August 2, 2010

"If you are not so worried about presenting yourself as absolutely unique, then it’s O.K. if you say other people’s words..."

"... it’s O.K. if you say things you don’t believe, it’s O.K. if you write papers you couldn’t care less about because they accomplish the task, which is turning something in and getting a grade... And it’s O.K. if you put words out there without getting any credit."

The internet is changing the way students think about plagiarism... or — I would add — they way they lie about it.

60 comments:

kathleen said...

The value of writing papers is overrated. Students are called upon to write, what, hundreds of papers on dozens of subjects by the time they finish college? There's bound to be some plagiarism.

The major problem of overbroad and overlong schooling leads to the minor problem of student plagiarism.

rhhardin said...

Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It closely grasps an author's sentence, uses his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one.

- Lautreamont

The Crack Emcee said...

Shit, that explains half of the debates I get into on the internet. These people don't care about truth, or facts, or anything but getting what they want - which is their own way.

I agree with Kathleen, that school isn't keeping up with the evolution of our thinking, but she underestimates the damage that learning to lie, as a matter of course, does to the students or society.

Where I come from, they kill you for that kind of thing - and I'm grateful.

Oligonicella said...

"There's bound to be some plagiarism."

From those who cheat knowingly. Not the fault of assigned work. You greatly over-exaggerate the number of papers I think. I don't recall anywhere near hundreds.

Chase said...

then it’s O.K. if you say other people’s words... it’s O.K. if you say things you don’t b

And yet you still get the feeling that she knows it's wrong. Sort of guilty like.

Because it is wrong. Plagiarism is stealing. Just because she or anyone else can't physically pick it up doesn't mean she hasn't taken someone else's property without permission.

Pay attention for a moment:

Why is abortion still on the ropes - even more so among the young than ever before - despite our society becoming more "secular" and sexually free?

Why is there less sexual content in movies put out the last 5 years than the previous 30?


Because there are some things that are wrong. And all the efforts to kill off the restraints will only lead to frustrated idiocy and eventually come back.

Morality is like a bungee cord. One can go as far away morally as one wants, but one will come back eventually. The only question is: how hard will the hit be on the return?

The Crack Emcee said...

Chase,

I like that image. The hit on the way back, I mean.

Kinda Wiley E. Coyote.

edutcher said...

I agree with Chase, but it's interesting to speculate on the failure of moral relativism if he's right. It would mean people like Albert Shanker and William Ayers and all the 'opinion makers' of the media and Hollyweird and Madison Avenue can't override our basic tendencies and decency in the end.

Peano said...

kathleen said: "Students are called upon to write, what, hundreds of papers on dozens of subjects by the time they finish college? There's bound to be some plagiarism."

All of us have to go the grocery store, what, hundreds of times to buy scores of food products? There's bound to be some stealing.

Pogo said...

"If you are not so worried about presenting yourself as absolutely unique, then...

...don't sign your name to it, indicating otherwise. Don't claim credit for mere cutting and pasting when the rules state otherwise.

Admit it up front if you're OK with it.
Plagiarized from multiple sources by.....

But really, what did lefties think was going to happen when they debased all other moral codes, that plagiarism was going to retain some special horror?
Ha.

William said...

Assign a paper on some idiosyncratic subject. Require the student to use the words and ideas of five unattributed thinkers and fold them seamlessly into the paper. My guess is that the students would write completely original words and thoughts in to order to put one over on the teacher and game the system......A plagiarist is a heartbeat away from the White House. Isn't this like preaching against bj's during the Clinton Presidency?

Jim Hu said...

The article and many of the comments on the NYT site miss the most important point. After all, the damage done to the original authors by the theft is minimal at best. The problem with plagiarism - and the reason students do it - is that it obscures whether or not the student actually understands the material.

When I see this sort of thing, I tell the students "I know the authors you copied from understand what they are saying, but I have no way of telling whether you do".

This is why, even though it isn't plagiarism, a paper consisting entirely of properly cited quoted text would not pass either... even though there might be an interesting argument about the value added from what the student chose to quote and cite.

Joe said...

All I can add is originality is undetected plagiarism.

kathleen said...

"The damage that learning to lie does to students..."

The educational establishment TEACHES students to lie. "pretend to read 5 volumes on Beethoven's life, synthesize the material into a 10 page paper of totally original language, make it unique and entertaining to read, juggle 4 other courses with a part time job, all in the space of 30 days. Pay several thousand dollars for the privilege."

And let's not even discuss whether the coursework itself is worth anyone's time. I went to one of the top colleges in the country, and I'm well persuaded that 60% of the coursework on offer is nothing but politically correct indoctrination.

Finally, is there the prospect of making a good living after all this hoopla? lately, not so much.

ricpic said...

Plagiarism is so widespread for one and only one reason: millions are raised without instruction that there is absolute right and absolute wrong. Ya know, that primitive ol' time religion morality. Teach the young that relativism trumps absolute distinctions and you get a plague of every form of wrongdoing.

kathleen said...

Hey Chase, plagiarism is stealing.

I just stole your property from you! how does it feel, sucka?

Balfegor said...

Assign a paper on some idiosyncratic subject. Require the student to use the words and ideas of five unattributed thinkers and fold them seamlessly into the paper.

Or check to make sure wikipedia doesn't have an article on it already. I was surprised, this weekend, to discover that there is apparently no wikipedia article on the Caisse de la Dette Publique in Egypt in the late 19th century. It was kind of a key element of European colonialism in the Arab world. I think Lord Cromer started his long career as the effective ruler of Egypt from a posting to the Caisse, and it the Caisse was also deeply involved in the international negotiations around the beginning of the Kitchener phase of the Madhist War. There's loads of semi-primary sources you can read about it -- I think Cromer's own Modern Egypt discusses it. Churchill's The River War certainly does. And Google Books has a load of contemporary materials -- journal and review articles and so on -- discussing the outcome of the funding disputes for the Egyptian reconquest of the Sudan. But no Wikipedia article.

A history professor could (for the moment) safely assign it as an essay topic, and know that even if his students are plagiarising their essays, they will have to plow through some primary sources just to get enough material to plagiarise an essay out of. Or at least go to the library.

Paddy O said...

Crack and Chase, exactly right.

kathleen is emphasizes the place of writing as assignments being silly. But the thing is, this isn't really about writing as an artistic craft.

I think of the old "wax on, wax off" exercise. That's a bit what college writing is like, and really doesn't change unless you're in a PhD program that is writing intensive.

College writing is not about being original. It is about following the guidelines to communicate the gathered research on a topic in a succinct way.

Following these guidelines seems irritating, but just about any field insists on a pattern of established rules to communicate to others, to follow a task, to deliver a finished product that models recognizable guidelines.

Students who cannot learn or will not learn to adhere to basic professional standards in communication or actions will suffer in just about any job they want.

No, most will not go into a writing intensive field, but they all will learn, sooner or later, that taking credit for someone else's work, doing the least amount of effort for a task, refusing to follow established guidelines that are expected by superiors, will be a major detriment to their career. And there are very few places outside of school that will grade solely on good intentions.

Paddy O said...

It is also worth noting that just as the internet has made plagiarism quite easy, it has also made catching plagiarism quite easy.

Type a sentence or long phrase from each paper into Google. Plagiarizing students are very rarely creative, or even thoughtful, about their cheating.

But I don't entirely blame students. They're in college to be taught, and if they don't know something or think that a habit gained from downloading music is applicable to higher education or being in the workforce then college is a great place to learn what is right and what is wrong.

tim maguire said...

This may be a growing problem, but it is not a new problem and the old solutions will still work just fine--expel the plagiarists. Academic probation on the first offense if you want, but after that the boot.

knox said...

even though it isn't plagiarism, a paper consisting entirely of properly cited quoted text would not pass either

Yes!

Old Dad said...

No, the internet has not blurred the distinction between original work and plagiarism. It has simply made it easier and more tempting to cheat. If we value intellectual honesty and academic rigor, then plagiarism should be severely punished. If not, schools should hire babysitters and award diplomas for time served.

knox said...

College in general is taken less seriously by kids. Small wonder they find it nothing to cheat on their papers.

It is now (for a lot of them) just an extension of high school. And that feeling is justified, to a large extent.

Here's what's needed:

Fewer people going to college. It's overrated in countless ways.

Fewer colleges, more vocational schools.

Fewer years to get a college degree. (Fewer electives.)

More more earning power (and more respect) given to those who have earned associates degrees.

An overall de-romanticization of college and all of the accoutrements.

jeff said...

"The value of writing papers is overrated. Students are called upon to write, what, hundreds of papers on dozens of subjects by the time they finish college? "

Then hopefully at that point they have learned how to understand and transfer thoughts in a coherent manner.

"The educational establishment TEACHES students to lie. "pretend to read 5 volumes on Beethoven's life, synthesize the material into a 10 page paper of totally original language, make it unique and entertaining to read, juggle 4 other courses with a part time job, all in the space of 30 days."

Oh cry me a freaking river. I LONG for those college days when that was all I had to do.

MikeDC said...

Old Dad,
They basically do just that.

jamboree said...

This is quite a bit in the past for me at this point, but once my friends from high school who went to Stanford explained that after they were in, they could do absolutely anything and their record would never be marred below (a 'B' was it?), the offending class would simply be dropped with no record if they got into trouble, I said "fuck it." and did whatever I wanted at UCB when it came to incorporation and cut and paste. (This was in the early '90s, so I generally had to at least input it, before I cut and paste, rewording and rethinking it in the process.)

IOW, the admin and faculty have to take their part of the blame for grades becoming more purely a means to an end of a certain grade point which lead to grad school of choice acceptance which will lead to a certain job and status level.

The differing policies between universities had HUGE effects. It meant some didn't have to do shit after high school and others did opening themselves up to the possibility of failure, of course while others were protected. If I'm going to be penalized for my parents not having enough money to send me to Stanford and having to go the state route then I'm going to do what I can to make up the difference.

You can't suddenly start whining about the purity of academic excellence now. And I'm not even touching grade inflation here which apparently started in the 60s and has only gotten worse with every passing decade. (Can you say "Obama"? The one who won't release his papers, and his wife who did to mass ridicule. If she can get through Princeton with that absolute dreck, and onto a 300K "outreach" job just as her husband became a State Senator, then anyone who has a problem with 'cut and paste' can bite me.)

Lastly, it's got to be said, that a blogger is just about the last human being that should have a problem with this. I had a blog. It's the same process. You generally have to think about it even with cut and paste. In my experience, only frat boys and sorority girls have the ability to fully turn in someone else's paper with a straight face.

Fen said...

No excuse for plagiarism. All you have to do is attrib the words or ideas.

But I agree with others that today's universities are seen as nothng more than indocrination centers that must be gamed to get the piece of paper you need to find a decent job

John Lynch said...

Papers are a waste of time.

Too much education is learning how to be an academic. Few people become academics.

In-class essays are a better way to test knowledge without any chance of plagiarism.

Writing papers is mainly an exercise in learning how to write papers. Strangely, I've never had to write a paper since leaving college.

There's no real value in academic paper writing outside of academia. HMM.

John Lynch said...

That being said, I agree with Crack et al. that it is bad to teach people to lie their way through life.

This is another reason to use some other method other than papers to test knowledge.

jr565 said...

This is an extension of the college's beoming learning centers less and less and party centers more and more. There are trivial majors and classes teaching about how to put condoms on bananas, yet noone is drilling into peoples skulls that plagiarism is wrong. These by the way are college students, not 10 year olds, and yet they haven't grasped the concept.
Schools should bring back the concept of shaming students for not adhering to strict codes.
Also, the whole concept of file sharing has played a part int his as well. If people can't grasp the concept of copyrighted material versus fair use material they will probably not grasp the point that they can't simply use whatever words they find as their own.

Revenant said...
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Revenant said...

The best way to cut down on plagiarism would be to end the requirement that people take classes from outside of their major. Colleges force students to test in things they (a) don't need to know, (b) don't care about, and (c) aren't good at... and then act surprised when the students cheat.

Hombre said...

The "indoctrination centers" (courtesy Fen) don't teach students how to think, but what to think. If you haven't learned how to think, you plagiarize.

To the extent that plagiarizing is lying, Alinsky and his progeny in and out of the "centers" are cool with that.

John said...

I have no objection to students cutting and pasting. I do have a loosely enforced guideline of not more than 5-10% of the total paper.

Cutting and pasting is not plagiarism if it is properly attributed.

If I cannot immediately tell whether the words on the paper are from somewhere else, I assume that the student wrote them.

If they did not, it is plagiarism and the paper automatically gets a zero. No excuses.

I also recommend that the student be dropped from the class on the first offense. So far, every time I've done that, my school has gone along.

There are a lot of tools now that make it very easy to detect and verify plagiarism.

The problem I have always fought, over 25 years in teaching, is lack of conciseness.

I put a 1000 word limit on all most of my writing assignments. +/-100 words. Not counting footnotes, reference lists and so on.

Go over 1100 words or under 900 and the best grade you will ever get from me is a C.

I spell out my policies very clearly in the syllabus as well as in a separate class rules sheet I pass out. Nobody gets to plead ignorance.

Yet I always get people who want to see if I really mean it.

I do

John Henry

John said...

As the great Lobachevsky said (according to Tom Lehrer)

Plagiarize

Let no one else's work evade your eyes

Remember why the good Lord made your eyes

So don't shade your eyes

But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize

Only be sure always to call it please "research"


John Henry

WV: Gascuse

Sorry honey, no sex tonight. I have gas

c3 said...

Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research.

Shanna said...

it’s O.K. if you write papers you couldn’t care less about because they accomplish the task, which is turning something in and getting a grade.

What is the alternative, honestly? If you have a class and they say write a paper on X, they don't care if you care about topic X, they want a paper. Half of college is jumping through hoops for a piece of paper.

At DePaul University, the tip-off to one student’s copying was the purple shade of several paragraphs he had lifted from the Web

This person is too dumb to graduate from any college.

Honestly, much of this article sounds like confusion on how/what should be cited when using internet sources. Obviously cutting and pasting whole papers is unacceptable, but a good portion of a research paper is cutting and pasting and citing your source. There is very little original content in a research paper. All you have to do is organize information and write good transitions.

Zach said...

I went to a college with a very strict honor code. They published the 10 or so cases encountered every year. The largest category was computer science, where the lines could be blurry between acceptable levels of help and cut and paste. The ease of copying definitely plays a role.

When grading courses in grad school, I was pleasantly surprised to see how few people actually did cheat. I only caught two or three. It's very easy to notice that a piece of writing doesn't sound like a student in a particular class, and typing a couple of blatant sentences into google easily finds the source.

The point isn't that you have to be severe, it's that you have to be severe enough -- and consistent enough! -- to protect the honest students. Cheaters should be dealt with decisively, promptly, and by someone with the authority to make it stick. As a grad student, I would pass the case on to the professor running the class. That way, the student has no authority to appeal to.

c3 said...

Originality is undetected plagiarism.

traditionalguy said...

Faking an education may work well in the age of deception. But really working hard to acquire a new skill is what lasts for a lifetime. Then your education continues for a lifetime using the skills imparted by the hard task with a learning curve the Professor puts upon you.

Zach said...

it’s O.K. if you write papers you couldn’t care less about because they accomplish the task, which is turning something in and getting a grade.

That's one way to look at it, I guess. Certainly not every class is going to be your top priority. But if you treat every class as a set of formal hoops to jump through without engagement, you're not getting the full college experience.

Sometimes the best response to writing a paper you're not interested in is to grow the %@##$ up and learn how to take an interest in the world around you.

HDHouse said...

ahem....you are "unique" or not. absolutely is a degree that doesn't apply to unique. write clearly please.

bagoh20 said...

The problem with plagiarismt in this context is that the student does not learn the material. It's just lazy. To read an excerpt from a source, understand it and then write it in your own words is the basic unit of learning as in the physical arts it is apprenticing. The problem is the quality of graduates and their degrees. This is already being discounted in business and the culture.

The solution: Fail that student.

The result: Better citizens, both the passing and the failing ones. And the rest of us can tell them apart without getting used.

c3 said...

If we steal thoughts from the moderns, it will be cried down as plagiarism; if from the ancients, it will be cried up as erudition

c3 said...

Why am I the first in my family ever to get to university? Was it because my father and mother were not bright? Is it because they didn't work hard? Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand

jgm said...

Ward Churchill could not be reached for comment.

Chris said...

Well, good for the damn internet kids. They'll just find out what earlier generations didn't have to learn, at least not en masse: that the reason they used to teach us not to cheat is because cheating carries very real consequences later in life. But hey, if they're half as clever as they keep telling us they are, they've got it covered. Not our problem.

Oclarki said...

These kids will one day be investment bankers, politicians and lawyers. I'm sure they will follow the rules and ethical regulations of their chosen careers to a tee.

Balfegor said...

These kids will one day be investment bankers, politicians and lawyers. I'm sure they will follow the rules and ethical regulations of their chosen careers to a tee.

Yes, but copy and paste is a key skill in putting together transactional documents. There's a reason why it's called "boilerplate."

Bob_R said...

"synthesize the material into 10 pages of totally original language..."

I wonder if that isn't one of the problems. Too many teachers pretending they want - even expect - originality. Not one student in a hundred is capable of writing 10 pages of totally original language in their lifetime. We'd be better off if every writing class began with the Bull Durham scene when Davis lectures Laloosh about the value of using cliches.

I teach math and have to grade a lot of proofs. Most of the writing is - and should be - formal and standardized. But it is almost always dead easy to spot them trying to palm off an idea that they copied from somewhere and don't really understand. The goal isn't for them to create a new recipe - just to convince me that they understand how to cook it (even if only by doctoring up something that they got from the store).

A.W. said...

i wonder how the rise of sampling in music changed attitudes on this too?

I don't mean that in an alarmist "rap music is ruining america" sort of way, just saying, look there is a practice (not limited strictly to rap), that takes from others and only sporatically gives credit. i mean take vanilla ice ripping off Queen's "Under Pressure." hilariously the state in their liner notes that on some later album, that their sample was used there in a way that suggest collaboration with the man, like as if that doesn't harm queen by association with one of the worst rappers in history.

Anyway, i suspect that this is only the attitudes of a few picked for the article, and most know it is dishonest, even if they do it.

Flexo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

The problem with plagiarismt in this context is that the student does not learn the material. It's just lazy.

Avoiding useless labor isn't lazy.

For a typical degree, probably 60% of your course load is related to your major -- i.e., the stuff you want to learn. The other 40% is the educational equivalent of reading the EULA when you install Microsoft Office.

Flexo said...

Here's a question for you --

Who is most guilty of plagiarism --

The folks who came up with the idea of plagiarism, or the people who developed copyright law?

Plagiarism is itself a stolen and copied idea, is it not?

At least copyright has specfically defined tests as to what constitutes infringement and what constitutes fair use, whereas all too often it seems that what constitutes plagiarism is totally arbitrary.

Balfegor said...

Re: Flexo:

At least copyright has specfically defined tests as to what constitutes infringement and what constitutes fair use, whereas all too often it seems that what constitutes plagiarism is totally arbitrary.

Really? I would have thought it was more the reverse. The line between fair use and infringement can be pretty blurry, but with plagiarism, it's pretty cut and dried. If you copy a sentence from someone else, and do not attribute it properly, you are committing plagiarism. You can fudge with this a bit, in terms of exactly how much you have to rewrite someone else's sentence for it not to be plagiarism, but it's a fairly simple concept.

Re: Bob_R:

I wonder if that isn't one of the problems. Too many teachers pretending they want - even expect - originality.

I think that's right, particularly when you're talking about the kind of basic comp or English "how to write a paper" classes that are part of the core curriculum at most universities, and are -- I would guess -- the courses where plagiarism is most likely to occur. Originality is great, but the class is really -- functionally, in terms of how it fits into the college education -- about mastering communication of facts and ideas, whether they're yours or someone else's (after all, communicating others' thoughts and ideas clearly and accurately is an important skill in and of itself.) Originality can come later, when you're studying something you enjoy, something you'll actually think about in your spare time.

William said...

In addition to the Vice President, I can offhand think of several distinguished writers, historians, and jurists who have been caught in plagiarism scandals. The scandal caused a momentary embarrassment but then rapidly passed into oblivion. Plagiarism apparently isn't that big a deal for society at large. It's one of those things like chewing gum that bother teachers more than most people.

c3 said...

I could say it's just quoting someone's else's words but then, I would say to myself, just words. Wasn't "'We have nothing to fear but fear itself" just words. What about "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Just words.

Don't tell me words don't matter

Peano said...

@kathleen ... "And let's not even discuss whether the coursework itself is worth anyone's time. I went to one of the top colleges in the country, and I'm well persuaded that ...."

You were on a Blonde Scholarship, right?

Gabriel Hanna said...

What you are supposed to learn from writing papers in college is how to find information sources, and then synthesize what they say into something which may not be that original, but at the very least its in your own words.

When you plagiarize, you have done none of those things. You do not learn how to compose a meaningful and well-written sentence. You do not see things that the authors you plagiarized from may have missed, and you will copy their mistakes as well. You do not think critically about what an author says, you just copy it.

Plagiarism is about trying to get by with the least effort. If college is too goddamn hard for you, maybe you shouldn't be there. The commenters who think writing papers about things is just two much work, ought to count themselves lucky they're not majoring in math or physics or engineering.

Gabriel Hanna said...

How is plagiarizing a paper any different from copying someone else's solutions to math or physics problems? In both circumstances you have spent no time thinking about what it is you are doing. You're just trying to get credit without putting in effort.

When the exam comes, you're not going to be able to perform; just like if you had a piano recital and didn't practice. And if your work depends on being able to write well and think clearly, you're going to be way behind the people who actually did their work.

Beth said...

I fight this battle more every semester. Students will present papers with lots of good, documented research, quoted or paraphrased, properly formatted according to MLA rules, and still, buried within, with be a few long passages, a couple of great transitions, a few sentences that just sound really good. They don't ever NEED to plagiarize; the rest of the paper shows competency in using outside sources. And they're baffled when they get an F for the paper.

This happens after I've spent weeks fitting in regular discussions and hands-on exercises in proper use of source material, using examples from our course text, and from their own work.

Most of it, I believe, comes about from thinking they can get away with it. They haven't fully thought about their own ideas, and they get a draft written only to see According to X, and (Source) all through their paragraphs and they think "well, that won't do." So instead of taking their paper back from their source material, they just tweak it to make it look like more of it is original.

People, I tell them, I have the Google! I have Turnitin! I have SafeAssign! I know your writing; I can see when sentences are unlike the ones you write yourself.

I think this theory that they just don't know the difference is largely bullshit. Citing sources is as formulaic as math.