Plagarism, Fiction, and Synthesis

Wed Jan 29 08:06:18 PST 2003

Subject was: Re: Favorite NON-fiction  

On Tue, Jan 28, 2003 at 06:52:49PM +0000, H. T. wrote:

> >It is not unusual for several different scientists, or teams of scientists,
> >to be working on the same theory at the same time. The one that puplishes
> >first, gets the credit, even if thier research is based upon another 
> >persons
> >initial research. Remember- one source is called plagiarism, several 
> >sources
> >is called research.
> I hate to be a pain in the butt... okay actually I love to be one, but 
> that's beside the point... but last time I looked one source without citing 
> its creator is plagiarism, two sources without citing their inventors is 
> plagiarism, twenty-sources without citing their originators is 
> plagiarism... and basing one's research off of anothers data that is 
> created at the same time as the research you are working on, and especially 
> the information of who you are in direct competition with, without giving 
> them their due, is usually industrial espionage...

And let us note the difference between fiction and non-fiction.
Taking twenty others peoples work and using it to get your facts
right in a work of mostly-unrelated fiction (such as the Vlad
stories) is perfectly legit.

Now let's look at just non-fiction.  Writing a book about the battle
of Thermopolae based primarily on other folks work about the battle
of Thermopolae is pretty much the only way to do it.  What separates
plagarism from actual research is how well you synthesize something
new from the previous stuff.  As an example, a book on historical
geography might integrate well with the semi-legendary battle of
Thermopylae of if it illustrates that a gap which is now nearly
impassible was much wider 3000 years ago -- or vice-versa.  This
has big implicatations either way, and synthesizing from those facts
is good research.  Not synthesizing is probably plagarism.

There was a recent novelization (I forget title and author) about
that battle and (more importantly) about Spartan society.  The
author isn't a particularly good writer, but he brought Spartan
society to life much better than all the non-fiction I'd read of
the era.  When a better writer tries this sort of thing, you get
excellent books like McCulloughs "First Man In Rome" and "The Grass
Crown", or Mary Stewarts Arthurian tales.  I doubt Stewart of
McCullough have contributed anthing new to our knowledge of the
Authurian legends or late republican Rome, but anyone who calls it
plagarism (and I'm not saying H. T. is) is simply off base.