The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about a new software called CrossCheck, which is billed as a plagarism program. Most writers, who unlike academics are not quoting and paraphrasing, are hardly ever in danger of plagiarism. But the program actually goes one step beyond crosschecking other previously published articles, and also checks other currently submitted articles: “At Elsevier, a leading journal publisher, an article submitted simultaneously to two Elsevier publications will be automatically flagged.”

Every writer I know ignores the prohibitions against “Simultaneous Submissions” (Or Sim Subs, if you want to be informal about it). And since print submissions are still in vogue, it would be difficult to enter all submissions into a database and crosscheck them against other journals to guard against simultaneous submission. But now that electronic submissions are becoming increasingly popular — especially the program offered by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) — it would be very easy for code to be written that would flag articles that had been submitted simultaneously. And it would even be worse than in the academic realm, because there are far more programs to upload submissions in the academic realm than in the creative realm, and so only one program might apply to a large number of journals. While my first move to escape detection would be to use different titles for the same story — just like a writer does in the short story collection by Robert Bolano, “Last Evenings on Earth” — a program like CrossCheck would check the entire story, not just the title. Those damn computers: Sometimes I feel like I’m playing chess against HAL.

For now — and I should emphasize the “now” — this program is only available to academic journals, and hasn’t yet crossed over to the literary realm (as far as I know). But I think this kind of possibility might serve as a slight deterrent to those writers who continue to cry and beg and implore journals to switch to electronic submissions. Let it be said: there are some definite downsides to the electronic format. Although I have to admit — with postage rising yet again, it might be a downside I’ll eventually be willing to accept.

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