Editorial: Copy, paste

A small piece of good news has come out of the embarrasing incident endured by this newspaper, induced by a writer found to have committed plagiarism. I promise, one reader said in response to the report, not to engage in plagiarism again. The reader, apparently a university student from Banyumas, Central Java, said almost all the students she knew had been involved in “some kind of plagiarism” but may have been “unaware” that it was wrong.

The renowned professor had also stated on his Facebook account that he apologized and that his deeds were “unintentional,” though many may not understand how one unintentionally copies a string of paragraphs.

The above student’s pledge is insignificant in the surroundings, which still places higher value on academic titles, rather than the disciplined process of intellectual creativity and honesty. What’s wrong with a copy paste here and there? Why waste time painstakingly researching and writing one’s orginal work, only to be thrashed by a demanding lecturer?

With or without the Internet, we know well that cheating has been widespread here. Every year at the time of examination at all school levels, we even hear of teachers turning a blind eye to cheating students, for the sake of maintaining the school’s reputation of graduating 100 percent of students. As long as teachers condone cheating, there’s little chance that a parent’s nagging would instill some understanding that copying material without crediting the original writer is plain stealing.

Little wonder that such permissiveness carries on to university years. With a bit of charisma and a click of the mouse, cheating increasingly becomes easier and tempting for the rising campus star; the perpetrator becomes careless until someone cries foul. So this raises the question, how many plagiarists are out there?

One can easily block paragraphs and check across the Internet for the authencity of articles, against those which have been published in English. But this, of course, means that one plagiarist causes a thousand honest writers to become circumspect to the same scrutiny as the humiliating loud beeper checking the shopper’s bag. Seeking the instant road to fame and social acceptance has long meant plagiarizing and purchasing of academic titles and certificates. “Outsourcing” theses was a practice across universities here well before the days of the Internet. Which further means that one plagiarist who has been found out would be the tip of the iceberg.

The cost of all this cheating? The country and Indonesians are the ones losing out. We are notorious for our poor writing, which only becomes evident when Indonesians attempt to study overseas, or face report assignments on the job. The studies on various aspects of our own country, past and present, are still largely the work of foreign researchers. Our “verbal tradition” is but a petty excuse for the academia; they may not all be expected to be Einsteins, but are certainly expected to be honest.

Indonesia does not lack talking heads; we have many of them, gaining fame as part and parcel of the political talk shows. More writers among them are harder to find, though more self confidence and less censorship have encouraged more local writers than before. Their readers will just have to be more discerning, sifting through the true creators of local narrative from the liars and cheaters.