Friday, April 27, 2012

wikinausea

Q: Have you ever read so many bastardized versions of a wikipedia article that you think you can reconstruct the original?

As a final essay, I asked my students to write about the theme of obligation in the Epic of the Aardvarks.  Easy, straightforward.  But they don't know what the word "obligation" means, so they throw it into Google.  The wikipedia article (a wikipedia article on what "obligation" means? wtf?) includes the phrase "normative context."

Look, moronflakes.  If you don't know what "obligation" means, I am not for a moment going to believe that you regularly use the phrase "normative context." Just sayin'.




12 comments:

  1. @HH - Awesome image. Keep it!

    Oh, the jargon in the papers. There are two basic forms which sometimes even interbreed. Using words they don't know is one of them. This is a good example of where it comes from: paraphrasing texts they don't understand. The other form I get a lot in my papers - making up word combinations that sound more lofty or intellectual that just straightforward usage. Today I got "monetary funds" in a paper in which there was no reason to not just say, "money."

    BTW, she's not making the "normative context" part up.

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  2. Thanks for this; I LOL'd. If you think this phenomenon is funny in English, try encountering it in a foreign language context. I've gotten papers that are crazy pastiches of improperly conjugated verbs in the wrong tense combined with fragments of sentences that sound like they were written by native-speaker university professors. 9 times out of 10, the culprit is wikipedia! Students are often baffled that I can spot plagiarized work so effortlessly. It's like they think language is just a transparent code, and as long as the grammar is correct, there's no way to tell who could have written something...

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    1. Oooohh, yes, the non-natives letting Wikipedia do the talking for them. Been there, bought the souvenir T-shirt, and sent postcards.

      Courage, HH -- we still have a few weeks to go until I'm in your shoes.

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  3. The really clever ones should realise that if they run the Wikipedia stuff through Babelfish and back (e.g., English to Spanish and back to English) it would sound just crappy enough to be plausibly their work.

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    1. If they were that clever, they'd know what "obligation" means, as in "I have an obligation not to plagiarize."

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  4. Of course, if we really wanted to be sneaky, we could always insert a few fancy-sounding but utterly wrong terms into the Wikipedia article about 48 hours before a paper on the subject was due, then correct the problem once the papers are in. Not nice (wikipedia does have its legitimate uses, and I'm not entirely sure I like the idea of sabotaging it), but even warning students that it could be done, has been done in the past, might be done by some other professor, etc. might do the trick.

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    1. I've had the same evil thought on more than one occasion...

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  5. It's even worse when it's not wikipedia: somehow they find pre-packaged answers to something very much like your question. After you've checked the textbook for stuff you missed, and wikipedia, once 2 or 3 hit the same phrase, or list, or conclusion, and you have enough to find it anyway. And it's some HS study site, or wingnut geocities leftovers, or about.com answers from someone who has less clue than they do.....

    And I don't know how they find this stuff, or why they don't just READ THE TEAPARTYING TEXTBOOK!

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    1. It's that unwillingness to read the materials we provide for them, while galloping off to find some other (inevitably less reliable) source, that I find completely mystifying. I did an exercise on Hamster physiology in the computer lab one time. I prepared a detailed backgrounder as part of the lab manual for that week, that walked them step by step through the principles they would be working with. And then I watched in dismay as lab-group after lab-group, none of whom had read the lab manual, hunted through obscure wikipedia entries trying to find the information that was literally right under their noses.

      It was all I could do not to knock their damn fool heads together.

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    2. But they can't understand the directions you supplied! (Of course, they can understand some damn fool's instructions for something only marginally related, that use words with more syllables than the ones you used.)

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  6. As someone who received a 5-page chunk of a USC dissertation today as a weekly response to a very basic question (literally punched in the first sentence and popped out the whole thing on a digitized dissertation website) I completely sympathize.

    But when they use the word "endogeneity" I know something is up.

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    1. Endogeneity sometimes has a normative context.

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