Monday, November 28, 2005

The Folly of Online Plagiarizing

In this age of the cybernetic internet, where we can even find a link to Borges's infinite "Library of Babel," temptation becomes ever more alluring to "plagiarize," which I define as follows:
verb, transitive: 1. To use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own. 2. To appropriate for use as one's own passages or ideas from (another).
verb, intransitive: To put forth as original to oneself the ideas or words of another.
These are my own definitions. Honest.

Just kidding. I've borrowed them from The Free Dictionary. But just in case I were trying to hide what I had borrowed, not citing my source, you'd need only copy a clause from 'my' definition --- say "To appropriate for use as one's own passages" -- and Google it. Instantly, up comes the online source . . . all 768 of them.

Obviously, I didn't use 768 sources, and you wouldn't know that I used specifically the online Free Dictionary, but one need not know specifically which source I used. Just knowing that I used an online source suffices for catching me in the act. Or after the fact, but just as caught.

My internet-savvy students (Korea being the world's most 'connected' nation) seem oblivious to the obvious: catching plagiarism is just as easy as plagiarizing.

Actually, it's easier.

Why? The plagiarist had to go to the trouble of locating a source relevant to some chosen theme and read it enough to see if it fits (though it almost never quite does fit since fitting it would require more work). I need not think about any of that but simply go to Google and type five, six, seven, or eight words in a sequence into the appropriate box, and Google finds what I'm looking for -- as we've just seen.

I bring this up because I've just finished grading 14 essays, 3 of which were egregiously plagiarized, especially the last one that I marked yesterday evening, which had multiple sources all woven together with hardly a word added by the student, aside from the occasional "and" or "the," which reminds me of Mary McCarthy's remark about Lillian Hellman:

"Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"

So listen well, students: if you plagiarize, you'll face a McCarthization from me like hell, man.


At 9:36 AM, Blogger Dr. Dave said...

Kudos! Last semester I graded the best book review ever--only to discover it was a skillful weaving together of 4 other online book reviews. If that much effort had been put into an original work, it would have been even better.

Like walls, Google makes good neighbours.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, DM. I hope that my post will alert other scholars to the ease of using Google to catch plagiarism.

I tell my plagiarizing students that some of them need take their work merely one step further -- by paraphrasing instead of 'quoting,' adding footnotes instead of leaving unfootnoted, and citing correctly instead of not at all -- and they'd have a great little essay.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

I caught a plagiarist last year because she swiped one of two papers from the Web site of an undergrad at another university. He was proud enough to post his paper about Anglo-Saxon lit for all to read, but he was also wary enough to sprinkle it with what I referred to as "land mines"--terms and phrases that had nothing to do with Anglo-Saxon poetry, including "White Castle hamburgers," "Lego castles," and other hilariously anachronistic references.

The plagiarist also gave me an annotated bibliography stolen word-for-word from the Web site of a prominent scholar. She listed books that our university library system doesn't even have.

You're right: Students have no idea how easy it is to catch them plagiarizing.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The first time that I used Google to catch a clever plagiarist who had spliced sentences together and had worked so skillfully (even showing a degree of insight and hard work), I made a point of tracking down each webpage, copying down the address by hand, and writing "You took this from this website" for each instance of plagiarism.

She was shocked that I even caught plagiarism that switched in mid-sentence.

I thought that I'd have a reputation by now, but I guess not.

At 2:53 AM, Blogger James Brush said...

I had the same problems as a HS teacher. Many kids went to great extremes to avoid writing papers that probably would have taken less effort than that expended by faking it. Of course, sometimes I got things cut-and-pasted straight out of some site.

Like your students, mine never for a moment realized that I too can google.

Aside from the fact that plagiarizing is stealing, and turning in plagiarized work is lying and an insult to a teacher's intelligece, the thing that galled me the most is that it wasted my time, which of course, I can't get back. This is why plagiarism in my class brought such a penalty that more than one student who did it wound up with grades so low they had to repeat the course in summer school. Interestingly, the next year, these same kids made themselves living advertisements of the dangers of plagiarism. In Mr. Brush's class. Only in Mr. Brush's class because no other teacher could possibly know how to google.


At 4:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

James, yes, catching plagiarists is a waste of time. Fortunately, Google has made catching them easier -- for the online plagiarists, anyway.

The offline plagiarism is more time-consuming.

I have taken to asking offline plagiarists to bring the books that they used in their research so that I can check their sources. Since they almost invariably plagiarized from the very books that they do include in their random footnotes (or didn't use those books at all despite their footnotes), then they're caught without me having to do the work of searching the library.

In other words, pile as much work as possible onto the plagiarist. Make the plagiarist waste time.


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