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The tricky truth about plagiarism

In nearly every campus bookstore, a few shelves are now devoted to the perceived epidemic of plagiarism.

In nearly every campus bookstore, a few shelves are now devoted to the perceived epidemic of plagiarism. There seems to be a common belief among faculty and students alike that the problem has reached epic proportions — and must be stopped at all costs.

But University of Regina librarian Cara Bradley wants to bring some discipline and common sense to the discussion. In her latest book, “Plagiarism Education and Prevention,” Bradley contends that the problem is relatively at the same level it was in the ’60s, and that the issue is often oversimplified.

“My experience was that, at the beginning of the semester you got a syllabus and — among the many other things on there — it would say, ‘Don’t Plagiarize!’” she says. “But there really wasn’t much discussion of what they meant by that or an acknowledgment that academic integrity poses different problems in different fields of study.”

Over 16 chapters, the book takes a subject-specific approach to cribbing, looking at eye-grabbing events in different fields. Joe Biden’s 1987 plagiarized speech is covered in detail, as well as Microsoft vs. Twitter and the controversy over the 1982 song “Down Under” by Australian band Men at Work.

“People tend to think that academic integrity is a cut-and-dry issue,” says Bradley. “Yeah, if you buy a paper off the Internet, that’s a problem, no matter what field you’re in. But it is usually more complex, and it can be a tricky call depending the subject area. I think we’re denying students the opportunity to think through the issues by not admitting that.”

 
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