The Internet, Plagiarism, and Fabulism

15 August 2007 at 3:26 am 8 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

What is the net effect of the internet on the amount (and type) of plagiarism? Many people have predicted the demise of plagiarism as internet search engines make that nasty activity increasingly easy to detect. However, as any university teacher knows from sad experience with students who got tempted to cheat, the internet also prompts plagiarism because it strongly expands the set of texts that can be plagiarized at little direct cost.At any rate, it is quite amazing what some people still believe they can get away with:

1. At my school we had a nasty case last year where a PhD student had directly copied a Harvard Business School WP and submitted it to a conference. He was discovered, and immediately booted. His reaction? “The department head and I hold different conceptions of what ‘plagiarism’ means.”

2. A CBS colleague had one of his working papers partly copied (hypotheses and parts of the theory development section) by a Chinese PhD student at a major European school. He, too, was eventually booted. His reaction? “Citation practices in Europe and China differ.”

3. An Australian management consultant scanned a book chapter of mine, changed the front page, and submitted it to a major journal. The editor had heard my co-author put forward the ideas at a conference and asked him to review the paper. The rest is history.

4. Here is a truly striking story. The amazing thing is perhaps not so much Gottinger’s plagiarism as the amount of fabulism he has been able to engage in, for a long time successfully. To be able to claim — “for decades” — to have an affiliation with the University of Maastrict, surely one of the major European universities, while you don’t, and get away with it, even appearing with this affiliation at a major conference as keynote speaker along Thomas Schelling, is … well … striking, and certainly an indication that reputational effects are highly imperfect, or at least very slow to work.

Do you have any juicy plagiarism or fabulism stories to tell?

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Institutions.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Steve Phelan  |  15 August 2007 at 6:22 am

    There is now a whole industry on the Internet of people writing papers and cases for MBA students for cash. Is it still plagiarism if you “outsource” your assignment?

    At UT Dallas, we used turnitin.com to check all assignments and dissertations for plagiarism – the program basically checks previously submitted assignments and internet sources for matches. It is a pretty effective deterrent against plagiarism but does not stop the “outsourcing” problem outlined above.

  • 2. Steve Horwitz  |  15 August 2007 at 9:46 am

    I think this example was accidental, but I recently refereed a paper which used a quote the authors claimed was from Hayek. As I’m reading the quote, I’m thinking “this isn’t Hayek, but I know this…”. After a few more seconds, I realized “this isn’t Hayek, this is ME!” They had somehow taken a quote from a published paper of mine and attributed it to Hayek. Suffice it to say I informed the journal editor. Not sure what happened to the paper, because it was pretty bad, plagiarism aside.

    But think of the odds of that: you, perhaps accidentally, misattribute a quote and then get the paper refereed by the author whose words you claimed were someone else’s.

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  15 August 2007 at 10:01 am

    Steve P., I was on a university committee at Missouri a few years ago investigating the possibility of adopting turnitin.com. The university lawyers recommended against adoption, on the grounds that all papers submitted to the system to check for plagiarism become part of the archive against which future papers are checked, thus violating the student authors’ intellectual property rights!

  • 4. Plagiarism, Take 357 at Jacob Christensen  |  15 August 2007 at 12:54 pm

    […] Message to students, graduate students and senior researchers: We’ve heard your lame excuses before. […]

  • 5. Morton Slonim  |  15 August 2007 at 4:26 pm

    A former colleague of mine was a world expert in a rare econometric statistical technique I won’t name here. He published a paper using that technique to model absences from work in a large labor market dataset. Shortly thereafter, his attention was drawn to an empirical study of consumption of spirits in a European nation. Much of the purported empirical findings in that study were identical to those of my colleague, to 5 decimal places. A fair bit of the algebra included in the spirits study was also identical to that in my colleague’s earlier paper; the differences were immaterial. My colleague wrote to the administration of the university employing the author of spirits study, enclosing a copy of his paper and of the spirits study. My colleague later told me that the fellow was convicted of plagiarism and dismissed from his university.

    As for Gottinger:

    http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1467-6435.1999.tb00219.x?cookieSet=1

  • 6. Morton Slonim  |  15 August 2007 at 4:50 pm

    Another story. I assume that nearly all readers of this blog have written a PhD thesis, and that many of you have supervised at least one such thesis.

    A leading university press asked X, the adviser of a friend of mine, to referee a book manuscript by Y. X soon realized that he was reading a variant of his own PhD thesis. He contacted the university press, which immediately killed the book deal with Y. X pursued the matter, and discovered that the book manuscript was based on Y’s PhD thesis submitted to a major university, Z. X obtained a copy of Y’s thesis through the usual channels, then wrote to Z, enclosing a copy of the theses of X and Y. Nothing happened.

    The conjecture is that Z simply could not bring itself to pursue the matter, because doing so would disgrace Y’s advisor, one of the grand old men of academic economics. No one doubts the adviser’s integrity, but his supervision of X’s thesis was appallingly lazy. We all know how a thesis is produced; early drafts are poorly written and filled with confused notions and mistaken reasoning. The thesis gradually improves after many rounds of comments from one’s adviser. To plagiarize a PhD thesis means that the adviser read either read and approved weirdly good draft chapters, or simply did not bother to read the thesis at all.

    Y’s academic career remains undisturbed. X and Y give talks at the same conferences, and have been known to sit at the same table at conference dinners!

  • 7. Steve Phelan  |  16 August 2007 at 1:57 am

    Morton – on your X and Y story – OMG!

    Peter – I believe some at UTD had the same objections to turnitin but it was somehow implemented anyway.

  • 8. David Hoopes  |  13 September 2007 at 3:38 pm

    A chaired prof (not strategy) at a top university told me how a bigger shot was editor for one of his papers at a top 5 econ journal. The paper was rejected. The main innovation in the model was copied in a less elegant form by the big shot economist and published at that same top 5 journal. I know of another case like this that did happen to a relatively prominant strategy person (asst prof at the time).

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