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Who’s a clever boy?

“Academic cheating is a major problem and has negative results on everyone involved.”

So goes the first sentence of a recently composed essay on cheating in academia. To get the whole essay, though, you’ll need to pay for a membership at DirectEssays.com, an Internet operation that promises access to “over 101,000 high-quality term papers and essays.” For $19.95 a month, you can see the anticheating tract in toto, and a lot more besides. DirectEssays is one of several Internet operations selling term papers that students hand in as their own work, and business is booming.

Cheating, especially Internet cheating, is becoming more and more the way of the academic world. A recent study found that 38 percent of the students polled had committed “cut and paste” plagiarism – that is, copying sentences or even several paragraphs from the Internet and implanting them in their own work. Forty percent of respondents admitted to copying without attribution from written sources – books, journals and the like – in the past year.

9 comments to Who’s a clever boy?

  • Edmund Burke

    A couple of years back, I gave a final year student a zero grade in an essay. He had cut and paste from a bank’s PR page, which was obvious from the text, however the real giveaway was not changing the American Z’s to British (and Irish) S’s. I wish I could have given him minus marks being stupid, and even more for thinking I was.

  • Hi Brian,

    Call me an antiquated ante-diluvian dinosaur, but you never know, in order to get dumbed-down people thinking for themselves, to get round this problem, one day someone might re-introduce the concept of end-of-course Finals exams, with no course work taken into account whatsoever for any academic educational qualification.

    Oh no! What would happen to the ever-escalating growth in exam pass rates? Would educationists have to start working for a living? Could we cope with people thinking for themselves?

    All of those are concerns, but I worry most about a final question concerning our esteemed education minister. Would David Milliband’s head blow off in a final grotesque spasm of Mandelsonian illogicality? (It hasn’t so far, but we can hope 🙂

    Have you also checked out DirectEssay’s piece on Liberalism vs Conservatism? It’s a corker:

    In the world of politics there are two very essential concepts that govern political thought and create policies and laws. These two concepts are conservatism and liberalism. Liberalism supports a more active role of government, policies to help minorities and the disadvantaged, higher spending and …

    Liberalism supports a more active role of government? Discuss! 🙂

    It is quite a nice educational model we have developing though, in the western world. People copy essays off the Internet which make them sound cleverer and more thoughtful than they are.

    This means they can both conform to the authoritarian pressure to ‘do well’ at school (so they can be turned into nice milkable tax-cows) AND feel good about ‘cheating the system’ by defying state authority with plagiarised essays.

    But it gets better! 😎

    Because the essays the students are writing are uncontroversial, and because the essays tend to parrot the bland caring sharing line of our modern-day ruling class, and because the students get praised for being clever when they pass this off as their own work, the students may come to believe that what they’re writing (ie. copying) is in fact the correct way to interpret the world (ie. that liberalism is nice and kind and means more government intervention.)

    Real thinking is therefore diluted, and the task of the ruling class of suppressing dissent becomes even easier as all the ‘rebellious’ youth are too exhausted to ask any real questions of authority.

    So why are they exhausted? Do you know how tiring it is to take one of these essays, and add in enough of your own words to make it seem like you wrote it yourself? It’s a real bummer, man. But it’s worth it. Could you pass the ‘A’ grade certificate over please?

    And if you’re one of those kinds of people who likes to do all your own work, how galling it must be to be handed a ‘B’ grade because your original ideas were not as clearly expressed as those copied by your sniggering friends from the Internet.

    So not only does it become tempting to use these essays, it becomes virtually compulsory, as has become the situation in athletics with drugs cheating. Only the also-rans and occasional geniuses don’t do it.

    And there’s also a tremendous feel-good factor to the whole thing. The students feel good because they’re getting inflated grades, the parents feel good because their children are getting inflated grades, the educationists feel great because all the exam grades keep improving, the shareholders of Internet essay providers feel great because their coffers are overflowing with revenue, and the politicians feel great because the voters love them for providing such great improvements to the state-driven education system.

    Of course, nobody’s learning anything except that lying and cheating get you ahead in life, but hell, isn’t that the best lesson anybody’s going to be able to learn in the wonderful EU collectivist future we’re laying out for ourselves?

    Don’t expect David Milliband to call for the return of strict Finals exams anytime soon. I’m sure he likes things just the way they are.

  • Charles Copeland

    Andy Duncan writes:
    The students feel good because they’re getting inflated grades, the parents feel good because their children are getting inflated grades, the educationists feel great because all the exam grades keep improving …

    Good stuff, Andrew von Duncan, and glad to see you’ve turned off the saloon bar plus nineteenth hole ad hominem mode you turned on last week when you virtually accused me of being either a Neo-Nazi or a subversive troll because I had the guts to explain some of the fundamentals of race realism to the starry-eyed libertarian community.

    Only one minor caveat: paradoxically, the existence of Google now makes it far easier for any teacher to flush out the plagiarists — something which was far more difficultv in the past, when only a real expert could genuinely recognize a fraudulent essay or paper. But of course, the teachers don’t want to flush out anybody — they want peace and quiet and a classful of straight A’s.

    So it’s not so much the Internet as such that promotes plagiarism as the attitudes of the teaching staff and of the community in general.

    Otherwise, I give AD 99.99% for this comment …

  • Andy Duncan

    Hi Charles,

    I do apologise for going off the handle last week. Just one of my red-hot buttons, I’m afraid. I shall be working hard on cooling it down in the future, and trying to be more civilised, relaxed, and getting stuff into more positive frames.

    I still think the ideas you expressed are mistaken, but I don’t want to get into the game, right now, of quoting reams of Steven Pinker and Murray N. Rothbard about various aspects of the issue. I’ll wait until the time is right for that, and we can have some fun then. In the meantime we’ll have to agree to differ. Once again, my apologies.

    And so, back to education! 🙂

    The thing with Google, is that you’re right that very few want to rock the boat, as it’s all going so swimmingly. It’s only those few lecturers/teachers who actually, God forbid, care, like Mr Burke, who’ll take the trouble to root fraudsters out. And there’s only one real cure anyway, the re-introduction of Finals exams with absolutely no outside communication. But that ain’t gonna fly with the current educationist establishment.


  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    They are on the wrong track. I took the honors examination at my university (pass) and have attended four others, three at the graduate level. I can say without reservation that kissing ass is much more helpful and important than plagiarism.

  • Emo

    Having looked at a random sample of about twelve ‘high quality’ essays on directessays.com, they’re all manifest drivel. A paper on ‘Affirmative Action’ contains the wonderful line ‘I both agree, and disagree with what the author is saying in this article.’ The essays on cinema are worse than atrocious.

    A number of British universities now employ a heuristics scanning system for student submissions, not only cross referencing them against a databank of essay dumps like directessays.com but also checking for less obvious similarities; even if a student was to use a thesaurus to change a substantial number of words to synonyms, this would be detected.

    Another consequence is, at my own university in any case, plaigarism is dealt with much more severely.

  • Guy Herbert

    While I am absolutely in agreement with Andy Duncan about restoring unseen exams if you want to find out who has actually learned material and can apply it under pressure, I’m not sure the problem is quite what it seems.

    If a student is too stupid or idle to write his/her own original essays, he/she is unlikely to be any good at plagiarism. Successful plagiarism requires evaluation of sources and the ability to defend a new setting of stolen concepts. Such is the foundation of many a successful academic career. The only difference is the quantity of citation. It is actually easier to have your own ideas.

    Were the essays students write to be subject to proper scrutiny (as, say, in an Oxbridge style supervision/tutorial) this would out. Maybe there are just too many students, doing too many assessed essays, for either students or essays to be assessed properly.

  • Charles Copeland

    Talking about plagiarism, and going off at a bit of a tangent, there’s a great essay on the subject by Richard Posner in ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ (April 2002):


    Shakespeare was a dab hand at it, apparently – but, as Posner points out, he added value to the original.

    Posner rightly lambastes those who plagiarise for profit:

    This is true of the student’s plagiarized term paper, and to a lesser extent of the professor’s plagiarized scholarly article. These are particularly grave forms of fraud, because they may lead the reader to take steps, such as giving the student a good grade or voting to promote the professor, that he would not take if he knew the truth.

    The good and bad news — and a point I made in my last comment is that “[n]ew computer search programs, though they may in the long run deter plagiarism, will in the short run lead to the discovery of more cases of it.

    Google – what would we do without it?

  • Of course, if the professors actually knew their students and had some idea of their normal modes of expression, they would immediately smell a rat when the blandly generic Internet paper crossed their desk. Unfortunately, in the US undergraduate education is largely a mass endevor, with classes numbering the hundreds if not thousands. Papers are graded by wretched graduate assistants who are more interested in doing their own research and making the next car payment than in knowing their charges. It is only in the later years or in post-graduate classes that the sort of small seminar interaction gets to actually take place.