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Alex Hutchins

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Plagiarism and what, if anything, should be done about it in our Colleges and Universities.

There is a business simulation that is being played in many colleges and universities where, if a company (team) is ahead of you in points, simply copy what they are doing right with their products and advertising.

Is that plagiarism?

Years ago, I talked with an container manufacturer who took the artwork from a competitor and made 10-12 drawings, each one a little bit different than the previous one but the last subliminally identical to the competitor's design so that business could be stolen from that competitor with the client in question.

Is that plagiarism?

Are we confusing plagiarism with unethical behavior or is copying simply copying without recognizing the source?

Most Colleges and Universities have a third party available to all instructors that will check out papers to see if they have been plagiarized. Many professors use that service but there are some that simply copy and paste sentences from various paragraphs into the Google search engine and press enter and the sources are readily available. Some have been paraphrased and some have been completely copied and used as their own.

So, here is the debate: should we hold students accountable for plagiarism when the "real world" does not or should we simply let it go, realizing that life over time is always self-correcting?

Sometimes, plagiarism is so easy to spot especially when one has in-class writing assignments and can compare them to out-of-class writing assignments and it is sad to think that college students believe that they will not get caught by professors.

Another issue for debate that is tied to plagiarism is: should colleges and universities prepare students for life and the "real world" or should they just acquaint them with the pursuit of knowledge? Can this question be easily answered by reading the Charter/Mission of the school?

Plagiarism is a substantial component of the competitive environment and should not be tampered with at any cost... is my opinion.


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  • Jun 25 2013: The identification of plagiarism is really not as simple as we may think. For example many term papers involve mathematics, may be copied using the exactly same procedure in the proof, but all the explanations are changed in wording. Unless it is a dissertation where even the the proofs must be original ideas, then of course it would be identified as plagiarism. Even for that, when this identification is checked by a computer matching in word by word, if a wicked plagiarist changed most of the explanation and changed the symbolic representation of the variables in the equations then, the computer may never be able to find it.
    By the way, I have never been such a plagiarist, but have been a victim of it.
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      Jun 25 2013: Computer couldn`t find plagiarizm correctly the same way it couldn`t think. If the freshness of an Idea blongs to precious play with meanings and context, a computer could lost it.
      On the other hand it should be algorithms to determine the border between half-copied and original matherials. Something used by patent organizations or registration of an images.
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      Jun 25 2013: But, how does one know if it is an original idea just because they cannot find it in another book or online. Do we actually think that Edison was the only one that invented the lightbulb? And, what if I copied 20% of a painter's painting, do I need to give him/her credit?
      • Jun 25 2013: The only party who could discover the plagiarism in this case is the original author or his relatives/colleagues/students, but also someone who is making a thorough survey of the particular topic. That's why there were lot of discoveries many years later by accident. However, in modern days, if someone decided to scrutinize some public figures and pick out a particular publication or academic dissertation, then it would be easy to search the particular topic, and find out the original publication that was plagiarized. In other word, the common routine in general screening of plagiarized contents can't be very effective, but a pinpointed examination using modern searching tools could do wonders. Only humans could identify which field and sub-field, etc. where the passage or formula likely belongs, and attempt to the search there.

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