Here comes everybody, copying

People are taking the old adage of faking it until you make it to its logical conclusion.

I often start writing with snatches of ideas from wherever I’ve found them, so I get it.

I scribble in my notes, kick off with bits of inspiration from whatever I’m reading. It’s a way to get the ideas flowing, to sidestep a dreaded blank page. As I work my way through and finesse the concepts, story, style into something that’s more my thing it usually takes its own shape.

But over the past year or so serious plagiarism has popped up again and again, and in unlikely quarters.

There have been countless other examples. Artists, authors, advertisers and virtually everyone else.

There have been plenty of big cases before now, the German science minister is even under pressure for plagiarism in a doctoral thesis over 30 years ago.

But with content farms and ‘curated’ blogs, under-resourced newsrooms and everyone being pushed to file more and more stories, it seems to be getting more prevalent.

There’s even a blog called Plagiarism Today tracking the issue. I love that Steve Buttry developed a quiz to make sure people in his newsroom get the attribution right.

Here’s one today. Dan Keogh picked up that Scientific American blogger Bec Crew‘s post had been plagiarised by a reporter from the Daily Mail.

Here’s Dan’s tweet:

He picked it up using a tool created to help Wikipedia pick up ‘duplicates’.

Reading #5

  1. Sometimes all it takes to be creative is a different perspective. Matthew Engel’s Financial Times report on Australian politics captures something:

    The insecurity of power is reinforced by the layout of the parliamentary chamber. Instead of nestling alongside their colleagues on the front bench, the leaders sit alone at the despatch box, on swivel chairs, unable to glimpse the darts being aimed from behind.

    Unless they swing round, which Tony Abbott does all the time, turning his back on the PM to confer with his colleagues – especially when she is speaking, a gesture of contempt that would be recognised among primates. There is indeed something rather simian about Abbott: he is a hulking fitness fetishist-cum-exhibitionist, often photographed in the skimpy swimming trunks that Aussies call “budgie-smugglers”. The other week he was spotted running through the parliamentary corridors, past the coffee shop, in his tight black shorts: “It was like watching evolution in reverse,” said one latte drinker.

    Abbott’s attitude to Gillard is understandable. She enters the House with a strange waddle, as though she were a stringed puppet (perhaps with one of the faction leaders doing the pulling). Her accent is the least euphonious variant of whining Strine, and the content of her answers mind-numbingly repetitive. I heard her accuse Abbott of opposing with “three-word slogans” at least six times, which in itself constitutes a three-word slogan

  2. Radiolab, on WNYC (I get it on podcast), is one of the best of a new breed of radio. Intensely creative, captivated by the trade of ideas, informed by truckloads of radio and science experience. This great New York Oberver piece says it shows scientists haven’t simply replaced the theologians, the metaphysicians and the social critics as posers and answerers of the biggest questions:

    They’ve also become, in a time of gene-splicing and hadron-colliding and psychopharmacology, our true avatars of creative expression, the last radical artists left.

    This show is a conversation between science and mystery. You’re right at the edge of what the science can tell you. Which to me is as much about, like, magical thinking and weirdness and poetry as the science itself.

  3. Lee Fleming, at Harvard, collected data on all US patents since 1975, and looked at the network structures around them. It’s detailed in a fascinating Harvard Magazine piece on network analysis (I got this from a piece about network analysis on Arie Goldschlager‘s blog by the way):

    Comparing the models of the “broker”—an influential person connected to many others who don’t know each other—and the “connector”—an influential individual with a habit of introducing his collaborators to each other—he found that brokers are more likely to come up with new ideas, because they are situated at the center of a group and communication goes through them.

    But brokers have a harder time getting their ideas publicized, relative to connectors. Fleming found that brokers whose ideas became influential most often were connected to a “gatekeeper” who was part of a more highly integrated network and could disseminate the idea there.

  4. Google has been one of the past decade’s most fiercely innovative companies. From my experiences and reading, it seems that innovation stems from a mix of connectedness and disconnectedness. Their work is online, so there’s obviously connectivity. But they work in small teams that find their way to each other when they do. Several people I know went to ‘Google Under The Hood’ days in Sydney and Melbourne over the past few weeks.  I reckon the best insights come from failures, not successes, because you can see things in a cool, dispassionate way – the obvious recent example would be Wave, and I’d love to hear more about that. There’s nothing about Wave in this short review, but it does go into Google’s guidelines for innovation (it’s by Alex Roberts from the Federal Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research’s Innovation blog – which I hadn’t seen before, but am glad to have found):

    One of the other things mentioned was Google’s guiding principles ‘10 things we know to be true’. These principles include: that if you focus on the user, all else will follow; that great just isn’t good enough; and you can be serious without a suit.

    On looking at these principles I also came across their 10 design principles. These include ‘Dare to innovate’ – “Google encourages innovative, risk-taking designs whenever they serve the needs of users. Our teams encourage new ideas to come out and play. Instead of just matching the features of existing products, Google wants to change the game.”

    The APS has its Values which articulates our philosophy for the public service. But I was wondering – what could an APS philosophy for innovation look like? What should it look like?

  5. Gary Hamel’s business management blog at the Wall Street Journal is annoyed by lists of ‘most innovative companies’, which he says fail to distinguish between the five types of innovative businesses: young tyros like Spotify and Hulu; Nobel laureates like Intel and Cisco; artistes like IDEO and Grey New York; cyborgs like Google, Amazon and Apple; and born again innovators like Proctor & Gamble and Ford. He says the difference isn’t abstract, it’s structural (and it’s just as relevant to, say, a research institution or government):

    What limits innovation in established companies isn’t a lack of resources or a shortage of human creativity, but a dearth of pro-innovation processes. In too many organizations one finds that . . .

    1. Few, if any, employees trained as business innovators
    2. Few employees have access to the sort of customer and industry insights that can help spur innovation
    3. Would-be innovators face a bureaucratic gauntlet that makes it difficult for them to get the time and resources they need to test their ideas
    4. Line managers aren’t held accountable for mentoring new business initiatives or lack explicit innovation goals
    5. Innovation performance isn’t directly tied to top management compensation
    6. The metrics for tracking innovation (inputs, throughputs and outputs) are patchy and poorly constructed
    7. There’s no commonly agreed-upon definition of innovation and hence no way of comparing innovation performance across teams and divisions.
  6. I love this… taking the hack day concept and putting it to work in science. Science Hack Day happened earlier this month at San Francisco’s Institute for the Future:

    About 100 people gathered to learn from each other, tinker, form collaborative teams, and build projects that combined ideas from particle physics, molecular biology and bioinformatics, data science, astronomy and space science, robotics, geography, microscopy, software hacking, and web design. NASA was there, with an exuberance of marketing schwag and an eagerness to make their stores of data more accessible to citizen scientists; Mendeley was there to raise awareness of their open API, which grants access to Mendeley’s academic research data and web of scholarly relationships; YDN was there to show YQL, the query language that makes it easy to manipulate and mashup data from all over the web. There were Arduinos, LEDs, double helix legos, duct tape of course, a DNA tie, a $512 Polymerase Chain Reaction machine to enable DNA amplification for biohackers everywhere, plenty of cameras, plenty of refreshments, and a superabundance of smart, friendly people. Here’s the complete list of projects built.