Libel is a wrongful act for which a person or group of people can seek damages. Libel has four parts:

People can sue for damages for libel.

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Slander is spoken defamation. Obviously, slander is more difficult to prove that libel; there are often no documents. However, people can, and do, sue for slander, and often include libel with their suit.

Truth is an absolute defense to slander or libel charges. Moreover, it is extremely difficult for public officials to prevail in slander or libel proceedings since the discussion of public servants must be open to sharp debate. Public officials cannot collect damages on libel or slander charges without proving actual malice--a very tough standard to meet.

Who are public officials? Almost any management figure in government is a public official. The university president is a public official. The cook in the lunch room is not. The bookstore manager may be a public official. Widely published professors are public officials, especially if they work at public universities. The governor is a public official, as is the head of the state welfare system. The members of the school board are public officials, as are the trustees of a public university--and probably a private one.

Private individuals only must meet a standard of negligence to collect damages for libel. However, reasonable communications, like an employer's report on an employee, are given qualified protection for libel actions. Fair published opinions, specified as such, and absent malice, are given protection from libel action.

People with contemptible reputations are not likely to do well when damages are assigned, even if they prevail. It is hard to smear the reputation of fallen evangelist, Jim Baker.

Another defense is that the claimant gave permission for publication--in writing, signed. That does nicely.

A simple retraction or apology can offset, or reduce, damages for libel or slander.

It is most unlikely that, given the relatively free atmosphere of a university, you will encounter even the possibility of legal action. But with writing there goes responsibility--and consequences.

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Plagiarism is the representation of someone else's work as your own. Given that it gives other researchers a false path, in that it claims property others often prize; plagiarism is condemned widely. But it survives, even in academia. Recently, for example, one of the chief scientific researchers in the country was found to be substituting other's efforts for his own. In short, plagiarism is contemptible but resilient. Despite the penalties, it continues to occur.

And plagiarism is usually not hard to recognize. A sudden shift in writing style, the use of words beyond a predictable vocabulary, and the neat introduction of proofs that fit the thesis exactly are all clues that something is amiss.

The solution here is to simply do the work. Start with the beginning of the semester and set aside time to cultivate, step by step, whatever it is that needs to be done. The progression of work that you demonstrate makes charges of borrowing work impossible.

The simple way to avoid plagiarism is to credit others when the statement does not belong to you (like a quote), when it contains specific facts that you did not discover, or when the method of discovery is rightfully another's.

For quotations of less than 40 words (APA Style Manual, p. 68), enclose the quote with double quotation marks and give your citation. For quotes of more than 40 words, double indent with a block quotation, double spaced, as in the quotation from Dewey above. You do not need the quotation marks. Cite at the conclusion of the block (i.e., Dewey, 1956, p. 242).

It is imperative that your quotation be faithful to the original. If the original contains, say, a grammatical error insert sic, underlined and bracketed [sic], after the quoted error.

This university takes plagiarism seriously. If you are caught plagiarizing you can be kicked out of school and brought up on charges. Don't do it. It's not worth it.

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Human Subjects

Human subjects are people--subjected to research. In doing research, you are expected to follow certain guidelines in dealing with people--like letting them know they are being studied, not deceiving them about the nature of the research, getting permission to work with them, etc. There are formal procedures for specific kinds of research that designate research on human subjects. Before you begin to work with human subjects, you must have your proposal reviewed and approved by the University Office for Regulatory Compliance (ORC) which at Penn State is located in 115 Kern Building. A person is not considered to be a human subject if they are receiving a service that is not experimental and is designed solely for the benefit of the participant. For instance, if you were to observe a classroom, you would not need permission. However, if you were interacting with the students, especially in any way that could possibly be construed as dangerous or detrimental, you would need to submit a proposal stating what you wanted to do and why. When dealing with minors, you will need parental consent in addition to the child's consent. In order to save yourself many headaches later, be sure to determine what procedures you must follow long before you involve the people you wish to research. In doubt? Check with your instructor.

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Racist and Sexist Literacy--a Form of Illiteracy

Racism and sexism are ideas rooted in the belief that a person, because of their skin color, nationality, or sex, is less than human--an object or thing. This is a powerful idea with serious currency. Racist and sexist ideas are the intellectual buttress of death camps, slavery, and rape.

These are not merely ideas. The segregation of school systems in the United States, the fact that women are paid about 70 cents for every dollar made by men, and the virtual impossibility of employment for many black urban youths, all add up to ideas that translate into social action. The vast majority of people, of all races, suffer from the deprivations and divisions that underlie racism and sexism.

In writing, racism and sexism denies the existence of people other than white men and posits the white middle class as the norm. White supremacy unthinkingly accepts the position that most people are white and at least middle-class--and that others need to be corrected. Dewey's work, above, is sharply sexist--as was almost all the writing of his time.

He stood for all humanity; she did not exist. "I be.." continues to be presented as another, frequently inferior, language. The North American white middle class is now called into question as a universal standard, for instance, in the term culturally deprived. (Ask, What if this was my culture? Might economically exploited be a better term?) Also, consider the nicknames that are given to the enemy during a time of war. Is it easier to kill a gook or a human being? Language can be used to dehumanize even more easily than it can be used to open up the lines of communication and understanding.

Subtle forms of linguistic imperialism are either adopted as acceptable and preferred ways of expression, or addressed and challenged.

A story from my own personal experience illustrates this point. Several months ago, I spent an entire day traveling by plane, and struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me. When we finally got into Washington National Airport, we agreed to share a cab. While we were cruising along, he told me that he was a Republican, but that he liked Clinton a lot. I was curious as to why, and he said that he felt that under the Clinton administration, everyone would make a lot of money. He explained that the health care plan was a good example of what he meant. He said that with the new health care bill, doctors would make more money, HMOs would make more money, the people who sell medical technology and goods would make more money, and the insurance companies would make more money. Of course, tens of thousands of clerical workers and hospital orderlies would have to be laid off, but it would be worth it because everyone would be making more money.

The word "everyone" would seem, very obviously, to mean all people without exception. However, in this case, everyone apparently did not include the people of the working class. Broad assumptions and generalizations often also include broad exclusions.

Sometimes the whole fight for a less biased language seems really nit-picky. After all, sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Isn't it just easier to use the terms that we are used to? However, anyone who survived the age of twelve knows that words can indeed cut you to the bone. It is not so much the actual words as the feelings and ideas behind the words that hurt. Perhaps being aware of our choice of words will not have any great impact on inequality in our society, but the fact that people are being excluded and not respected is reason enough to change the way we express ourselves. As Rosalie Maggio writes in The Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage:

Deleting black and white from our vocabularies will not do away with racism in society. The language we use is symptomatic of our attitudes and beliefs. Changing the language does not automatically affect the way we think. However, research indicates that language powerfully influences attitudes, behavior, and perceptions (p.ix).

Maggio's book is a useful resource for finding alternatives to language that is sexually, racially, or otherwise biased. If taking the time to discover some of the options to what has traditionally been the standard seems like a waste to you, try to consider how it feels to be excluded, especially from something that people take for granted. In many ways, the exclusion is not so much on purpose as simply a result of certain groups of people not being thought of as important enough to be considered. Remember the man in the cab who did not include anyone of less than middle-class as a part of "everyone."

When writing or talking about people, reconsider whether or not qualifiers denoting gender, ethnicity, disabilities, etc., are really relevant and necessary. If not, leave them out. If they are crucial, try to put the people first and the qualifiers second.

She is the first woman of African-American heritage to become President of the United States.

By mentioning the person first, the focus is switched from the characteristic to the person.

Although names are only words, they wield power. Names such as "savages" dehumanize and give false descriptions. Beware of referring to groups of people by names that they have not chosen for themselves.

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Avoiding Masculine Pronouns

Trying to avoid using masculine pronouns in reference to people of unspecified gender can be quite a challenge. Saying "he or she" or alternating "she" and "he" is one option, but it has a tendency to be distracting at best, and downright annoying at worst. Here are some creative ways to deal with this problem (Maggio, p.18).

Being so conscious of your word choice may seem very strange at first, and may cause you some anguish as you try to find alternatives to the ways in which you were taught to write. However, as you become more aware of the words you are using, you will also be able to detect the biases in yourself. Thoughtful writing will cause the author as well as the reader to examine the things that many take for granted. Awareness is the first step toward change.

Racism and sexism can be attacked in your writing. Indeed, recent changes in the language are clear examples of the relationship of power and struggle to the ability to define and represent. Male pronouns are no longer an acceptable substitute for humanity. If personpower seems an awkward substitute for manpower, try work force or worker power. Awkwardness is more of a political construct drawn from repetition than a natural response of your ear or tongue.

The substance of your writing constructs your beliefs in others' minds. The form of your writing, your choice of pronouns for example, is a signal of your commitment to your claims. Choose your terms wisely.

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