Accuracy in Media

Harvard University apparently isn’t too concerned with student Kaavya Viswanathan’s being nailed for plagiarizing large parts of her book “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” according to an article in the Harvard Crimson.

Citing a study by Duke University’s Center for Academic Integrity that forty percent of students admit to “cut and paste” plagiarism maybe they should rethink their stance.

One way to help combat the rapid rise of plagiarism in the internet age come from a Oakland based software company that developed a web based anti-plagiarism called Turnitin. For schools that subscribe all the professors have to do is submit a student paper on the Turnitin website and if the database finds a match it sends a report to the professor.

After the “Opal Mehta” disaster one would think Harvard would be rushing to subscribe to help prevent future embarrassment. Alas this is not the case.

The Crimson quoted Gordon Harvey, the associate director of expository writing as saying “When plagiarism does occur in Expos, it’s usually pretty easy to spot from sudden shifts in style or topic, and usually easy enough to check out by ‘Googling.’ I suppose this is one reason why we haven’t considered using a program like TurnItIn.”

 It would seem to me that using google would take far more time than a specialized program. What a cop out.

Then there is the secretary of Harvard College’s Administrative Board, John L. Ellison, who told the Crimson “I think educating students on time management, and also on how to ask for extensions and accommodations, is far better than trying to catch them [plagiarizing]. I would prefer that we had no examples of plagiarism and that, of course, is our goal.”

 I don’t understand how asking for more time fits with the philosophy of teaching students time management. More time might also mean more time to cheat or disguise the cheating.

My favorite quote come s from Jonathan L. Zittrain , co-founder of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, who wrote in an e-mailto the Crimson that “trying to catch [plagiarism] mechanically through websites like Turnitin.com is demeaning to everyone involved.” “We should see plagiarism as a signal of the overall health of academia and act to solve the problem fundamentally,” he added.

Yes it is demeaning t be caught cheating and it would be nice if they could solve the problem fundamentally, but let’s be realistic. This is an electronic world and professors often have hundreds of papers that need to be graded. Does Berkman expect teachers to use manual methods to combat the technology students use to write their papers?

I guess the message Harvard is sending their students is that we discourage plagiarism but we won’t use all the technology tools to catch it so you may get away with it, score a book deal and if you are just clever enough you don’t get caught.

It’s amazing what $40,000 plus a year buys.




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