Another fine can of worms

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In my last post, I reflected on text-recycling. This is the practice of re-using one’s own work without acknowledgement. While (I think) most academics frown on the practice and call it self-plagiarism, it seems to be accepted and possibly widely practiced by academics and their professional bodies – in very limited circumstances – in a number of disciplines.

In those fields which do accept text-recycling – or at least turn a blind eye to the practice – it is claimed to be a useful device for speeding the writing process and for ensuring consistency of language when compiling, for instance, a review of the literature, or when describing methods and methodologies. It is not seen as acceptable to copy-paste someone else’s literature review, but it is acceptable (in those fields in which the practice is accepted) to copy-paste one’s own previously published literature review, as long as, for instance, material which is irrelevant for the current study is deleted.

I am not sure that I accept the argument, but, as Cary Moskovitz has argued Continue reading

Zero credibility

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BBC News today carries the story of Mariam Malak, The star pupil who scored zero in all her exams.

It seems that Mariam expected to score highly in Egypt’s high-school graduation exams. She had such a good record that she, her family, her school expected her to be among the country’s top-scoring students. She expected, and was expected, to score well enough to make it to medical school.

Instead of which, she managed to score a zero in all seven exams. It is pretty difficult to score a zero in one exam, never mind seven. According to the BBC report, “To get the minimum possible score, a pupil must more or less leave the paper blank.”

First thoughts, evidently, were that she had been discriminated against because she is a Coptic Christian in a Muslim country. Then corruption was suspected; now it seems likely that Mariam’s papers were switched with someone else’s papers, someone who had written out the questions – but nothing else. This seemed especially likely when a handwriting test showed that Continue reading

Lighten the load

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At a recent in-school workshop, one of the year 11 students put up her hand and asked, “Is referencing taken as seriously at university as it is in this school?”

Good question – but maybe a sad question as well.

This student seemed to have the wrong understanding. The question suggests that she sees citation and referencing as an empty chore, a hoop to be jumped through, some kind of torture that teachers enjoy inflicting on students, without point or purpose.

She did understand that citation – in-the-text indication that words or ideas or data or information does not originate with the writer, along with quotation marks or markers as and if necessary – demonstrates honesty and integrity (as discussed in Nothing to fear).

But she seems not to have understood – yet – that or how referencing adds to one’s writing, enhances it. Referencing shows that the writer is ready to take part in conversation Continue reading

When you get wrong answers to the wrong questions…

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There has been a bit of a splash in the last few days, publicity regarding a study of Turnitin by Susan Schorn of the University of Texas.

iSchoolGuide, for instance, splashed an item by Sara Guaglione: University Of Texas At Austin Writing Coordinator Susan E. Schorn Finds Turnitin Software Misses 39 Percent Of Plagiarized Sources, and EducationDive posts a similar take on the story, this by  Tara García Mathewson, Plagiarism detection software often ineffective.

There is not a lot new here, not for regular readers of this blog. Turnitin is ineffective.

Both articles are based on a post in InsideHigherEd by Carl Straumsheim, What Is Detected? worth reading, for its content and for the comments it has generated. Again, not a lot new, not for regular readers of this blog. Turnitin is ineffective (as are other so-called plagiarism detectors, it is not just Turnitin which is problematic).

Straumsheim goes further (than Guaglione and Mathewson), pointing to Turnitin’s propensity to assign false negatives Continue reading

Nothing to fear

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A colleague recently told me of a teacher in her school who seems paranoid about students making mistakes in their referencing. He hounds them. Commas, UPPER and lower case, shape of brackets and parentheses, order of elements, everything – everything must be as per style guide, lest they be accused of academic dishonesty. Tortuous exercises, harangues, endless tests, mini-style guides, all coupled with careful, minute checking of every piece of work and submission to Turnitin to boot … for fear of plagiarism.

The students, it seems, are so scared of making mistakes that their writing is sometimes forced, their thinking is blunted. Many of them spend more time on getting the references right than they spend reading and writing. A few, it seems, prefer not to read or to use other people’s work at all – it saves the bother of referencing (and limits their awarenesses in other ways?).

It’s a shame and a disservice. It is wrong. It is wrong, not least because Continue reading

Somewhere, over the spectrum …

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Shades of grey?

It is tempting to think of plagiarism in terms of black-and-white, either a writer has committed plagiarism – or s/he hasn’t.

There are plenty of grey areas, of course, especially when considering paraphrases or summaries, or the grey areas of common knowledge or of self-plagiarism (duplication of work). But by and large, plagiarism is clear-cut: a piece of work which appears to be the work of the present writer but which lack the indicators that show that this is the words, work or ideas of somebody else, that is plagiarism. Probably. Possibly.

Issues such as intent and extent might be of consideration when determining the consequences, but those are other issues, it is plagiarism or it isn’t. Cases in which plagiarism is suspected but cannot be proven will (usually, in education situations) be given the benefit of the doubt: it isn’t plagiarism. It is clear-cut, black-and-white.

Black-and-white. If the signals are not there, signals that indicate that these are someone else’s exact words, or the citation which indicates that these are someone else’s words or ideas, and it can be shown that the words or ideas originated elsewhere, it’s plagiarism.

Black-and-white (and shades of grey).  It is or it isn’t.

I often use Jude Carroll’s “Where do you draw the line?” activity* in workshops (with permission, of course). Carroll gives us six situations, six descriptions of work starting with no attribution or signal or bibliographical reference, and then increasingly more information is included in each scenario. Example 1 is clearly plagiarism, example 6 is clearly good practice, and, as this is a continuum, we can draw a line: that example would be considered as plagiarism, the next example is not plagiarism. Where do we draw the line?

This is a useful activity. I have often found that, even though plagiarism is a matter of black and white, teachers often draw that line in different places. Some draw their line too low, and would accept work which other teachers would rate as plagiarism – and, sometimes, some draw the line too high, and would refuse work which most would rate as acceptable.  Students too. We all know what plagiarism is – except that we don’t all agree. More grey than black-and-white?

Definitions are not always clear either, and the terms used to describe plagiarism or to explain good practice are frequently confused and confusing. Examples are often inconsistent and advice given is frequently wrong. Worst might be those bodies which give examples and state, clearly, categorically and mistakenly, that this is the only way to cite and reference, and that anything else is unacceptable. The SQA muddle which I highlighted recently is a case in point.

The worst of that SQA mess was the guide for Advanced Higher Chemistry which states Continue reading

Vested interest

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Just a follow-up to earlier posts (1) on shale gas drilling (fracking) Still wrong to be forgotten and (2) on the problems of research performed on the behalf of companies with vested interests in a process or a product Flattering flaws

In the first, I discussed a heavily redacted report which had been released by the UK government on problems associated with fracking; the report, evidently, was intended to present the facts and so promote  unbiased discussion and informed argument – difficult when so much of the paper was censored.

The post on research and vested interest discussed, inter alia, unsubstantiated claims made in a press release posted by the plagiarism software company iThenticate.com, the company behind Turnitin and Plagiarism.org. The press release stated “the number of retractions in scholarly publications doubled between 2010 and 2011,” and cited the well-respected blog Retraction Watch as the source of this information. There was and is nothing in Retraction Watch to this effect (confirmed by one of the blog’s authors), and I made the point that, even if the statement about the doubling of the number of retractions was true, there is nothing to suggest that the retractions due to plagiarism had doubled; on the other hand, iThenticate.com might possibly be thought to have a vested interest in promoting plagiarism hysteria, the better to sell its products.

[It was verifying this for the present story which led to my discovery that iThenticate has since removed the erroneous claim that plagiarism doubled in scientific papers in the years 2010-2011. In its stead is an equally erroneous post regarding a ten-fold increase in the rate of retraction of scientific papers over the past 20 years. This second claim is attributed to an article in Nature – which had indeed reported on a study which demonstrated a ten-fold increase in the rate of retraction, but the period under review was more than 36 years, not the 20 years of the iThenticate story (see Memory hole).]

I have Retraction Watch to thank again, for a report which draws together these threads, fracking and vested interest. In the post Undisclosed industry funding prompts correction of fracking paper, Adam Marcus reports on a research paper published in Environmental Science & Technology. The abstract of “Methane Concentrations in Water Wells Unrelated to Proximity to Existing Oil and Gas Wells in Northeastern Pennsylvania” states that the researchers “found no statistically significant relationship between dissolved methane concentrations in groundwater from domestic water wells and proximity to pre-existing oil or gas wells” – and had suggested that the difference in findings to earlier studies (which found significant differences) was because the data-sets used in the EST study were far larger than those used in the earlier studies.

As may be. According to Inside Climate News, “Industry welcomed the Siegel study, the largest ever evaluating methane in water near gas development, as evidence of the safety of hydraulic fracturing.”  Well, it would, wouldn’t it?

But, as Retraction Watch reports, the journal has now published a correction, Continue reading

Memory hole

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Yesterday, halfway through writing my next post, I needed a quotation I had used in an earlier post.  I quickly found the quotation, clicked on the link so that I could check and then cite the original source – and, horror, although part of the passage I wanted to use was still there, – the words of the vital sentence were not. They had been replaced, the evidence  I wanted to support my claim was no longer there.

The quotation in question was from the post Flattering flaws. I was commenting on a press release put out by iThenticate.com, promoting their then-recently published study Survey Shows Plagiarism a Regular Problem in Scholarly Research, Publishing, But Action to Prevent Falls Short. I pointed to several questionable statements in the press release, statements which were not always reflected in the actual study.

The paragraph in question reads:

Editors at scholarly publications were the exact opposite, with a majority reporting routinely checking submitting authors’ work for plagiarism. The web site Retraction Watch estimates that the number of retractions in scholarly publications doubled between 2010 and 2011 (iThenticate Press Release, 2012 December 5).

and, amongst other things, I questioned the second statement. There is no evidence in the study to indicate that “the number of retractions in scholarly publications (had) doubled between 2010 and 2011” – and there was nothing on the Retraction Watch website to suggest this either. Where, I asked, had iThenticate found this statement?

I still don’t have an answer to this question. It might not even be a valid question any more, because the statement is no longer there. Instead, what I see now Continue reading

Less is more (in this case)

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An interesting post in the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) Projects discussion forum on the OCC just recently: “if a student uses both MLA and APA throughout the report” would this be regarded as demonstrating “substantial research skills” (for middling marks) or “excellent research skills” (for top marks)?

My two penn’orth was that this was and is not good practice. While I could not comment on interpretation and application of criteria in an MYP assessment (since my experience is mainly with Diploma Programme (DP) students, several years older, and in any case I am not an examiner), good practice is the use of one recognised referencing style, not a mixture of two or more different styles. After some thought, I added that a DP examiner might look more closely at an essay which used two or more referencing styles, as this could be an indicator of plagiarism.

It is that afterthought which earned me a personal message – is it plagiarism to use a mix of citation or referencing styles?

My answer: No. It is not plagiarism to use several different styles, just as it is not plagiarism to make formatting mistakes in citation and referencing. If the writer signals that “this” is not her/his own and indicates direct quotation if direct quotation has been used, then it is not plagiarism. Formatting mistakes, including the use of different citation styles, are not plagiarism.

It’s the use of two different styles which might indicate less than original thought and suggest that further investigation might be necessary.  It might indicate Continue reading

Harvard on my mind – 3

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I made a mistake in my last post. I criticised the SQA document Advanced Higher Chemistry Investigation Guidance for candidates 2014-15 for giving misleading information regarding citation and referencing, information which was either misleading in terms of academic convention or which require students to plagiarise. Possibly both.

Not just required – demanded, in that the examples are headed by an instruction which states that this is “the only acceptable method of citing and listing references.

I made a mistake.

The mistake was not in publishing the criticism. My mistake was to follow advice given in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).  The manual suggests Continue reading

Harvard on my mind – 2

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In Part 1 of this post, I looked at referencing style guides in general, and Harvard in particular. Unlike most referencing styles, Harvard does not have an authoritative published handbook or manual. As a result, many versions of Harvard exist and the opportunities for confusion are rife. In Part 2, we look at confusion writ large.

This investigation started when studying responses to a survey (on citation and referencing) conducted in a school in Scotland. Many teachers and many students commented that they were often confused, having to deal with too many referencing styles. That was odd. Although this school follows the curriculums and syllabi of three different examinations boards, IB, IGCSE, and SQA, the school promotes and uses just one referencing style.  Harvard.

And then the plot thickened.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)

Not all examinations boards publish detailed curriculum documentation or guidance on the open Internet.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority does.  Much SQA documentation is available.  It might be typical of other examinations boards, it might be totally untypical. But it is accessible – which is why it comes under the spotlight here. Continue reading

Harvard on my mind – 1

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Harvard does not exist.

The referencing style, I mean, not the University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The University exists.  Harvard, as a referencing style, does not.

Most referencing styles, certainly the most widely-used styles, do exist, in that there is one authorised version, sometimes with an authorised version-lite, an adapted version for use in schools and academia. There is a manual to which we can refer,

The Modern Language Association, for instance, publishes the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (in its 3rd edition as of 2008) for professional writers and for scholars and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition, 2009)  for universities, colleges and schools.

The American Psychological Association publishes the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition, 2010), designed primarily for writers submitting papers to APA journals, but adopted by schools and universities and other publishers too.

The University of Chicago Press first produced its own style manual in 1891 to ensure consistency of style in its publications; the Chicago Manual of Style is now in its 16th Edition (2010).  Its offshoot for scholars at school and university, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations : Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, originally compiled by Kate Turabian, is in its 8th edition (2013).

So it is with many other styles. The publisher, university, association or other body responsible for the style guide usually publishes a definitive manual, and gives the manual its name. Continue reading

Isn’t it ironic?*

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Congratulations, the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad.  According to The News International (27 March 2015), the university has won a Turnitin Academic Integrity Award.

 

It is the third paragraph which catches the eye. It reads:

 

 

Turnitin claims to be the global leader in evaluating and improving student writing. The company’s cloud-based service for originality checking, online grading and peer review saves instructors time and provides rich feedback to students. One of the most widely distributed educational applications in the world, Turnitin and Ephorus is used  by more than 15,000 institutions in 140 countries to manage the submission, tracking and evaluation of scholarly work online.

Now, this seems so very similar to Turnitin’s description Continue reading

Ironic

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An email came today, a comment for this blog that I was asked to approve:

Want to copy posts from other websites rewrite them in seconds and post on your website, or use for contextual backlinks?
You can save a lot of writing work, just search in google:

Daradess’s Rewriter

I don’t think so, thank you …

Elusive allusions

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Coincidences, again. This morning, in a post to a listserv forum, I included a sentence: “The guide’s the thing…” and then, unsure whether the allusion would be recognised, I added: “as Shakespeare so nearly said.

I was still pondering whether the second part of the sentence was necessary when my daily “plagiarism” alert popped into the inbox, pointing me to an article In praise of plagiarism by Paul Greenberg, published in Arkansas Online, 26 January 2015.

Most of the page is hidden behind a paywall, but the first paragraph is open – and, like the title, intriguing.

Could I find the article anywhere else, a page which was open and free? Copy-and-paste the article title, in quotation marks, in a Google search box, add Greenberg, hit ENTER and bang! The first authentic hit (after the paid-for ad) was also behind a paywall, the second led me to the full article, on Townhall.com

The first two paragraphs read: Continue reading

Nice like you, Ivi … Part 3

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The story so far: I am trying to learn the meaning of Ivi when used in a footnote. The only instances found so far are in four papers written by Dr Marco Soddu, all published online in Foreign Policy Journal.  At least two of Soddu’s papers are academically dubious to the point of plagiarism – and beyond.

Meanwhile, We are no closer to working out what Ivi means or how it is used.  Now read on:

The search for Ivi

Ivi is used – at least, it is used by Marco Soddu, Continue reading

Nice like you, Ivi … Part 2

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In part 1 of this post, I related the background to this quest, trying to find the meaning of Ivi, when used in a footnote.  I did not know, and my searches were unsuccessful.

In her letter, Ruth had pointed to “Kennedy and Macmillan by Dr. Marco Soddu;” this was the source that her student wanted to use. She wanted to quote a quotation used in the paper, a quotation footnoted as Ivi. page. but who was Ivi?  Did this have the same meaning as Ibid, same source as the immediately previous citation but on a different page?

It took just a few seconds to find the paper.  It is published online in Foreign Policy Journal, and in several formats, Continue reading

Nice like you, Ivi… Part 1

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This journey started innocently enough. It started with a simple question.

Ruth set me off (thank you, Ruth). She emailed to ask what Ivi means, in a footnote. I don’t know – I didn’t know.

She said that she knows Ibid. (which she suggested means: same page in the same source as the last source/footnote) and she knows Op. cit. (full details given in an earlier footnote), but she hadn’t come across Ivi before. She asked if it means the same source as in the last footnote, but on a different page?

It was important to know. Ruth had a student who wanted to use a quotation she had found in an academic paper. This makes it a secondary reference or indirect source, a quotation of a quotation. The student needed to know the author of the original quotation as well as the author of the paper in which she had found the quote. The student wanted to write something like Continue reading

Not so easy does it

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Since this was posted, the company critiqued has addressed a few, but by no means all, of the issues detailed here. Some of the links in this post may now lead to pages different to those listed and illustrated. The editing process has not been thorough, and the reader will soon find other errors and inconsistencies throughout the site. It is, however, not my job to proof-read their site, nor to debug the software. JRR – 30 January 2015.

I was recently asked my opinion of the EasyBib add-on for Google Docs.  I don’t – didn’t – have an opinion. I haven’t tried it.  But, pushed by the request, I took a look.

First, though, I had a look at EasyBib itself, to see if an issue I had noted before had been addressed.  It hadn’t.  While checking, I found a lot of features new to me – and many more issues to add to my list of concerns.

So, let’s go over these first.

Auto-citation generation

The first thing I looked at was whether EasyBib had improved the way it handles dates, in its automatic citation generator mode. I have remarked before [Getting it wrong] that it seems to convert (some) British dates to US dates.  Nothing has changed.

 

Here, 1 December 2014 is interpreted as 01-12-2014 and so becomes January 12 2014.

Anyone relying on auto-citation might, or might not, notice that something is wrong.

There are other details that EasyBib’s auto-cite feature cannot always find or identify, such as the author, the title, the publisher, even when they are plainly there… Some omissions are highlighted, and users are invited to complete the missing details themselves.  I understand (anecdotally) that few students do. They tend to accept whatever EasyBib gives them, and few check what is missing or the actual citation generated. Some omissions are highlighted, some entries are just plain wrong.  It’s a quick-and-easy route to disaster. Continue reading

Not just honesty

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I am loathe to accuse anyone of plagiarism, especially a fellow-professional, but sometimes it is a close call.

In the case of the two sites I am looking at in this post, it is a very close call. In one case, it’s not a call, it’s a shriek.

I have mentioned my alert before, my Google alert for the phrase “every written assignment they complete” (see Thirty percent).

My alert came up with two hits today. One was a Prezi with the title “Effective Research and Avoiding Plagiarism” and the other is a blog, “How to avoid plagiarism…“.   If my suspicions are correct, Continue reading

Seriously, though…

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One of the most telling moments during my recent “tour” came in a Q&A session with year 11 students.

I had already had one 50-minute session with this group.  The session had gone well, although I sensed that not every student had been giving me their full attention. was attentive. There had been some restlessness, some murmuring, some clearly not looking at the screen unless provoked by direct question.

The telling moment came right at the start of a 30 minute follow-up session.  When I asked the group if anyone had any questions, one hand went up. When given the nod to go ahead, this particular 11th grader asked, “Do they take plagiarism as seriously at university as they do at high school?” Continue reading

Not to be copied

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I’ve been busy with workshops during these last few months, and I haven’t kept my blog up to date. I have, however, been making notes. The workshops have given me plenty to think about, and now, at last, to write about.  Stand by!

Let’s start with a conference presentation – not one I presented, but one I attended. Two presentations, in fact.

The first presentation was on search tools and information sources, and there were three co-presenters. The first tool shown was WolframAlpha which, amongst other things, provides quick factual information about many subjects. I asked where Wolfram Alpha obtained its information; the presenters did not know, but agreed that one couldn’t really cite Wolfram Alpha as a source, any more than we can cite Google Images as a source. Continue reading

Not as I do, but…

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Cory Turner has posted a piece on nprED (How learning happens) : Turnitin And The Debate Over Anti-Plagiarism Software. It hasn’t exactly gone viral, but there are at least 60 tweets and blogs which link to it, all within two days.

It is a report on a radio broadcast (a news item fronted by Turner) which is linked to from this page; also linked is a transcript of the broadcast.

First off in the broadcast, Chris Harrick, a vice-president in Turnitin’s marketing division, is explains what Turnitin is and how it works. A number of educationists then speak, some for Turnitin and some against Turnitin.

It is made clear that Turnitin does not detect plagiarism, but that it does detect matches, similarities of text. One of the problems mentioned is that Turnitin often throws up Continue reading

Copycat plagiarism

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I think that history – or at least a politician’s web-site – is being rewritten even as I write. Oh dear.

The politician is an Australian senator, Glenn Lazarus. A page on the Courier-Mail website (21 August 2014) carries the headline Clive Palmer party senator Glenn Lazarus caught plagiarising Wikipedia.

Lazarus is, of course, not the first Australian politician to be caught out using Wikipedia as a source:  Greg Hunt uses Wikipedia research to dismiss links between climate change and bushfires, though in Mr Hunt’s case Continue reading