Sunday, February 15, 2009

Church Scholars

What do yall think of this?

I walked into church late to see that a high councilman and his wife were the speakers this week. She had her head down and was reading off a sheet of paper in a monotone voice quickly but not very fluidly. I noticed she was getting a bit tripped up on some of the long sentences she was using and that she was mispronouncing some of her words ("transdescended" instead of transcended). I thought that it would be odd for her to write a talk using words that she didn't really know, and it occurred to me that maybe she didn't write it. I jotted down some distinctive phrases so I could search for her source later. It turned out it was this article from Gerald Lund from a 1990 Ensign. As soon as she read the last word off her page, she closed in Jesus' name and said Amen.

Then her husband spoke. He told this story as true (which it isn't). He used it as a way to introduce the theme of his talk, which was the importance of choices. Then he began doing the same thing his wife had done, reading with his head down and using words like "portended" and "grappled". A search of his phrases showed it was from this 1998 ensign article by Elder Oaks. He then closed with a story from his own life about how his decision to go scuba diving on Sunday while on vacation resulted in his eardrum being ruptured, and that now he lives with constant ringing and a small of fraction of hearing capacity in that ear all because he didn't honor the Sabbath. He gave his testimony and then closed.

The first Ensign article was read in its entirety. The second one was not.

Since I didn't hear the beginning of the sister's talk, I can't be sure whether she cited Gerald Lund. The fact that she didn't say anything after makes me wonder whether she said anything before. From what I saw, it seemed like the whole talk was passed off (maybe not on purpose) as her own words.

I don't remember the husband cited his source either. It's possible that he did and that I missed it. But I don't think he did.

Now. So many questions.

1. Isn't this strange?
2. Should I do anything? (I'm not planning on it.)
3. Assuming I knew for a fact that they didn't cite anything (which I don't), should I do anything?
4. How often do you think this happens by mistake?
5. On purpose?
6. Why do old people think they can read email forwards over the pulpit, and why hasn't the First Presidency done something about it? (I'm serious!)

I'm quite embarrassed that I spent almost a whole sacrament meeting amassing criticism and evidence of plagiarism, but as it turns out, I listened more intently to these talks than I usually do, and from what I saw, than the Bishop did today. Maybe God commanded the speaker to plagiarize in order to get me to pay attention for once.


liliblogs said...

Ooh, fascinating.

To #6--I know Elder Packer has repeatedly asked folks not to quote him via these email quotes (remember the mass-emailing a few months ago about his comments in a stake meeting where he warned that these are the last days?)... it just seems to be to no avail. People love faith-promoting rumors.

Gatsby said...

It's weird. On my mission they would get up and say "I am going to give a talk by Elder so-and-so in such-and-such confrence.

But at least they were siting their source.

Anna said...

I'm impressed you had the determination to listen to what she was saying. Megan, Mandy, and I just kept taking turns making faces to show each other how bored we were.

She didn't say anything at the beginning of her talk about it coming from someplace or someone else. At least not that I noticed.

Anna said...

Mandy made a good point in an email about it. She'd rather have someone read someone's talk word for word from the pulpit than spreading false doctrine (different than false stories) from the pulpit. While it's weird for sure, it's not like there is anything that needs to be done about it. She's not publishing that talk under her own name. The message was appropriate for sacrament meeting and that's really what matters.

Creativity Escapes Me said...

But what about our ability to formulate our own opinions? That's the best thing about preparing a talk for sacrament meeting. Not only do you get to study it out for yourself but you can have a mini-arguement with the doctrine. The doctrine will speak for itself, this much is true. It's up to us to determine if it is correct for our purposes.

Kevin said...

A very interesting post, T.R., and I agree with your sensibilities. Your observation and follow-through say something amazing about you and your instincts. Her failure to give attribution was wrong, but I agree with Anna and Mandy, the content was good and mainstream, it can probably be explained (laziness, lack of preparation, nerves, whatever), and there was ultimately no harm (except for some metaphysical dent in the fender of the Cosmos).

T.R. said...

Hey, there are readers here!

Great comments. My problem is that I've had the evils of plagiarism pounded into my head throughout my never-ending academic career, almost to the point that it is the sin sitting kitty-corner to the sin next to murder.

The reasons the plagiarism in academia is bad (using someone else's hard work in their career to further their own) don't apply in church. Nobody was making money off of anyone else, and I'm pretty sure that neither original author would have minded.

So yeah, I can cross "fault-finding" off of skills that I need to improve. Let's see, what's next? Ah yes. Humility, of course.

T.R. said...

Also, I remember something about "On my Father's Cadillac, there are many fenders". So that dent shouldn't matter much either.

eped said...

... but then you'll get the Sophomore RM who thinks it's ok and plagiarizes nearly his entire research paper on the Mountain Meadows Massacre from the Ensign. (true story, F)

Sam said...

I don't think it's appropriate to steal other people's talks and pass them off as your own. Unless you're talking to Paul H. Dunn.