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Depuis une semaine, les intellectuels amricains Richard Posner et Gary Becker dbattent sur leur blog du plagiat. Rcemment, le dbat ressuscite dans un scandale acadmique que ni Richard Posner ni Gary Becker ne citent explicitement : il s'agit [Read More]

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One sentence struck me: "So it follows that since these technologies have made plagiarism much easier, and its detection more difficult, punishments of plagiarists should be greater than in the past." I don't agree.

Plagiarism, seems to me, is perhaps a bit easier these days, but it's always been very easy, and the plagiarist has always been quite aware of the sources he wishes to plagiarize. Meanwhile, I believe detection is much easier. Searching huge amounts of material for collections of words is, thousands, perhaps millions of time easier for the average person.

If you are wrong in the sentence above, perhaps you'd change your mind about your conclusions.


I think both Posner and Becker neglect the point that technology has made finding plagiarism easier than before as well. If a professor suspects plagiarism, they can enter a suspect phrase or sentence into a search engine and quickly come up with matches. This is much quicker and easier than checking for plagiarism before the rise of the internet. Though plagiarism has increased, so has the ability to catch the behavior. Much of the problem with internet-based plagiarism is mostly due to professsors' lethargy in utilizing technology to counteract increased plagiarism.

While it may be an axiom of deterrence theory to punish a behavior more severely if it is more difficult to detect, I think Posner (though not Becker) misses many other relevant points regarding deterrence. It is usually acknowledged that a visible and public figure makes for the perfect "example." If one's goal is only to deter, then one should seek the greatest punishment where that punishment will become known to the general public or target audience (in this case, university professors and university students). What better candidates to provide deterrence than the Harvard Plagiarists Club. Imagine the deterrence of plagiarism which could be accomplished by ceremoniously ending their careers and bankrupting them for their infractions!! If deterrence is to be the benchmark of the justice of a given punishment, then clearly famous professors--the more famous the better-- should be prime targets in this deterrence strategy. But Posner doesn't adopt this calculus. Does Posner shudder to think of the day when the guns of deterrence are turned on The Giant Hedgehog (or his friends)! Better to stick it to some unknown, lackluster, and ultimately unconsequential student! There's deterrence! There's justice!

In addition to this point, Posner seems to have no answer for Becker's suggestion that punishment be related to one's enrichment from the offense and knowledge of the wrongness of one's actions. Both of these considerations suggest higher, not lower, punishment for professors.

Ben Casnocha

I would have liked both Becker and Posner to address how they think academic integrity in schools can be IMPROVED at a practical level, not a some theoretical, economic level. It is a major problem, starting with our high schools that works its way up to higher ed and then the real world.

Dan Swanson

Pardon the idealism of youth:

The manner in which I was raised leads me to postulate that those in positions of authority, guardianship, leadership or otherwise wielding of influence over the impressionable should be held to a higher standard. Though a position such as this cannot be clearly defined in a legal sense, the actions of a college professor are an example to the students in his/her stead. This makes any incidence of plagiarism or other reprehensible act all the more reprehensible as a professor has students looking to him for guidance.

In addition, academia as a whole suffers when one of its own breaks one of the cardinal rules of their loose association.

While there may not be quantifiable harm caused by the plagiarist, the integrity of the institution is given over to questioning, and therefore I believe the more severe punishment should be reserved for the professor.


>technologies have made plagiarism much easier, and its detection more difficult

I still think that this sentence is collect.

In fact, the cost of plagiarism has been declined dramatically in terms of searching and operation cost, meaning that you can search in "google", cut and paste other's sentence in a second. The detection for plagiarism is, however, still difficult, because what google does is the basic pattern matching. Therefore, if you rephrase one or more words, it is actually very difficult to detect. (I do not argue that it is not possible, but hard, considering the amount of possibility to rephrase,and limitation of server size in serching engine. Moreover, there is no incentive that the searching engine companies invest for much more sophisticated pattern matching to detect plagiarism for people in academia.)

You may catch the students or researchers who just started using "google", but you are unlikely to catch the individuals who have used "google" for a long time and understand the concept of the pattern matching.

People who benefit most from plagiarism are likely to be in the stage of higher education or research work. They are sophisticated enough to know about the concept of pattern matching.

It is more like pickpocket by very sophisticated thief. I think that what we can do is to increase the punishment against plagirism, as Becker mentioned.

Bert Useem

Professors are producers of new knowledge, but they are also guardians. They exercise the power to punish students with flunking grades and through deans (judges) expel them from their university or college. For a student, the economic costs of the former are large and the latter are huge. Plagiarism by professors damages the legitimacy of the guardian role and, thus, deserves stiffer punishment than student plagiarism.

Bert Useem

Professors are producers of new knowledge, but they are also guardians. They exercise the power to punish students with flunking grades and through deans (judges) expel them from their university or college. For a student, the economic costs of the former are large and the latter are huge. Plagiarism by professors damages the legitimacy of the guardian role and, thus, deserves stiffer punishment than student plagiarism.

Saud Al-Zaid

Two points:

First, I was surprised Mr. Becker did not mention counterfeiting in scholarship. For example, one can state what is effectively his or her opinion, and then call it "the Durkheimian position". This is something I admit I have done on occasion to strengthen my argument, the academic equivalent of a fake "Gucci" insignia. Though it may have some semblance to the original product, but like a counterfeit the idea is to be impressive at first glance, especially when you don't expect too much scrutiny.

My other point is what happens when plagiarism happens through osmosis? What I mean is that it is hard to sometimes remember where certain ideas come from, and one might confuse what they think is their own original thought to what they heard on NPR on the drive to work. The Rolling Stones a couple of years ago got into trouble when a single of theirs actually sounded a lot like a song by K.D. Lang. Keith Richards stated that he owns no records by her, but he acknowledged that he might have heard it over the radio or somewhere else, and that the tune might've stuck. He actually blamed it on old age, and said something along the lines "We try so hard not to sound like our older albums, that we really don't pay attention to when we start sounding like someone else". This one is harder to pin down, when is the plagiarism intentional, and when is it a mistake? On the other hand, didn't Newton and Leibniz both develop calculus independently and at roughly the same time?

Burt Cluben

It doesn't really matter who plagiarizes. It's all evil. All the same. We should penalize all.


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Hi. Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.
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