I taught a class called Energy and Society as a visiting professor at UC Berkeley back in Fall 2011. It was a kind of homecoming for me as I had taken the graduate version of that class at the Energy and Resources Group from John Holdren and the late Mark Christensen back in 1984.
At some point in the semester I gave an impromptu lecture on academic integrity, and I recently ran across a recording of that lecture by chance. It struck me as a nice concise summary that others might find useful. Here’s an edited version:
It’s about the right time in the semester to remind everybody about academic integrity. It’s important that any work that you submit as yours should be your own individual thoughts—not thoughts lifted from other people in any way, shape, or form. When you do assignments you have to use what’s called “proper attribution”, and by that we mean quoting accurately and making sure that somebody who reads what you write can trace back to the original source who said what.
I have been doing work on a paper recently with the historian Richard Hirsh, who never ever, ever uses quotes second hand. So if he hears somebody has quoted a particular person, the only way he ever uses that quote in his work is if he can look at the wording of the quote and the context in the original source, to make sure that he’s got it right. That turns out to be important, because you find mistakes all over the place.
For example, the old White’s Law that we talked about earlier in the class? The relationship between culture and energy? The original slide that I presented came from last year’s class and was dated 1973. It turned out to come from a paper in 1943. So there was a little typo. And so going back to the original source, Richard figured that out. It’s good to be a history professor; you have time to track these things down.
You have to use proper attribution—if you aren’t sure what that is then go to this site or this site and they will tell you a bit about that. It’s also important that you don’t work with other students or collaborate on assignments unless you’re given permission or instruction to do that. You need to do your own work and you need to make sure that whatever work you use to support your own work is properly attributed.
You should take this issue seriously. The University is a test bed for real life. As an undergrad, you need to experiment and try different things, but there are consequences—both here and in real life—for not following these rules and not guarding your academic integrity with great care.
Reputation is a precious and perishable thing, and if you use someone else’s work without attribution, then you are impugning your own intellectual integrity: you are hurting yourself. In the real world, if you are a scientist and somebody finds out that you have copied data, you are ruined. You are ruined. There is no way to recover from that as a scientist. You might be able to do some work in another field, but no one’s ever going to trust you again.
Academic integrity is about doing the right thing even when it is not convenient to do the right thing, to mean what you say and say what you mean, and follow through when you make a promise to someone. That’s all part of integrity. That’s all part of making sure that when people see your work they say: “I believe it”. And they will check it—in science especially they will always check it—but they will have an underlying confidence that because you’ve done your work with integrity in the past—every time they’ve checked it in the past it’s worked out well—they will believe your work and trust it and use it to support theirs. It’s a critical thing both personally and professionally. Please keep that in mind. If you have questions about this issue or about the rules about academic misconduct at UC Berkeley, please check this website.
See also my post on What is Intellectual Honesty and Why is it Important?.