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Plagiarism*

*Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1991, p. 898.

There has been a lot of talk about plagiarism lately, and it’s gotten me a little nervous. I scrutinized all my past columns to make sure that I had not unintentionally plagiarized someone else’s work, and to my chagrin, I uncovered a potential problem with my Apr. 27 piece on dating advice. After extensive research, I was shocked to discover that, in fact, there have been not one, but many past articles about dating advice. Just typing “dating advice” into Google alerted me that I had accidentally copied this topic idea from 2,110,539 different Web sites. You can imagine my distress when I read these articles and noticed that I had used many of the exact same words and phrases as these earlier writers, such as “true love,” “relationship,” and “the.” Now that I’ve seen the fine line between “my work” and “not my work,” I have decided as a precaution for today’s column to provide you, the reader, with all of my sources in parenthetical citations.

Plagiarism is an issue of major concern in any institution of higher learning (“To Cheat or Not to Cheat,” episode 35, “Saved by the Bell: The New Class”). Chances are that you know someone in this college who has cheated on a test or paper in some way, and it’s time that we take a stand against this immoral behavior. I know there are plenty of other important causes you are fighting for right now (the hundreds of random fliers I have stuffed in my pockets from my latest walk into the Science Center). But I think it’s time for us to focus on eliminating this ethical flaw among some members of our student body.

My first suggestion for reducing cheating at Harvard is to abolish the Internet on campus. I know this is a bold proposal, considering that many of you spend 23 hours a day on the Web, taking breaks only to make some Ramen noodles and apply some medicinal drops to your blood-shot eyes (my roommate, September 2005-present). The Internet just makes plagiarism too easy and too tempting. A quick visit to a Web site and a cheater can easily write a paper on a book that he has never read (www.cliffsnotes.com). Often, cheating is the last resort of someone who hasn’t studied enough, and the Internet provides a major distraction for many students and cuts into their study time. For instance, I once noticed that my sister, Kirsten, was on the Internet updating her Facebook.com profile the night before she had a big midterm (Facebook.com mini-feed, Oct. 29, 11:39 p.m.) It was a science midterm, and her lack of a Y-chromosome meant that she should have been studying extra hard to make up for her natural deficiencies in the field (Summers, Larry; 2005).

Perhaps a more logical approach to eliminating cheating is for students to take a more active role in identifying potential cheaters. For instance, if you notice that your roommate starts her six page paper at 8:30 p.m. and magically finishes it in time to watch “Lost” at nine, perhaps she is getting a little “external help,” if you catch my drift. In this case, you should politely inform her that “a cheater makes the lily pad wilt” (fortune cookie, he Hong Kong Restaurant).

We also need to be aware of cheating on exams. Believe it or not, the Harvard exam protocols are not as airtight as we think. The policy of leaving a seat between you and the next person would be an effective strategy for preventing wandering eyes, but unfortunately, the human eye has finally evolved to the point where we can actually read off someone else’s test a whole three feet away from us (Science B-29 final exam; 2005). No doubt cheating would be rampant were it not for the fact that the TF moderating the exam vigilantly watches all 150 people in the lecture hall at once while he sits at the front of the room reading “The Da Vinci Code” (Brown, Dan; 2003).

It’s in situations like this that we need to take matters into our own hands. If you notice someone cheating off of you, there are plenty of ways to put an end to it. For instance, in the past, if I noticed someone looking at my test, I would turn to them and whisper, “I’m a football player.” That would stop them pretty quickly. After all, everyone knows that football players are not worth cheating off of because of their general incompetence (Schulz, Charles; “Kick the Football, Charlie Brown!”).

Of course, the elimination of academic dishonesty all starts with the individual. If everyone takes responsibility for themselves, then we’ll be on the right track. Plagiarism and other forms of cheating are simply not worth the potential consequences (Viswanathan, Kaavya; 2006). If you get caught, you’ll find yourself suspended for a year from Harvard and working the night shift as a security guard for a morgue (anonymous friend) or stuck in Iraq (Kerry, John; 2006). Plus, cheating might yield some unforeseen side effects, such as home run records, uncontrollable rage, and the diminution of one’s “manhood” (Bonds, Barry). At least with my new citation practices, I never have to worry about being accused of plagiarism. Well, I guess I should never be too sure; there’s always the risk of unintentional plagiarism. As I always say, life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.



Eric A. Kester ’08 is an anthropology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.
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