Growing for over a Decade, Plagiarism now affects Academia, Politics and Businesses Worldwide

Editor’s Note: This post has first been published on edcetera – straight talk on edtech.

Fighting and preventing plagiarism will certainly become another promising vertical for edtech startups in the years to come. As the Internet made it easier for people to cheat with their dissertation, it has also become a tool to expose fraud by now.

For the past years Germany has been on the forefront of crowdsourced dissertation cheat hunting. One could say it became some kind of a national sport like football, or soccer as you call it over the Atlantic.

The Copy and Paste Mentality

It all started three years ago with the former German minister of defense von Guttenberg who apparently copied and pasted large parts of his dissertation. In order to go through the entire paper people set up a Wiki page to post the latest plagiarisms found. Based on the success of this crowdsourced project, other politicians quickly came under fire and had to give back their doctor’s degree and resign from their positions including the minister of education and science.

Thanks to a web that is largely indexed by Google and other search engines basically anyone can become a plagiarism hunter. All you have to do is copy a paragraph, paste it into the search field and see what results come up.

According to an interview with Stefan Weber, a leading “plagiarism hunter”, the copy and paste mentality in academia has been increasing constantly for over a decade now. Using the rather simply Google method he found that 70 out of 300 dissertations contained plagiarism and that parts of his own dissertation were at least copied by three others.

Adding more Transparency with the Internet

The Internet also plays a key role in a new set of rules regarding dissertations in Russia. The country also had its fair share of degree related scandals involving politicians, businessmen and officials according to University World News.

A recent study found that one out of ten theses in Russia involves plagiarism. Russian president Medvedev now wants to protect and restore the prestige of Russian science and research by implementing stricter rules and more transparency in the defence of each thesis. Part of the plan is that every degree applicant will need to publish the text of her paper to the Internet before defending the degree.

Algorithms “writing” Research Papers

But with the help of technology you don’t even have to write research papers on your own but let an algorithm do the work for you. Researchers at MIT created a software called SCIgen in 2005 to prove that it is very easy to publish nonsense papers and get them into conference proceeding.

Somehow more than 120 of those papers have been published by major science publishers Springer and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers reports The Verge. The papers have been found and flagged by French computer scientist Cyril Labbé who wrote a software that can pretty easily discover fake papers created by SCIgen by searching for common words the software uses. He also set up a website where everyone can test papers on whether they are genuine or computer generated.

Everybody is under General Suspicion

But there is also criticism towards anti-plagiarism software from faculty members. Last year, college writing professors passed a resolution at their annual convention to protect students from a hostile learning environment according to Inside Higher Ed.

According to the resolution, “plagiarism detection services can compromise academic integrity by potentially undermining students’ agency as writers, treating all students as always already plagiarists, creating a hostile learning environment, shifting the responsibility of identifying and interpreting source misuse from teachers to technology, and compelling students to agree to licensing agreements that threaten their privacy and rights to their own intellectual property.”

The economic impact of a wrong Mindset

Today, the problem of a copy and paste mindset is not only harmful in the academic space but also when you work in media and technology. Large parts of the Internet are based on the principles of opensource and creative commons.

Similar to writing a dissertation, proper annotation and giving credit to original authors and sources are key. If people don’t take in these bare essentials during their education already it will be hard to apply them at the workplace whether they are working in the media, publication or technology space.

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Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at

  • bnleez

    The issue of plagiarism is more complex than simply having a copy-and-paste mentality. Plagiarism results not only from copying and pasting text (direct quoting) while not citing the author(s), but also paraphrasing someone else’s idea without giving due credit. Plagiarism is also citing one particular source too much and not including enough original ideas (even when citations and references have properly been listed). Startups, computer programmers, etc. need to recognize the broad definition of plagiarism when developing algorithms that detect plagiarism since it’s not quite as simple as searching for word-for-word patterns, but textual patterns around ideas. At this point, Google search and other technologies have only been useful to find the original source when plagiarism has been detected, and serves little purpose in actually detecting plagiarism…something academics and review committees should already be able to do after a simple reading of the text.

  • Kymberli

    In the past, I worked as an Instructional Designer for an international corporation in for-profit online eduction. The moment that I got “material” delivered to me from a Subject Matter Expert (most often Ph.Ds), my first step was to run it through a plagiarism-checking tool. Approximately 25% of the time, I had to return the material to the sender, politely asking him or her to “properly cite your sources, which should not exceed 15% of your submission, or instead submit completely original work.” These same professors would think nothing of failing a student for plagiarized material, but seemed to struggle with the concept of being held to the same standard for writing material for compensation.

    • bnleez

      I’m curious Kymberli, when you say, “properly cite your sources, which should not exceed 15% of your submission…” Do you mean that authors should not cite (i.e., paraphrase and direct quote) more than 15% of their entire text? Or do you mean that authors should not have more than 15% of their entire text as a direct quote?