Huffington Post and Time magazine released stories this week with near-identical headlines: College Plagiarism Reaches All Time High: Pew Study (HuffPo) and Survey: College Plagiarism Is at an All-Time High (Time). But neither the study the two articles cite nor the press release that accompanies it makes that claim.
What the study does say is that fifty-five percent of American college and university presidents, when asked, estimated that plagiarism has risen in the last decade. (Forty percent say it’s stayed the same, two percent said it’d fallen, and thirteen percent had no opinion.) They weren’t asked, and they didn’t offer, their opinions on how this generation of students compares to earlier ones.
A 55-42 split is nothing huge, by the way. And there’s also reason to be skeptical about how informed college presidents are about rates of plagiarism. Even if reports of cheating have risen — and again, we don’t know that they have — that could reflect changes in professors’ tolerance, advances in policing of the practice, or simply the ease with which clumsily cut-and-pasted passages from online sources can be detected.
If you ask a group of senior faculty and administrators whether students are better (smarter, more committed, more ethical, whatever) than they were in years gone buy, you’re rarely going to get a positive answer. So this survey is, in the absence of actual supporting data, pretty close to meaningless. But even setting that aside, the story and its coverage bear almost no relationship to each other.
Which leads one to an uncomfortable question. If the survey made no reference to plagiarism reaching an “all-time high,” and two different headline-writers at two different news organizations both used at that same phrase to characterize it …
Is someone at Time or HuffPo plagiarizing stories about plagiarism?
Update | Time’s story went up yesterday, the Huffington Post’s this afternoon, so if there’s any plagiarism going on here, it would appear that Time isn’t the culprit.
What say you, HuffPo?