Friday, May 29, 2009

Comments on technology -- obstacle or benefit

I was surprised at the number of comments on my recent post, "Technology, obstacle or benefit to genealogy" Elizabeth Shown Mills took a lot of her valuable time to make extensive comments which are much appreciated. I would strongly recommend reading her comments, they are insightful and give an entirely different perspective to some of the issues I raised in my post.

I do have several observations, genealogy is still highly paper (hard copy) oriented. I do understand Ms. Mills perspective and appreciate the need for a printed copy, especially as she points out, of the applications in the context she indicates. One of the major problems in college classes being taught today is plagiarism. Our local community college, where my brother and I have taught for years, has a program that will compare any paper submitted by a student to the Internet and find anyplace the student may have copied the information. This program works almost instantly to reveal copied material. Despite the existence of that program, many students still submit entirely copied material each semester. One drawback of working from paper copies is that this source of verification is not easily available. In these college classes the students now submit all their work online, so this verification process is easy.

Notwithstanding all of the practical reasons for having a paper copy, I predict that paper copies will become something of the past in the not too distant future.

In another comment, Ms. Mills talks bout the size limit imposed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists for their applications. Size limitations make perfect sense. I an easily generate thousands of pages of documents from my computer and use them as "exhibits" to any report I create. It would, of course, be highly questionable whether or not anyone would care to look through all of the documents. I deal with page and length limitations every time I file an appellate brief with the Court of Appeals. I certainly understand the need to say what you have to say subject to time and length limitations.

I am very appreciative of any and all comments. Thanks for the response.

1 comment:

  1. James, you are totally spot-on with your comments about plagiarism. That is a problem for which BCG's portfolio evaluators must watch; and you are right that having digital files does permit evaluators to run plagiarism software on the materials submitted.

    On the other hand, plagiarism software can only compare the submitted writings against online material (with many false positives to investigate), while the vast majority of published works and manuscripts that might be plagiarized are not yet online. There just is no perfect system!

    In my own experience, most plagiarists--when evaluated on a variety of materials--inject dead giveaways that are quickly spotted by good evaluators (and editors).

    To consider the issue in terms of materials submitted to BCG: Requirements 3 and 4 are "document work," in which applicants must (a)transcribe and abstract two documents, one of BCG's choosing; (b) evaluate the genealogical clues inherent in each document; and (c) develop two research plans to build upon the clues inherent in each document.

    Parts b and c of this document work obviously require narrative discussions for which--odds are astronomical--the applicant would not find appropriate text online. From these writings, each judge gets a quite clear idea of the "writing style" of the applicant.

    Requirements 6, then, is a case study in which the applicant must present a research problem involving identity or kinship, and then resolve the problem in accordance with the Genealogical Proof Standard. Here, the applicant presents an even greater amount of narrative that the evaluator can measure against the writing style exhibited in the document work. If any passages are notably dissimilar, they become red flags for the judges to investigate.

    Too, judges are expected to do "due diligence" and explore online offerings that involve the families treated by applicants in all parts of the application--including the submitted client reports and narrative genealogies.

    On rare occasions across the decades, an applicant has slipped through with undetected plagiarism. (Even editors of the major journals have this problem.) However, one's "sins" have a way of catching up with them, and those individuals do not keep their certification.

    All things considered, BCG's process has been remarkably effective in this regard, IMO. Even before digitized files or plagiarism-detection software, BCG managed to detect even plagiarism from unpublished client reports.

    As you have rightfully noted, the digital age requires changes of habits, processes, and resources. This one is under consideration as well. One proposal that has been considered, for example, is to require applicants to submit both a digital file and paper copies--not just to detect plagiarism but because the ability to search on certain terms or names would indeed benefit the evaluation process.

    Thanks for all the stimulating discussions you provide on Genealogy Star.

    Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG