Friday, August 5, 2011

Plagiarism: then and now and not

Plagiarism has been defined as “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work” [1]. Since this copied definition of plagiarism has been quoted and given a reference, it should not be considered as plagiarized. Here is another definition [2]: “a piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is presented as being your own work.”

It may be difficult to prove that thoughts and ideas have been taken from somebody else. After all, we learn—and have been educated to learn—from books, articles, blog posts and other sources of written documents. Many of the words and ideas, put down by us, originate from such sources. When we start to get creative, formulating our own ideas, we typically still “borrow” read-before or used-elsewhere phrases and text snippets—sometimes by purpose, sometimes unknowingly. However, the longer a piece of text, the less likely it will be that two or more authors (unless they cooperated and are then called co-authors) came up with exactly the same text. Today, digitalized texts can easily be evaluated for plagiarism by using text matching software and plagiarism checkers [3,4].

Recently, plagiarism scandals have hit headline news. In Germany, for example, the Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned after the University of Bayreuth revoked his doctoral title accusing him to have violated academic standards in his thesis by failing to sufficiently credit some of his sources [5]. Remember: unless you work for a secret service, you need to reveal your sources. 

Other illustrating examples take us back in time to past centuries: In his biography of the Danish scientist Nicolaus Steno, Alan Cutler tells us about the arrogant London physician John Woodward, who had cribbed almost every important aspect from Steno's writings on fossils and strata, copying some passages almost word-for-word without crediting Steno and other researchers [6]. Cutler also provides an example of a false plagiarism claim: the German Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and the English Sir Isaac Newton—both outstanding philosophers, scientists and mathematicians—are now known to have developed their methods of differential and integral calculus independently; although Leibniz had been attacked by Newton himself (and later by others) of plagiarizing Newton's work.    

Keywords: politics, authoring, citation, copying, cheating 

References and more to explore
[1] plagiarism [].
[2] plagiarism [].
[3] Plagiarism Checker:
[4] Avoid Plagiarism and Make Your Writing
[5] Huffpost World report with contributions by Juergen Baetz:  Karl-Theodor Zu Guttenberg, German Defense Minister, Resigns Amid Plagiarism Scandal [].
[6] Alan Cutler: The Seashell on the Mountaintop. Dutton (Penguin Group), New York, 2003; pages 174-178 and 183-185.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tertiary and quaternary strata in geology named by Italian mining expert Giovanni Arduino

In 1760, the Italian mining expert Giovanni Arduino (1714-1795) laid out a scheme for classifying the strata of the Italian Alps, which he separated in the three main groups he called Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary [1,2]. A fourth strata, called Quaternary, was later added. Alan Cutler outlines Arduino's classification approach, following the stratigraphic principle formulated by Nicolaus Steno [2]:

The Primary strata, at the bottom of the pile, were tilted and lacked fossils. Next, were the Secondary strata, which were tilted but had fossils in them. On top were the Tertiary strata, which were horizontal and also contained fossils. He added a fourth class, Quaternary, for the sands and gravels that covered the bedrock in the nearby Po River Valley.

Today, scientists name the Primary and Secondary strata and the corresponding eras on the geologic time scale Paleozoic (about 540 to 250 million years ago) and Mesozoic (about 250 to 65 million years ago). Arduino's Tertiary and Quaternary divisions still stand [2]. The latter two are the main sub-divisions of the Cenozoic, spanning from the end of the Cretaceous (the last period in the Mesozoic) to the present [3].

Keywords: geology, stratigraphy, geologic time scale, natural history, terminology

References and more to explore
[1] Giovanni Arduino [].
[2] Alan Cutler: The Seashell on the Mountaintop. Dutton (Penguin Group), New York, 2003; page 196.
[3] Introduction to the Cenozoic - 65 Million Years to the Present [].

Glossopetra, meaning tongue stone and referring to petrified tooth of shark

The compositum glossopetra is derived from the Greek words glossa and petra for tongue and rock, respectively. The word glossopetra, also found in Latin texts, means tongue stone and refers to the petrified, somewhat tongue-shaped tooth of a shark [1-3]. The plural form is glossopetrae.

For centuries, glossopetrae had been found on the Island of Malta and many other places in the Mediterranean region. The Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23-79 AD) mentioned glossopetrae in his encyclopedic work Naturalis Historia [3]. Glossopetrae were thought to form in the ground or fall from the sky. It was not until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that natural philosophers made the connection between those distinctive stones and the teeth of sharks based on scientifically oriented comparison. Alan Cutler writes that the physician and naturalist Guillaume Rodelet of Montpellier noticed the similarity between tongue stones and the teeth of large sharks while he was lingering in Mediterranean fish markets: Rondelet published his shark-tooth theory in 1554, followed by a dissertation on tongue stones by Fabio Colonna in 1616 [2,4].

Fifty years later, the Danish anatomist and geologist Nicolaus Steno, who was well familiar with the ideas and findings of Rodelet and Colonna, draw his own conclusions. Steno, who had dissected the head of a huge shark brought to him at the Accademia del Cimento (Experimental Academy) in Florence, argued that tongue stones were the remains of once-living animals. Like his contemporaries Robert Hooke and John Ray, Steno related fossils to living organisms of the past [4].  Tongue stones appear to be the key stones in seeding and shaping early research and insight in paleontology.

Keywords: etymology, paleontology, natural history

References and more to explore
[1] Biology of Sharks and Rays: Glossopetrae and the Birth of Paleontology [].
[2] Alan Cutler: The Seashell on the Mountaintop. Dutton (Penguin Group), New York, 2003; pages 56-58.
[3] References to fossils by Pliny the Elder [].
[4] Nicholas Steno (1638-1686) [].

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful

What is a better way to learn the use of comparative and superlative than in a little three-line limerick. Here is one for the adjective beautiful:

Beautiful is what we see.
More beautiful is what we understand.
Most beautiful is what we do not comprehend. 

This is Steno's famous aphorism [1]: The Danish scientist Nicolaus Steno is well known for his studies in anatomy and geology, including the discovery of the parotid duct (ductus Stenonianus) and the formulation of the law of superposition. Steno was a sharp and independently minded observer living in the seventeenth century in various parts of Europe. The first two lines of the poem highlight the importance he gave to seeing and understanding, the latter as a result of the first. Steno also freely studied and reflected on philosophy and religion. Without confining his broad interest and intellectual activities in one domain by overspanning limitations from another domain, Steno showed strong appreciation for everything that is beyond the reach of the human mind, as the last line of the rhyme indicates. Truely beautiful! 

[1] Alan Cutler: The Seashell on the Mountaintop. Dutton (Penguin Group), New York, 2003; page 146.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A term in anatomy: parotid duct, also known as Stenson's duct (ductus Stenonianus)

The parotid duct is the duct of the parotid gland, which supplies saliva to the mouth. It passes lateral to the masseter muscle and enters the oral cavity through the buccal tissues adjacent to the maxillary first and second molar [1,2]. It is also named Stenson's duct (ductus Stenonianus), after its discoverer, the Danish anatomist and geologist Niels Stensen (1638-1686), today known as Nicolaus Steno.

The seventeenth-century scientist Steno discovered the parotid duct in the laboratory of Gerard Blaes, a physician in the city of Amsterdam: Steno brought a sheep's head into Blaes's lab, where he investigated the veins and arteries at the sheep's mouth [3]. Alan Cutler reports in his biography of Steno, that he repeated the dissection in the Dutch city of Leiden, where he showed the duct to his anatomy professor, who immediately confirmed that it was new to science. This was a significant discovery, since neither the source of saliva nor the function of the gland was known up to the point of Steno's finding.

Keynotes: anatomy, medical term, eponym, salivary glands, history.

References and more to explore
[1] The Free Dictionary: Stensen's duct [].
[2] Pathology Outlines: Salivary Glands [].
[3] Alan Cutler: The Seashell on the Mountaintop. Dutton (Penguin Group), New York, 2003; page 37.