Internet watchdog could stop collegiate copycats
November 21, 1999
From Correspondent Rusty Dornin
BERKELEY, California (CNN) -- Academic thieves beware. While the Internet has placed a wealth of research papers at the fingertips of students, a new Web site could help professors catch plagiarizers red-handed.
Some students actually research and write their term-papers the old-fashioned way. Others, however, just copy fake ones off the Internet and turn them in as their work.
To prevent collegiate copycats, two graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley have devised a program that compares a student's submission with every other term- paper on the Web.
"We essentially search a hundred million Web pages on the Internet, interfacing with the top 20 search engines," said John Barrie, of www.plagiarism.org. "We also compare that with our local data base of term papers."
Teachers who sign up can send their students' papers to the Web site. The originality of the work, or lack thereof, becomes painfully clear within 24 hours.
"We code every sentence that was a word-for-word match with another sentence, either contained on the Internet or within our database," Barrie said.
David Presti, a U.C. Berkeley professor who teaches neurobiology, told his class he would use the program. Undaunted, numerous students plagiarized anyway.
"We ran all 300 papers through the program and found 45 of them, or 15 percent of students, had cut and pasted significant amounts of material from various World Wide Web sites without citations," Presti said.
Students falsely accused can have the opportunity to defend themselves. They can show the instructors "that indeed they haven't got their material from the Internet or some other source," Barrie said.
Competition is tough at prestigious universities like U.C. Berkeley. Some students welcome the Internet research watchdog, considering it a way to level the academic playing field.
"I think it's justified academically. Plagiarizing is wrong," one said.
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