Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wow! The Ultimate Plagiarism Story

I just finished read "The Shadow Scholar" in today's Chronicle of Higher Education (Nov.23, 2010)
It recounts how a hired writer has written college and graduate work for students either too lazy or ill-equipped to complete assignments on their own.  It's an amazing tale of deceit (even by seminary students) by undergraduate and graduate students from every discipline. The portion that really left me dumb struck is the research habits of this successful writer:
"It's not implausible to write a 75-page paper in two days. It's just miserable. I don't need much sleep, and when I get cranking, I can churn out four or five pages an hour. First I lay out the sections of an assignment—introduction, problem statement, methodology, literature review, findings, conclusion—whatever the instructions call for. Then I start Googling.
I haven't been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don't know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there's Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I've taken hundreds of crash courses this way.
After I've gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I've refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I'll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph."
Double wow! If you are an educator, this is a must read!  How many 'shadow scholars' are out there? Who would do this for $66,000?  Does digital technology make this easier than ever?  Are the professors so clueless about sources that they cannot separate the wheat from the chaff? High could this work possibly be considered high quality? How can librarians help educators to assess sources?  Are annotated bibliographies enough? Is grade inflation so rampant that everyone gets an A or a B?Or, if a B is all anyone cares about, does everyone who writes anything coherent get an easy B?  Is everyone asleep at the wheel?

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