon.com. Here’s the last paragraph, which sums up what so many people have been going through:
But also, it just sucks. I get headaches. I can feel my blood pressure rising. I cry (at home, not in front of students). And I haven’t even addressed the other parts of academic life — trying to get published, presenting papers in front of experts at conferences, dealing with the whims of university administration. I don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know why I’m doing this anymore. But I’ve spent so much time and energy and money working toward it — and I’m afraid that if I quit academia, I’ll be miserable, as I was when I worked in data entry. I suppose I’m just wondering if you can tell me how I can either be at peace with the crap parts of my field, or with the prospect of giving up the great parts of it too. I want to be happy. And I feel like I don’t know how to get there.
We’ve written before about the physical toll of being in grad school. And, in the letter to Cary Tennis, the author mentions having to deal with plagiarists and ratemyprofessors.com, but the author doesn’t mention turning to anyone else for help. Far too many academics fly completely solo, and it sounds like part of the issues driving the author of the letter involves a lack of support.
More after the jump! We don’t have a picture of Cary Tennis, but we’ll go with an advice columnist anyway. Image of Ann Landers from 1961 by Fred Palumbo from Wikimedia Commons, Library of Congress, no known copyright restrictions.