Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: A good read

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  • Jolisa,

    This was a seminar class in which we were due to discuss that very paper. I offered to keep things under wraps by deferring the workshop without explaining why (these things tend to be dealt with very discreetly, and are kept in a closed file unless there are subsequent offenses)

    Quick note of clarification, since I missed the edit window: The appropriate proceedings had already been initiated behind the scenes, but need not have been made public to the rest of the class. It was the student's choice to do so, even though I offered the face-saving option of simply deferring the discussion of the essay.

    Given that it was a workshop-based class, the rest of the class had already spent time preparing suggested improvements for the paper in question and were definitely owed some sort of explanation. Still, it was a brave and upright thing for the student to do. The class was both horrified and impressed - also depressed, in a way, as the plagiarism was a betrayal of the trust we had generated in sharing our writing with each other. It definitely cast a pall over the general group vibe for some time after.

    Still, as I say, it led to a sobering and useful discussion.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Ihimaera's naivety seems more than a little surprising. In the age of SparkNotes and Turnitin, it would seem that he's not particularly tech-savvy.

    Regarding Turnitin, I've had experience as a student with one university department that implemented this anti-plagiarism service. At the seminar where the system was presented to students an IT guy explained that reiterating concepts and ideas didn't constitute plagiarism. For example, there was only so much that you could say about Hamlet, and after all this time it had pretty much all been said. If someone from the English department had displayed such intellectual bankruptcy it would have been grounds for tarring & feathering, but when such things are dumped on IT people they deserve to be cut a little slack.

    I couldn't resist asking if the reason this particular department, and not others, had decided to use anti-plagiarism software was because they'd experienced a higher than average rate of student cheating. This was vehemently denied.

    In practice, it turned out that all student work was submitted to Turnitin's checking process, not just those that were suspected of plagiarism. This has become a way of semi-automating the marking of assignments. The department in question has effectively admitted to this by claiming lack of resources as a reason for introducing Turnitin. As the system can catch students cribbing off one another, in a culture of lax academic standards it's too tempting to turn student assessment into a form of policing.

    Thanks for the superb post Jolisa.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3555 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    it would seem that he's not particularly tech-savvy.

    The same thought did occur to me, especially since the first two responses when you google "Hohepa Te Umuroa" (the real historical figure the novel is based on) are:

    1) the Dictionary of NZ Biography page on Te Umuroa, and
    2) the Google Books entry for Karen Sinclair's book Maori Times, Maori Places: Prophetic Histories (published in NZ as Prophetic Histories: People of the Maramatanga).

    It was the latter that contained the familiar passages that caught my eye; the echoes appear in the novel's epilogue, which was apparently written late or even last in the process. Any inquisitive reader could, and probably would, have found the same. I just happened to do it first.

    My subsequent searches were not exhaustive (merely exhausting!), and only dealt with what could be easily found via Google and in the nearest library at hand. Fortunately it's a very well-stocked one.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Joe, that's astonishing about Turnitin being used as default grading labour!! Cheaper than paying grad students to do it, I guess, although how exactly does it mark the essays, other than "dodgy" or "not dodgy"?

    The people who make Turnitin also offer a "personal" version called WriteCheck. As an experiment, I fed WriteCheck a document containing the unattributed material I'd found in the novel. It detected and matched only one passage.

    My guess is that Turnitin is primarily optimized to detect wholesale copying of entire essays, not the sort of work that borrows a sentence here or a paragraph there.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Joe, that's astonishing about Turnitin being used as default grading labour!! Cheaper than paying grad students to do it, I guess, although how exactly does it mark the essays, other than "dodgy" or "not dodgy"?

    In my experience my grad student tutor in that particular department was a thoroughly decent and hardworking person. I don't think she ever set eyes on any of my essays though. Although assignments were carried out during each tutorial there was simply an overall grade at the end of the semester. Lack of resources was the standard excuse for why these assignments were never returned with individual marking to students. Strangely enough, a presumably similarly resourced department had no problem returning the previous week's work with a detailed assessment.

    When essays were returned there were no comments relating to specific passages, or even a comment on the essay in general, just an overall grade. Work was uploaded in Word format to Turnitin's system, and a hard copy was also required. I should add that it's the only department that's ever managed to irretrievably lose one of my essays. As I said, a culture of lax academic standards. There are plenty of unresolved ethical and legal arguments about Turnitin, but I really feel that submitting all student work, regardless of whether plagiarism is suspected, is just plain wrong.

    My guess is that Turnitin is primarily optimized to detect wholesale copying of entire essays, not the sort of work that borrows a sentence here or a paragraph there.

    During the initial seminar where Turnitin's features were explained, students were shown projections of on-screen displays where specific passages were highlighted and matched to identical text from within the system's ever-expanding database. Naturally I did a bit of online reading about the system, and while I found some advocacy for prefacing one's essay with a disclaimer that it remained your intellectual property, I felt that might be interpreted as being a little provocative.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3555 posts Report Reply

  • Sue,

    that is some fantastic work in the Listener jolisa.

    for me it's an incredibly sad story and just feels wrong. I can't imagine how it must have felt to discover this at the time.

    i just don't understand why Ihimaera did not bother to attribute.

    This is something that is drummed into you at university, most courses include tutorials these days on proper attribution and you loose grades if you get it even slightly wrong, so that you learn early on the acknowledge your sources and be very clear what is original what is not.


    but more importantly to your dad, thank you for sharing that story of the two of you working together and the obvious fun he had with it all, especially when for all of your family things must still be feeling very raw.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 493 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Hi Jolisa, one question I've forgotten to ask (and I don't see asked anywhere else here):

    Is Ihimaera's new novel -- plagiarism questions aside -- a good book?

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 988 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    I have never struck a contract that didnt include variants of these clauses:

    *The author certifies that this is an original work in its entirety.

    *Where quotations are made, due acknowledgment is given to the original author and title. The author acknowledges that they have obtained permission for the quotations from the rightsholder, unless the work is in the public domain.

    Ihimaera is a very experienced writer, editor, and academic teacher. There is no excuse for 'an oversight' on his part. Penguin is also remiss.

    Incidentally, in Mark William's "Leaving The Highway" he has a 'quotation' from either one of Witi's stories or one of mine (am away from home and cant check.) It is actually a mishmash of my words and Witi's. When I charged Mark with this, he airily brushed the matter aside as 'o both paragraphs were together on my comp-uter and I didnt realise they were separate at the time.' (Response paraphrased.) My respect for academics' work -or that academic's work- plummeted.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Mrs Skin,

    Speaking of attributions, I see the Herald has picked up the story. The article notes that Jolisa writes about the discovery 'in her blog' without giving the name of, or linking to, 'the blog'.

    Maybe it's different for journalism, but I can't imagine writing anything - whether it's an academic paper or an internal report or anything - and merely referencing 'X's book' or 'Y's paper'. Apart from anything else, it's just not helpful.

    Slackers.

    the warmest room in the h… • Since Feb 2009 • 168 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    When essays were returned there were no comments relating to specific passages, or even a comment on the essay in general, just an overall grade.

    That's irredeemably slack. For starters, anyone reading it closely enough to mark it should be able to put down at least a few comments. How did they expect anyone to actually learn how to improve their work?

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    @Jackie - Thank you!

    Having had a look at the particular examples of unattributed quoting, they're textbook cases of plagiarism, exactly the sort of things we tell our students not to do. I can see me using the article for teaching purposes in the next few years.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1323 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Yup -- got our copy this morning. Excellent detective work on your part, and for all the bitching of the Listener that goes on in these parts, isn't it rather flattering that this story scored the cover?

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I think I bitch about the Listener because I care. I know how good it can be, and has been, and it's not exaggerating to say the magazine was very important in my own cultural upbringing, particularly through my years at Intermediate and Secondary school (and early Uni years), where I would devour every issue cover-to-cover. I even went so far to hoard whole years' worth of issues until my parents kindly suggested that with my room already overflowing with books, CDs, and other material that it might be worthwhile to get rid of some so I could find my way to the door:)

    So if I get frustrated, it's because the magazine has had an impact on me in the past, and I can see it happening again. Y'know, good students shouldn't sell themselves short.

    But back to the topic at hand, I'm really looking forward to purchasing this week's issue to read that article.

    That was some lovely writing Jolisa. I'm sorry for your loss.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW,

    In other words, there are ethical reasons not to borrow other people's words, but also artistic ones. (I could write at length about the other examples, but might save that for a follow-up blog post.)

    The inference I take from here and your Listener review, Jolisa, is that there are major short-comings in his expressing what might have seemed credibly authentic perspectives of the protagonists of the time and places - an inconsistency or incoherence - that seriously detracts from a "hisorical" novel.

    Since he's taken to rewriting his earlier novels in the light of his later socio-political consciousness and writing skills (Whanau II e.g.), there seems already to be a path forward - he should be re-working this one with the application of those mature writing skills and a good editor. Preferably after the publisher has pulped the first version as a guiltily mistaken release of an early draft.

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 836 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    In other words, there are ethical reasons not to borrow other people's words, but also artistic ones.

    Yeah, this is part of what gets me, the idea that we have lost whatever might otherwise have been written had the author not stolen somebody else's work. Sorry, 'forgotten to attribute'.

    Everything I write as far as web content goes has to pass Copyscape, though that only catches direct copying and pasting. That was still enough for Paul to catch Bruce Logan. And I think it's the cumulative effect of the Logan and George cases with this that's really starting to get me down.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4369 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    I read the article finally, and just one thing occurs to me. The man who wrote "The Rope of Man" - which along with Bone People, and Human Remains is one of my favourite NZ books - doesn't need to stoop to this sort of stuff. Sad, and stupid.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Since he's taken to rewriting his earlier novels in the light of his later socio-political consciousness and writing skills (Whanau II e.g.), there seems already to be a path forward - he should be re-working this one with the application of those mature writing skills and a good editor. Preferably after the publisher has pulped the first version as a guiltily mistaken release of an early draft.

    I think there's a lot of sense to this solution. As an aside, I've always found Whiti's habit of "re-writing" his work rather curious, but maybe that's because I feel art should evolve by itself without any further inteference once it's out there in the public. Historical context changes a lot by itself, but maybe that's what Whiti is all too aware of- trying to take ownership of his work. Has he ever explained his philosophy behind re-writing in interviews? I'd be interested in reading it, because I find him a fascinating interview subject regardless.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Here you go, Matthew: Witi Ihimaera on the rationale for rewriting.

    I actually think it's quite a cool thing to do - plays sometimes appear in several different published versions (not just Shakespeare but current stuff), and poets are known to rework their greatest hits now and then. Some writers, too, revisit the same material from different angles across a lifetime, deriving different nuances and conclusions (Alice Munro gets away with this beautifully and there must be others I'm not thinking of right now). Tobias Wolff revises his short stories every time he anthologises them, as do other writers. And I think many of the great serialisers of the 19th C took advantage of publication in book form to tidy up odd loose ends and tighten their prose.

    I do agree that there is something powerful and inviolate about the work "as originally published." It's kind of a fetish, eh? But as long as the previous versions stay available, I think revisiting and rewriting is a perfectly valid artistic strategy. Especially, perhaps, in this age of multiple versions and constant updating.

    Plus, imagine the number of dissertations one could write about it all!

    And yes, in this case, I imagine (and hope) that the official rewriting of The Trowenna Sea occurs sooner rather than later.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Cheers, Jolisa.

    It's an interesting conundrum isn't it? Although- ironically, given the source of this controversy-I think "historical fiction" probably opens itself up to more freedom to "rewriting", and could maybe even be seen as a necessity if you're that way inclined.

    I do agree that there is something powerful and inviolate about the work "as originally published." It's kind of a fetish, eh? But as long as the previous versions stay available, I think revisiting and rewriting is a perfectly valid artistic strategy. Especially, perhaps, in this age of multiple versions and constant updating.

    Yes, as long as the original work remains in some form, there probably isn't any harm to it.

    I find it interesting when musicians re-record their famous works, often because it often proves that they didn't know what made the work so interesting in the first place. I mean, what was the point of Gang of Four re-doing Entertainment! as Return of the Gift, for instance? The band didn't seem to understand that the very things they hated about the original's production- its spare, dry abrasiveness- were what gave it its power.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Thank you, Jolisa, for conveying so well and so concisely that weird dislocated feeling after a death. Excellent birds.

    Oooh and it makes me wonder,
    how much of his other works should give credit to others.

    The Checkpoint story (streaming, 3m37) mentions earlier concerns about The Matriarch that Jolisa noted upthread.

    Auckland University appears to be more relaxed about this kind of thing.

    Our culture of decreasing accountability goes right to the top. Total bankers.

    The [Herald] article notes that Jolisa writes about the discovery 'in her blog' without giving the name of, or linking to, 'the blog'.

    Worse, lifts her writing from here and makes it seem like quotes from a conversation - "Gracewood said". In a story about plagiarism.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16754 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Thanks for articulating that, Sacha. It did strike me as odd that they interviewed their keyboard, rather than me. Or me, but via the keyboard like that. Luckily I made their job easier by blogging so articulately and so promptly!

    Also, how peculiar to write that entire article without actually naming Public Address. Especially when other parties' affiliation is noted (Auckland University, Penguin, The Listener).

    And I don't usually insist on it (not wanting to be seen as a total banker) but the occasional Dr. Gracewood would be nice. I'm only a doctor of literature, but in this case -- which is, funnily enough, precisely about the philosophy of doctoring literature -- it seems vaguely relevant.

    </habitual self-deprecation>

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Worse, lifts her writing from here and makes it seem like quotes from a conversation - "Gracewood said". In a story about plagiarism.

    That's a jolly good point, Sacha. A paper I write for over here has a strict policy about that: it's "Smith says/said" if you talked to Smith (in person or over the phone, which must also be noted) and "Smith writes/wrote" if you just plucked Smith's writings from her blog. Uh, I mean if you are quoting a book or other written communication, the form of which must also be signalled.

    Not so in NZ? Or should I press for a correction to the story?

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1411 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    should I press for a correction to the story?

    My vote: yes. The story wrongly implies your co-operation with it.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    That's a jolly good point, Sacha. A paper I write for over here has a strict policy about that: it's "Smith says/said" if you talked to Smith (in person or over the phone, which must also be noted) and "Smith writes/wrote" if you just plucked Smith's writings from her blog. Uh, I mean if you are quoting a book or other written communication, the form of which must also be signalled.

    Not so in NZ? Or should I press for a correction to the story?

    I'm not sure whether this is the case for all newspapers, but in the one I'm writing for (which would use Fairfax's housestyle), the general indication is that if you're taking it off a letter or blog entry, etc, you indicate it and then go on using "he/she said etc", e.g. "In her blog post on the Public Address website, Dr Gracewood said...."

    That way you've flagged it up and you can continue. I think it's more for ease of writing than anything else- using "said" all the time in news reports, while occasionally dull, is much easier to follow for the reader who usually just wants the whos wheres whys whats and wherefores.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I made their job easier by blogging so articulately and so promptly!

    Reckon. It sounded like you had talked with them, Dr Gracewood.

    Not so in NZ?

    Apparently not. Probably just house style and stretched resources rather than poor intent.

    Not crediting blogs reflects the derisive official attitudes our newspapers seem to have about them. Doesn't stop them being sources when it suits, of course.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16754 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Apparently not. Probably just house style and stretched resources rather than poor intent.

    It's still kinda sucky tho- as I said in my above post, it doesn't take much to flag the original source and the carry on. In fact, it should be done even when sourcing interviews from other newspapers for story material. It's good practice, and also saves the journalist's backside is something goes awry.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 443 posts Report Reply

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