Assignment for Friday

September 10th, 2008

For Friday’s class, I want you to write a brief analysis of the Rocket Car story from Wired. As yourself (a) why does this story work, (b) why doesn’t it work, (c) what are the critical elements in convincing you that it is the true story or a made up one, and finally (d) what we as a class should learn from this story. Post your analysis in the blog before class on Friday so everyone else will have a chance to read and think about what you had to say before class.

Butter Churns and Plagiarism

September 8th, 2008

I think it’s good we’re talking about plagiarism in class tomorrow- but I’ll have to admit I’m half dreading the conversations sure to come up in it.

I am a journalist- a profession much maligned by the general public at large for inaccuracy, immorality, and yes, plagiarism, among many other misdeeds. I pride myself in the fact that in my professional journalistic life, I keep my ethics high, but despair at the many out there who don’t feel as strongly or are not as careful as I usually am.

See- I know how easy it can be sometimes. I’ve seen people do it and I worry about it in my own notes. You do background research on a topic- take notes sometimes with exact quotes from sources- then use it as reference when you’re writing the story. I do my best to always set these exact quotes apart and never to use them in my own writing- but I can see how it can happen.

Back as a young overachieving perfectionist child in fourth grade- I did a science project on different butter churns and which one worked better. I’m not exactly certain what drew me to this subject except for my fascination with Laura Ingalls Wilder from an early age. While writing up the background information paper, I copied portions from a book describing pasteurization, knowing it was wrong, but not knowing how else to phrase the information. My mother caught me at it- apparently she figured out that I didn’t really know what all those long words meant- and gave me a stern lecture that’s stayed with me since.

However, it’s not so easy to tell plagiarism most of the time. As we grow older, our obvious vocabulary or writing deficiencies aren’t as obvious- and our editors and bosses are less likely to notice our errors. It’s hard- unless the piece is obviously not in the writer’s style, or the reader googles each and every sentence- sometimes it can be impossible to tell.

I know. I have myself missed plagiarism in a writer’s work not so long ago. It was a simple error on her part- a mess-up with notes and mental exhaustion- that I just missed completely. It got published and caught- she was derided as a liar and a bad reporter who could not be trusted. The entire publication fell under suspicion and a witch hunt began- many of my other writers were accused of plagiarizing in cases that they had not- some readers called for the firing of the writer and every editor who missed the mistake. The worst part is how this ended up really affecting the writer- her credibility was shot for good- she is not put in any position of authority even now- not because of a lack of trust from her bosses, but because of the knowledge that the readers can not and would not trust her or give her a chance to regain that trust in such a position.

To this day, I feel so guilty- like I let her down completely. I wish with my whole heart I had checked a little closer- saved her from all the grief that’s befallen her. I do my best to keep my journalistic ethics clean from any spot or need for reproach to avoid her fate.

It makes me wonder- how do I, who work to keep my ethics in my profession so high, justify the fact that by participating in this class, I will be creating a hoax designed to fool the people around me? What higher purpose is being served here? Is in fact, there any at all?

I don’t know yet- I just don’t know.



Here’s a fascinating article on plagiarism from Slate, coincidentally published on my 14th birthday. It actually analyzes why plagiarists do what they do, how society doesn’t have any prescribed punishments for plagiarism, and why many writers live in fear of accidental plagiarism.

Hoaxes that can get you fired…

September 5th, 2008

One of the issues we’ll have to wrestle with this semester is where is the line between funny and not funny, between an excellent joke and an unethical or immoral act, between something that won’t get us into trouble and something that will. By way of cautionary tales, here are two examples of hoaxes that could get you in trouble:

The most recent Bigfoot Hoax.

Congressional Candidate Fakes Wildnerness Survival

In the Bigfoot example, the problem is that one of the hoaxer was a sheriff’s deputy and so, as an officer of the court, needed to be above suspicions of being a lier. We’ll see if his bosses can take a joke or not. In the case of Gary Dodds, the problem was that the search and rescue effort mounted to find him after he disappeared in a snow squall cost close to $20,000, so he effectively defrauded the state of New Hampshire (and so went to jail). Oops.

And for those of you who are die hard Bigfoot fans (you know you are), a neighbor of mine in Manassas recently made an incredibly campy movie starring a Bigfoot with a bad attitude who disrupts some college students’ plans for a weekend of beer and other things in a mountain cabin. If you want to watch a movie that is an example of what can be done with a $30,000 budget (he actually sold it to a distributor for a profit…no kidding), then check out Holler Creek Canyon. It’s bad, but if you’re a Bigfoot fan, how can you pass it up? Just don’t buy a copy. You’d be sorry. [Trailer]

Motives of Hoaxes

September 5th, 2008

This week in class, while discussing different hoaxes, I noticed something. It seems simple really, but every hoax has a meaning behind it, however small. People put effort into making them work for a reason.

So far I’ve concocted a small list of the motives I’ve seen- I’m sure there are thousands of more examples than I’m mentioning, but hey, it’s late.

1. Financial- P. T. Barnum. ‘Nuff said.

2. Political- There’s a lot of these- for example, the miscegenation hoax in the 1800s circulated a pamphlet proposing procreation between the races, supposedly written by a Republican abolitionist. It was later discovered that a couple of Democratic newsmen had written the “inflammatory” pamphlet to insert the issue into the presidential election and stir up the working-class public against the Republicans. The Democrats lost the election anyways. Also, the Chesterfield Cigarettes Leper rumor was possibly started by anti-smoking advocates trying to discourage people from lighting up.

3. Educational/experimental- For example, the Casablanca Hoax wherein the hoaxer sent copies of movie classic Casablanca out to over 200 movie agents with just the title and author’s name changed. The results were…interesting, to say the least.

4. For the Fun of it. Roswell- what other reason could there be for it? So many included in here.

See y’all in class!

Rachael Dickson

Well Hello

September 4th, 2008

Okay so after many technical difficulties, most of which were probably user error as computers and I don’t tend to get along, I have been able to get on here.  So now, hopefully with no user error, I will be able to write.  This isn’t my first time blogging, as I took a class with Mills before, and I have taken other classes that required blogs.

I do have a question though; if we even mention our project on here and someone googles it, won’t it come up as one of the hits?  I know that when I google my name my blogs from other classes come up.  While I know secrecy is a crutial part of this project, how are we going to overcome that to work on here without getting caught?  I know that its probably going to be something as simple as we aren’t going to use the blog during that part of the semester but I still wanted to know.

fellow classmates

September 4th, 2008

I’m breaking ground in terms of online blogging, so I have yet to familiarize myself with all that can be done. In the meantime, I read some posts and thought that Scott made a good point about the ‘MythBusters’ television show and the hoaxes they’ve ‘busted’.

YouTube Hoaxes

September 4th, 2008

Here are links to the YouTube Hoaxes I mentioned in class yesterday:

Little Loca

Lonely Girl — and a Wired magazine story on Lonely Girl.

As with every hoax we’ve discussed so far, why do you think these two worked so well?

Other People’s Hoax Ideas

September 3rd, 2008

Word about our course is wandering around the history blogosphere and has resulted in some suggestions for further study from other historians:

Five Hoaxes that Fooled the World

Six More Hoaxes that Fooled the World

Some of these are in our other readings, but not all…


September 2nd, 2008

I am looking forward to working with you all this semester. Time to put that ‘thinking cap’ to work. See you tomorrow.


September 2nd, 2008

Hello, this is to make sure this blog things works and all. See you in class