By Professor Doom
I totally understand that the average mainstream media reporter can’t be expert on everything. While sometimes this results in a complete disconnect between reality and what’s reported in the news, other times it just leads to an article that fails to connect the dots that are obvious to an expert, or at least someone knowledgeable on a topic.
Today’s example of such weakness comes from the New York Times, about as mainstream as it gets:
--John Walsh is senator for Montana.
The paper states the case for plagiarism on Walsh’s master level thesis at the Army War College, and it’s a very strong case:
“…the six recommendations Mr. Walsh laid out at the conclusion of his 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,” are taken nearly word-for-word without attribution from a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace document on the same topic…”
“The same sentence appears on the sixth page of a 2002 Carnegie paper written by four scholars at the research institute. In all, Mr. Walsh’s recommendations section runs to more than 800 words, nearly all of it taken verbatim from the Carnegie paper, without any footnote to it…”
“Mr. Walsh writes: “The United States will have an interest in promoting democracy because further democratization enhances the lives of citizens of other countries and contributes to a more peaceful international system. To the extent that Americans care about citizens of other countries and international peace, they will see benefits from the continued spread of democracy.”
The Harvard paper, written in 1998 by Sean M. Lynn-Jones, a scholar at the Belfer Center, includes the same two sentences…”
There is other evidence, but by now I suspect the gentle reader has considered the odds of multiple word-for-word copies of work from elsewhere, and is now wanting to ask “Professor Doom, how can you possibly look at that evidence and say it’s not plagiarism?”
It’s a good question, so allow me to present my case that the reporter has simply failed to connect the dots, dots which are neither particularly small nor far apart for someone knowledgeable of what’s going on in higher education.
First, I present the senator’s answers to the charges of plagiarism. Generally, it’s pure crazy-talk to say a senator is telling the truth, and I make no claim that he’s telling the whole truth here, but it is a form of truth all the same:
“..“I didn’t do anything intentional here,” he said, adding that he did not recall using the Carnegie and Harvard sources.
Asked directly if he had plagiarized, he responded: “I don’t believe I did, no….”
Granted, these denials are couched in weasel words like “I don’t believe”, but I don’t think he chose these words randomly at all. He didn’t plagiarize, is what he’s saying, and he surely didn’t intentionally turn in work of such questionable quality. He thought he was turning good quality work.
The article then goes on to apologize for the senator’s (alleged) misbehavior, saying he was having a difficult time during the writing of that paper. One of his issues was someone he served with in the military committed suicide (truth be told, suicide rates in the military are high enough now that I’d be very suspicious of a serviceman that didn’t know of at least one suicide, but I digress…).
Heck, the explanation is so credible that I’m more than willing to believe the senator didn’t even write the paper. Thus, I don’t think plagiarism is the issue here…it’s outright fraud. He doesn’t recall using those sources because he’s not the one that used those sources. He turned in someone else’s paper, and it’s “the someone else” that committed the plagiarism.
He didn’t commit plagiarism, because he didn’t write the paper.
In this sense, then, the senator’s denial of plagiarism is quite valid. That said, the school will run a plagiarism checker to be sure.
:,,,Mr. Walsh’s paper will be run through an online plagiarism detection program, the provost said,…”
Wait, what? It isn’t enough to simply provide the line by line citation of where the work was copied from? Are there no scholars at the school that can help with that? I guess not. Certainly administration doesn’t think so. Instead, we’ll just trust the almighty computer to make that decision, instead of our own frickin’ eyes.
I’ve written before that no school paper should be taken as legitimate. There are way too many websites out there, MORE than willing to write papers, even master’s and doctoral dissertations, for a fee. These papers are written very quickly, and for fairly reasonable fees. It’s clear the senator purchased such a paper.
The smoking gun showing that’s what happened comes from early in the article:
“…The sources of the material he presents as his own include academic papers, policy journal essays and books that are almost all available online…”
The reporter says “almost all”, but I bet he’s just covering his bases, and it’s really just “all.” I find it very credible that every source was online.
This is notable. A Master’s program involves taking at least 8 courses, and each course has at least one textbook costing $200 or more…and not a single thing in any of those texts was worth putting in his thesis? That’s remarkable, and I bet there’s not a single legitimate graduate degree holder that can make that claim.
Instead of using any of his texts and assigned reading, it all came from online. That’s a bright red flag of what kind of paper this is.
Put yourself in the seat of a professional college paper writer. You don’t have a library at your disposal, and you’re sure not going to toss away a few thousand dollars on textbooks for courses you didn’t even take. I mean, you charge hundreds of dollars to crank out the paper, buying those textbooks would obliterate your bottom line.
So this is a big marker for a purchased paper: every citation can be found online. When faced between “get crap from expensive textbooks” and “get crap from online for free” the professional paper writer will pick the second choice, every time.
I know, it’s the modern world, and there’s plenty of legitimate material on line. There’s another sign here that this was a purchased paper.
The other marker is how, even when it’s not a direct quote, the paper will just change a word or two. This is good strategy to get around a plagiarism checker, but a student covering his tracks puts more effort than that into it. Flip the sentence around, change the order of the paragraphs…you make some effort.
Again, if you’re a professional paper writer, in a hurry, you’ll take a few shortcuts and only change a few words instead of doing all that it takes to get past a plagiarism checker. The senator just hired a second rate hack to write his paper, nothing more. If it was his own paper, he would have put more effort into covering his tracks.
Plagiarism checkers are a joke, and easy enough to fool if you try (as I detail in another of my books) but, when looking at the evidence, I’m inclined to believe the senator.
He didn’t commit plagiarism at all. He hired someone else to write his paper, and turned it in. Too bad nobody in the mainstream will even consider that question, because they don’t know the paper writing industry exists, much less that it has as many people checking out the paper-writing sites as there are online students.
I don’t blame the senator. Higher education is a joke, and cheating is completely over-the-top now, for reasons I’ve discussed many a time (namely, admin likes cheaters because they’re good for growth and retention). Paper-writing websites are thriving online, brazenly boasting of results that justify high grades and elicit total professor satisfaction (note: this isn’t one of the dozen or so other academic paper writing sites I’ve linked before) and apparently I’m the only one willing to ask why anyone should blindly accept the legitimacy of a college paper.
The fact remains: I don’t think plagiarism is the right word for what the senator did at all.
Realize, many of our government workers, and many university administrators, got their graduate degrees from schools that blindly accept their work. At the bare minimum, never simply accept that one of these people knows anything at all, simply because he or she has some high falutin’ degree. You should doubt the legitimacy of the degrees of these people. Let them speak first and demonstrate that they actually know what they’re talking about. All too often, I’ve found it doesn’t take long at all for what they say to remove all doubts about the legitimacy of their education.