An irony of scholarly attribution

| April 15, 2010

I have been thinking about the academic honesty issues for a while now. So far my best ideas are in my draft essay, Challenges on the Horizon for Scholarly Attribution (another Knol experiment).

My interest in academic honesty came out of my exploration of the copyright wars, and my subsequent considerations of ownership in academic culture. Policies about scholarly attribution (acknowledgements, citation, and so on), for example, are the result of beliefs about the importance of acknowledging ownership of ideas – at once protecting authors’ livelihoods as well as allowing us to trace the history of an idea through multiple author’s works.

I have struggled to untangle these two goals not only to better understand the intention behind academic policies, but also their effects. My purpose is twofold: 1) to suggest that AHPs reveal a conflict between the scholarly and educational goals of academic culture, and 2) to show how limitations conceived by intellectuals under the sway of copyright law have a dramatic negative impact on educational opportunities.

From the abstract of my essay:

This essay explores how new tools demand that educators rethink the goals and effects of policies that prescribe originality in scholarship. The example of appropriation in art, and the conflict between appropriation and copyright law, will not only suggest how new tools can allow individuals to overcome limitations of policy to a productive end, but how we may value originality differently as a result of technological change.

An additional sidenote about my interest: those familiar with copyright law (and especially those who are critical of it) can appreciate the irony that academic honesty applies to ideas themselves – which is not the case with copyright. Thus, academics have seemingly gone one step further than so-called capitalists to protect themselves and their trade at the cost of individuals’ ability to freely “create culture.” This is perhaps my strongest motivation to continue to create an analysis of this urgent matter. I believe that the future of education depends on ending this embargo on unattributed intellectual production. (Which is not to say that attribution doesn’t have a proper role in education.)