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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Plagiarism (Again)

Friday, May 18, 2007

An email I received last month from a teacher confirms for me what I had long suspected: that this site is being plagiarised, and my essays passed off as others' work. I am not sure if I can feel guilt about this - plagiarism has always happened in paper form, and the benefits of me using this digital space as a substitute for being published on physical pages outweigh the risks of others abusing it. I have commented before about the measures (explicit warnings and a citation guide) I have taken to minimise the risks of plagiarism, or at least leave plagiarists with no excuse.

However, an email a few days ago reminded me (as my correspondent did) of the other academic moral problem of this website, which is that my Google Adwords links sometimes promote "paper mills," or assignment writing sites. Another email a couple of days ago reminds me of this. It was from "the UK's most visited essay company," asking if I would like to exchange links. The email noted that the company had "been featured on ITN News, the BBC, Radio 2 and Radio 4, in the Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Independent and hundreds of other publications." Indeed, if you go to the website of this company, which shall remain nameless, there in a bold headline banner is a quote from The Times: "The essay was independently assessed by a leading university as being of 2.1 standard." Hilariously, though, if you follow the link it leads to the article headlined "Student Cheats Fuel Online Essay Boom," and is an expose on the prevalence of cheating in university law degrees. Of course, the disclaimer made by the companies is that the essays are provided as a "basis for producing your own work. Just as you would not reproduce a book or journal which happened to exactly address your question, you should not hand in our essays as your own. We stress this time and time again but it is a point that the press fail to appreciate - we do not condone plagiarism." Yeah, right - stupid press for not appreciating how helpful these companies are to education. A quote from the boss of similar service says all you need to know about their real moral attitude: "The more complaints about us the more hits we get (on the website). We are all prostituted to something; it is not my problem. If you buy a gun in a shop, what you do with it is your business." Well, frankly, if I sold guns, like all legitimate stores I would make it my business to ensure that they are held by people with the proper licenses for the correct purposes. It would not be of moral concern to me only if I was a black market dealer, selling guns for the improper purposes of crime. And the black market is precisely where these sites peddle their words.

So I wrote a snotty email back to the company, explaining why, as a university teacher, albeit at a minor level, it would be wholly inappropriate for me to endorse their product with a reciprocal link. More generally, however, I realise that whilst I have tried to block many of these adverts from my Adwords account (a fact which led me deeper into a moral maze) , it is always going to be a losing battle. As I have almost reached the magic $100, at which point Google will send me a nice cheque to cover the costs of my web hosting, I was considering deleting Google Adwords altogether from the popular essay pages. However, the company whose motto is "Don't Be Evil" gets there first, announcing that it is going to ban advertisements for essay writing sites.

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Posted by Alistair at 2:46 pm


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