1. The History of Dialogue: Other People’s Papers



    This is a dialogue between Teach, an adjunct philosophy instructor at a public university in New York, and Cheat, who has authored over 100 papers for pay.

    Teach: In my philosophy class of 36 students I had six instances of plagiarism. I ended up turning them all in to the Committee on Academic Standing.

    Cheat: Do you remember how they plagiarized?

    T: One is a case of self-plagiarism, in which the third paper was turned in a second time for the fourth paper.

    C: In its entirety?

    T: In its near entirety. He changed the introduction and the conclusion, but left the body paragraphs the same.

    C: So he tricked a search engine, but not a human.

    T: In the four other cases, I discovered specific lines that were taken off Internet sites including the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy—at the best, Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, and some Cambridge professor’s blog.

    C: How did you find that? Through a Google search?

    T: Well, first I detect it. There are a number of red flags. One is that the paper refers to texts and issues we don’t discuss in class. So, for example, in a paper on Plato’s Apology, Symposium, and Phaedo, they will refer to the Meno or the Protagoras or any number of dialogues that were not assigned.

    C: And it would be unreasonable to imagine that they had read all that in the semester?

    T: That strikes me as true. It seems to me that these were not instances of people going above and beyond. And, at any rate, they are forbidden to use outside sources. They’re not research papers, they’re explications.

    C: But that’s just the constraints of the assignment, right?

    T: Yes, but it is a red flag to me that there is plagiarism elsewhere in the paper. The second one is grammatical. In those cases I was alerted to plagiarism by the sudden appearance, in a paper that is otherwise a morass of grammatical errors, of a series of flawless sentences with complicated structures. The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me. As is the use—and often misuse—of specialized jargon or technical language that I’ve not discussed with them in class. Then I type those sentences into Google, and they all wind up being smoking-gun cases of plagiarism. My favorite case this semester was plagiarism within plagiarism. When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?” Which indicated to me, along with a number of the other email responses I got from students, that many of them don’t even know what plagiarism is.

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