16 jun. 2011

Steal This Idea

If you steal an idea from me, I still win. It is my idea filtering through the field, influencing others. If you borrow an idea and give me credit, that's fine too, even better in fact. If you quote me and don't remember who said what you are quoting, I might cite your paraphrase as evidence for my position, forgetting that it was my idea in the first place. One guy used to tell me "I got an idea from reading your article..." But he wouldn't cite me, except in very tangential contexts. I could have gone after him, but it wasn't worth it. Another guy spent a good portion of his book disagreeing with me, but he neglected to cite the main article where I had made my point, referring instead to another, minor one written a few years earlier. David Lehman wrote a poem imitating the exact structure and conceit of a poem by his close friend David Shapiro. David Shapiro still wins, in my book.

If you read my blog and think you can write a book on Lorca, Zambrano, and intellectual history, finishing it before I do, go ahead and try. I'll still finish first and I'll still win. I actually wish someone would use some of my leftover ideas and write some more books based on them. I don't have time to write up all my own ideas.

If you disagree with me at length in print, I also win. I am the person whose ideas you are disagreeing with, and thus I have set the terms of the debate. "As long as you spell my name right." It's like that old Hollywood joke: "I can't get arrested in this town." You don't necessarily want to get arrested, but if you can't even get arrested, you are nobody.

6 comentarios:

Professor Zero dijo...

I am actually more worried about the opposite, namely, people in your position stealing other peoples' work. You've got to know how much this goes on, in terms of ideas but also physical work, right?

Very distasteful situation this morning -- editing this volume, and bigwig prof's piece is poorly formatted, poorly edited, not even really written, looks like a freakin' draft; to fix it you'd have to do research and thinking since it is so unformed.

E-mail him. He says oh, I thought my RA was going to fix all that. Sorry. Can you do it? Dayum, this from a really pleasant guy who opposes exploitation and all that.

Vituperate to co editor who says oh Lord, well we need his piece I guess, but we can't let him get you, the girl, to do it, because that's just too much of a classic sexist move, so I guess I'll do it.

I said no, we're rejecting the god-damned piece or at least listing you as co author because you will be that legitimately by the time you're finished. We'll see what happens, because co-editor sees himself moving up and thus does not want to get on the wrong side of this man, but Jesus.

What most amazes me of course is the revelation of *how much* of this guy's stuff is actually written by his RAs ... and I really do mean written, not just edited or formatted; were he a student I'd fail the piece just on the basis of the number of unfinished sentences.

Jonathan dijo...

I haven't had an RA in 20 years. What is that like? I wish I did, but I wouldn't use one to rewrite my bad prose.

Clarissa dijo...

I've worked as a RA to 3 different people (not at the same time, of course). I had to search for bibliographical references, hunt down hard-to-find sources, make photocopies, organize their personal libraries, keep track of reviews of their books.

I loved doing that. It was really the easiest money I ever made. Nobody was trying to be exploitative. On the contrary, I kept bugging them to give me more work to do because I felt like I was exploiting them. :-)

Andrew Shields dijo...

There was that old story about the critical CBS report on Reagan's misleading campaign advertising in the 1984 election campaign. Supposedly, Reagan's campaign manager called the reporter (Lesley Stahl, I think) the next morning and thanked her for giving his candidate five minutes of free advertising, and when she pointed out that she had shredded the ads, he said that all people would see was the good images in the ads without paying attention to her critique of them. Hence, free advertising.

Professor Zero dijo...

I'm assuming this post is a reaction to someone saying you shouldn't blog about your ideas because they might be "stolen," but if that were true you shouldn't talk to anyone, go to conferences, etc., either -- or mention interesting ideas for projects in your classes or in office hours.

(I mean, don't we learn this in, like, elementary school ... that you can't really "steal ideas"? Also, what's with the emphasis on "winning"?)

I insist, stealing actual work, not ideas is the larger problem and I had attempts at having work stolen about 3 times as an asst. prof., by tenured folk, got alerted to this going on by editors. It was friendly people who had asked whether they could read mss. and I'd naively said I'd appreciate an opinion.

Then back in the 70s or so another full prof appears to have stolen a file of photocopies and photographs my father had gotten, with some effort, from an archive. Technically it was stuff anyone could have gotten if they'd put in the time but now this guy had it and published it and on it before Dad could get more travel money and reacquire the materials. I didn't hear about this from him -- he just seemed to be mad at this guy and disappointed with the results of his sabbatical -- but someone he didn't know, but that knew him, explained it to me years later.

Right now I've got this guy (working at a better funded place than KU, much better funded) having others do some of his heavy lifting, and in my field there's someone else who's outright famous for it. And I like both of these people, and they work a full day themselves, so I'm not complaining 100%, I just think they should freakin' share credit.

On being an RA, we all have but I never recommend working above the number of hours you're paid for in jobs like this -- save time for your own work, think of time to degree, and also, it's a labor issue.

See Marc Bosquet: http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/

Jonathan dijo...

Good points, Z. I'm not aware of anyone in my immediate subfield who steals peoples work. I know in the Lat Am field some major figures with the reputation of farming out work to subalterns, current or former grad students. I won't mention names, but JO and DWF are known for some iffy practices. I've seen people who never get out from under the shadow of their advisor not get tenure. It's kind of depressing because I'd like to see more collaborative work in my field, but collaboration invites abuse of power.