Monday, January 29, 2007

Plagiarism in Austria

Stefan Weber, an Austrian media scholar, has been trying to fight plagiarism in Austria since he discovered his own doctoral thesis published in part by someone else in Germany. That case, at the University of Tübingen, ended up in the plagiarist losing his doctoral title (good, that - it was the department the current pope used to teach at, would have been a feeding frenzy for the press if they had not done the right thing).

Since then Weber has spent 1 1/2 years investigating theses in Austria (which are published online these days) finding, he says, many cases of plagiarism. He has tried to get publicity for this problem, as the universities play it down ("bad quoting", not plagiarism), and has used the tabloid press for this, they are always interested in a good row. This does not amuse the very conservative university administrations. They seem to prefer to ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

Weber writes that he is now giving up. He has been publically ridiculed for pointing a finger at the mess, people even suggesting that maybe *his* doctorate needs revoking for stirring up the waters, and called all sorts of names. Only the University of Vienna seems to have any sort of useful policy in place, he says, actually removing theses in dispute from the Internet until it is cleared up. The other schools try and ignore Weber, he accuses.

Mighty strange place, Austria.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Links to Web References

Silvia Herb from the University Library in Bielefeld sends me these links that she uses in a workshop for teachers that she offers:
  • Plagiarism - A Good Practice Guide: Jude Carroll and Jon Appleton, May 2001

    This is a very comprehensive (43 pages) guide with chapter such as "Teaching- and Learning-Based Suggestions for Dealing with Plagiarism" and examples for policies and procedures. The authors write: "In this report, a case is made for combining academic and policy decisions in a systematic, fair and coherent way in the belief that this is the most effective way of dealing with plagiarism."

  • What kinds of solutions can we find for plagiarism?: Jude Carroll

    This is a short paper useful for getting colleagues alerted to the problem of plagiarism, which many people, unfortunately, deny is a problem in order to avoid having to do something about it.

Friday, January 5, 2007

German Investigation of Plagiarism

A Master's student in Leipzig, Sebastian Sattler, wrote his thesis in sociology about the incidence of plagiarism in term papers at his school. He interviewed 226 persons in a non-representative survey. 9 out of 10 reported being willing to plagiarze if necessary (not, as sometimes reported, that they already had cheated).

He has sent around to his correspondents some links to German-language reports about his project, "Plagiate in Hausarbeiten" (PIH):

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Do they think we are stupid?

A nice article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Jonathan Malesic, a new professor who just encountered his first plagiarism: How Dumb Do They Think We Are?

Do they think we're stupid? If they're going to plagiarize, why can't they at least do it in a way that acknowledges that their audience is intelligent? Don't they know what the big framed diplomas on our walls mean?

I think that student plagiarists are often poor plagiarists because they don't realize that it's even possible to be a savvy reader, that it's possible to read a text that has been cobbled together from multiple sources and determine where one source's contribution ends and another's begins. Those students don't pay attention to diction, syntax, or tone when they read, so they can't possibly imagine that someone else might.

The author learns to calm down and not see the plagiarisms as a personal insult, but as an attempt by a narrow-minded student to do something they think is science. His observation:

The paradox of plagiarism is that in order to be really good at it, you need precisely the reading and writing skills that ought to render plagiarism unnecessary.

is exactly right. Once you can write well enough to hide a plagiarism, you can write well enough to be on your own, so you don't need to plagiarize. However, he insists that a plagiarist cannot be a student. I have come to see most plagiarism as cries for help - they have no earthly idea how to write, so they pretend to write by using other people's words. We have to teach them to write, and to write across the curriculum! I make my computing students submit programming exercises with a process description in complete sentences to get them used to formulating what they are thinking in words.

Maybe every program should have a course in writing, even the engineering ones.