Saturday, July 30, 2016

Plagiarism - it's an international thing

Presented for your consideration: A thriving black market for dissertations in Russia. This makes me wonder so many things...
  • I wonder how many American dissertations include plagiarized material? This article thinks the Russian rate of 4 percent is worth a mention, but I suspect you could find that rate here as well, even if not quite so egregious. (If you don't care to follow the link, it talks about a medicine dissertation that plagiarizes another work that plagiarizes another work that was actually about animals, not people. Remind me to not get sick in Russia.). 
  • I wonder if the people on the dissertation committees have legit degrees. Are they even capable of assessing the work of others? 
  • The article says that in Russia, a doctorate is one pathway to tangible financial rewards. I think we are seeing the opposite here. 
  This little gem of a quotation:
Not only do Ph.D.s allow officials who have lost their hold on power to get highly paid jobs as the heads of universities (“where the unlucky or the failed or the stupid can land,” said Zayakin)*
Apparently, being outed as a plagiarist has little effect on one's career. I wonder if we are trending that way here as well.

Anyway, have a great weekend, Miserians!

Dr. Amelia

*According to the article, Andrei Zayakin is a co-founder of the group that is outing all the plagiarized papers.


  1. I'll leave this here..

    Let no one else's work evade your eyes,
    Remember why the good lord made your eyes,
    So don't shade your eyes,
    But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize -
    Only be sure always to call it please 'research'.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Judging from periodic news reports, I'd say that there's already a pretty serious problem with diploma-mill and other low-quality Ph.D.s (which probably overlap considerably with plagiarized Ph.D.s) among K-12 administrators. The problem there, I'd say, is that the Ph.D. isn't really all that useful (or at last no more useful than extensive relevant experience), but it's prestigious and may bring monetary rewards, so trying to get one on the cheap is tempting.

    I'd agree that the opposite is true of many humanities (and some social science) Ph.D.s: they're not really all that prestigious (though I suppose there are still people who feel otherwise), and they're definitely not lucrative, certainly not in comparison to other options for people bright enough to get a Ph.D., even if they end up in the best-case scenario after they earn the Ph.D. So I'd guess that some reasons for taking shortcuts to a Ph.D. are eliminated, though I'm sure that some people still want one because they perceive it as prestigious/some sort of badge of intelligence.

    I suspect some of the K-12 problems could spread to higher ed if college administration continues to expand, and to be reasonably well-paid, and more and more of those jobs require some sort of Ph.D. All the more reason for requiring degrees in traditional subjects (*not* higher ed administration or similar), and some time in the teaching/research/service trenches prior to taking on such work.

    Of course all of this is pretty low stakes compared to the sort of plagiarism/reworking of scientific studies you describe (though faked data in social science studies can also have real-world repercussions).

    And anytime anybody says "plagiarized dissertation," I remember that there's at least one case of someone who plagiarized parts of his dissertation (and engaged in a few other less-than-laudatory behaviors) and did a lot of good (including via some good original writing/speaking) nonetheless. 'Tis a complicated world.

  4. The extent of overseas plagiarism
    Here is something for you to think about: Illicit sales of dissertations in the former USSR. I had a number of questions about this issue…

    In the United States, does a similar situation exist? The piece I read considered that 4% - the amount discovered in Russia – was newsworthy, but it is possible that the US has a not dissimilar frequency, level of subtlety notwithstanding.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I think I've read that before. Did you crib that from somewhere?

    2. I would never plagiarize. After all, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. I just try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud.

    3. On the other hand, try not. Do or do not. There is no try.

    4. What we've got here is failure to communicate.

  6. I would be surprised if it is as big of a problem in the US as it is overseas. We hold honesty in high regard and the general public still believes that one of the main purposes of college is to create a well-rounded citizen (who can also get a middle-class job). There's also plagiarism detecting software easily available at most universities, although I'm not sure how frequently it's used for dissertations. (I've used it for my grad students and that's led to some discussions which are very awkward, at least for them.) Schools have too much invested in their reputation to have it ruined by some dumb politician who copied is dissertation.

    One caveat to this is the online graduate degree. Plagiarism may be more common there since faculty at those schools may be under a different set of incentives.

    1. I've been tempted to run my own dissertation through it. Not to see if I plagiarized (I did not) but to see if anyone else plagiarized me!

    2. I suspect I'd find a borrowed phrase or two if I ran mine through (it happens to the best of us), but no worse than that. My dissertation is pretty bad, but it is, at least, original (the fact that it was trying to bridge two sometimes-incompatible schools of critical thought is one of the things that makes it less than successful. Others have since come up with successful ways to do that; I didn't, though I sure tried.)

      I'm guessing that dissertations will, more and more, be run through plagiarism-detection software before defense (if not before that). I'm pretty sure major publishers (book and journal) are doing a check. The result is just too embarrassing otherwise. Better to avoid messes like this one as early as possible.