ONTD Political

Plagiarism may be because of our ~postmodern society~?

12:40 pm - 08/02/2010
Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age
By TRIP GABRIEL
Published: August 1, 2010

At Rhode Island College, a freshman copied and pasted from a Web site’s frequently asked questions page about homelessness — and did not think he needed to credit a source in his assignment because the page did not include author information.

At DePaul University, the tip-off to one student’s copying was the purple shade of several paragraphs he had lifted from the Web; when confronted by a writing tutor his professor had sent him to, he was not defensive — he just wanted to know how to change purple text to black.

And at the University of Maryland, a student reprimanded for copying from Wikipedia in a paper on the Great Depression said he thought its entries — unsigned and collectively written — did not need to be credited since they counted, essentially, as common knowledge.

Professors used to deal with plagiarism by admonishing students to give credit to others and to follow the style guide for citations, and pretty much left it at that.

But these cases — typical ones, according to writing tutors and officials responsible for discipline at the three schools who described the plagiarism — suggest that many students simply do not grasp that using words they did not write is a serious misdeed.

It is a disconnect that is growing in the Internet age as concepts of intellectual property, copyright and originality are under assault in the unbridled exchange of online information, say educators who study plagiarism.

Digital technology makes copying and pasting easy, of course. But that is the least of it. The Internet may also be redefining how students — who came of age with music file-sharing, Wikipedia and Web-linking — understand the concept of authorship and the singularity of any text or image.

“Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author,” said Teresa Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University. “It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.”

Professors who have studied plagiarism do not try to excuse it — many are champions of academic honesty on their campuses — but rather try to understand why it is so widespread.

In surveys from 2006 to 2010 by Donald L. McCabe, a co-founder of the Center for Academic Integrity and a business professor at Rutgers University, about 40 percent of 14,000 undergraduates admitted to copying a few sentences in written assignments.

Perhaps more significant, the number who believed that copying from the Web constitutes “serious cheating” is declining — to 29 percent on average in recent surveys from 34 percent earlier in the decade.


Sarah Brookover, a senior at the Rutgers campus in Camden, N.J., said many of her classmates blithely cut and paste without attribution.

“This generation has always existed in a world where media and intellectual property don’t have the same gravity,” said Ms. Brookover, who at 31 is older than most undergraduates. “When you’re sitting at your computer, it’s the same machine you’ve downloaded music with, possibly illegally, the same machine you streamed videos for free that showed on HBO last night.”

Ms. Brookover, who works at the campus library, has pondered the differences between researching in the stacks and online. “Because you’re not walking into a library, you’re not physically holding the article, which takes you closer to ‘this doesn’t belong to me,’ ” she said. Online, “everything can belong to you really easily.”

A University of Notre Dame anthropologist, Susan D. Blum, disturbed by the high rates of reported plagiarism, set out to understand how students view authorship and the written word, or “texts” in Ms. Blum’s academic language.

She conducted her ethnographic research among 234 Notre Dame undergraduates. “Today’s students stand at the crossroads of a new way of conceiving texts and the people who create them and who quote them,” she wrote last year in the book “My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture,” published by Cornell University Press.

Ms. Blum argued that student writing exhibits some of the same qualities of pastiche that drive other creative endeavors today — TV shows that constantly reference other shows or rap music that samples from earlier songs.

In an interview, she said the idea of an author whose singular effort creates an original work is rooted in Enlightenment ideas of the individual. It is buttressed by the Western concept of intellectual property rights as secured by copyright law. But both traditions are being challenged.

“Our notion of authorship and originality was born, it flourished, and it may be waning,” Ms. Blum said.

She contends that undergraduates are less interested in cultivating a unique and authentic identity — as their 1960s counterparts were — than in trying on many different personas, which the Web enables with social networking.

“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,” Ms. Blum said, voicing student attitudes. “And it’s O.K. if you put words out there without getting any credit.”

The notion that there might be a new model young person, who freely borrows from the vortex of information to mash up a new creative work, fueled a brief brouhaha earlier this year with Helene Hegemann, a German teenager whose best-selling novel about Berlin club life turned out to include passages lifted from others.

Instead of offering an abject apology, Ms. Hegemann insisted, “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” A few critics rose to her defense, and the book remained a finalist for a fiction prize (but did not win).

That theory does not wash with Sarah Wilensky, a senior at Indiana University, who said that relaxing plagiarism standards “does not foster creativity, it fosters laziness.”

“You’re not coming up with new ideas if you’re grabbing and mixing and matching,” said Ms. Wilensky, who took aim at Ms. Hegemann in a column in her student newspaper headlined “Generation Plagiarism.”

“It may be increasingly accepted, but there are still plenty of creative people — authors and artists and scholars — who are doing original work,” Ms. Wilensky said in an interview. “It’s kind of an insult that that ideal is gone, and now we’re left only to make collages of the work of previous generations.”

In the view of Ms. Wilensky, whose writing skills earned her the role of informal editor of other students’ papers in her freshman dorm, plagiarism has nothing to do with trendy academic theories.

The main reason it occurs, she said, is because students leave high school unprepared for the intellectual rigors of college writing.


“If you’re taught how to closely read sources and synthesize them into your own original argument in middle and high school, you’re not going to be tempted to plagiarize in college, and you certainly won’t do so unknowingly,” she said.

At the University of California, Davis, of the 196 plagiarism cases referred to the disciplinary office last year, a majority did not involve students ignorant of the need to credit the writing of others.

Many times, said Donald J. Dudley, who oversees the discipline office on the campus of 32,000, it was students who intentionally copied — knowing it was wrong — who were “unwilling to engage the writing process.”

“Writing is difficult, and doing it well takes time and practice,” he said.

And then there was a case that had nothing to do with a younger generation’s evolving view of authorship. A student accused of plagiarism came to Mr. Dudley’s office with her parents, and the father admitted that he was the one responsible for the plagiarism. The wife assured Mr. Dudley that it would not happen again.

Source wants you to cite it.

As a recent college graduate, I personally think the first few academic notions mentioned for the explosion in plagiarism are... well, bullshit. Besides the part where they smack of "kids these days" ageism and technophobia, the much simpler explanation is what Ms. Wilensky says: nobody is being taught how to think for themselves, or how to write. And with regard to writing, I don't mean that people lack "good grammatical skills" or "power of rhetoric" or anything. The educational system is just pure shit in the US.
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taiki no. just. no.2nd-Aug-2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
A paper is just the same as a rap track. If you lifted a piece, you have to credit the source. This is true in journalism as the record industry. Largely for the same reason too.

Students are getting lazier and teachers are letting them get away with it.
angry_chick 2nd-Aug-2010 05:26 pm (UTC)

The main reason it occurs, she said, is because students leave high school unprepared for the intellectual rigors of college writing.


Amen to this. We were taught that "If you're getting the sentence or much of it from another source, you better cite it. Better safe than sorry."
bludstone 2nd-Aug-2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
students leave high school barely able to spell.
bludstone 2nd-Aug-2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
you have to cite your source. I dont care if people cutpaste or mashup or whatever, just dont claim the work as your own.
girlthatyoufear 2nd-Aug-2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
Ms. Blum argued that student writing exhibits some of the same qualities of pastiche that drive other creative endeavors today — TV shows that constantly reference other shows or rap music that samples from earlier songs.

HOW THE FUCK DID THEY MANAGE TO BLAME RAP MUSIC FOR THIS? D: (Also, rap isn't the only genre that samples. Seriously.)
girlthatyoufear 2nd-Aug-2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
On topic comment though: Many students in college just aren't taught how to cite properly because they were never properly taught in high school or were never taught in college. Hell, some professors have different ideas of how to cite for the same citation style. :\
erunamiryene 2nd-Aug-2010 05:29 pm (UTC)
and the father admitted that he was the one responsible for the plagiarism. The wife assured Mr. Dudley that it would not happen again

I'm sorry, are they saying that A PARENT DID A COLLEGE STUDENT'S WORK FOR THEM? Are you kidding me? COLLEGE?

Holy shit.
layweed 2nd-Aug-2010 05:32 pm (UTC)
Srsly.
fofomazuzu 2nd-Aug-2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
I have this fear of accidentally plagiarizing. I will read my paper a thousand times to make sure that anything I wrote was my original thought. If it was a quote, summation, or factoid, I make sure it's sourced.

But I also find it really difficult to put an original thought into a research paper. Anything I try to input into the paper could accidentally be considered copying. Especially with a topic I do not know much about, an opinion I make is inspired by the sources I read and I'm afraid that that could be considered copying another person's idea.
kapt_krunk 2nd-Aug-2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
This is the internal argument I have with myself every time I write anything. It's frightening, especially with turnitin or some asshole professor who shows you your fault. I've seen professors rip papers to pieces in front of the student.
lickety_split 2nd-Aug-2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
The one thing about plagiarism that I've thought was weird is that you can plagiarize yourself. I mean, goddammit I wrote the damn thing, I should be able to distribute my material however the hell I want!
danceprincess20 2nd-Aug-2010 05:47 pm (UTC)
I agree. I actually didn't know that until a couple of years ago when a professor told us if we recycled papers without telling her that we were doing it she would consider that plagiarism. I mean, if I wrote the paper, why does it matter how many times I use it (or portions of it)?
synesis 2nd-Aug-2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
No, bollocks. The notion that people plagiarise because they somehow don't know that using other people's work is a serious matter is horseshit. It's more that many students doubt their plagiarism will ever be found out, or, should it come to light, doubt the likelihood of severe punishment. It's a complex of entitlement and laziness in many (even the majority of) cases, rather than a lack of understanding of academic writing.

That said, there are cases where people turn up to humanities courses in the most prestigious institutions with extremely variable writing ability, and it's notable that most humanities courses run method, approach, context and form classes at the beginning of the first year, including the appropriate occasion for and method of citation. This is frustrating, in many cases, since it hampers a first year curriculum substantially, but there's no other immediate solution. The longer-term solution would be to reform state education entirely, but the only way to do that with any substantial effect (in the UK) is unlikely to be undertaken by the current government.

Equally, though, the digital age makes it much easier to track plagiarism, and I don't mean via plagiarism software either. Uneven style, odd leaps in clarity between paragraphs, ideas that don't quite fit the theme -- all part of undergraduate essays, admittedly, but generally easier to recognise in a digital age, partly because 'research' often consists of typing the title into JSTOR or Google Scholar and hacking bits and pieces out of the first page of results. They're fine resources, of course, but they're hardly secret weapons.
victorialupin 2nd-Aug-2010 07:09 pm (UTC)
The notion that people plagiarise because they somehow don't know that using other people's work is a serious matter is horseshit.

THIS. I'm sure there are instances of people genuinely not understanding, but in the vast majority of cases students who are plagiarizing know exactly what they're doing. In almost every course I've taken there has been a student who asked "What if I plagiarize by accident?" and the answer is always the same: the professor assures the class that he/she has caught students who plagiarized and that every single student who has done that has admitted to knowing exactly what they were doing. Ultimately, while there may be a small percentage of students who are genuinely copying somebody else's phrase because they forgot they read it somewhere, or copying somebody's general argument because they don't understand that it's still plagiarism if you change the words, the students who are pasting paragraphs of wikipedia or assembling sentences from JSTOR articles like a jig-saw puzzle know perfectly well that they're not allowed to do so.
la_petite_singe 2nd-Aug-2010 05:56 pm (UTC)
Those first few examples are just embarrassing. It's really annoying when professors get maniacal about specific forms of citing sources and call it plagarism when you just format it wrong, but Wikipedia as "common knowledge"? REALLY? I was taught in high school that if information on a webpage doesn't have a clearly-named author, don't use it. Sheesh.
lickety_split 2nd-Aug-2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
It's really annoying when professors get maniacal about specific forms of citing sources and call it plagarism when you just format it wrong

This. There's like a bajillion different ways to cite sources and every professor has their favorite method, and if you just so happen to forget which professor wants stuff cited in that ~*magical, special*~ way, and don't do it the way THEY want it you'll get in trouble. It's bullshit. It's like, "I didn't plagiarize anything, I DID cite the source, I just didn't cite the source in the special fucking way that YOU wanted me to and now you're just overreacting and being an asshole".

Edited at 2010-08-02 06:06 pm (UTC)
snapesgirl34 2nd-Aug-2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
This is why people should always cite their sources, no matter what! So few people seem to realize they have to do this. When my dad was doing a presentation for the med school I scolded him because he didn't say where he got any of his photos from, so it's not just students who do it.
shesfearless Maybe this boils down to a lack of manners...2nd-Aug-2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
I agree with some of the other commenters that there seems to be a lot of excuses being made for idiots who don't understand that citing your source is important, polite and not difficult. Why on earth wouldn't you? Hell, I even site graphics online because someone else made it and should be credited.

[Edited for typo]



Edited at 2010-08-02 06:01 pm (UTC)
ragnor144 2nd-Aug-2010 06:03 pm (UTC)
I'm lucky that I've been taught so well when to cite that it is almost instinctive. Part of what makes me nervous is when professors start knocking off points for a misplaced comma in the citation. It's worse when I have to turn off mu liberal arts style to write biology papers. What do you mean that I don't capitalize the article title? That goes against everything I learned after second grade. Show me where I slipped up, but it shouldn't make or break my grade.
synesis 2nd-Aug-2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Is it really that hard? There are scholars who argue -- though I'm not among them -- that the reason inappropriate citation styles and errors are docked is because they betray a lack of rigour and slapdash discipline. Personally, I tend to think that if it is a sign of sloppy thinking, then that will be more than reflected in the body of the paper itself, and that minor errors in citation are largely irrelevant, and often an excuse for the pinchbeck cruelty often characteristic of the academic world. That said, it can be infuriating to read, because it isn't that much effort, especially with most style guides online.
ladypolitik 2nd-Aug-2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
Too many nightmarish moments last semester to list, all involving "nameless"/Wiki/various web sources/even newspapers. I'll just leave it at "I agree".

But honestly, I by and large blame the system. By the time I get say, 11th graders, it's very clear that it wasnt that some of them hopelessly flunked basic essay lessons. It's that they were never taught the freaking basics to begin with. It happens among both otherwise academically solid and "underachieving" students.

Some teachers regurgitate/hand out a one page print-out of simplistic writing devices (e.g., "the hamburger paragraph"), never expand, and leave it at that, never mind offer a basic guideline for citing various forms of material. Or offer anything at all.

I know this because starting out as a new teacher, you sometimes gotta build up a repertoire of supplemental material, usually by borrowing from more experienced teachers. And there's always the one or two teachers who dont use ANYTHING except a list of topics and essay marking schemes. And my terrible writers are coming from THOSE classes.

Edited at 2010-08-02 06:30 pm (UTC)
ladypolitik 2nd-Aug-2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
I'll also add that part of the problem I perceive is that of some teachers perpetually shrugging off the clear lack of basic skills as "they should've been taught that in grade 'x' ". Yeah? No shit.

But there's no point perpetuating the problem for future teachers when one can run off copies of ready-made, 3 page "How To Use Citations" guidelines, and taking one day, early in the semester, to thoroughly review it before assigning any major writing projects. The difference it makes is HUGE.

One or several preventive basic writing review days, versus mid-term periods stressing the fuck out with time-consuming, red ink-scribbling all over terribly-written essays? Pretty clear choice.
karrixftw 2nd-Aug-2010 06:18 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I think citation is hugely important, and maybe I'm gonna sound lazy here, but I think there should be ONE way to cite information, instead of having so many ~special ways with so many different rules, and docking points because someone misplaced a comma or something. It's absolutely ridiculous. If we just taught people to cite their source in ONE way that actually made some fucking sense, then maybe people would be more likely to do it. :/
lastrega 3rd-Aug-2010 11:01 am (UTC)
But they make handy and awesome software that arranges them for you and remembers all the rules so you don't have to.
lexiloumarie 2nd-Aug-2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
I went to a pretty decent public school, and I won't mention how much time I spent in the student center with a writing tutor because citations weren't taught past a works cited page but were expected to be used freshmen year. I still get a friend who TA's to give stuff a once over if I'm concerned.
ook 2nd-Aug-2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
My mother used to be a high school librarian but decided to leave in the mid-90s (just as computers were gaining widespread use in school libraries). She still talks to old friends who still work in the school library system. A few days ago, they had a little get-together and my mom later told me in disgust that the new current Head Librarian at her old school has actually gotten rid of many of the books in the library in order to add more and more computers.

My mother was informed that at her old high school school library, they no longer have any "800" category books (that's Dewey Decimal system for books in the Literature & Rhetoric category). They no longer have any physical books dealing with Philosophy & theory or Literary history & criticism. Evidently, everything relating to the 800 category is on the computers.

So, it is not surprising that kids are now learning to just search/find, copy, and paste using a computer, rather than learning the thought processes of physically searching for books, checking table of contents, and then leafing through the book in order to find a citation and then having to write it down and incorporate it into a paper. And this is the entire POINT of doing research papers in high school -- you are not really learning about topic specifically, you are learning how to research on your own and organize your thoughts coherently. You're learning how to use your brain.

I suspect that schools are going to more and more computer-based materials in order to save money (and having to hire more librarians). And the use of computers only encourages students in plagiarism since all they need to do to cite is copy/paste. Does anyone even use index cards any more to research, organize, and write papers?
notgarystu 2nd-Aug-2010 07:13 pm (UTC)
My mother was informed that at her old high school school library, they no longer have any "800" category books (that's Dewey Decimal system for books in the Literature & Rhetoric category). They no longer have any physical books dealing with Philosophy & theory or Literary history & criticism. Evidently, everything relating to the 800 category is on the computers.

That's fucking disgusting.
victorialupin 2nd-Aug-2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
the tip-off to one student’s copying was the purple shade of several paragraphs he had lifted from the Web

Um. Wow. Just, wow. That's a whole new level of stupid.
foofighter0234 2nd-Aug-2010 07:09 pm (UTC)
My motto has always been: DO YOUR RESEARCH AND CITE, CITE, CITE.
kittycurious 2nd-Aug-2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
If your source is from the internet don't you just use the URL to cite it? Just because there isn't a physical name attached to it doesn't mean it's free to snatch.
victorialupin 2nd-Aug-2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
IA. Most citation guides include quite a bit of information about citing online sources.
jesidres 2nd-Aug-2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
This is hilarious as 2 friends just had their work stolen by art students who used them in their final porfolios (one of which tried to use said portfolio to apply for a job at a friend's business) and my own art was stolen last weekend.

But these explanations are bull when you even look at the examples of parents doing their children's work- they're used to already using the work of others as their own, so they get the impression that it's fine to pass off other work as their own. No need to blame tv or *bwahah* rap music. I mean, really, TV and music should teach kid's it's bad, because folks are being constantly sued for using material.
cecilia_weasley 3rd-Aug-2010 12:52 am (UTC)
LOL @ the guy who stole your friend's work and then tried to apply to her job!!! Sorry that's hilarious.
jiaren_shadow 2nd-Aug-2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
I really wish it was hammered into kids early, early on that plagiarism is not cool at all. In my school, they threatened pretty much everything short of violent death if you dared copy-paste something without citing it. I was trained to cite anything that didn't completely come from my head or wasn't common knowledge.
raggedyanndy 3rd-Aug-2010 06:09 am (UTC)
I always had trouble with common knowledge. Like, I am such a major Tolkien geek, and I wrote like seventeen million papers/reports/essays/projects in high school that involved Tolkien in some way. To me and plenty of other geeks, certain info is common knowledge. I was like, "DUH Tolkien was a WWI vet, helloooooo." But non-geeks don't know this. *tear*
yooperchild 2nd-Aug-2010 07:29 pm (UTC)
I teach 8th grade and this drives me crazy. Every year one of our standards is a research project, so I have the students research a person they find inspirational. I spend weeks going over how to properly credit sources, how to take information and put it in your own words so you're not just copying off a website, how to look for good sources, etc.

And then I get papers where they haven't even bothered to try to fix it so it's not obviously still a link. I try to tell them, "Look...this is still a link...if this was on a computer I could click on this...you obviously copied it off a website" and I just get blank looks. Some of them get it and do a great job, but some of them enter high school probably trying to do the same thing.
randomneses 2nd-Aug-2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
Those first few examples just sound like dumb students. I know that itations are a pain in the ass but what the fuck ever. I really think that most people who plagarize in uni know exactly what the fuck they're doing, they're just lazy as all hell.

I love seeing the face on a student when the professor quietly asks them to see them after class, holding up the essay that was obviously plagarized to death. They always turn to some classmate who likely knows of their deed with a nervous little smile before finally approaching the professor. I'm just like "THAT'S WHAT YOU GET, BOO. HOPEFULLY YOU WON'T GET KICKED OUT."

TV shows that constantly reference other shows or rap music that samples from earlier songs.

What a load of bullshit.
keeperofthekeys 2nd-Aug-2010 07:53 pm (UTC)
lol, we had a few students plagiarize wikipedia and a few other web sources for my division's qualifying exam. "I didn't know" is such a BS excuse, especially since research ethics is a required course, and we spend multiple lectures on plagiarizing.
cecilia_weasley 3rd-Aug-2010 12:49 am (UTC)
yep, wikipedia apparently is really common. I only use wikipedia as a starting point, but I look up the authors elsewhere.
thelilyqueen 2nd-Aug-2010 07:57 pm (UTC)
It's absolutely going too far to blame rising plagiarism on rap and TV, but I'm not sure the basic argument that our society's less fussed about intellectual property and that might make kids see plagiarism as more acceptable is so far off. I think there may well be a category of students who do understand that plagiarism is wrong, but don't see it as *wrong enough* to keep from doing it if they feel they're in a bind.

I'd like to see kids expected to start writing papers and citing sources in middle school at the latest, so it's second nature and they get any necessary smackdowns when the stakes aren't so high.
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