Friday, September 28, 2012

Do Not Write Love Poems

Let us have a look at some of the best advice on writing that has ever been given to an aspiring poet. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was one of the greatest poets of the German language. He wrote a series of ten letters to Franz Xaver Kappus, an aspiring poet, that were later published as "Briefe an einen jungen Dichter", or in the English translation as "Letters to a Young Poet".

In these letters, Rilke initiates Kappus into the mysteries of writing poetry as well as into the art of living a meaningful life. The advice given by Rilke is just as valuable today, as it was more than a century ago. Perhaps, in a networked world in which solitude has become a rare luxury and treat, I feel that Rilke's advice has become even more valuable.

I will present some excerpts of the letters in the original German as well as a translation into English.

The letter dated February 17, 1903 contains the following passage:

Schreiben Sie nicht Liebesgedichte; weichen Sie zuerst denjenigen Formen aus, die zu geläufig und gewöhnlich sind: sie sind die schwersten, denn es gehört eine große, ausgereifte Kraft dazu, Eigenes zu geben, wo sich gute und zum Teil glänzende Überlieferungen in Menge einstellen.  
Darum retten Sie sich vor den allgemeinen Motiven zu denen, die Ihnen Ihr eigener Alltag bietet; schildern Sie Ihre Traurigkeiten und Wünsche, die vorübergehenden Gedanken und den Glauben an irgendeine Schönheit - schildern Sie das alles mit inniger, stiller, demütiger Aufrichtigkeit und gebrauchen Sie, um sich auszudrücken, die Dinge Ihrer Umgebung, die Bilder Ihrer Träume und die Gegenstände ihrer Erinnerung.

My translation of this passage is:

Do not write love poems; try to initially avoid those forms that are too commonplace and ordinary: they are the most challenging, because it takes great strength and maturity to create something of your own, when you have to compete with so many good and even great predecessors. 
 So save yourself from these general themes and instead write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, your fleeting thoughts and your belief in some form of beauty - describe all this with heartfelt, quite and humble sincerity. When you express yourself, use the everyday items around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects from your memories.

Why is Rilke's advice so important? And why does it apply to all writers, not just to poets?

Many of us who try to write run into the highly prevalent and painful condition known as "Writer's block". Here is what Professor Wikipedia says about "Writer's block":

Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some "blocked" writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.

There is no straightforward cure for this agonizing ailment, which can paralyze the mind and soul alike. In an aspiring writer, it awakens the desire to eat junk food, watch mind-numbing sitcoms and snap at all fellow primates that try to communicate with you.  Most of my Writer's block flare-ups occur when I try to right about lofty and grand themes, such as Love, Death or Justice. Whenever I sit down in front of my keyboard to start writing about such a profound theme, I think about all the wonderful poems, essays and novels that have been written about these topics in the past. My fingers are paralyzed, because I feel there is nothing I can add to what Goethe, Rilke, Eichendorff and Star Wars have already eloquently put in words.

But Rilke tells us that this is the wrong approach. We should focus on the tedious details of our lives. Let us face it, most of our lives are quite boring and ordinary, but these mundane and tedious details are what really define us and distinguish us from other writers. When I have to decide whether my sixth "How-to-be-a- Writer" self-help book should be either "Write Is a Verb: Sit Down, Start Writing, No Excuses" or "Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing" or when I experience Schadenfreude that I made it onto the commuter train on time, but the person who pushed me aside earlier is left standing angrily at the platform. These mundane moments are much easier to describe, because they are truly my own experiences and when I write about them I am not burdened by the history of great writing. I do not know what self-help writing guides Shakespeare used, but I am pretty sure he did not read "Write Is a Verb: Sit Down, Start Writing, No Excuses" and I am also pretty sure he did not experience the Schadenfreude of getting on the train.

Once I start writing about these seemingly mundane topics, my writing is more sincere. I also realize that extraordinary ideas are derived from ordinary details. 

The complete German text of the letter can be found on

An English translation of the complete letter is available here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Libricide in the Digital Age

Plaque in Frankfurt, reminding us of the Nazi book-burning
Via Wikimedia - ArcCan 
My bookshelves are bulging and I am just running out of space for books. I enjoy buying books, but I have a very hard time when it comes to getting rid of them. After I have finished reading a good book, I become attached not just to the physical book, but also to the ideas and memories associated with that book. When I look at the book, I remember the fun I had reading it and I also think about how it made me feel and how it inspired me to think or write.

As an old-fashioned and traditional bookophile, I was a bit reticent when it came to trying it out E-books. I was worried that I would miss the tactile pleasure of thumbing through the physical pages. I was concerned that the digital highlighting on a Kindle reader would be no match for the visual pleasure elicited by the fluorescent glow of my German Stabilo highlighters. I also did not like the fact that I would have to pay the full price for every E-book, because one could not walk into a used ebook store and get bargain books for a few cents.

Nevertheless, I gave it a try. Once I started using the Kindle App on the iPad, I realized that the ability to carry thousands of books around with me, gave me a completely new kind of bookophile pleasure. I missed my Stabilo highlighter and the ability to physically grasp books, but the fact that Rilke, Orwell and Zadie Smith were all tucked away in my backpack, gave me a completely new kind of bookophile pleasure. I was about to extol the pleasures of ebooks to everyone and was thinking about gradually becoming an ebook-only kind of person.

Then I read two articles. The first one was "Will Your Children Inherit Your E-Books?" by Amanda Katz and asked the simple question of how does one inherit E-books?

In the age of the e-book, the paper book faces two possible and antithetical fates. It may become something to be discarded, as with the books that libraries scan and cannibalize. (In the introduction to another book, Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, Price mentions the severed book spines that hang on the wall at Google, "like taxidermists' trophies.") Alternatively, it may become a special object to be preserved and traded. My grandfather's copy of War of the Worlds obviously falls into the second category — but very few of the millions of books published since the mid-19th century are ones you'd want to own. If Amazon has a "long tail" of obscure but occasionally purchased titles, the tail that goes back 150 years is near endless and thin as thread.
 Meanwhile, the kind of "serial" book sharing (as Price describes it) that occurs over time is giving way to simultaneous, "synchronous" sharing. With the Kindle, you can see what thousands of other Kindle readers are highlighting in the book you're reading — a fairly astonishing innovation. But the passage of books from hand to hand, gathering inscriptions along the way, is not part of the e-book economy. Will your grandchild inherit your Kindle books? No one knows, but given password protection and the speed at which data becomes obsolete, that seems highly unlikely.
Read more here...

I was stumped by this article. Of course I want my children and grandchildren to inherit my books. I still treasure a small century-old dictionary that my grandfather gave me, and I hope that my grandchildren will also enjoy thumbing through my old books. But how will they do this, if all I leave them are a bunch of files, many which may or may not be password-protected. Will I remember to tell them my Kindle password before I die? Does a dying bookophile gather around their family and tell them "My Kindle password is Lolita underscore Camus" before he passes on? Or will my E-books die with me?

The second article "How to Make a Book Disappear" was written by Maria Konnikova and discussed the ironic disappearance of George Orwell's 1984 from some Kindle devices because the retailer Amazon had detected that certain versions of these E-books were violating the copyright. Konnikova also brought up the excellent point that making digital books vanish could be the future version of book-burning:
An e-book is not a physical book. That point might seem trite until you stop for a moment to think how much simpler it is, in a certain sense, to destroy electronic than physical traces. There's no need of inciting mass cooperation in book-burning enterprises. No need for secret police or raids or extensive surveillance. The power to remove a book from a device, to remove all traces of it from retailers' websites, to expunge it from a publisher's online record: It would simplify the work of a would-be Soviet Union or Oceania multifold, would it not? It's ugly. For all kinds of reasons.     
Read more here...

After reading these articles, I am now rethinking my conversion-in-progress towards ebookophilia. I still like the physical feel of books and do not like the idea of my books dying or disappearing. I cannot afford to buy both, the hardcopy and E-book version of each book, so I am probably going to stick to buying old-fashioned books for now.

Buddhist ‘Iron Man’ found by Nazis is from space

Buddhist Iron Man via Elmar Buchner (Nature News Blog) 
I just love the headline of this article on the Nature blog. It sounds like the plot of a Sci-Fi-New-Age-World-War-II-Superhero Thriller.

A Buddhist statue brought to Germany from Tibet by a Nazi-backed expedition has been confirmed as having an extraterrestrial origin.
 Known as the ‘iron man’, the 24-cm high sculpture may represent the god Vaiśravaṇa and was likely created from a piece of the Chinga meteorite that was strewn across the border region between Russia and Mongolia between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, according to Elmar Buchner of the University of Stuttgart, and his colleagues.
Read more here..... 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Obama and Romney: The Future of American Healthcare

The New England Journal of Medicine asked President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to “describe their health care platforms and their visions for the future of American health care” and published their statements on the journal’s website. The (roughly) 1,300-word statements released by the two presidential candidates are rather vague, do not address specific issues and sound like political campaign speeches.

Floating (Via Massimo Valiani - Flickr)
President Obama’s statement emphasizes the importance of the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”), and criticizes his opponents Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for how their plans would be detrimental for medical research in the US and for Medicare, as seen in this excerpt:

My opponent in this election, Mitt Romney, has a radically different vision for the future of our health care system — even if it means running from his past as the architect of health reform in Massachusetts. He would begin by repealing Obamacare on day 1. Your patients would once again be charged excessive copays for preventive care, and millions of Americans would be one illness or injury away from bankruptcy. He would undo the progress we are making toward a more coordinated delivery system. Romney and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, have proposed a budget that could force drastic cuts to investment in medical research, eliminating 1600 National Institutes of Health grants and slowing our progress on scientific and medical breakthroughs. They have pledged to turn Medicaid into a block grant and slash its funding by a third — plunging tens of millions more Americans into the ranks of the uninsured and leaving our hospitals and health care providers to grapple with an increasing burden of uncompensated care. And they are committed to ending Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher program, with insurance companies set to make millions while seniors and people with disabilities are forced to pay thousands more every year.

Mitt Romney’s statement, on the other hand, does not directly address medical research, but instead focuses on criticizing Obamacare and wants the states to play a bigger role in providing healthcare:

Nor can our society ever turn its back on those who cannot afford the care they need. We will provide support for low-income Americans and those uninsured persons whose preexisting conditions push the cost of coverage too high for them to pay themselves. But my experience as a governor and the lessons from the President's attempt at a one-size-fits-all national solution convince me that it is states — not Washington — that should lead this effort. I will convert Medicaid into a block grant that properly aligns each state's incentives around using resources efficiently. Each state will have the flexibility to craft programs that most effectively address its challenges — as I did in Massachusetts, where we got 98% of our residents insured without raising taxes.

I have to admit that I am underwhelmed by both responses because they just repeat the political rhetoric that we have already heard during the national conventions and other appearances. One problem is that the editors of the journal asked them for very broad statements instead of asking them to address specific questions and solutions. This is in contrast to, for example, the approach of Scientific American and, who asked the candidates 14 specific questions related to science and technology.

The New England Journal of Medicine could have also asked very specific questions about the future of American healthcare. After all, the future of American healthcare does not just depend on health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. Specific questions for the candidates could have included questions about how they will address the current crisis in the federal funding of medical research, how they want to deal with the growing problem of obesity and diabetes among children, how they intend to improve preventive healthcare for all, how we should facilitate translation of research findings into clinical practice, how we should curb the staggering cost of healthcare or how we can ensure adequate numbers of primary care healthcare providers, especially in underserved areas.

Such specific questions would force the candidates to focus on the same issues and allow the audience to compare and contrast their responses. I hope that in the future, the candidates will be asked more specific questions regarding their vision for American healthcare.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Retraction of Scientific Papers to Correct the Scientific Literature

Wikimedia - Colin Smith

Most biomedical researchers encounter situations in their research careers during which they are unable to replicate the findings of a published scientific paper. This prompts a nerve-wracking search for the underlying causes. Frequently, the reason is quite trivial, such as the use of slightly different reagents or cells from those in the published paper or minor discrepancies in the experimental protocol. Nevertheless, even when all the experimental procedures are followed appropriately, some published findings simply can't be replicated. As frustrating as this sounds, it is unfortunately not a rare occurrence. In a recent paper entitled "Drug development: Raise standards for preclinical cancer research" published in Nature, the scientists Glenn Begley and Lee Ellis describe the attempts of a biotechnology company to replicate the results of "land-mark" scientific papers in the field of cancer biology. They were only able to replicate the scientific findings in 11% of the cases! This is a shockingly poor rate of replicability for published studies, many of which appear to have been published in very prestigious biomedical journals. Begley and Ellis appropriately call for higher standards in biomedical research to improve replicability, both by the researchers themselves who conduct the experiments as well as for the peer-review process that currently allows the publication of so many papers that cannot be replicated.
            Many of us have had similarly frustrating encounters with published papers that cannot be replicated, but we also realize that there are no "quick fixes" to solve the problem. The current peer-review process is based on the opinion of one or more editors who depend on the assessments of multiple scientific experts. Neither the editors nor the scientific experts have any way of testing the replicability of the results prior to deciding whether or not a study should be published. they simply have to trust the authors of the manuscript and believe that they took all the necessary steps to ensure the replicability of the results. If it turns out that the central findings of a published paper cannot be replicated, this information is frequently not officially published or acknowledged, but instead, it is shared unofficially among scientists who have had problems replicating the findings of that paper. In many cases, there is a presumption that the authors of the published paper may have made errors in how they conducted the experiments or interpreted the data, or that they perhaps forgot to disclose some key details that are necessary to conduct the experiments and obtain the same results. Even if multiple colleagues feel that the experiments, data or conclusions in a paper are flawed, published papers are rarely retracted by a journal. Retractions of papers are usually reserved for gross misconduct by the authors of a paper, such as overt fabrication of data. Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus are two science journalists, who founded the website Retraction Watch, which tracks papers that are retracted by scientific journals and nearly all the posted retractions are usually a consequence of such gross misconduct and violation of ethics that has come to light. Retractions because of honest scientific errors are rare.
            This may change. In a recent blog post, Virginia Barbour (editor of PLOS Medicine) and Kasturi Haldar (editor of PLOS Pathogens) propose that scientific papers can and should be retracted by a journal, if there is ample evidence that its major conclusions are wrong, even if there was no overt misconduct and the erroneous conclusions were the result of an "honest error". They reference a 2006 paper that was recently retracted by PLOS Pathogens because its claim that a new gammaretrovirus XMRV was associated with prostate cancer did not hold up; the virus may have been a laboratory contaminant. The editors state:
 At PLOS our mission is to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. We firmly believe that acceleration also requires being open about correcting the literature as needed so that research can be built on a solid foundation. Hence as editors and as a publisher we encourage the publication of studies that replicate or refute work we have previously published. We work with authors (through communication with the corresponding author) to publish corrections if we find parts of articles to be inaccurate. If a paper’s major conclusions are shown to be wrong we will retract the paper.

            This is quite a major decision, because it suggests that papers without gross misconduct (such as fabricated data or plagiarism) can be retracted. The paper that PLOS Pathogens retracted did not disappear from the website, but can still be read in full (as of today) and carries a big "Retraction warning". I have to admit that in many ways I am glad the editors recognize the importance of formally flagging scientific errors. This will prevent future researchers from wasting their time and resources trying to replicate the results of flawed papers. However, I am concerned about the idea of "retracting" papers because of scientific errors. Even though the PLOS editors say "there is no shame in correcting the literature", the idea of retraction already carries the connotation of shame because in the past years it has been associated with fraud and overt misconduct and not with honest scientific errors. It may therefore be better to use a distinct terminology. Just like there is a huge difference between a murder and an accidental killing, there is also big difference between intentional fabrication of data and the unintentional oversight of a viral contaminant. The editors' goal of correcting the literature and highlighting errors in published papers is laudable, but perhaps one could introduce a more neutral terminology that is not burdened with the connotation of fraud. One such example would be "flagging" papers and indicating why they are being flagged. "Category 1 flagging" could be reserved for intentional fraud and misconduct (i.e. the traditional retraction), "Category 2 flagging" could indicate an honest scientific error when the authors agree that the conclusions of their published paper were erroneous and "Category 3 flagging" would indicate that the overwhelming majority of scientists have failed the replicate the results, but the authors maintain that there was no error and that their conclusions and results are solid.  Such post-publication "flagging" would depend on formal post-publication peer review and tracking of replicability, as Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus have previously suggested.
            The discussion of how to address scientific errors after publication is very important and it comes at a time when the internet provides the tools necessary for us to easily document and share our attempts to replicate published scientific data. No matter whether the outcome is to formally retract flawed papers or whether new categories of flagging flawed and questionable papers are developed, we can be optimistic that scientific research will likely benefit from this discussion and the realization that published scientific work still needs to undergo scrutiny.

Presidential Wordles: Obama and Romney on Science

Scientific American and partnered up earlier this summer and asked President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney some key questions about their stances on issues related to science, technology and education. This is quite important because presidential debates and interviews with presidential candidates often gloss over science and science-related topics. This is not due to some sort of conspiracy among presidential candidates and debate moderators or interviewers that allows them to neglect policy stances about science and technology. Instead, there seems to be a lack of interest among the general public regarding the science policies of the presidential candidates that they might elect. To illustrate this, one only needs to review the 32 "crowd-sourced" questions that the readers of The Atlantic would like to ask the presidential candidates. In this list, we can find numerous questions related to the budget deficit, wars, terrorism, economy or taxes, but not a single question that focuses on science or technology. Being a scientist, I am probably biased in favor of emphasizing the important role that science plays in our everyday lives, but I think that even non-scientists would admit that science and technology are quite central to contemporary society. It would therefore make sense to carefully evaluate a presidential candidate’s policies in regards to science, technology and education prior to casting one’s vote.
            Instead of waiting for some elusive and sparse questions about scientific issues that the candidates may encounter prior to the upcoming presidential election in November 2012, Scientific American and took a pro-active approach and sent them a list of questions related to science, technology and education. These carefully selected questions touch on many of the major science and technology related issues that ought to be of interest to the US voters and should factor into their decision-making. They were based in part on questions that readers of the Scientific American Blog submitted as their top science-related questions for the presidential candidates. Unlike the broad request for questions by The Atlantic, the Scientific American readers were specifically asked to submit science and technology related questions by the editor Bora Zivkovic.
I look forward to an in-depth and serious analysis of Obama’s and Romney’s  responses by the editors of Scientific American, which will be published in the upcoming November issue. However, since I am neither profound nor serious, I decided to perform my own superficial and fun analysis of some of the responses using the online app Wordle. The Wordle app generates images of texts show-casing the words, based on the frequency of the words used in the input text. The more often a word is used in a text, the larger the font of the word in the generated image. I chose four questions that I was especially interested in because they relate to general science policy and education and I plugged in the responses of the candidates into the Wordle app.
1. Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?
Obama Answer to Question 1
Romney Answer to Question 1

When we look at the Wordles of both responses, we can see that both candidates used the word “American” frequently and they use the expected buzz-words innovation, economy, workers and jobs. However, what does stand out is that in Obama’s response, science and math are specifically mentioned, whereas Mitt Romney’s response seems to use the word “tax” frequently. This does strike me as a bit odd; after all, the question is about science and technology leadership and it is not clear why taxes should be such a prominent part of the response. The other distinguishing feature of the two responses is that Obama specifically mentions science and math, whereas Romney’s response does not use the word science at all. 

3. Research and the Future. Federally funded research has helped to produce America’s major postwar economies and to ensure our national security, but today the UK, Singapore, China, and Korea are making competitive investments in research. Given that the next Congress will face spending constraints, what priority would you give to investment in research in your upcoming budgets?
Obama Answer to Question 3
Romney Answer to Question 3

The Wordles do not seem too different – research and energy appears prominently in the responses of both candidates. Romney mentions Obama multiple times, but this can be attributed to the fact that as a challenger he feels the need to highlight flaws and mistakes of the incumbent president. The Wordle does reveal that Romney uses “companies” multiple times in a response to a question about federal funding of research.

5. Education. Increasingly, the global economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and math, but a recent comparison of 15-year-olds in 65 countries found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 23rd, while average U.S. math scores ranked 31st. In your view, why have American students fallen behind over the last three decades, and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy?
Obama Answer to Question 5
Romney Answer to Question 5
The Wordle of Obama’s response indicates a repeated mention of STEM – science, technology, engineering and math, whereas Romney’s response manages to completely avoid using the expression science or the all-inclusive STEM, but does have a couple of references to “technology”. Instead, there is an oddly frequent occurrence of the word “unions” in Romney’s response. I was so puzzled by “unions” in a response to a question about science and math education, that I decided to read his full response and realized that Romney believes teachers unions are to blame for the poor science and math education in the US.  

11. Science in Public Policy. We live in an era when science and technology affect every aspect of life and society, and so must be included in well-informed public policy decisions. How will you ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are fully informed by the best available scientific and technical information, and that the public is able to evaluate the basis of these policy decisions?
Obama Answer to Question 11
Romney Answer to Question 11

The one key difference in the Wordles of the responses to a question about public policy is that Obama responds using the word “public”, whereas Romney seems to be quite concerned with EPA regulations regarding mercury and pollution in general. Other than that, there does not seem to be any obvious difference in the word frequencies.

This Wordle analysis did not involve actual reading and interpretation of the responses – it therefore does not constitute an in-depth analysis of the science policies of the two candidates. Nevertheless, this simple automated enumeration of words did reveal some unexpected results, such as Romney’s repeated mention of “taxes” and “unions” in responses to questions related to science and education. It is likely that the frequent recurrence of these expressions is indicative of some key differences in the approaches of the two candidates to the policy goals for science and technology. I look forward to the in-depth analysis of the Scientific American editors and, more importantly, I hope that American voters will consider the science policies of the candidates when they cast their votes in November.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Evolution of Religion

Charles Mathewes in American Interest:

It’s been an interesting decade for thinking about religion. After 9/11 it finally dawned on people that religion wasn’t going away and that ignorance about it might well be debilitating. Many did not cotton to this news; the “New Atheists” represented not so much an intellectual challenge to religious belief, but rather an adolescent cri de coeur from those who felt their fervent unbelief beleaguered by reality and their Voltairean pieties insulted by the course of history. Cornered smugness is never pretty.
 Soon several counter-thinkers came forward to return the compliment, abusing the abusers with contempt for their mistakes and scorn for their intellectual fantasies. More recently still, a wave of “New New Atheists” has emerged, exemplified by thinkers such as Alain de Botton and the team of Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly. They grant the value of some facets of religion, such as transcendence (what Kelly and Dreyfus call the “whoosh”) and, echoing antecedents like Auguste Comte, social ordering, but they affirm the generic idea of religion as at best a human-only institution so that they may dump all the awkward bits, like theology, metaphysics and that sort of thing. The superficial understanding and charity they offer to religion is a dodge, of course, but at least they’re polite about it.

 Read more here.....

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Four Year Old Boy Is Suspended From Pre-School For Plagiarism

SEPTEMBER 2, 2012 CHICAGO, IL – The Wisdom Truth Fortitude (WTF) Academy is the nation’s best elite pre-school. For an annual tuition of $57,000, three-year old child prodigies can enroll in the WTF Academy if they can pass a highly competitive entrance examination. When the WTF students graduate two years later, most of them have acquired the cognitive maturity that is normally found in middle school students. WTF Academy proudly advertises that 87% of its graduates ultimately end up going to an Ivy League college, and over half of these are accepted into these colleges before they become teenagers. This past week WTF Academy made headlines when it suspended the four-year old student Axel Foley for plagiarism.
Principal Edward Rooney made the decision after a plagiarism committee reviewed Axel’s work during the preceding year. The committee found numerous examples of misconduct, including recycling parts of an essay he had written when he was three years old and fabricating quotes of fellow students when he covered a bake sale for the pre-school newspaper. However, the most blatant case of Axel’s plagiarism was identified by his “Introduction to Postmodern Analysis” class teacher Ms. Derrida, who was grading a short story that Axel wrote. Ms. Derrida noticed that Axel used the phrase "You are made out of cardboard boxes, you must have a story to tell." Ms. Derrida knew that she had heard this phrase before, but could not remember where. “When I showed our standard anti-plagiarism video ‘Plagiarism in the Elementary Classroom’ to the incoming class of students, I finally realized what Axel had done”, Ms. Derrida explained. Apparently, Axel used the last line of that video for his short story. “Plagiarizing an anti-plagiarism video is one of the most egregious crimes that one can imagine”, Mr. Rooney stated at a press conference, “this is why we decided to immediately suspend Axel from WTF.”
Plagiarism has received a lot of press recently in light of the Jonah Lehrer controversy, the Harvard cheating ring and the fact that the German defense minister Guttenberg had to resign because large portions of his doctoral thesis were plagiarized. After Axel’s suspension and these other scandals, elite pre-schools all over the country are currently assembling plagiarism committees to review the work of the pre-schoolers. When we asked Axel for a comment, he responded with the words “If you copy from one author, it's plagiarism. If you copy from two, it's research.”