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Everybody Cheats

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Chen investigated a few articles by BuzzFeed senior editor Matt Stopera and found that he had not only “cribbed” information from unattributed sources, but sometimes just used the original source’s text with very minimal changes.

The real problem goes beyond copying, or almost-copying, others’ work and ideas, says Chen:

…the practice does reflect something that’s bugged me for a while about BuzzFeed and the Reddit-Tumblr-4chan matrix from which its list-compiling side springs: The explosion of people happily†sharing images and text completely void of context [author's emphasis]. There’s a stupid disinterest in the story behind whatever shiny internet thing has gone viral now, as if knowing more would ruin the mysterious viralness of the thing. BuzzFeed has, either knowingly or accidentally, capitalized on this by obscuring the origins of its listsóboth facts taken from old-school journalistic sources, and ideas found among newfangled meme-creators. Certainly, a clean list free of links and credits heightens the impact, makes it more of a black box.

Chen’s point about this viral “explosion” of lifting content and not saying where you took it from sums up what’s so insidious about plagiarism, at BuzzFeed or at Harvard.

As Chen explains, one of the photos on a Buzz Feed list of†“21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity” is described as a “picture of Chicago Christians who showed up at a gay pride parade to apologize for homophobia in the Church.” But, Chen points out, the Christians in the photo belong to†The Marin Foundation, whose leader, Andrew Marin “refuses to say homosexuality is not a sin, and critics argue he’s†disingenuously using the LGBT angle to boost his own profile.”

On a more mundane note: I post photos of my 15-year-old autistic son Charlie frequently on†my blog such as†this one of him sitting in the front seat of our car with his dad.†Seen by itself, you might think it’s just another sappy family photo taken by a doting mother. I admit it is, but in the context of†my blog We Go With Him, it’s a portrait of unparalleled success. On†We Go With Him,†I chronicle the challenges and joys of raising an autistic child who has self-injurious behaviors, who can read a handful of words and who once, in a fit of anxiety, tried to grab the steering wheel of our (moving) car while thrashing and biting. The photo thus represents a moment of triumph about how far Charlie has come.

But what if someone plucked my photo and put it in a list of “10 Retards”?

That might sound ridiculous. But I wouldn’t put it pass some individual with too much time on his or her hands to do such a thing. It’s why many parents, whether or not their children have disabilities, refuse to post photos publicly of their children.

Inappropriate “borrowing” of a photo and plagiarizing answers on a final exam may seem like completely different issues. But they’re alike in that both are instances of how the internet has made it so very easy for anybody to access all sorts of information and use it as they choose and the original source could never know. In the case of the BuzzFeed posts that Chen and Manjoo discuss, someone could make themselves look incredibly and informed when they’re actually playing the copycat.

Preventing Plagiarism, Or Trying To

With all this in mind, when I grade student papers, I routinely find myself putting parts of sentences into Google search. To try to avoid students being tempted to plagiarize written work, I try to craft original assignments that aren’t the standard for courses in classical civilization. I’ve found myself emphasizing in-class assignments more, such as oral presentations and in-class exams that are written by hand with me watching. In the digital age, I’ve gone back in time and, more and more, evaluate students in ways that might not have been unfamiliar to those scholars in ancient Alexandria. Ironically, the digital age has made pens and paper more relevant than ever — and, perhaps, made take-home exams submitted electronically a thing of the past.

 

Related Care2 Coverage

Free Online Courses Plagued By Plagiarism

Are Digital Resources Causing a Rise in Student Plagiarism?

Something Else to Blame on Facebook & Wikipedia: Plagiarism

 

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Photo of the Widener Library at Harvard displaying its motto, "Veritas" (truth) by ilamont.com

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11:11AM PDT on Oct 28, 2012

Capitalism encourages cheating, competition fosters cheating. Consider Lance Armstrong, why did he cheat? Because winning is everything in our society, this is wrong. Winner takes all is wrong.

10:25AM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

When you "borrow" exact lines, word for word, that's plagerism. These 4 take home exams were all wrong, that is just Homework. Take home exams shouldn't even exist. Exams should be under the watchful eye of the examiner (teacher/instructor/lecturer) and therefore, straight up.

The only way to stop cheating on exams is to watch the students, one by one, take the exam in class. What was the instructor thinking??

2:38PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

thanks

1:33PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

What is the point of an "open book" test? It seems like an oxymoron to call it "cheating".

You think when a Dr. or Lawyer graduates, they never that to crack a book open again? The Physicians Desk Reference- you think they have it memorized? If a doctor looks something up in his practice, is it still called cheating.. stealing someones work?

Why bother with volumes of Law Books?

Apparently? these people learned everything they ever needed to learn in a classroom, and should have no further use of books?

And scientists- they should not be able to use, and build upon preceding bodies of work over the centuries? You don't really think Einstein knew everything he knew without having "Taken" or "Plagiarized" countless of generations and centuries before him.

Is it plagiarism to repeat what Galileo said in the 13th century about the Earth not being the center of the universe?

1:24PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

thanks for the info

12:08PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Jk, I appreciate the thoughtful way you responded to my posting, and having spent Plenty of time in Hospital, I have the up most admiration for the dedication, hard work and compassion of Health Care Professionals. I admit I do see a very bleak out look for humanity, but that has come from time, history(studying it too),recognizing Religion mostly (thoroughly Corrupt) is no path to God or it would at least have a minor success rate, as well as what now what is acceptable in our Society & what's promoted, what's put down, compared to 30-40yrs ago. It is only my personal opinion, but I do believe that if humanity does not make 180 degree course direction, were finished; the oceans will be dead, and Heaven only knows what next Weather catastrophe's will be & their impact, and there is little if any wilderness left. We are supposed to be the care takers of the Earth, not the Rapists; for fuel, valuable minerals & jewels, power over the lives of others. It is a bleak out look, but I do believe that LOVE/TRUTH Will Not abandon us, we've done the abandoning.By the way educationportal.com estimates that 75-98% of College students cheat. If you cheat, you don't learn, and we have many issues to Work Together On, but when will humanity do that? When death is at the doorstep? It would seem so, since history repeats itself over, an excellent example is the imploding of the Roman Empire.

10:55AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

To Change t: Hi,
I sense that you are very concerned with right and wrong, and I admire you for that, but honestly, I think you are seeing the world in too bleak a fashion. I find most of the people in the professions you mention to be kind, caring and competent. I think that cheating eventually brings its own karmic reward, and someone who neglects to learn what they need to learn will take the tumble that this negligence brings. I guess I have a more optimistic view of things. Having been a teacher myself for 24 years, I rarely encountered cheating, and where there was any, I usually found that by more careful prepping on my part, I could help that student to forego doing it. Much of the reward in acadamia is, I think, skewed to the wrong values. Grades, by themselves, are often a poor measure of what a child or older student is supposed to be learning.

By example- I had a professor at NYU who actually walked us through the answer on a test, telling us that it was more important that we "get" what the question was asking, than that we succeed at writing what was correct and then forgetting it (a common phenomenon in high-pressure testing). Oddly, if I look back, I remember the question and the answer much more strongly than anything else I was tested on that day, and I've used the information many times since.

So, to sum up, I think that these questions are more complex than just saying "families are breaking down" or cheating makes people unqualified. I

10:25AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Sorry, double clicked; system running very slow.

10:24AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Great! Doctors, nurses, EMT's, ultra sound /cat scan operators, completely unqualified to serve and aid those in need. So we'll also have lawyers, accounts, engineers, scientists, that will graduate, while essentially learning Nothing but how to Cheat. Another part of the breakdown of the Family, a breakdown centuries in the making and for the Most Part, having to do with the decisions Parents/peer pressure make & cause. Easy to blame the Family breakdown on Gays, but just another delay tactic for Not Taking on Responsibility for your own decisions, and the repercussions of decisions made now & in the past.

10:23AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Great! Doctors, nurses, EMT's, ultra sound /cat scan operators, completely unqualified to serve and aid those in need. So we'll also have lawyers, accounts, engineers, scientists, that will graduate, while essentially learning Nothing but how to Cheat. Another part of the breakdown of the Family, a breakdown centuries in the making and for the Most Part, having to do with the decisions Parents/peer pressure make & cause. Easy to blame the Family breakdown on Gays, but just another delay tactic for Not Taking on Responsibility for your own decisions, and the repercussions of decisions made now & in the past.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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