Thursday, July 21, 2016

But why do they plagiarize?

My Erudite Partner teaches undergraduates at a liberal arts college. Every semester while grading papers, she fumes: "how can they plagiarize in an ethics class?'

But they do. As a consequence, the college makes them submit their papers by way of an internet portal called It's not as if they can't see what their instructors will see; if Turnitin finds sections that replicate something else somewhere on the internet, including in a huge database of student papers, it flags it for the student who can clean up their paper before passing it on to the professor.
Melania Trump neglected to use Turnitin. And we now know she copied from Michelle Obama's 2008 speech introducing herself as the candidate's wife.

Turnitin diagnoses three types of plagiarism in the Trump speech:
  • "The 'Clone' type of plagiarism copies another’s work verbatim, word-for-word. ...[in one section Trump included a] Word-for-word Match Count [of] 23 Words. Just to provide some context, ... there is a one in one trillion chance that a sixteen-word phrase matches another phrase of the same length just by coincidence. As the number of words matching increase, the probability of a purely coincidental match goes down by orders of magnitude. "
  • "'find and replace' plagiarism,... where a few key words or phrases are changed, but the text retains the content or meaning of the copied work.' [Pictured above.]
  • "The Question of Intent ... More than just the copying of words, a comparison of Melania’s and Michelle’s speeches follows the same sequence of thoughts and ideas. To an educator, this [suggests] intent. "
Trump is not alone in thinking no one would notice. Even though students can see for themselves whether EP is going to find they have plagiarized, they nonetheless submit work that reveals copying. She has never figured out what they were thinking. In fact, it seems they weren't thinking, they were just going through the motions of scholarship in a state of incoherent panic.

Does a current political campaign spectacle being foisted on the country also arise from incoherent panic? So it seems. Can we all keep from being drawn into this vortex of fear, hatred, and confusion? Let's try our hardest.
EP intends to teach the Melania Trump prat fall in the autumn semester. It seems likely she'll serve as an example to thousands of students nationwide.

1 comment:

hleighh said...

I've thought about this in my roles as a professor who has on occasion received plagiarized work, and as a member of the pool of panelists that adjudicates Honor Code violations. I think students plagiarize out of desperation (struggling to survive in a class that is pushing their limits of comprehension and/or time management) and out of disrespect (for the subject, class, or assignment).

These are motivations from opposite ends of the spectrum. I've seen the Desperation motive in Computer Science and engineering classes that students believe will make or break their path to becoming zillionaires. I've seen the Disrespect motive in humanities classes that students are taking to meet requirements, and that they regard as irrelevant to their personal/career goals (in science, arts, or humanities).

I assume Ethics classes fall more on the Disrespect side than the Desperation side.
I would hypothesize that Melania was motivated by Disrespect, with a side of Desperation.

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