Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Article excerpt

COLLEGIATE COPYCATS

J-schoolers crib from the same cheat sheet on 'wrote' learning

Some college officials have seen "a sharp increase in students cutting and pasting material into papers from Web sites without attribution, or purchasing term papers from online term-paper mills," The Chronicle of Higher Education stated July 6. Checking for plagiarism may soon become "a routine part of grading," the Chronicle noted.

E&P sounded the alarm about plagiarism in a Jan. 8 editorial, "The newby plagiarism," that chastised journalism schools for sending out interns and graduates who pilfer other people's work.

I warned of that trend in a March 2000 issue of E&P, discussing what I call "the new breed of plagiarist" -- computer-savvy word thieves who steal brazenly and, when caught, claim ignorance.

Because of search engines, catching a plagiarist has never been easier. If you would like to know how professors at Ohio University do it, check out this Web page posted by our Office of Judiciaries: http:// www.ohiou.edu/judiciaries/ plagiarism.htm.

In today's electronic campus environment, offices of judiciaries are adjudicating more cases of plagiarism than ever. But there is a new wrinkle. In the past, proof of plagiarism sealed an offender's fate. Suspension -- and, in severe cases, expulsion -- was the norm. Now the newby plagiarists have conceived innovative ways to circumvent such punishment, and their excuses can be as brazen as their thefts.

"I didn't know what I did was wrong," a student might claim. Another might contend, "I meant to cite the passage, but forgot." Editors may scoff at such alibis, but they are more clever than they appear.

A student who honestly did not intend to plagiarize may still be held legally liable. All one has to do is prove the plagiarism. But, from an ethical perspective, upon which many judiciary outcomes are based, absence of intent is a mitigating factor.

That's why the terminology of plagiarism has become increasingly important in academe. Many hearing officers and professors do not know the concept of "plausible deniability," for example. This empowers plagiarists who can argue intent convincingly.

Before home computers and the Internet, most plagiarists at least changed the wording. When accused, students typically invoked "coincidence" to explain away similarities between source and target documents. As the wording was similar but not exact, coincidence was a dubious yet plausible excuse in the absence of hard evidence. …

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