On the plagiarizing prof, and smoking in parks…

OK, let’s deal with two pseudo-issues that have briefly plugged up the local news scene.

First, the case of the plagiarizing professor.

As you’ve no doubt heard, Dr. Philip Baker, dean of medicine at the U of A, has been accused of lifting whose passages of another doctor’s speech when he addressed this year’s medical graduating class. Apparently, parts of the speech were lifted word-for-word from one given by a Dr. Atul Gawande, a Standford University star doctor/speaker. Reports indicate that the speech sounded so familiar, that several in attendance went to their smartphones and found the speech online, and read along with the hapless dean.

Since then, all hell has broken loose. Students seem to have taken personal offense at this affront to their dignity, some of the being quoted as saying it tarnishes their accomplishment. This is the Me Generation at its absolute finest: someone gives a speech that damages the speaker’s reputation, and the graduates worry that it reflects badly on them.

There are calls for the dean to resign, since the U of A has very strict rules about plagiarizing; if you get caught, you get kicked out. Some are saying that the same should apply to the dean.

I don’t think so.

There is a substantial difference between a dean giving a largely plagiarized speech, and a student plagiarizing a paper. The dean is giving a speech for the enjoyment of a crowd. He has nothing to prove. A student, however, is proving that he or she is deserving of a degree. I don’t want anyone who might be my doctor plagiarizing facts that may be of great importance to my health. The student needs to display a depth of knowledge that is crucial to his/her work; the dean was just giving an innocent speech.

Was he wrong to use the speech without attribution? Absolutely. Does he deserve to lose his job, bringing an ignominious end to a very accomplished caree?. Of course not. What a waste of knowledge and skill that would be. He has been publicly shamed, and has apologized. That should be enough.

Now, onto the no smoking in public parks bylaw.

The city moved a step closer to banning smoking in playgrounds and parks Monday, as a new bylaw is moving its way through the system.

Proponents of the bylaw — which is already in place in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, and others — says its a matter of public health. Coun. Amarjeet Sohi, the main booster of the bylaw, was quotds in The Journal thusly: “We do not allow smoking in pubs and bars, but we allow smoking in playgrounds, which are used by kids.”

Well, Amarjeet, there is somewhat of a distinction between bars and pubs, and the great outdoors. That being one is inside, and the other is in … the great outdoors.

I’m no scientist, but when smoke is dispelled into a closed environment, it has nowhere to go, and hangs around, just waiting to go into somebody else’s lungs. But when smoke is dispelled outside, it dissipates into the air, never to be breathed in again.

Now don’t get me wrong — I am as virulent an anti-smoker as you will find. I know this sounds terrible, but when I see someone smoking, my opinion of them drops several notches. It shows a weakness in character that I find very unappealing. When I see a parent smoking in a closed car with a kid in the backseat, I’m tempted to force them off the road, bust open a window and rescue the poor, hacking children.

So yes, indoor smoking bans have been wonderful, a great public health step forward that did not, as its detractors said it would, hurt the food and bar industries. If anything, it probably helped.

But banning smoking outdoors is too much. If a hapless addicted smoker wants to take his child to a playground while he sits on a bench having a ciggie, no harm is done. It is not remotely the same as smoking indoors. An outdoor smoking ban is Big Brother at its finest, and pretty much unenforceable to boot. I wholeheartedly applaud the anti-smoking brigade for making indoor air safer and cleaner for everyone. But this just goes too far. Leave the smokers alone to hack and cough in peace.

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