The Plagiarism Epidemic: Real or Mirage?

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Dora Clarke-Pine was getting the funny feeling that there was a lot of copying going on with her students. Being an academic (she’s an associate professor of psychology and school counseling at La Sierra University), she naturally decided to make a study out of it — and found that four out of five of the PhD dissertations she examined had strings of 10+ words copied exactly, without attribution. Yikes.

The obvious conclusion would be that students are plagiarizing more than ever. Google, essay factories, the slow erosion of copyright culture — you can pick your favorite villain.

According to Clarke-Pine, though, it’s not that there’s a nationwide cheating crisis — at least, not on purpose. She concluded that most of the borrowing was unintentional. That is, that students either weren’t entirely aware of what they were doing (perhaps finding other peoples’ phrasing creeping into their own work), or didn’t know that what they were doing “counted” as plagiarism. Really, Clarke-Pine opines, it’s the fault of the universities themselves — for not doing a better job of teaching students about plagiarism, and how to avoid it.

So what do you think — is most of this copying innocent, or is Clarke-Pine letting students off the hook too easily?



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