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It's a shoddy, shoddy world

By  Sep 19, 2010

Topics: Programming, C/C++

We've all come to terms with the fact that the models that in glitzy magazines aren't really themselves. Aggressive Photoshop embellishments make them look bigger than life. And yet, it appears that in many other areas, our senses are being artistically manipulated. We simply don't know it. Where do you draw the line between legit cosmetics and sheer fraud?

A couple of weeks ago, the world discovered another manipulation of the senses. Simon Cowell was forced to admit that the participants in the X-Factor and Britain's got Talent (two formats that are equivalent to American Idol) didn't sound so great after all. Their voices had undergone massive digital processing and enhancing using Autotune. A Daily Telegraph correspondent went to a professional studio to record his own rendition of The Lady in Red. He performed poorly -- singing out of tune, with hissing sibilants and muffled consonants. His voice lacked the depth and grandeur of any professional singer. Lo and behold, with a few touches of Autotune, all of these were fixed, making him sound like a mega star. Does the manipulation of the senses end here? Not a bit.

Academic Autotuning

A couple of days ago I faced another shocking revelation. A friend of mine told me that he'd hired a professional copy editor and a tech editor(!) to go through his master's thesis draft. In simpler words, he'd used the academic world's autotune. It's no wonder that his thesis was graded A+. He didn't mention the editors' contribution in the acknowledgments, though. "You're not supposed to give credit to your editors. They're like ghost writers. They don't really exist, as far as the academic world is concerned, although everyone hires their services", he told me. I felt cheated. When I wrote my thesis in 2004, the possibility of hiring the professional editors hadn't even occurred to me. Even if it had, I would have refused. Then again, maybe I'm just too naïve.

It's a Thin Line

Where do you draw the line between legitimate "cosmetics" and full-blown cheating? After all, no one would blame a fashion magazine for cheating just because they use Photoshop. So why is hiring a ghost editor for one's thesis considered shortchanging? I believe that there's a clear criterion: Is the spectator/reader aware of the manipulation? When you buy Beyonce's studio recording CD, you know that the vocals you'll hear are larger than life. In contrast, until not long ago, most of us were lulled into believing that the live performances of Susan Boyle and other rags-to-riches stories were 100% natural. When the truth was leaked to the press, X-Factor fans accused the editors of cheating. Manipulation is acceptable so long as the authors acknowledge it. Then again, once the manipulation is exposed, the magic vanishes -- SuBo's CD is now sold for a mere GBP 3.00 at HMV. What would due disclosure in academic writings might cause? Perhaps some if the highly-esteemed professors we look up to will be exposed as mediocre babblers?  

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