Cracked’s War on Plagiarism (UPDATED)

Let’s face the facts – plagiarism is rampant on the internet. Things are so easily reproducible and audiences so numerous that people can pretty much get away with copying things whenever and wherever they want. Plagiarism is also nothing new, it’s been around for millennia. Yet whereas before it was essentially taken for granted or existed in a totally different cultural context, nowadays it takes on a whole new and much more destructive force.

A couple hundred years ago content creators and writers existed almost exclusively as members of the upper class – people of their own means that could afford to spend their days on creative pursuits. The poor and proletariat were confined to their farms or factories and the middle class just plain ol’ didn’t exist. Presently, writing is a profession like any other. People compete to have their work published, to get their ideas to the public, and to garner an audience. And the vast majority of these people are not independently wealthy. As the internet more and more becomes the medium for this type of work, it also exposes anything published more easily to theft and to those who would take advantage of someone else’s idea to call their own.

This emerging dynamic is what makes this new type of plagiarism so problematic. There is now even a new strain of thought that everything on the internet is in the public domain and that nobody really owns any idea out there. Early in 2013 some obviously talented, yet unfortunately misguided individual got a brief moment of fame by posting a hilarious parody of chef Guy Fieri’s menu, only to have his reputation shattered when it was discovered that he had stolen all his jokes from other Twitter users. However, many also defended him, using some populist conception of fair use, and of course bringing out the tired old line that “all comedians steal.” This belief is so rampant among audiences that Patton Oswalt finally felt he had to say something and went on a totally-justified rampage against those stealing his jokes.

That brings us to Cracked.com, one of the largest comedy sites on the internet, and therefore used to people lifting all sorts of content from them. And guess what? They don’t take too kindly to it. Furthermore they don’t take too kindly to plagiarism in any form. First off, the site relies on submissions from their audience – sure they have some regular columnists and full-time funnynauts, but on any given day at least half of their content is from the average Joe (full disclosure – this average Joe included). Because of this, and probably also because they’re not run by total assholes, they have a very strict plagiarism policy where if you’re caught doing it you will be banned. It’s the internet so you can always come back under a different name, but then that involves trying to publish your work (or I guess someone else’s work) under an alias, which might work great if you’re Stephen King, but notsomuch if you’re just some random writer.

Continue reading “Cracked’s War on Plagiarism (UPDATED)”

Advertisements

Astrology Might Not Be As Dumb As You Think

My horoscopes today have promised me a strong ability to communicate with others so I decided to write this post. About 25-30% of people in the US believe in astrology while millions more don’t really accept it yet still love reading about horoscopes or people’s signs. Astrology is particularly popular with women and men are often encouraged to learn and talk about signs as easy pickup lines. Despite its popularity, astrology is roundly condemned in the world of science by such skeptics as Richard Dawkins and Penn Jillette ( Teller is also probably against it, but I heard Penn cut out his tongue). While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the orbit of Mercury is dictating my happiness on a day-to-day basis, astrology’s fundamental conclusion may be more scientific than many skeptics may want to acknowledge.

What is Astrology?

I should start by asking what exactly is the theory of astrology and whether it can be broken down into levels of interpretation. At its most literal, saying that the movements of distant planets and stars correlate with events in people’s lives on Earth, astrology might as well be a Nigerian prince. There is absolutely no evidence nor plausible scientific explanation for this type of silly action at a distance. In other words, daily horoscopes are a ridiculous thing to believe in and studies have shown this over and over. However, what about an interpretation that says astrology that links personality with a particular constellation in the night sky? If you take that to mean that constellations influence your personality then of course, it’s just as ridiculous as the literal interpretation – your sign does not dictate your personality unless you let it. Yet if we abstract it even further and simply say that astrological signs correlate with different personalities then the bullshit starts to peel away.

A Scientific Foundation for Astrological Beliefs

If we define astrology as the classification and grouping of different people by when they were born using markers in the sky, then a strong scientific case emerges. Consider this: different astrological symbols are essentially just markers for the time of the year.  A scientific explanation rests on the fact that astrological signs might as well just serve as labels for time spans on the calendar while removing any causality from the heavens as well as any direct impact of daily events. Someone remarking about the compatibility between Cancers and Virgos might actually have a point as it can correlate to personality differences from different seasonal births rather than with patterns in the sky. In any region of the world, astrological symbols will correlate with different seasons which bring different climates and weather.  This in turn influences daily aspects of life, like what foods are available, how much sunlight there is, and how much sleep people get.  Scientific studies in turn show that these factors translate into differences during pregnancy for the mother, and during the formative years after the baby is born.  Astrology may be seen as taking the simple question of how the time of year that someone is born affects their personality – a perfectly valid scientific question.  And indeed science has provided some answers already.  A study published 2 years ago notes a “seasonal imprinting” on our biological clocks that can account for personality differences between individuals.  While it does not dictate a person’s emotional state or personality traits, there is a significant correlation between seasonal birth and someone’s mental and physical health.  For instance, those born in the winter months are more prone to psychological disorders like schizophrenia.

Astrology

If astrology is re-interpreted as correlating personality with seasons, by way of constellations in the sky, then I see no reason to call it unfounded.  However, the mystic methodology that bloomed from this basic understanding is certainly unscientific and unfounded.  Stars and planets have no determinative effect on our daily lives on this planet and anyone preaching such a message is either a fool or a charlatan.  Yet often pseudoscientific enterprises are based on some basic truth and in this case maybe some relationships simply are probablistically doomed from the start based on which season they were born.