Friday, December 1, 2006

We need numbers!

I picked up the broschure of the Polish company, strikeplagiarism.com, who is offering plagiarism detection software. The broschure quotes: "Dr. Joan Bleicher from Hamburg signalled in 2004 that the problem concerns 25% of dissertations and in 2005 already 50%".

This pisses me off. Spiegel online quoted her in 2004 as saying "according to my observations, one term paper in seven is a plagiarism" (for the mathematically challenged, this is 14%). I wrote to her then, requesting a link to her published observations or to more information on how she arrived at her data. She did not answer.

So after seeing this, I again wrote to her (her very long literature list has no publications whatsoever on plagiarism). She answered that she was just speaking about her own experiences. Sigh. These journalists - they are always asking me for numbers and if the incidence is increasing, I just explain patiently that we cannot measure something like this. She spoke off-the-cuff and the journalist ran with it and the numbers are now being re-interpreted by other innumerate journalists.

Mike Hart and Tim Friesner have a great paper putting together the numbers from English-language sources: Plagiarism and Poor Academic Practice – A Threat to the Extension of e-Learning in Higher Education? If you need to find some quotable numbers, this is the place to go. And the numbers are so scary, that they ought to encourage everyone to get started on this topic now.

In Germany I am aware of only two investigations, both thesis work on a Magister level:
  • Sarah Knoop: Plagiat per Mausklick - Das Plagiieren von Internettexten in wissenschaftlichen Hausarbeiten. Eine explorative Befragung von Studierenden und Dozenten an der WWU Münster.
  • Sebastian Sattler: Plagiate in Hausarbeiten – Empirische Prüfung direkter und indirekter `Rational-Choice-Modelle´ anhand einer Leipziger Studierendenbefragung (paper about his thesis done in Leipzig given at the DGS 2006)
    (Spiegel-Online interview in German)
Both determined that there is enough self-reported plagiarism that teachers should be shocked into action.

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