Clarifying the Times Higher Education Article

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Times Higher Education LogoOver the past six and a half years in which I have been running Plagiarism Today, I have been interviewed by dozens of various journalists and reporters and cited in an almost equal number of stories. You can find a sample of that on the Press page. I am always eager to speak with reporters and educate on these issues.

I have always felt that the coverage I have received has been fair, thorough and appropriate. The journalists I have interacted with have been adamant professionals and have made me proud to be both a student of and, in a small way, a participant in the industry.

However, when coupled with the strict word count requirements of print media and the rush to meet a deadline, sometimes even the best reporters can, inadvertently, give an incorrect impression.

Such was the case with a recent article in the Times Higher Education that featured a quote from me.

In both the original online and the print version of the story, I was quoted as saying:

Jonathan Bailey, founding editor of the Plagiarism Today website, said that in his opinion plagiarism-detection tools “aren’t worth the cost” for most institutions.

“These systems work best when they aren’t used as a mysterious plagiarism cop designed to play “Gotcha” with plagiarists,” he said.

While this quote is factually correct in that I said the words quoted to me, the quote was incomplete and missing a key point, likely due to space restrictions. As such, I would like to present the full quote for clarification:

These systems work best when they aren’t used as a mysterious plagiarism cop designed to play “Gotcha” with plagiarists. Instead, they need to be incorporated into plagiarism education and used as a tool to teach what plagiarism is, how to cite sources, when to cite, etc. This is why many schools are actually incorporating plagiarism detection into the writing process, having students submit their work to the system so they can get results before grading.

While Turnitin and similar systems will always have some role in enforcement (they’ll always be used to catch cheaters in some regard) they likely aren’t worth the costs for most schools. Not only, as this study pointed out, does it affect such a small percentage of students, but there are other, often more effective ways of detecting the hardcore cheaters,

But, incorporated into a much larger process for teaching and dealing with plagiarism, these systems can be worth their weight in gold. It is just a matter of how they are used.

In short, what I was trying to say was not that they are not worth the cost, but that they are not worth the cost if solely used to catch cheaters. Their value lies as a teaching tool that educators can use not only to detect cheating, but also help education on citation and plagiarism issues.

If used properly, I feel such services are invaluable and more than worth the money they cost.

The online article has since been updated to display a more full version of the quote. However, for those who either saw it before the update or read the article in the uncorrected print edition, I wanted to make my position known.

As I said, I believe this to be an honest mistake, likely brought on by a desire to include my quote even though there was a tight word count restriction. However, I still wanted to make my full opinion known for the record.

Sorry for the aside and thank you very much for your time and we can now return to our normally-scheduled programming.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. That’s a nicely nuanced position. Ultimately I think we may have to change our assessment methodology to cope with plagiarism, and set piece essays and assignments may have to disappear. As an example in a Viva Voce examination it is quite hard to use others work as your own. We may, in the end, see a more human face to education.

  2. This is precisely why I have no respect for mainstream media. Even when it’s an “honest mistake”, they have absolutely no concept of context or a deeper point. I’ve had issues with MSM, print in particular, since I turned 19. One of my clients even had to hire a private security force for protection as an indirect result of a one-sided article published against him by a major Toronto daily.

    I wouldn’t necessarily give the NYT the benefit of doubt, either. The quote in the context within which it was originally put is sexier than the full explanation. It could be an honest mistake, but I’m not prepared to assume that.

    • @Adam Senour I haven’t had any major problems with MSM in the times I’ve been interviewed, even with nuanced and complicated issues such as these. Still, I have seen people have a lot worse problems than the one above and, in a previous life so to speak, ,I or rather a site I ran, got smeared pretty bad by a TV news broadcast. So I know your feelings.

    • @Adam Senour I haven’t had any major problems with MSM in the times I’ve been interviewed, even with nuanced and complicated issues such as these. Still, I have seen people have a lot worse problems than the one above and, in a previous life so to speak, ,I or rather a site I ran, got smeared pretty bad by a TV news broadcast. So I know your feelings.

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