Intellectual heritage tracing

I’ve only been hearing and thinking about plagiarism in the last few days – since going to the Assessment Think Tank in York in fact, but since then reading in many places. One of the debated ideas is encouraging students to use plagiarism detection services. Another, heard at York, is that the more adventurous students run more risk. Why? It is unlikely in some subjects (say Philosophy) to come up with entirely novel ideas, so if a student has an idea which was not represented on the reading list, they are less likely to know if someone has had it before, and thus more likely to be judged to have plagiarised – have passed off some ideas as theirs which actually came from someone else. They may not have known that, but they can’t prove it.

Those two ideas together spark off a bigger idea.

Sophisticated plagiarism detection services could be rebranded to be thought of as tracing the intellectual heritage of a piece of work. That would be very useful – I could write some thoughts down, submit them, and be returned a list of similar ideas, along with how my ideas relate to theirs (according to the software, which is not of course going to be perfect). Then I could look up the originals, and work them in properly: paraphrase and reference, for example. It would also be a powerful self-critical tool: instead of simply imagining the objections to one’s own supposedly new idea, one could see how others have argued against similar ideas in the past.

Incredibly useful in the field of patenting, as well, I would guess…

Have the anti-plagiarism people got on to patents yet? I’ll ask.

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