Making plagiarism public

30 March 2005

The story of Laura K. Pahl: A tech-savvy comedy writer, Nate Kushner, gets a strange IM asking him to write an essay for him from an undergraduate, in exchange for money. Comedian agrees, puts together shitty essay cribbed from various sources, sends it on (after putting the victim through various tortures to prove she will pay), then informs the college president, and all and sundry on his blog.

Resulting discussions have managed to paint Kushner as a vigilante, slanderer and possible fraudster – all of which are wrong (exposing someone’s wrongs is not vigilantism, there was nothing false about his allegations (AFAIK), and even if he cashes the cheque I doubt it is really fraud). At worst, he’s a grass, and a smug one at that. The excessive triumphalism of his blog post is inclining me toward the view that Kushner is, well, a bit of a tool in real life, but I am struggling to sympathise with Pahl; she actively asked for someone to write an essay and waved cash at him. Although the widespread publicity about her crime could well ruin her life, that’s tough luck. Don’t fuck about if you can’t live with the possible consequences.

I once got asked to do the same sort of thing. A friend of a friend emailed me asking me whether I could take the mathematical aptitude test for some company’s (I forget which, but it was a banking firm) application process (which was online*). Money wasn’t directly mentioned but it was implicit that some sort of recompense was in the offing. Although the thought of taking up the offer in exchange for him tithing 5% of his future earnings (gross) was tempting, I decided I really wouldn’t live with myself, and declined. Naming and shaming didn’t really cross my mind. Should have I done so? I didn’t, mainly because the wronged party was the bank, and banks rarely deserve any sort of kindness or charity.

In this case though, the wronged party are her fellow honest students. Should he have reported it to the president of her college? Definitely, for the students’ sake the college should informed; the MeFi posters screeching “snitch” should all fuck off. Should he have posted it on his blog and made it known to the public? Despite the breach of privacy, I’m erring on the side of yes. Because although it is a form of public humiliation, it’s only humiliation because she actually did do wrong. This isn’t the mob pursuing and burning an innocent at the stake here; all that was done is that her crime is being made known (although he could have done it a little less snarkily). She deserves all the scorn she gets.

* Which made me think – how well can companies check for that sort of thing? For all I know there could be some digital sweatshop out there where bright but poor students are made to do rich kids’ online aptitude tests.


6 Responses

Rob

“Although the thought of taking up the offer in exchange for him tithing 5% of his future earnings (gross) was tempting…”

Call me pedantic, but technically tithing is giving 10%. Sorry.

Rob

Oh, and Chris, you need to reset your blog clock to BST (not that I know anything about this)

Hmm, you’re right on both counts. Should be working now…

Apparently it was a hoax. An April Fool’s prank. Jumping the gun a bit I think though; it’s still a couple of days away.

If it is a hoax, the site is still labouring under the pretence. The full story: he didn’t inform the school at all, but only blogged it in an attempt to get her to ‘fess up, and it all got out of hand. Which is pretty dumb, publishing it on a blog and not thinking that it could go viral. I’m beginning to think the guy is a complete tool here, in trying to play a high-stakes game when he has very little control over the events.

Still don’t have a shred of sympathy for her, though.

Of course, this could well be a hoax, and I should really stop wasting my time on it.

Terrible hoax if it is, clumsy and constructs him as a humourless humorist. Plagiarism gets to be a bigger problem in universities that rely on foreign fee paying students, which is becoming the case here in Australia. Do you out someone who is paying your wages?

There has been at least one spectacular case when an academic took a lot of trouble to check on google for plagiarisms; failed the students who did it; then found out later the university whited out his handwritten evidence and resubmitted the papers to someone else who marked them well – thus downgrading the results of some legitimate students. Why am I not surprised this was a business studies department?

Woollongong Uni, if anyone is interested and wants to google it.