Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Egregious, Highly Risky Plagiarism

Euthanasia Machine
Putting a plagiarizing computer out of its misery...
(Image from Wikipedia)

What's a professor to do? I warn students that I can easily catch their plagiarism, for I can find by Google in an instant the same passage that they may have sought for hours, but despite my warnings, they download material from the internet.

One student of mine is writing on euthanasia and had previously copied material from online for the essay assignment's introductory paragraph:
The first gas chamber was designed by professors of psychiatry from 12 major German universities. Psychiatric patients were executed until the hospitals were almost empty. They were joined by some pediatricians, who began by emptying the institutions for handicapped children in 1939. By 1945 almost 300,000 Germans were killed. By then, these doctors were killing bed wetters, children with misshapen ears, and those with learning disabilities.
This passage had been borrowed from a website titled League for Life in Manitoba, which cites page 47 of Fredric Wertham's The German Euthanasia Program (Cincinnati, Ohio: Hayes Publishing Company, 1977), but neither of these sources had been cited in my student's assignment.

I gave the student an "F" for plagiarism and in turn received some green tea and a promise of no more plagiarism. The green tea was some sort of Confucian gesture intended to bring the student-teacher relation back into harmony (in the interests of a harmonious society, of course). The promise was a perfunctory expression of good will that I've learned to ignore.

And a good thing, too, for the first draft of this student's essay has this truly egregious instance of plagiarism:
The pain and suffering a person feels during a disease, even with pain relievers, can be incomprehensible to a person who has not gone through it. Even without considering the physical pain, it is often difficult for patients to overcome the emotional pain of losing their independence. Moreover, despite modern painkillers, there is little available to deal with the problem of 'breathlessness', which makes many ailing patients feel they will suffocate.
This passage comes word-for-word uncited from a section titled "Reasons given for voluntary euthanasia" in Wikipedia's entry on "Euthanasia" -- and that despite my having forbidden not only plagiarism entirely (of course) but even the use of Wikipedia as a source at all!

By the student's logic, this doubtless constituted a case of plagiarism made necessary to resolve a dilemma:
Teacher forbids plagiarism. Student needs Wikipedia passage. Teacher forbids Wikipedia. Student nevertheless needs Wikipedia passage. Teacher forbids Wikipedia. Student must plagiarize Wikipedia passage.
I must admire how the student has taken this load of bull by the horns and courageously plagiarized, for students must speak their minds even if their words are unutterably borrowed.

Yet, if these specific points about euthanasia were so necessary to make, why not go to Wikipedia's sources?

The Wikipedia entry cites the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for "Voluntary Euthanasia," which has the following passage in the fourth paragraph under point "2. Five Individually Necessary Conditions for Candidacy for Voluntary Euthanasia":
The third condition recognises what many who oppose the legalization of voluntary euthanasia do not, namely, that it is not only release from pain that leads people to want to be helped to die. In The Netherlands, for example, it has been found to be a less significant reason for requesting assistance with dying than other forms of suffering and frustration with loss of independence.
I found this source easily because the Wikipedia entry provides a link to it. Similarly, the entry also links to Jeremy Laurance's article, "Death on prescription?" The Independent (London, May 13, 1999), which says:
Dr Christopher Hindley, a GP in east London who works in a hospice, and claims to have assisted several patients to die at their request, says dealing with pain at the end of life has largely been solved. "It is amazing what we can do -- pain has ceased to be a major problem. What people fear most of all is breathlessness, not pain. They don't want to suffocate. The palliative care movement admits that that is a very difficult symptom to deal with."
These useful and legitimate sources were only two links away and would have quickly solved the student's 'dilemma' so much more elegantly.

Why, then, did the student not do this and thereby avoid this malingering, academic demise?

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At 8:53 AM, OpenID Sonagi said...

The most egregious form of plagiarism I experienced came from a student whose speech expropriated large chunks of text from an article I had written for our monthly English magazine. He was rather sheepish when I showed him the byline.

Besides catching plagiarism, I also had to content with student work that written or edited by a friend more proficient in English. Two favorite explanations for error-free papers were "I use dictionary" and "Most of Korean student study many grammar in high school."

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that you meant:

"Besides catching plagiarism, I also had to contend with student work that had been written or edited by a friend more proficient in English."

I do wonder about that, but my assignments are so rigorous that any friend helping would have to be helping a lot -- so much so that the friend's own grades would probably suffer.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it somewhat difficult to judge since the subject is "Euthanasia." Being as it is so close to "uh oh" chronologically speaking.

Kinda like the Universe.

Buncha lunch, buncha gas, BANG!

Anyway S & J, I'd pose a question.

Would it be plagiarism if one were to write, "I passed gas silently in a lowering elevator. All looked askance" or none.

Alot of people have written such (oh I wish this word weren't so laden)but, "Well, it stunk like my individual self!"


At 1:51 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, you've used quotation marks, so you must be citing some body...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:25 PM, Blogger Otto Silver said...

Student plagiarism is a problem worldwide, I would imagine, but in my opinion, in the West at least it is due to laziness. I was a lazy student, but at least I had the good grace to say who "helped me" be lazy.

Generally the concept of copyright seems to be far down the priority lists of East and South East Asia. Can this trend be seen in the academic world as well, where plagiarism is akin to copyright infringement? Or is this just laziness?

I'm only a school teacher. Right now I can only dream of checking for plagiarism. My high point of the day is when a student says "Good Morning" instead of screaming "Hi!".

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I wonder about the West, too. So many years have passed since I taught in the States that I no longer know what sort of cheating the students there engage in. The internet, however, poses great temptations...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Otto, Jeff,

Most four years' have that plagiarism checker.

Sleep peacefully.


At 4:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm beginning to think that Korean universities need such things...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:08 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Came across loads of interesting articles on plagiarism when I was in college and researching my own papers and working in the writing center. I can sort of sympathize with some of the arguments.

Teacher wants a paper on Abraham Lincoln, I don't know anything about Abraham Lincoln, so I have to look stuff up about Abraham Lincoln. The stuff I look up and write will obviously be a lot worse than the stuff you'll find in books written by scholars, so why not just turn in something by them. I know many times when I had to write a research paper on something I didn't care about, I was tempted to just turn in a bibliography with "go read these" written at the top.

I spent a little bit of time as a tutor in college, mostly working with freshmen and EFL students. I don't remember there being any plagiarism checkers back in 2001-3 (there probably were) but a lot of times it was just so obvious. You'd go from having a load of crap to having a nicely synthesized paragraph. Or you'd ask EFL students to clarify their points, and they wouldn't know what the words mean. I remember tutoring some Korean friends in the States who were doing Master's programs that were over their heads. They wouldn't understand the journal articles they had to read, and so of course they couldn't write on them (and, they had never been trained in how to do academic writing). So they'd just take out entire paragraphs from the articles and stick them into their essays. *sigh*

While I understand the reasons behind plagiarism in Asia---or at least the reasons apologists give for it (showing respect for teacher, showing humility, etc.)---I of course can't stand it. But plagiarism and academic dishonesty are just so common here I don't think anybody thinks twice about it.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Brian, thanks for the comments. I've encountered so much plagiarism here here in Korea -- and I've always struggled against it. Plagiarists don't take my courses twice . . . unless they've reformed.

Actually, it's quite satisfying to catch plagiarists, especially the ones who think that they're clever and can hide the cheating. I almost always catch them, though.

But the game does get tedious...

Jeffery Hodges

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