With about 4.49 billion web pages on the Internet, finding academic material to plagiarize is easier than ever, allowing students to take shortcuts. A 2010 survey of 24,000 students from 70 different high schools found that 58% admitted they’d plagiarized, while a staggering 95% said that they had cheated in some form or another.
However, a new study published in the Journal for Academic Ethics suggests that plagiarism levels were actually higher in the pre-internet era.
Researchers compared 184 randomly selected doctoral dissertation written prior to 1994 with 184 written after 2010, and found that about half of each group contained some form of unattributed material. The mean similarity index for the older papers, though, was higher (14.5%) than that of the more recent, post-2010 papers (12.3%), as measured by the Turnitin plagiarism-detection system.
However, “extreme” acts of academic plagiarism, like copying and pasting whole chunks of unattributed material, were more common in dissertations written after 2010, which suggested an “escalation” of such behavior.
According to the paper, the results came as the number of Internet users increased from 14 per 100 people in 1995, to 85 per 100 people in 2012. At the same time, the online availability of academic journals and papers was ballooning as well.
“Most of the blame on the internet for a degradation of academic ethics or its subsequent effect of increasing plagiarism is unjustified, relying … on news headlines, student self-report studies and conjecture,” wrote the paper’s author, David Ison, assistant professor of aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. The assumption was often based on “unsubstantiated or perfunctory reports of the internet causing a significant negative influence on student work.”
While his findings only provide a “snapshot” of the world of academic cheating, he said that his finding “do not support assumptions that the internet has had a significant negative effect on the conduct of plagiarism.”