Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Could you please check my dissertation?

I had an interesting call on Monday. A doctoral student from the University of X (names anonymized to protect the guilty, it could have been any university) was calling, desperate. She was finished with her thesis and wanted to hand it in. But her advisor insisted that she "run the thesis through a software", to make sure that she had not plagiarized anything.

She was sure that she hadn't plagiarized, and was angry that this was being asked of her. I suggested that if the University of X wanted to have their dissertations checked, they should invest in a software, even though I keep trying to explain to people that software cannot prove the absence of plagiarism, it can only give hints as to what parts might be plagiarized from where, among a lot of false positives.

Yes, she thought it was crazy, she had read my tests on the software but could not convince her advisor - who was retired and thus without funding to purchase a test system - to abandon his need for a certificate of some sort. I suggested that she open up a word processor and design herself a beautiful certificate - that would be just as meaningful as running her paper through software. She also didn't want to send it to a company, as she didn't want her thesis stored online. She wanted software that would run locally in her machine.

I explained that there are very few such systems, they don't find much, and most break down for largish files, not to mention dissertations. I suggested that she try and educate the University of X that they were demanding nonsense of her. She didn't want to do that, she's finished, just wants to hand in. Can't I please help her?

I'm sorry, but I am not the Plagiarism Clinic, although some days I really feel like it when I get lots of calls and emails and even theses sent to me. I have been trying to scrape up funding for such an entity since 2003, my first application. The federal government says: this is the job of the states. The states say: this is the job of the universities. The universities say: we don't have any money, this is a federal problem. And around and around and around it goes. Just got a new rejection in today. No one wants to fund plagiarism education or plagiarism advice or plagiarism detection, it seems.

One would think the the pressure would be on by now in Germany for action to be taken. Instead, this seems to be the official German policy on plagiarism:
I Can't See You! Flickr CC-BY-SA, tropical.pete, 2008

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting passage: "The federal government says: this is the job of the states. The states say: this is the job of the universities. The universities say: we don't have any money, this is a federal problem. And around and around and around it goes. Just got a new rejection in today. No one wants to fund plagiarism education or plagiarism advice or plagiarism detection, it seems."

    And what about society-wide benefits? Who is responsible for society-wide benefits? Where are the wise statesmanlike views? Everyone is on his own piece of sand? I think all of them are responsible - federal government, state governments, universities. It is task and obligation from which they can not twist. Moving the problem to others do not confirm theirs political and civic maturity. They should all sit round a table and find a viable solution. And who will be the beneficiary: the economy, citizen, student, university, educational system, state governments and federal government.

    Slovakia is very likely the first in the world that implemented nationwide solution for:
    - Theses and Dissertations Repository
    - Plagiarism Detection System

    Both systems are in operation from 30th April 2010, obligatory for all higher education institutions (public and private). Today we have 2 years of unique experience and we are open to share it.


    J. Kravjar
    julius.kravjar@cvtisr.sk

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  2. Teenagers who took GCSE English and English language exams in England and Wales this summer are to be offered special resits in November despite the exam regulator Ofqual saying there was no problem with the marking of their June papers.

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