Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Most Egregious Plagiarism Ever!

Usually, when students plagiarize from online, they shape part of the downloaded essay to meet my essay requirements.

They know that I require a thesis statement of a very specific form, one having this logical form:
A --> B b/c A --> C
What does that mean? Here's a simple exemplar:
Socrates is mortal because he is human.
Most readers will recognize that a famous syllogism stands behind this exemplar:

Major Premise: All humans are mortal.
Minor Premise: Socrates is human.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

The exemplar simply begins with the conclusion, grounds it in the minor premise, and leaves implied the major premise.

But students need not know all of that (although I explain it). They need only know how to make a claim and provide a reason:

The Enlightenment contributed to the French Revolution because it led people to question traditional authority.
From this example, you can see that my thesis-statement requirement does not demand too much intellectual sophistication. It merely requires that a student construct a simple argument expressing a claim and giving a reason AND making sure that these together have the logical form A --> B b/c A --> C.

Not too difficult. I daresay that some computer programmer somewhere has already formulated an algorithm for generating thesis statements.

But the algorithm in our brain should work well enough.

Thus, when a well-written paper by one of my students avoids presenting the requisite thesis statement at the end of its introductory paragraph, little alarm bells start ringing in my head.

Last night, I 'graded' such a paper. Here's the introductory paragraph:

This essay will illustrate why Napoleon Bonaparte is regarded as one of the greatest military masterminds in the history of mankind. It will show the life of Napoleon from when he was a young boy, till he died in 1821. It will show how he deceived the French into giving him power, and how he used this power for his own interests. It will also reveal how Napoleon almost killed of an entire generation of France, and proved that all good things always come to an end.
Now, this might serve as an adequate beginning to an essay on Napoleon, but it doesn't fit my requirement, for it fails to reduce the central thesis to a single sentence with the logical form that I require.

Interestingly, the student had provided a thesis on a separate sheet of paper:

Thesis: Why Napoleon Bonaparte is regarded as one of the greatest military masterminds in history even though he failed to maintain his military empire.
This might have worked if he had rewritten it and given a reason:

Napoleon Bonaparte is regarded as one of the greatest military masterminds in history, even though he failed to maintain his military empire, because he mastered the strategies developed by previous generals throughout history and used brilliant tactics to carry them out.
I don't know if this is true, but it would at least fit the form that I require.

Anyway, since the student hadn't followed my very explicit instructions and yet seemed to have written a decent-enough essay (which I stopped reading after the first paragraph), I had my suspicions. So, I Googled a phrase and found this: Napoleon.

Exactly the same essay handed in by my student (except for a subordinate clause added to the thesis).

The website hosting this essay calls itself Essay Depot. Naturally, it presents a disclaimer:

DISCLAIMER: This web site was made for research purposes! Don't turn these papers in, unless you wish to be failed for the act of plagiarism. These papers are to be used for ideas, which means you need to include them in your bibliographies. All papers located on this site are submitted by students so they're not all professional quality. Your teachers know about this site so be wary!
That gets the Essay Depot folk off the hook. And they're right. We teachers do know about this site. The disclaimer is disingenuous since the essays are not professional, don't belong in bibliographies, and exist only to provide cheating students with ready-made thesis papers.

Ironically, the Essay Depot staff also worries about cheating:
All images, coding, essays, and pages cannot be used without the prior written consent of this web site.Copyright © 1996-2005 . The Essay Depot. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy. Managed By: Hosting Bits.
I wonder if my student obtained the "prior written consent" required. Should I notify the website and inquire? Wouldn't that be an irony, asking the Essay Depot staff to investigate?

The adage "to catch a thief" comes to mind.

If my student did cheat the cheaters, would this ripoff-essay assay constitute the "Most Egregious Plagiarism Ever!"? I doubt it. Cheating students probably steal such essays every chance that they get.

My only remaining question is this: When I used "Google" as a verb, should I continue to capitalize the word or write it in miniscule?


At 8:32 AM, Blogger Dr. Dave said...

Isn't the larger question, "If I use "Google" as a verb, shouldn't the verb be 'to Google™'?" Trademark is, after all, everything....

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

DM, that's an excellent point, and I may inadvertently have infringed on a trademark, but . . . how does one type the "TM"?

At 10:32 PM, Blogger jdarlack said...

Great blog! To type the ™, you can press the ALT key and then 0153 on your numeric key pad.

At 3:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

James Darlack, thanks for dropping by. Let me see if this ALT command works: .

Hmmm ... nothing there after the colon except for the period.

I guess that a numeric key pad is necessary, but my laptop computer lacks one.

Is there another way?

Jeffery Hodges

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