Sunday, March 20, 2011

Plagiarism: The Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V boom

2 March 2011 Last updated at 11:33 GMT

Plagiarism: The Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V boom

Cheating Many students cross the line under pressure

A German minister has resigned after copying huge chunks of his doctoral thesis, while the London School of Economics is probing whether Colonel Gaddafi's son lifted chunks and used a ghost writer for his own. So is plagiarism out of control?

It's been a bad week for honest educational endeavour.

The German defence minister has stepped down after being stripped of his 2006 university doctorate thesis for copying large parts of it. The University of Bayreuth had decided Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had lifted whole sections without attribution.

And the LSE is looking into allegations that Colonel Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam plagiarised his PhD thesis.

These are very high-profile cases, but in the worlds of academia and publishing, the issue of plagiarism has been a problem for many years.

The internet now offers students unparalleled opportunities to duplicate and to fabricate, says Jude Carroll, of Oxford Brookes University, the author of A Handbook for Deterring Plagiarism in Higher Education.

Start Quote

The pronouns go from single to plural, a sentence is cut off in the middle, or a strange reference to Australia appears”

End Quote Jude Carroll On the tell-tale signs

"Google gave students access to a much greater library of texts," she says. "The opportunities to harvest material have increased."

Where once plagiarism might have involved extensive reading and copying by hand, now it can be as easy as Googling the subject matter and hitting Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V. From Wikipedia and other free sources to academic journal databases like JSTOR, there's a treasure trove for the would-be cheat.

"The poet Byron never let people come into his library because he didn't want people to see what he was copying from," Carroll notes, referencing a story from Robert Macfarlane in the Times Higher Education.

"The difference now is that we can all copy each other's libraries."

Plagiarism has been with us for as long as the written word. From the classical Greek playwrights, to Dr Martin Luther King, even the greatest of historical figures have been tainted by scandal.

But over the last decade, academics have spoken out with increasing exasperation over the tide of students using everything from Wikipedia to bespoke essay writing services in pursuit of easy high grades. Universities are involved in a cat and mouse game to stop the plagiarists in their tracks.

In the UK, 98% of universities now use a computer programme called Turnitin to analyse suspicious essays, the company that provides it says.

The software scans text for passages which match a database of 155 million student papers, 110 million documents, and 14 billion web pages. Back in 2006/7, more than 600,000 essays were checked in this way in the UK. By last year, that figure leapt to three million.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and Angela Merkel The German minister has been mocked as zu Googleberg for his extensive plagiarism

But of course, a matching passage does not necessarily indicate a plagiarist. A scholarly essay is traditionally embroidered with well-chosen quotes and references.

"The software is not a silver bullet," says Barry Calvert, of iParadigms, the creators of Turnitin. "It still takes a human to detect a cheat."

Often, what appears to be fraud is simply a student who is unable to write proper footnotes, or who forgets to accredit properly.

In cases of genuine deceit, suspicion is more often aroused by a lecturer reading over the essay, and noticing "something which just doesn't feel right", says Carroll.

"You might notice a sudden variation - from good language to bad, from academic tone to journalistic tone. The pronouns go from single to plural, a sentence is cut off in the middle, or a strange reference to Australia appears."

And who are the plagiarisers? Many are first year undergraduates who copy and paste simply because they have not been given appropriate instructions on how to write an essay, says Dr John Olsson, of the Forensic Linguistics Institute.

"You're just out of school and suddenly you're being asked to write 3,000 words on a subject by Monday. It's a daunting task," he says.

Plagiarism allegations

  • Kaavya Viswanathan: Young adult novelist accidentally "internalised" somebody else's novel
  • US vice-president Joe Biden: Accused of plagiarism in law article and of taking line in speech from Neil Kinnock
  • Martin Luther King: Posthumously accused of plagiarism over doctoral thesis

"I've handled cases where students were thrown off courses for paraphrasing a couple of paragraphs."

But it's not just a problem in academia. Journalism is rife with episodes of alleged plagiarism.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd admitted using a paragraph virtually word-for-word from blogger Josh Marshall without attribution. Dowd, a Pulitzer Prize winner, said her mistake was unintentional, claiming she had heard the line from a friend.

And in the world of publishing, agents and editors must be on their guard for a potentially commercially damaging episode of lifting.

In publishing, incidents of apparent plagiarism have increased a lot in recent years, says literary agent Mark Lucas, due to such widespread access to electronically transmitted data.

But while detecting plagiarism is increasingly difficult, the rules remain the same, he says.

"Our agreement with our clients is that they undertake to us that plagiarism is off limits, as it always has been," he says.

"The line that exists between something unique and original and something that is clearly derivative is a relatively thick one still."

But there are some who think a more generous approach should be taken to lesser offenders in the digital age.

Instead of coming down hard, first year students should be allowed a little leeway, "to find their own voice", Olsson says. But for postgraduate students, like zu Guttenberg and Gaddafi, there is no excuse.

'Mixing' not copying

There are some who sense a generational shift in what is and isn't acceptable.

Kaavya Viswanathan, whose 2006 young adult novel was the subject of extensive and wide-ranging allegations of plagiarism, detailed at great length on Wikipedia, came a cropper, and faced the wrath of her publisher.

But more recently Helene Hegemann, a 17-year-old German author, defended herself against allegations of wholesale lifting by reference to "mixing" and insisting: "There's no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity."

It's prompted discussions about the long tradition of authors drawing on other people's work. Some would see a shifting into a more modern tendency to lift other's stuff because of a failure to recognise long-held notions about ownership of ideas.

But academics want to hold the line. Advances in technology do not mean we should redefine our idea of what plagiarism is, says Olsson.

"I don't think we should change our standards. That would be very dangerous in higher education," he says.

Carroll agrees: "Being 'original' does not mean having novel ideas never before expressed by a human. It simply means doing the work for yourself."

Additional reporting by James Morgan and Brigitt Hauck



在我最深处 有过你祝福
有花瓣飞舞 泪水凝固

友谊脚步 坚持酸楚
可是我很清楚 别在乎付出
轻抚 内心最柔软感触
回忆泥土 让生命有厚度

明天把今天给记住 不是因为孤独
因为我们追求专注 不管它起起伏伏
让今天把明天变特殊 回忆因为会幸福
因为我们努力不服输 从来不曾退出

回头不可恕 被误解
现在我弄清楚 那让我成熟
轻抚 内心最柔软感触
长成大树 让生命有高度

明天把今天给记住 不是因为孤独
因为我们追求专注 不管它起起伏伏
让今天把明天变特殊 回忆因为会幸福
因为我们努力不服输 尽管失误

明天记忆不模糊 不是因为孤独
因为我们执着态度 不管它起起伏伏
让今天把明天变特殊 未必因为满足
因为我们过得不含糊 从来不曾退出

Japan crisis: two schoolboys with futures in ruins

Japan crisis: two schoolboys with futures in ruins

Three days after pupils at an elementary school in Japan's Iwate province posed for an end-of-term photo, their childhood world was lost for ever thanks to the tsunami that engulfed their town

A world in rubble: Taiga Toba (left) and his friend Manabu Tsurushiba look over the ruins of their school. Their mothers are both missing, presumed dead. 'We realised it wasn't the usual earthquake,' says Taiga. 'I thought, am I going to die here?'
Image 1 of 3
A world in rubble: Taiga Toba (left) and his friend Manabu Tsurushiba look over the ruins of their school. Their mothers are both missing, presumed dead. 'We realised it wasn't the usual earthquake,' says Taiga. 'I thought, am I going to die here?' Photo: KEITH BEDFORD

The photograph was taken only last week, but it is already a scene from a vanished world. Just before graduating, Takata Elementary School’s top class of 12-year-olds play up to the camera, the holidays and their lives ahead of them, their eyes full of excitement and hope. Three days later, the sea changed everything.

Friday was meant to have been Taiga Toba’s graduation party. His mother would probably have bought him a present. Instead, if they can find her body, he will soon be attending her funeral. Staring into the photo, he picks out five other children who lost parents. The teacher is missing. The boy next to him, his hand in the air, waving to the camera, is dead. And these are just the people he knows about.

We found him searching the rubble near the wreck of his home, a thin, serious little boy with glasses who wants to be a basketball player. He was with his best friend, Manabu Tsurushiba, yet another child who has lost his mother. In a yellow plastic shopping basket, Taiga carried everything he’d found of his old life: one left basketball boot and a dirty LA Lakers cap. His other possessions are the clothes on his back, and a second set he kept at school. He is homeless now, living with 25 other relatives in a house outside the town.

We were in Rikuzentakata, the worst-hit city in the province of Iwate. Eighteen hundred people died here, and three quarters of the town no longer exists. Where it did not destroy the buildings, the water came through them, bringing whatever it carried. The shopping centre has cars and boats on the third floor. But mostly it was destroyed. The landscape is a flat-plan of shattered wood and rubble.

Taiga’s class was making music boxes when the earthquake happened. The teacher was just giving out the mechanisms. They’re still there in the classroom, in their little polystyrene trays, with the boxes and all the kids’ belongings, left behind in the rush.

“We got under the desks but the floor was rocking,” says Taiga. “We realised it wasn’t the usual earthquake. I thought: ‘Am I going to die here?'” The playground is now six feet deep in debris. But nobody did die at the school building. Even the goldfish, in their tank in the lobby, are still in one piece. By sad irony, it was the kids whose parents rushed to save them who were at the greatest risk.

“My mother came for me and took me home,” says Manabu, looking down at the floor, driving his fist into his palm. “She went inside the house to pick up blankets, and then the tsunami came.”

Manabu was still outside, but found he couldn’t say a word. “I just couldn’t call out,” he says. “I just didn’t realise how fast it was. I just ran up the hill. I could hear the noise of the houses being destroyed behind me and I just kept running.”

Taiga was still at school. “One of the teachers was looking out,” he says. “Then he suddenly shouted ‘Run!’ It was like Godzilla. You could see the wave coming towards you, knocking down houses. It was quite slow, but very powerful.

“I didn’t try to get home. I couldn’t see where my house was any more.”

Taiga’s classmate Tomoki Ogata, also 12, was collected from the playground and taken by his mother into the path of the tsunami. Now both mother and child are in another local school, the one that has been turned into the temporary mortuary.

“He was a very gentle boy. He never had fights. He was very kind, very studious. He loved to read,” says Yuko Marakami, his class teacher, who has come into the school staffroom while we are with Taiga and Manabu. Then, suddenly, she notices something on her desk, picks it up and begins to weep.

“It’s a farewell card from the children,” she sobs. “I’d no idea they’d done this. They were going to give it to me on graduation day but we never had it because of the events. They must have come back and slipped it on to my desk. I saw them cutting it out last week, but they said it was decorations for the last-day party.”

There are two folded A3 cards – a pink one from the girls, and a blue one from the boys. Both have the class slogan, “One for all and all for one”, in English on the front, and each child has written his or her own message on a yellow circular Post-it note. Tomoki Ogata’s message to Mrs Marakami says: “You made some scary faces, you made some kind faces, some funny faces. I enjoyed them all and I won’t forget you when I go to junior school.”

Taiga spent three days looking for his mother before accepting that she was dead. He went round all the reception centres, checking the names on the lists. Whenever a case is “resolved”, a red line is drawn through the name. Mrs Toba has not been given her red line. She is still officially missing, but nobody has much doubt about her fate.

The strange thing, though, was how upbeat and cheerful the two boys mostly were. They were excited to meet foreigners and wanted to show us their town. Whenever they saw us, they’d run into their usual place, sitting on each other’s laps in the front seat of our car. For the moment, at least, the novelty of exploring their new bombed-out world – paradise for a 12-year-old – seemed to blot out the tragedy that had overtaken them.

We ask Taiga what her mother was like. “She was fashionable,” he says. “She loved ornaments. She loved shopping. She used to call me Taiga-chi.” Then he stopped, and we changed the subject.

Taiga’s father, Futoshi, is Rikuzentakata’s mayor. Clinging to the roof of City Hall, Mr Toba watched his own house across the valley being ripped up by the tide, knowing his wife was inside it. But his responsibility was to his town. Not until 24 hours later could he make time to confirm that she was missing, or to check on Taiga and his younger brother. He was one of the last people in Rikuzentakata to learn the fate of his loved ones.

“I couldn’t go straight to my family. I had to stay at the office,” he says. He still hasn’t set eyes on his kids for more than two minutes at a time. “I’m a human being and a father, and I do have a hard time at the moment,” he says. “But a lot of my staff have lost their families, too. Everyone is holding it back.”

Taiga, too, the politician’s son, is maintaining a public face. “I have to stay strong, I have to stay positive,” he says. But Manabu is quieter. When we wander near his old house, he slows down, covering his eyes, and Taiga tells us he hasn’t been back there yet. We hadn’t realised, and turn in a different direction.

The class photo was taken as a milestone in these children’s school careers. Now it is a memorial, for lives and a world swept away.

Taiga reels off the names of other classmates who have suffered terrible loss; others he just doesn’t know about. He points to Ayumi Murakami, whose father, he says, is missing; and to Takuma Wakasugi, whose father is also feared dead. Natsuki Kanno’s mother is fighting for her life in hospital while Yusuke Nakano and Rui Nagano lost both their parents.

The teacher in the photo is 27-year-old Monty Dickson, an American from Alaska, who had been teaching English in Rikuzentakata for two years. For at least two nights last week, US Embassy staff visited the temporary city hall headquarters in the search for the young man. Just as scores of Japanese turn up there to scour the list of those missing and those found dead, so too did the embassy staff. Monty, a popular member of staff, has not been found.

Like thousands of children across north-east Japan, Taiga is trying to cope with the terrible loss. His mother is dead; his father is busy; but at least he has Manabu to help him get through the days. “We feel we are closer now and we have connected on a much deeper level,” he says.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why is there no looting in Japan after the earthquake

Why is there no looting in Japan after the earthquake?

People queuing outside a shop in Japan

During a state of emergency it is not unusual to hear about looting, so why have there been very few reports of this in Japan? Commentators from across the media have their say.

It's not possible to list them all but reports of looting during disasters are commonplace, like current reports from GNN Liberia on Liberian mercenaries being accused of looting in Ivory Coast.

In the UK there have also been incidents, like Exeter's Express and Echo's report of people scavenging motorbikes on the Devon coast back in 2007, when the contents of a container ship were washed ashore. In the same year, police investigated reports of looting at flood-hit properties in West Yorkshire.

The absence of stories of this kind has been noted by writers around the world. Slate's Christopher Beam says there's more to the lack of looting than honesty. He says that Japanese people are more honest than most, but adds the Japanese legal structure rewards honesty more than most.

His other theories why there isn't any looting in Japan include the police presence and organised crime. "Police aren't the only ones on patrol since the earthquake hit," he says. "Members of Yakuza, Japan's organised crime syndicate, have been enforcing order."

Start Quote

It sounds grotesque to say we should see reasons for hope as we watch in real time while the earth is shaken six inches on its axis”

Johann HariIndependent columnist

The Voice Of America's Steve Herman has been in Japan. He describes the country as "slowly grinding to a halt", which he puts down to traditional Japanese stoicism.

"There's a touch of bitterness in a few voices and some subtle signs of frustration but no show of open anger," he says.

The nearest Mr Herman gets to suggesting anyone taking advantage of the disaster is when he speculates that a black economy in rationed goods may rise up. To back up his prediction, Mr Herman cites the time this happened in the days after Japan's defeat in World War II.

The idea that the Japanese are acting in some way against the grain in an emergency situation is challenged by columnist Johann Hari in the UK's Independent. He says the panicking disaster victim is a myth. He argues that in reality the vast majority of people behave in the aftermath as altruists, saving their fellow human beings and sharing what they have. He goes on to say the same predictions are made about every disaster.

People taking a motorbike off the beachOpportunists made the most of motorbikes washed up on the Devon coast

"Once the lid of a tightly policed civilization is knocked off for a second, humans will become beasts. But the opposite is the case. It sounds grotesque to say we should see reasons for hope as we watch in real time while the earth is shaken six inches on its axis, tsunamis roar, and nuclear power stations teeter on meltdown. But it is true."

This, for Mr Hari, is proof enough to "kill off right-wing ideologies based on the belief that humans are inherently selfish".

But US blogger Andrew Sullivan's readers have been disputing the story there is not looting in Japan. They've been sending in examples.

According to a commenter on Mr Sullivan's blog the Daily Dish, who has been reading Japanese reports, they don't seem to be translated into English or reported on English language news sites.

But, the commenter translates an article in Japan's 47 News citing 40 known cases of looting in Miyagi.