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.