Presenting History

No complications here, but the simplicities are important. Don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal.

Michael Bellesiles (Caught Lying)

Lying was covered in connection with Courage. You need to face what is there, at the end of your search, and bring it back accurately to the waiting present world. The point of methodology is to get the facts right. Getting them right and telling them wrong is the fundamental violation of method. (If you don't know whose picture that is, see our other Ethics page).

Cheating is the reaching of real results, but by unfair means. Those who work the journal review boards so as to give each other advantages and exclude all others, make a caricature of the review concept. Interfering to one's own advantage in the grant process or the publication process is equally out of bounds. The field is the better for being open.

Stealing, especially from student work or published dissertations (which in some people's minds occupy a sort of safely thievable limbo), is wrong, and no claim of Old Country tradition (Franz Michael, Richard Courant) makes it right. Stealing from colleagues is not really much more admirable.

Probably the majority of scholars are personally ethical. The catch is that they often have mild personalities, and are willing to tolerate unethical behavior in others. But ethics requires good citizenship, and other people's ethical lapses are a valid concern of the good citizen.

We have seen in recent decades a great blurring of the line between truth and lies. Academics and journalists have vied with each other in creating that blur. At present, there is some ethical pressure in the opposite direction. Shameful to say, the pressure is largely coming, not from scholars, but from the public, which has a simple and on the whole accurate idea of ethics. The only recommendation on this page, then, besides not doing anything that your mom would be ashamed to have you get caught doing, is to join the public in withdrawing support from those who abuse the ethos of scholarship by lying, cheating, and stealing. Guild loyalty properly abides in maintaining guild standards, not in sheltering guild friends.


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