The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The perils of online plagiarism.

To write is to be read and, often, quoted. However, in the modern world, that "quotation" can take the form of out and out plagiarism.

Not infrequently, I have noticed odd searches arriving on my blog. They are odd because the searcher clearly knows the contents of the post they are searching for, since they are using a long quotation of the post, as a search term. Now, I find this strange. We don't live in an oral tradition in which people have great memories for what they hear, and pass on large chunks of words verbatim to each other, for later recall. We live in a written culture. So, rather than be impressed by people's memories when I see wholesale quotation of my blog, I think it is much more likely to be an indicator that they have seen its contents written down somewhere other than on my blog. The question is: where?

Sometimes, someone copies and pastes my entire article to another site, usually a forum. This, whether they know it or not, is an act of plagiarism, for it is in breach of copyright. Usually, they copy the entire article. However, courtesy would require that they only quote a few lines, then link to the blog. Generally, they don't do that. Often, they don't even link to the blog at all. I have even seen a blog post of mine CREDITED to someone else, before. I wrote to the owner of the site and they neither replied to me, nor changed the attribution. So, there is little respect out there for the origin of written work, these days.

On other occasions, not knowing of any forum in which my article has been posted I wonder at the source of a quotation. I surmise that someone, somewhere, has turned my post into an essay for some school project, or something of the kind. It seems likely that they have written down my posts word for word and handed them as their own work. This, in the age of the internet, is a foolish thing to do. You see, a teacher, reading a work that is unusually coherent or polished, for a particular student will do what I have often seen done: type a fair sized quotation into Google and search for it. That will bring them to my blog and the true source of the article.

Today, for instance, two different people quoted my article on Lee Kuan Yew and Assortative Mating, one quote being twenty-four words long: "a graduate is just someone who has conformed to an education system long enough to actually be given a piece of paper by it". Such a quote is a little too long for many people to remember, directly, so it is probably from an "essay". The fact that two different people searched for the same quote tells me that there is likely to be one new source of this awareness - and that it is probably not my blog, otherwise they would be searching directly for that.

Teachers, in particular, should stand against this kind of plagiarism. The internet is a wonderful tool for allowing everyone broad access to knowledge, but it can also make some students very lazy: they can just cut and paste someone else's thoughts and avoid thinking, altogether. All a teacher has to do to fight this is to use search engines to find the original source of an essay or quotation. Students should be taught to attribute all their work. If they quote someone, they should state who they are quoting and give the source. This is common academic courtesy and also allows the context of a particular thought to be understood, which gives insight into the true significance of the remark/essay they have quoted.

I think this practice is becoming increasingly commonplace, because I have noticed this kind of quotation of my work, in search engines, quite a lot over the past couple of years. If my work had been attributed, the searcher would not have had to search in that way - thus the fact that they are, is an indication there is unattributed imitation of my written work, going on. This is kind of sad, given the consistent, long-term effort needed to create this blog and its 950 posts.

Creators of any kind, should not be predated upon. Their work should be respected and credited at all times. To do otherwise, is to discourage the very act of creation - which ultimately impoverishes and weakens the culture, for all.

So, the next time you see a remark, or an idea, in a student's essay (or indeed a fully-formed adult's work) - just Google it and see who was really the author of that idea. Then, I suggest you confront the culprit and instruct them in how they should go about respecting the authors of any future works, they refer to.


(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

We are the founders of Genghis Can, a copywriting, editing and proofreading agency, that handles all kinds of work, including technical and scientific material. If you need such services, or know someone who does, please go to: Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:11 PM 


Blogger Shannon said...

After your copyright notice, perhaps you should add:

Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
Use Only with Permission.

Although this should be common sense, some of your readers may need to be reminded that copyright infringement is a punishable offense.

If this is a reoccurring problem, I might be tempted to include a notice of copyright after each blog submission.

Kind Regards

7:12 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Shannon, for the suggestion. I think I shall start to include those words after each blog post.

Kind regards

7:54 AM  

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