Archive for the 'Academic integrity' category

Preventing Plagiarism.

ResearchBlogging.org
Especially in student papers, plagiarism is an issue that it seems just won't go away. However, instructors cannot just give up and permit plagiarism without giving up most of their pedagogical goals and ideals. As tempting a behavior as this may be (at least to some students, if not to all), it is our duty to smack it down.
Is there any effective way to deliver a preemptive smackdown to student plagiarists? That's the question posed by a piece of research, "Is There an Effective Approach to Deterring Students from Plagiarizing?" by Lidija Bilic-Zulle, Josip Azman, Vedran Frkovic, and Mladen Petrovecki, published in 2008 in Science and Engineering Ethics.
To introduce their research, the authors write:

Academic plagiarism is a complex issue, which arises from ignorance, opportunity, technology, ethical values, competition, and lack of clear rules and consequences. ... The cultural characteristics of academic setting strongly influence students' behavior. In societies where plagiarism is implicitly or even explicitly tolerated (e.g. authoritarian regimes and post-communist countries), a high rate of plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty and scientific misconduct may be expected. However, even in societies that officially disapprove of such behavior (e.g. western democracies), its prevalence is disturbing. (140)

Here, there is some suggestion of potentially relevant cultural factors that may make plagiarism attractive -- and not the cultural factors I tend to hear about here in California, on the Pacific Rim. But maybe we can extend Tolstoy's observation about how each unhappy marriage is unhappy in its own way to recognize the variety of cultural contexts that spawn dishonest students.
And this is not just a matter of the interactions between students and teachers. Bilic-Zulle et al. point to plagiarism in school as something like a gateway drug for unethical behavior in one's professional life -- so potentially, reducing academic dishonesty could have important consequences beyond saving professors headaches.
In any case, the big question the researchers take on is how to reduce the prevalence. Is it effective to emphasize the importance of academic integrity, or to threaten harsh penalties if plagiarism is detected?

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What to do with the cheater once caught.

Back in December (or as we academics call it, Exam-Grading Season), esteemed commenter Ewan told us about a horrifying situation that was unfolding for him:

Probably not totally relevant, but frankly I'm still in a little shock.
Graded exams Friday evening before heading out for weekend. Noted some really strong efforts (take-home exam), some really lame, nothing special. Then: two word-for-word identical, typos-and-all, answers with *many* unique characteristics compared to all other answerers of that Q, even down to the same joke-aside-to-the-professor.
Ack, really? Check. Yep, really, and true for about four Qs (of 27) on this short-answer format take-home final (given this way because somewhat akin to Janet, I also want them to demonstrate knowledge even if they have to use a book or the net for some facts/help. Anyway..).
I'm still in shock; some details adding to shock are unpostable b/c of identification possibilities in public.
I send email to the two: "I need to speak to you regarding your final; are you around next week?"
From A: detailed reason, perfectly fine, why no. Also unbloggable.
From B: "Yes. If this has anything to do with similarities between A's paper and my own, I want to talk with you privately."
Well, there goes any possibility that I was wrong, huh? Wow. And what a response to send!
Oh, and: f*ck.

That last part of Ewan's comment is relevant because I suspect some students believe that the people grading their papers are giddy with glee when they find evidence of cheating.
We are not.

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Medical ghostwriting and the role of the 'author' who acts as the sheet.

This week the New York Times reported on the problem of drug company-sponsored ghostwriting of articles in the scientific literature:

A growing body of evidence suggests that doctors at some of the nation's top medical schools have been attaching their names and lending their reputations to scientific papers that were drafted by ghostwriters working for drug companies -- articles that were carefully calibrated to help the manufacturers sell more products.

Experts in medical ethics condemn this practice as a breach of the public trust. Yet many universities have been slow to recognize the extent of the problem, to adopt new ethical rules or to hold faculty members to account.

The last time I blogged explicitly about the problem of medical ghostwriting, the focus on the coverage seemed to be on the ways that such "authorship" let pharmaceutical companies stack the literature in favor of the drugs they were trying to sell. Obviously, this sort of practice has a potential to deliver "knowledge" that is more useful to the health of the pharmaceutical companies than to the health of the patients whose doctors are consulting the medical literature.

This time around, it strikes me that more attention is being paid to the ways that the academic scientists involved are gaming the system -- specifically, putting their names on work they can't legitimately take credit for (at least, not as much credit as they seem to be claiming). When there's a ghostwriter in the background (working with the company-provided checklist of things to play up and things to play down in the manuscript), the scientist who puts her name on the author line starts moving into guest author territory. As we've noted before, guest authorship is, at its core, a deception.

Deception, of course, is at odds with the honesty and serious efforts towards objectivity scientists are supposed to bring to their communications with other scientists.

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A big pain for biomedicine: anesthesiologist commits massive research fraud.

The headlines bring news of another scientist (this time a physician-scientist) caught committing fraud, rather than science. This story is of interest in part because of the scale of the deception -- not a paper or two, but perhaps dozens -- and in part because the scientist's area of research, the treatment of pain, strikes a nerve with many non-scientists whose medical treatment may have been (mis-)informed by the fraudulent results.
From Anesthesiology News:

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Students plagiarize, professor publicizes.

... and the university, in turn, fires the professor.
You've probably already seen this story. Loye Young, an adjunct professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, warned his students (as we all do) against plagiarism. Indeed, as reported by Inside Higher Ed, he included this statement in his fall course syllabus for his management information systems course:

No form of dishonesty is acceptable. I will promptly and publicly fail and humiliate anyone caught lying, cheating, or stealing. That includes academic dishonesty, copyright violations, software piracy, or any other form of dishonesty.

While grading an assignment, Young discovered (at least) six students taking the course had committed plagiarism. Then he followed through on what he had promised in his course syllabus and publicized the names of the six on his (public) blog for the course.

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From the annals of academic dishonesty: a bad way to fish for extra points.

As the new calendar year approaches, I can't help but anticipate the coming spring semester -- and to hold out the hope that this one will be the semester in which none of my students commits plagiarism. Otherwise, I'm facing a perfect 12-semester streak.
Near the end of last semester, one of my colleagues related a tale of dishonesty so brazen that it struck us as one for the books. (Or the blogs, anyway.) The crowning offense was that it was committed in the course of an extra credit assignment.

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The ethics of performance enhancing drugs in academe.

In the 20/27 December 2007 issue of Nature, there's a fascinating commentary by Cambridge University neuroscientists Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir. Entitled "Professor's little helper," this commentary explores, among other things, how "cognitive-enhancing drugs" are starting to find their way into the lifestyles of professors and students on university campuses, a development which raises some interesting ethical questions.
The questions are sufficiently rich here that this post will just serve as my first attempt to get some of the important issues on the table and to open it up for discussion. (There will also be an ongoing discussion of this commentary on the Nature Network website, in case you're interested.)

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Kids today!

If you're "writing" a philosophy paper and you're going to plagiarize, why would you plagiarize a sub-optimal source like Wikipedia? Why wouldn't you at least rip off a top-notch source like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy?
It seems to me there was a time when cheaters took more pride in their craft.
Disclaimer: Regardless of the quality of your source material, plagiarism is wrong. Don't plagiarize!

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What I'd really like one of these semesters

... is to get all the way through the 16 weeks without a single incident of plagiarism turned in as "student work".
Alas, it appears this will not be the semester in which my fantasy becomes a reality. Dammit.

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Is the NCAA encouraging academic fraud?

I'm pretty sure the National Collegiate Athletic Association doesn't want college athletes -- or the athletics programs supporting them -- to cheat their way through college. However, this article at Inside Higher Ed raises the question of whether some kind of cheating isn't the best strategy to give the NCAA what it's asking for.
From the article:

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