plural pen•um•brae or pen•um•bras
1 : a space of partial illumination
2: something that covers, surrounds, or obscures
Have our scholarly expectations outpaced reality? In a world where collaboration with complete strangers is possible thanks to advances in technology, greater insights and unique viewpoints are available like never before. Our growing understanding of digital contribution may be shedding light on our accountability within this new realm. In Michael Chui’s interview with Clay Shirky, each new innovation throughout history, such as the printing press, newspaper, and telephone, has allowed greater access to communication, and ultimately collaboration (2014). When a shift occurs within society as a result of technology, the way we think and work together morphs as well. Although Shirky’s ideological view of online collaboration sounds promising, if a flawed project is uploaded by the creator and the digital community jumps in to “turn it into something workable ( Chui 2014),” do all those who contributed receive credit for their work? If the creator walks away with an improved design and does not give credit to the vast array of online assistance that was received, has he committed plagiarism?
In the scholarly world, individual achievement and recognition is key to success and acknowledgement of contribution is the driving force of participation. As Hollis Phelps reminds us in his article “Žižek, Plagiarism and the Lowering of Expectations” even seemingly unintentional lack of acknowledgement can threaten the credibility of a scholar. Žižek and others like him accused of plagiarism remind us that scholarly expertise comes at a price, and that borrowing from other authors (and research assistants) and not giving credit to their contribution can consist of intellectual fraud. If you quote too often, an author can be thought of as relying on other sources too heavily (Phelps 2014). In a world where “scholarship places a value on uniqueness and novelty,” Phelps points out the expectations on scholars may be unrealistic; suggesting it would be best to “lower our expectations with regard to what we do (2014).” There is no shame in quoting your sources and recognizing the contributions of others. The line between internalizing ideas and forming your own thoughts and opinions and plagiarism can become blurred if you sources are not properly cited.
With technology allowing a much more interconnected and collaborative world, these issues may cause us to rethink 21st century publication practices. You no longer must have “someone who can do everything. . . you can start having a division of labor” (Chui 2014), a wide array of skill sets can advance an idea or project like never before. With more contribution occurring at a rapid pace, we may be shedding light on the dimly lit world of academic acknowledgement, allowing it to finally catch up with our more open sharing world.
Phelps, H. (2014, July 17). “Žižek, Plagiarism and the Lowering of Expectations.” Inside Higher Education. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/07/17/%C5%BEi%C5%BEek-plagiarism-and-lowering-expectations-essay.
Chui, M. (2014, March). “The disruptive power of collaboration: An interview with Clay Shirky.” McKinsey & Company. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/The_disruptive_power_of_collaboration_An_interview_with_Clay_Shirky?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck-oth-1403.