Plagiarism in the news – Plagiarism Checker’s round up

Whenever I sit down to scour through the newspapers to bring you stories on plagiarism, I’m never short of things to write about.  I’ve dropped about 16 stories for this edition simply because my article’s already near 2,000 words and despite the slease of these stories, I’m sure the topic of plagiarism wouldn’t keep even the driest professor entertained for too long.  This time round, we’ve got political scandal , cheating professors , ripped off apps, accusations of homophobia and anti-semitism and much more – who’d have thought all this from a blog on plagiarism, eh?

Johann-hari1-150x150Kicking things off, the Guardian (15th Sept) reports that award-winning Independent columnist Johann Hari has apologised for plagiarising the work of others to improve his interviews and will take unpaid leave of absence from the paper until 2012.  Hari has further apologised for editing the Wikipedia entries of people he had clashed with, using the pseudonym David Rose, “in ways that were juvenile or malicious”, saying he was “mortified to have done this”. So what did he edit?  Hari admits calling “one of them antisemitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk”. Lovely.

Over in the States, the Edmonton Journal (Alberta) (14th Sept) speculates that the University of Alberta may have sanctioned Dr. Philip Baker , former dean of medicine and dentistry, for plagiarising during a convocation speech in June.  May have? Is this news? The paper goes on to that neither students and the public at large know whether this is the case and won’t know unless Baker “does the right thing” by making that information public.  Hmm, many things “may have’ happened…. not sure that makes for a good story.  The Calgary Herald (Alberta) (Sept 13th) report more plainly that the University has completed its investigation but that the results won’t be made public.  Thanks, chaps.

The International Herald Tribune (September 12) reports that the plagiarism scandals that have rocked the German political world this year have led to soul-searching among academics and prompted calls for stricter controls. At issue is the prestigious title of doctor, which is widely used in Germany, even outside academics circles. Some politicians are calling for stricter guidelines and even for a nationwide system to screen submitted theses.  Hmm, just use …

Lab Soft News (September 9) published a press release from Turnitin, highlighting that it also sells its services to students through Writecheck.  It’s a rather bad attempt at writing from the perspective of a third party when rather clearly, it’s written by them.  Ironically though, Writecheck is not a plagiarism detector at all, as their own site makes quite clear.  Any “plagiarism’ detected is just highlighted but the student has no idea where that plagiarism came from to even begin to understand how to correct it.  That’s because Writecheck is simply a reference checker.  With fees per paper and limited rescanning, it’s not the service you might think at first glance).  Speaking of Turnitin, within the last two weeks we’ve been contacted by a university about the licence they demand from their users:

“Turnitin’s new user agreement give them a non-exclusive, royalty free, perpetual, world-wide, irrevocable license to reproduce, transmit, display, disclose, archive or otherwise use any draft case studies we upload.  We are unwilling to commit to such a requirement.”

Yes, I’m not surprised, that’s free reign to do whatever they like with your papers with no extra money for you or indeed the students who wrote them.  I wouldn’t accept that! At we tailor licences to suit corporate/university users but where users are paying us a fee, we take practically nothing else from them – we just store a copy of the paper for future comparisons so it makes their scans and everyone else’s a lot better.

Turnitin plagiarism checker
Above: Turnitin’s plagiarism checker is very effective but gives them extremely wide rights over the essays that are scanned through its systems.

Techdirt (September 8th) ask whether policing plagiarism at university is a counterproductive way of trying to stop copyright infringement.  The author’s concern is that these extra efforts “degenerate into a witch hunt, focusing on cheating, instead of being about learning”. The same works on the net.  The overall environment — created by suing fans, by trying to lock down technologies, by pursuing new draconian laws and by blaming people for sharing information — is simply toxic.

I agree. But much of it is about perception and presentation.  We like to think of as a tool that helps students learn to reference their work properly, not a tool to help them get away with cheating. Students genuinely do make mistakes, mix up materials, forget to give credit. highlights that and overuse of source material and a lot more.  It can be viewed as a tool to catch cheating students but we like to think of it as an education tool.

The Hindustan Times Blogs (September 6, 2011) report that plagiarism has become one of the most pervasive problems on the still evolving App Store, and also the Android Market.  An example is cited.  In 2010, Dutch independent designers team Vlambeer created Radical Fishing. The game was available on Kongregate and Newgrounds, and it was a fresh take on the genre of fishing games.  Soon after, the duo started work on a version for the App store, with improved graphics and updated gameplay. One year later, the two were almost ready with their game, but before they could announce it, publisher Gamenauts released Ninja Fishing.  The article notes that in both games, the underlying concept is the same – you cast a line into the water and hook as many fish on it as possible. Then you reel them up and kill them with a gun in one game, and a katana in the other.  The mechanic, the concept and the execution remain the same. But Gamenaut got to the app store first, and are going to make money out of it.  So did Gamenaut plagiarise? This does remind me of the Harry Potter plagiarism cases.  One journalist wrote that she herself had invented a character very similar to Harry Potter earlier in her career and written a book about it.  She didn’t think it was too big a stretch that J K Rowling would have gotten famous with a concept that others could also have thought of.  After all, what is truly original nowadays?

Anyway, back to the news.  Right Vision News (September 5) reports that the Punjab University administration has identified a case of plagiarism involving a couple – Professor Dr Zaid Mahmood of Punjab Universitys Institute of Chemistry and his wife Associate Professor Dr Syeda Rubina Gilani of University of Engineering and Technology’s Chemistry Department.  These two partners in crime produced two research papers containing material from three research papers already published in international journals.  It’s cases like this that make me smack my head in despair.  All over the World we have students being pulled up for plagiarism, struggling through university not knowing how to properly use material or reference correctly, or come up with their own ideas.  Then we have trusted and respected people like this setting the example.  What hope do students have?

Another story in Right Vision News (September 5) reports that the draft Punjab Youth Policy 2011 is a mere “copy-paste” from the National Youth Policy 2009 and the Punjab Information, Culture and Youth Affairs department has only replaced word `Pakistan` with `Punjab` and reduced national policy`s 15 principles to 11 in the draft.  A comment from a British Council representative caught my eye.  He said that there was no need to re-invent the wheel.  That’s an interesting approach to cutting and pasting.

kanye_west1-150x150The Press Trust of India (September 4) reports that Kanye West has won a plagiarism lawsuit.  The claim that West’s superhit “Stronger’ is a copy of the claimant Vince Peter’s work, was dismissed by the Court.

The Press Trust of India (September 3) also report that iParadigms have brought out a self-plagiarism white paper titled The Ethics of Self-Plagiarism.  iParadigms state:

“This white paper offers a clear definition of self-plagiarism and how authors and publishers can avoid this issue and the costly retractions associated it.”

We downloaded and checked out the paper which is a 4 page pdf.  It’s well supported and presented but I could summarise it slightly more succinctly as, don’t reuse your stuff.  Hoping I just saved you a read…

The Globe and Mail (Canada) (September 3) write that the disproportionate number of international students accused of plagiarism or cheating on exams is raising red flags in university administrations and legal aid offices. It also raises questions as to whether schools should be doing more for stressed-out foreign students who are grappling with new educational standards, often while coping with a language barrier.  I’m pleased to see this article because it’s a point I’ve been shouting about for a long time.  Universities in the UK waive entry requirements to foreign students because they bring us more cash.  Then the students struggle.  And the Universities don’t give them any help.  Of course more international students cheat.  It’s not their fault though.  The article cites an example, a student from Taiwan, Hannah Liu, who found she and her friends often felt they lacked the vocabulary and writing skills to be confident paraphrasing research material. “If [students] don’t know how to rewrite the sentence, they probably think, “I’ll just copy and paste it,'” she said. Students like Hannah need more support.  Universities don’t give it to them because they’re stretched.  So will the increase in tuition fees change this? Probably not.  There’s no indication that the higher fees means a smaller proportion of students to teachers.  In fact, with slashes across the board in education budgets, it’s highly likely you’ll get less bang for your buck.

MissUniverseVasukiSunkavalli_thumb1-150x150 On a lighter note, an article in the Times made me chuckle (August 31). The article notes that Vasuki Sunkavalli tells her followers on Twitter she is a “lawyer, model, Miss Universe India, nerd” and until yesterday (30th August) her Twitter account suggested that she had an uncommonly varied range of interests and modes of expression. But a Wall Street Journal staffer, Sadanand Dhume came across her words that seemed familiar on the web since he had written the same sentence himself an hour earlier. Ms Sunkavalli’s twenty-nine tweets bore a strong resemblance to those first posted by the columnist. Her defence was that she was “new to the twitterverse” and had been unaware of its etiquette and the correct use of the “retweet” button.

Back in Pakistan, Right Vision News (August 28th) reports that the University of Peshawar (UoP) has rejected the allegations of plagiarism levelled by civil society organisations against its Vice Chancellor Dr Azmat Hayat and termed it a campaign of some vested interests.

On the same day it  also reports that the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has directed all universities that the plagiarism test must be conducted on PhD dissertation before its submission to two experts from academically advanced countries in addition to local committees’ members. That doesn’t happen already?!

Other publications have chosen to run commentaries on plagiarism over the past few weeks. The Star (South Africa) (August 25th) published a feature on “fighting the plague of plagiarism’.  The New York Times Blogs (August 23) similarly published an article on “the seemingly persistent rise of plagiarism’, citing that four of every five dissertations examined in a study by Dora D. Clarke-Pine, an associate professor of psychology, contained passages with 10 or more words copied without proper attribution.  Then Mail Today (August 22) published a feature on plagiarism being on the rise in scientific research claiming that academic policies that compel academics to publish ” research” for promotions and perks have supposedly encouraged papers on the sly, with scholars borrowing, recycling or stealing from previously published content. It’s a hot topic!

That’s all for now – so many stories to report and many more that I’ve left off, I think you’ll have had all the plagiarism you can take!

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