Friday, October 22, 2010

Plagiarism seems to be running high

Yesterday my TA caught a case of a student plagiarizing from Wikipedia. Ho hum, happens all the time. Then I found the recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on an exposé by Alan Sokal (of the famous bogus postmodern physics paper in the journal Social Text), who, together with a student at the University of Zagreb, exposed a case of plagiarism by U.S. political scientist Frank Fischer. Its an interesting read, but for some masochistic reason (probably because of the Wikipedia incident) I waded through the 202 comments on the paper. I recommend those to anyone interested in issues of academic plagiarism, since there are all sorts of ideas, insights, and opinions there (including some possible hijinx by anonymous posters). One link in the comments led to a blog devoted to plagiarism in dissertations at Ohio State University (and you thought THIS blog was narrow!). Wow, some wild stuff (mostly in Engineering, although one case in Anthropology, leading to withdrawal of the degree).

It seems so often that university officials try to sweep things under the carpet when faculty plagiarism or scientific fraud take place. There was a case of this at my former university, and in the end not only the plagiarist looked bad, but the university administration was tarnished. And now the Mark Hauser episode at Harvard (if you don't know about this one, just google his name).

My favorite student plagiarism case was a C or D student whose term paper (on the reliability of Bernal Diaz as a source on Aztec society) started out, "The crescent flag of the Moors had flown over Spain for seven centuries..." I searched "crescent flag of the Moors" (back in Hot-Bot days, pre-Google), and Bingo!, the entire paper was lifted from a history website at the University of Iowa. And then a student essay once sounded strangely familiar to me (did I just read this in an earlier essay? I thought) until I realized I was reading my own prose.........

Academic standards are important, whether among our students, our colleagues, or ourselves. All this news about plagiarism and scientific fraud is depressing. If you haven't read "On Being a Scientist" by the National Academy of Sciences, you should read it now, and you should give it to your grad students and advanced undergrads. The new edition is a free download, well worth the effort.

National Academy of Sciences
    2009    On Being A Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research. 3rd ed. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.


James said...

Sadly, it happens everywhere. In my own academic experience teaching business I once caught 16 students sharing the same file for an Excel assignment. Even now, with an automated plagiarism detection system in place to scan submitted computer files, and in spite of the fact that I warn the students about the system, I still get at least 5 attempted cases per semester.

In the wider world try googling Stephen Harper plagiarism. As I said, plagiarism is everywhere.

J. Heath said...

Does ASU use anti-plagiarism software like TurnItIn? My previous two institutions were big believers in this software and I found it really useful, but I was kind of amazed to learn that my current place of employment, which requires all students to complete a capstone thesis in order to graduate, does *not* use it.

Ever use TurnItIn, Mike? If not, you really ought to try it out.

ethnohistorian said...

did you read the recent chronicle article by the guy who works for a company that produces student papers? it is depressing.

Anonymous said...

Well I think I can top your examples, at least in terms of academic sloth. I had a student that plagiarized a series of websites, but rather than retyping it or reformatting it, he just cut and paste a mish-mash of different sites. As a result, the paper had several font style and size changes. Furthermore, and here is the kicker, his paper (as in printed on paper) contained hyperlinks. I wish I still had it.