Steve G.

Defense of Plagiarism

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2007 at 6:26 am

First let me get the basics out of the way – my opinions are my own and are in NO way the responsibility of this site. I suspect the majority of the authors disagree with me at least on this, so don’t blame them.

Second, I did make an error and was unclear about one thing. Turnitin does not necessarily operate solely within the public school arena, so not every cent they make comes from taxes. However, every cent they get from public schools IS coerced from citizens. In this and future articles about plagiarism in general and Turnitin specifically, I will direct my comments to the public school arena.
Now to answer a few comments made on my previous article. Many people seemed to feel that students in public schools who were given writing assignments and then turned in plagiarism were commiting fraud, were not developing their ability to write creatively, are in breach of contract with the school’s honor policy, are stealing from the original author, are doing something “wrong” and in general are getting what they deserve. I will start with a few of the main issues and then address the libertarianism of plagiarism in general in a second article.

No Fraud

Libertarians have good reason to oppose fraud. Fraud is an assault on basic property rights – I take your money for a good or service and then don’t give it to you or give you something else that I hope will pass for that good or service until I can get away. Plagiarism within a public school context is, however NOT fraud. In this context, students turn in work because they HAVE to. The schools don’t give them money in repayment for it and grades are not payment – they are threats (Grades are the school’s way of warning students that if they don’t perform their tasks adequately, they will face a repeat of the subject, loss of the ability to go to college, a life of poverty, misery and failure and angry parents). Failure to give a coerced commodity is not fraud, it is an attempt to subvert a coercive authority.

No Theft

Related to the above issue is the “theft from the author” argument. Here the reasoning is that the author “owns” his intellectual property and using it somehow deprives him either of it or of some profit he should have gained from it. Of course, the problem with this is that the author STILL has his words even after the student used them and the act of plagiarism costs him nothing – certainly he gains no more from having his name on a paper turned in to a school than he would for not having it on a paper. I will address the general issues of intellectual property and plagiarism later.

No Breach of Contract

The comment was made that Plagiarism was a breach of the contract with respect to the school’s honor policy. This, of course presumes that the school’s honor policy is a valid contract. Since in public schools, students have NO CHOICE but to say they accept the policy, it is made under duress and has no more value than any other promise made under duress.The breach of contract issues also fails since, as was stated before, in return for not cheating etc… the school promises to give the student nothing. contracts imply quid pro quo – value exchanged for value – and the school doesn’t even attempt to offer that.

Creativity is Not the Issue

one of the final arguments made against plagiarism is that the students don’t develop their creativity by plagiarism. I have two arguments for that one. The first one is that they are most likely not developing their creativity anyways because students seldom learn when they are not already interested in the subject and the students most likely to plagiarize are also the ones LEAST likely to be interested in writing. The thing about this argument is that it turns the whole way of learning on its head. Trying to Coerce creativity is one of the main problems with the school system in general. Schools are inherently destructive of creativity. It takes creative impulses and, through the demand for conformity, the regimentation and punishing of any truly creative behavior from coloring outside the lines to writing what YOU want to instead of what is required by the assignment, systematically kills the creativity of our children.

The second argument is, in my opinion the more fundamental one. It comes down this: Individuals should have the right to NOT have to do what some governmental authority determines is “best” for them. The “creativity” argument is another case of arguing “Do as I say because it’s good for you.” This is the essence of socialistic arguments and should be recognized as such. Presuming that doing your own work even if you don’t want to do the assignment in the first place makes you more creative (which, as I have stated, I dispute), that’s STILL not enough reason to make a student do it any more than it would be to make him become a vegetarian or to forbid him from playing dodgeball (the latter is actually happening in some schools – dodgeball is too harmful to children’s self worth, apparently). Also, as with so many other socialist “solutions,” the problem is caused by socialist actions in the first place. If the assignments were optional, there would be no compulsion to plagiarize. If you don’t want to write it, then don’t! do something else for your grade – something you actually want to do!

This is part one of two. In my second article, I’m going to take a closer look at plagiarism in terms of Intellectual property rights and also in terms of positive vs. negative rights in general.

  1. My statements had absolutely nothing to do with creativity and do not fall under the other arguments thus far listed. You’re missing a major point.

    You can’t learn if you only reiterate previous materials. If you’re not going to bother participating in the learning process you needn’t bother showing up at all. With home-schooling a legal option for any child — especially those of a high-school level, whom can home-school themselves — the statement is pure and simple.

    I don’t give a dot about creativity. Public schools stifle it excessively anyhow. But you’re missing the most fundamental point: If you permit plagiarism in a schooling environment, you FUNDAMENTALLY eliminate the function of the schooling environment. There really isn’t a counter-argument to that; as any attempt to do so would address *the public schooling system* rather than *the learning process*.

    Public schools need to go. But that doesn’t address the simple fact that plagiarism is not acceptable.

  2. Actually, I was just going to cut and paste Ian’s entire comment and claim it as my own. After all, I don’t feel like thinking for myself right now.

  3. To reiterate the point a little more clearly (and keep up, apparently, my two-post tradition…)

    By plagiarizing papers written by others, you fail to learn the material-at-hand. Most students don’t care to learn. Learning is unpleasant and difficult. My point, however, is that an un-creative half-assed paper written BY the student is vastly more valuable *TO THE STUDENT* than is stealing someone else’s homework and turning that in as your own.

    It’s called mental training & conditioning, and like it or not is fundamental to the process of learning complicated ideas. Without it, there is no learning. Multiple choice tests are a joke. Blue-book tests are extremely useful, but have limits. There’s a reason that Ph.D’s CONTINUE to require peer-reviewed thesis papers.

  4. Plagiarism within a public school context is, however NOT fraud. In this context, students turn in work because they HAVE to. The schools don’t give them money in repayment for it and grades are not payment – they are threats (Grades are the school’s way of warning students that if they don’t perform their tasks adequately, they will face a repeat of the subject, loss of the ability to go to college, a life of poverty, misery and failure and angry parents). Failure to give a coerced commodity is not fraud, it is an attempt to subvert a coercive authority.

    Fraud does require a monetary component. Your assertion that dishonesty in the academic setting is acceptable because there’s not an exchange of goods involved is reprehensible and stupid.

  5. Agreed,
    The marketplace can solve the problem of plagarism without outside help, but the school isn’t the marketplace.

    In school, writing a paper is one way of demonstrating ability. Demonstrations of ability are rewarded with diplomas certifying the apprehension of that ability. Passing off someone else’s demonstration of ability as your own is the academic equivalent of using counterfit money.

  6. “By plagiarizing papers written by others, you fail to learn the material-at-hand. Most students don’t care to learn. Learning is unpleasant and difficult. My point, however, is that an un-creative half-assed paper written BY the student is vastly more valuable *TO THE STUDENT* than is stealing someone else’s homework and turning that in as your own.”

    I agree – it’s better for the student.

    That doesn’t, however, give you the right to stop him. It’s better for people to wear seatbelts in cars and helmets on motorcycles. It’s better for people not to smoke or eat fatty foods. It’s better for people to stay in line in a million other different ways, but you STILL don’t have the right to stop them.

  7. I had planned to comment on this article, since I didn’t comment on your last one.

    However, after reading it twice to ensure I understand your argument, I am instead compelled to go bang my head against the nearest brick wall.

  8. If you permit plagiarism in a schooling environment, you FUNDAMENTALLY eliminate the function of the schooling environment. There really isn’t a counter-argument to that; as any attempt to do so would address *the public schooling system* rather than *the learning process*.

    Aw, you eliminate the function of the schooling environment – you’re breaking my heart!

    In reality, you do change the schooling environment, but you do NOT eliminate it. There are plenty of options a student could have that would not lead to plagiarism. Operating the school on a montessori type system would likely eliminate the need for plagiarism. Operating it on a Sudbury type system would guarantee it. Both of these systems have proven to be at least as successful as traditional school – if not more so.

    Of course, homeschooling eliminates the problem as well.

  9. “Fraud does require a monetary component. Your assertion that dishonesty in the academic setting is acceptable because there’s not an exchange of goods involved is reprehensible and stupid.”

    Fraud DOES require some exchange. If you make me give you something (e.g. at gunpoint) and it turns out not to be what you want, I’m NOT guilty of fraud. If I give you something out of the goodness of my heart and it turns out not to be what you thought it was, I’m NOT guilty of fraud. Only when I give you something IN RETURN FOR something else is fraud a possibility.

  10. There is a reason I called it “intellectual fraud”. Also, those that plagarize do expect some gain. They expect a better grade, which may get them into a better college, which may get them a better job, which may lead to more money.

    Even in a Sudbury or Montessori school, it is wrong to claim someone else’s work as your own.

    What you are saying is that it is OK for someone to claim that work they did not do was the result of their effort. You are 100% wrong. It is the moral equivalent to me claiming that I discovered the photoelectric effect.

  11. Fraud DOES require some exchange. If you make me give you something (e.g. at gunpoint) and it turns out not to be what you want, I’m NOT guilty of fraud.
    =====================================
    I’ve been out of High School for a couple of years, so things might have changed, but I don’t remember never forcing us to do anything. We could freely choose whether or not we wanted to do the schoolowrk. Their only power over us was based on our interest in having our names associated with certain letters of the alphabet.

    Handing in good papers in return for good grades is exchange, not coercion. Being threatened with jail for refusing to write a paper would be coercive, and in that case, I’d probably advocate plagarism and even aid in the distribution of plagarizable work.

    Barring that, however, you haven’t a leg to stand on.

  12. However, after reading it twice to ensure I understand your argument, I am instead compelled to go bang my head against the nearest brick wall.

    Yeah, pretty much.

  13. Grades are not gains. Schools use grades as punishments for not conforming to their standards. They are coerced into being there and then they are coerced into performing. This is equivalent to “Offering” not to break one’s legs for payment.

  14. Grades are not gains. Schools use grades as punishments for not conforming to their standards. They are coerced into being there and then they are coerced into performing. This is equivalent to “Offering” not to break one’s legs for payment.

    Ah, more idiotic arguments. Explain, if you would, how the students then use something of no value to gain admittance into the college or graduate school program of their choice and/or in seeking employment.

    Your premises are flawed and you’re seriously abusing that straw man.

  15. Grades are not gains. Schools use grades as punishments for not conforming to their standards. They are coerced into being there and then they are coerced into performing.

    Some children may be coerced by their parents to attend public school, however, there is always the option of private or home school. There are laws that compel children to attend school (and we can both agree that those laws are bad), but they do not specify public schools as the only option. Parents DO have a choice.

    As for the children, they can choose to not do the assignments. After all, if there is no value to grades as you claim, then what reason would they have for caring?

    Besides, your line of reasoning concerning coercion has no relevancy to the issue of plagiarism.

    This is equivalent to “Offering” not to break one’s legs for payment.

    No it is not. Not at all. Not even close.

  16. As a side note, kids fail out of high school all the time. I’ve watched them. They’ve been in my classes. Not a single one of them was ever subjected to even the threat of physical harm because they did not complete their assignments.

    They chose to not do their work, and they are now living with the consequences of their choices. (One that I know of, though, is now very successful.)

  17. On the subject of educational models, I can readily agree that the Austrian educational system needs to go. Hardcore.

    But regardless of this — especially as at the collegiate & post-graduate levels there are no alternatives for educational models, and they all require thesis papers & the like — condoning plagiarism in academia as a viable demonstration of scholastic achievement is just plain idiotic.

    Once again: There is no refutation of this that isn’t an assault upon *the education system* rather than *plagiarism.*

    *PLAGIARISM* is not acceptable. (Neither is the educational system but that’s another story; while connected, it’s not the topic at hand.)

  18. I just looked at Daniel’s profile for the first time. Honestly, I assumed he was a high school kid smoking too much weed, based on his argument. I was very surprised to find out that he’s 37, with two kids and a BS in physics.

    Daniel, did you get your degree by plagiarizing others’ work? If not, why not, if you think it’s such a great idea? Will you encourage your children to plagiarize others’ work?

    Also, since Daniel has his degree in the same field Dr. Phillies teaches, I’d be very curious to hear what Dr. P thinks about his argument.

  19. I’m no physicist, but I suspect that Dr. Phillies might see a correlation between physics students who plagarize their way through school and collapsing bridges, planes that fall out of the sky, etc.

    Or maybe it’s just me…

  20. the best way to stop plagirising is to make students turn in handwritten scripts. there is no need for sites like turn it in which can easily be cheated.

  21. You make some interesting arguments, though you still haven’t convinced me that plagiarism is acceptable. Whether or not it harms the person who wrote the original text, it does hurt the student, whose mind is not challenged and who gets into the habit of letting others do his or her work (a hard habit to break). The result is that the student graduates without learning how to think and is handicapped in his or her ability to contribute to the community.

  22. the best way to stop plagirising [sic] is to make students turn in handwritten scripts. there is no need for sites like turn it in which can easily be cheated.

    There were a number of monks during the Dark Ages who stand as a counterargument to the idea that handwritten work cannot be a direct copy.

  23. since Daniel has his degree in the same field Dr. Phillies teaches, I’d be very curious to hear what Dr. P thinks about his argument.

    Physics is the field in which I teach, as well. My thoughts about this article have been made crystal clear.

    Let us say that I never felt like doing research and writing a PhD dissertation in physics, but I really wanted a PhD so that I could get that cool professor job. So according to Daniel, it would be OK for me to just go through the literature, find a bunch of papers on a topic, copy them into a large book, and then turn it into my committee as my own work. According to Daniel, the committee should have no right to fail me, and come August when I start that cool professor job I get the spoils without doing any work. You see, the search committee hiring for the job would have no right to discount my application simply because I completely copied some hot-shot’s curriculum vitae. When it comes time to go up for tenure, I’ll just copy someone else’s tenure file. The tenure committee should have no right to deny me lifetime job security based off of this.

    Now, let us think about the poor schmuck who actually did original research, wrote his dissertation, and didn’t get that cool professor job because I lied and cheated my way into it.

  24. Did I mention I find plagiarism reprehensible, and anyone who could possibly defend it to be completely lacking intellectual honesty?

    Daniel, if you homeschool your kids and teach them that plagiarism is OK, then you better not send them to my university. You will waste a LOT of money.

  25. Sorry, Chris, I didn’t realize that you also teach physics (but now I have looked at your blog to get up to speed).

    Incidentally, I loved your answer to the guy whose brother is convinced that, if he sees himself headless in a mirror, he will die.

  26. ElfNinos — whomever that brother is, is obviously a liberal.

    How’s that for a logic leap?

    (Here’s the connection; if you see yourself headless in a mirror, you *will* die. Sequentially this is incorrect, because to ‘see’ yourself headless you have to *be* headless, which means you’re already dead or going to die anyhow. Correlation: Carbon Dioxide is warming the planet! Planet is warming, carbon-dioxide levels are higher. In history CO2 levels have always had a temporal lag to temperature shifts; higher temperatures lead to higher CO2. So something else is either causing the warming, or causing the CO2 emissions besides the warming. Liberals infer the effect as the cause, and therefore a liberal would believe that seeing yourself headless in a mirror would cause you to die.)

    … I am such a geek; inane logic exercises entertain me.

  27. I went to undergraduate in the States, where if I was found to have plagiarized anything I would have been suspended, now I am working on my Master’s in Taiwan, where EVERYTHING is plagiarized. Example: textbooks, the prof loans someone in the class their copy of the actual book, you take that to a copy shop, and have it copied from cover to cover, and including the cover. I tell you what I’ve noticed….most people in the states can read, absorb information and think for themselves…people here can’t.

  28. Alien, what you are describing is not plagiarism. That is just good old fashioned copyright infringement. (Although photocopies of parts of textbooks can be considered fair use if used for a class. However, copying the entire book … I’m not sure.) Though, I am sure you will find plenty of good example of actual plagiarism in Taiwan.

    Plagiarism can be found here in the states, as well. For a really good example, Google “ohio mechanical engineering plagiarism”. I read an interesting article a few days ago that I can’t seem to place now. It discussed cultural differences, particularly in Asian countries, that led to a misunderstanding of what is plagiarism.

  29. Copyright infringement, unlike plagarism, is awesome.

  30. Alien brings up an interesting point, and one about which few people outside the mainstream book publishing industry are aware.

    I belong to several professional writers’ organizations, and each year I get questionnaires asking what I have published. They in turn file a claim for compensation, for the photocopying of members’ work in foreign countries. If I recall correctly, each organization makes hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in this manner.

    I’m not sure of the details, since I haven’t checked into it in years, but I can find out if anybody’s really interested. I participated once, found out there wasn’t any money in it for me, and never participated again. After all, if I agree to that kind of compensation, I’m settling all potential foreign copyright infringement claims by virtue of photocopying, and I’m not that stupid.

    Copying it for homework ….. eh, I’m not going to get bent out of shape over that. It hurts the student far more than it hurts me, and it’s not worth my trouble to worry about it. The only way I’d get truly upset is if I knew someone overseas was photocopying my work in quantity and selling it as their own, but that’s another matter altogether.

    At any rate, what Alien described obviously happens a lot, since it’s built into the international trade system to compensate US authors for foreign copyright infringement.

  31. I’ve been away for a while and see I have gained a fair number of comments since I last checked. I wish to address a few of those comments.

    First, I have the following:”Explain, if you would, how the students then use something of no value to gain admittance into the college or graduate school program of their choice and/or in seeking employment.”

    The assumption here is that without grades, people can’t get into college. This is, of course, false by demonstration. Homeschooled kids get into college all the time – even the ones who have absolutely no classroom background – and hence, no grades – whatsoever. What they DO have is good test scores and a large list of activities and achievements that would make any valedictorian green with envy (which, incidentally, is much easier if you are not cooped in a classroom for eight hours a day, five days a week, and then stuck studying for two to four hours a day on top of that). Homeschooled students, far from having more troubles getting into college without grades, are in fact sought after by even many of the most prestigious universities and colleges in the country! And these same universities, when confronted with a student from a public school possessing “just” good grades, will quickly point out that they require more than that – especially if your high school is not especially recognized for its academic excellence.

    Of course, while grades themselves are not necessary to get into college, BAD grades are a pretty good guarantee that you will NOT get into college. This strongly suggests that grades are – far from a reward for good work – merely a punishment for work not done according to mandate. This also goes to address all the commentors who say that children are free to not do their work or fail out of school.

    Second I have this specimen: “there is always the option of private or home school. There are laws that compel children to attend school (and we can both agree that those laws are bad), but they do not specify public schools as the only option. Parents DO have a choice.”

    Okay, lets say you have $500 for food and I take $1000 from you as “your fair share” to pay for paste for everyone to eat. I’ll give the paste as an “option,” but say you may also pay for whatever food you wish to eat if you don’t want to eat the paste. If you’ll agree that I’m not coercing you to eat paste, then I will grant that the government is not coercing parents (who are forced to give money for school through property and state and federal income taxes) to send their kids to school.

    Third is this: “Once again: There is no refutation of this that isn’t an assault upon *the education system* rather than *plagiarism.*”

    Actually, this one is right on the money. My argument is entirely an assault upon public education. This is, of course, also obvious since I address the entire argument within the realm of public education.

  32. continued:

    Fourth is this one: “Whether or not it harms the person who wrote the original text, it does hurt the student, whose mind is not challenged and who gets into the habit of letting others do his or her work (a hard habit to break). The result is that the student graduates without learning how to think and is handicapped in his or her ability to contribute to the community.”

    Personally, I agree with this comment. Plagiarism does hurt the person plagiarizing. However, since this is an example of the “It’s bad for you, so you can’t do it” argument, it falls into the same realm as mandatory helmets for bicycles and booster seats for eight year olds – whether or not it’s good is not the point. The only one who should be able to decide that for a minor is the parent – NOT the government*.

    Similar to this is the fifth point I wish to address: “Did I mention I find plagiarism reprehensible, and anyone who could possibly defend it to be completely lacking intellectual honesty?”

    Did I mention that I also find the following “reprehensible?” Prostitution, sex outside of marriage, gambling, recreational use of narcotics, smoking, drinking in excess, overuse of vulgar language and the consumption of veal and guacamole (really, how CAN people eat anything that looks like THAT?!?). You will, however, note that I do NOT attempt to confine people to any particular location against their will and force them to confine their actions to suit MY principles simply because I don’t like the aforementioned behaviors.

  33. Daniel, I’d still like to know if you plagiarized your way to a physics degree, and if you intend to teach your children that plagiarism is acceptable.

  34. EM, what you’d LIKE to do is set up a strawman. Neither university degrees nor homeschooling are applicable to the argument as I have stated repeatedly. My arguments are reserved for public school.

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