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5 Uncomfortable Truths About Plagiarism

30 September 2017

From Plagiarism Today:

When it comes to plagiarism, there’s an understandable desire to bury our heads in the sand.

We don’t want to believe plagiarism exists. If it must exist then we don’t want to believe it’s that common. If it’s that common then it can’t be that bad. If it’s that bad, there must be a way to stop it.

. . . .

Truth 1: Most Plagiarisms Aren’t Caught

In the age of plagiarism detection software and an eagle-eyed public, it might seem that there’s no place for a plagiarist to hide.

However, he truth is that most plagiarisms aren’t caught, at least not timely.

The reason isn’t because the technology is flawed or readers have poor memories, but rather, because there’s so much to read and so little is actually checked.

Sure, any piece of text can be checked for matching passages, but many schools and publications don’t bother using the tools at all. Those who do often use it in a spotty fashion and, even when it is used consistently, it’s still to easy to ignore or misinterpret results.

Take for example journalism, which has been mired in plagiarism scandals in recent years but has still steadfastly refused to use plagiarism detection software.

. . . .

Truth 5: Plagiarism Isn’t Going Away

There was plagiarism before the internet and the internet only made plagiarism easier. There’s no reason to think it will go away now.

Yes, the internet has been a double edged sword for plagiarism, making it easier to detect as well. But since most plagiarisms are still undetected, that ease of detection provides little deterrence.

While there are many things that can and should be done to reduce the amount of plagiarism, including crafting plagiarism-resistant assignments, educating on proper citation and using plagiarism detection tools correctly, none of it will completely stop stop plagiarism.

Trying to eliminate plagiarism is akin to trying to eliminate crime. You can (and should) work to reduce it, but as long as humans behave like humans, you can never eliminate it.

Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today

Copyright/Intellectual Property

9 Comments to “5 Uncomfortable Truths About Plagiarism”

  1. > Truth 1: Most Plagiarisms Aren’t Caught

    I’d figure most *are* caught… if anyone bothers to look.

    If the plagiarized work has ever been placed online, a simple web search will usually find it. There are also at least half a dozen companies serving academia, who will do that for teachers too lazy to do it for themselves. Well, they’re supposed to be fancier than just a direct search; the claim to use “fuzzy logic” to spot simple word substitutions and sentence re-ordering as well as direct copying.

    If you picked something ancient and keyed it in by hand, you’d only be able to hide it until someone scanned it and someone else ran a search.

  2. We don’t want to believe plagiarism exists.

    I don’t know who the ‘we’ in that statement refers to. I know it exists, is the mark of a dishonest writer (or politician), and the perpetrator tries to wiggle out when caught.

    In fact, efforts spent out all kinds of people, including the president of Mexico and the current FLOTUS, just in recent memory.

    It’s so common that it’s a meme in movies: professor can’t write because he’s blocked, steals book from promising student, problems ensue.

    • Stealing research, or not crediting the grad or undergrad student who did the bulk of the research, is rather common still. *sigh* There are actually “lock boxes” for getting research time-stamped and recorded so that grad students and others can prove that they did the work and they wrote up the [whatever] that the prof is claiming.

  3. This article doesn’t distinguish between plagiarism–stealing other people’s work–and cheating by buying an essay and passing it off as one’s own.

    Of course, politicians almost all use speech writers and deliver the words as if these were their own. However, most of them openly credit their speechwriters, so I suppose that’s honest–for a politician. (The other definition of an honest politician is one who, once he’s bought, stays bought, which applies to much of the California legislature. But I digress)

    • The other definition of an honest politician is one who, once he’s bought, stays bought

      As like as not, that quote came from Light-guv-for-life Bob Bullock. Bob is also famous for the quote “If you can’t drink their whisky, screw their women, take their money, and still vote against them, you don’t belong in the Texas legislature.”

  4. Plagiarism is a fairly recent idea. Shakespeare, for example, seemed not to hesitate on copying plots, lines, verses, etc. At least one theory says Homer patched together the Illiad and the Odyssey from the traditional tales of wandering story-tellers.

    But it is easy to imagine a day in the future when no one is paid for writing, writers write because the like to, and how often we are plagiarized will be similar to “likes” on Facebook, or retweets on Twitter. I’m sure someone can come up with a handy app that will count the number of times we’ve been copied on the network for keeping score.

    Myself, I’m too lazy to plagiarize– takes too much research. I’d rather think this stuff up on my own. 🙂

    • I’m not sure plagiarism was either illegal or unethical in 16th century England. A quick web search says England didn’t even have copyright law until a century after Shakespeare’s time.

  5. As for using plagiarism detection software, it just makes me feel uneasy like assuming that everyone is guilty until proven innocent.
    There’s also the question of what happens to the work once its gone through the software, presumably it has to be saved somewhere so that it can be matched up against different texts, so could the company claim ownership over the work of anyone who submits to it.

    • And then there’s the cases where the wrong work is marked as plagiarism (because of the order in which things were fed to the system), or when two writers just happened to use the same idea or turn of phrase.

      I remember playing some classical music when one of my brothers came over (he’s a big Billy Joel fan.) I don’t remember what tune it was but my brother jumped up saying, “That’s Billy Joel’s tune!” I finally had to pull the CD out and show him that it was Billy Joel who had borrowed/stolen the tune from one of the greats from the powdered wigs era.

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