Critically Plagiarizing?: Ideas On Spotting Plagiarism, While Spending No Money Adrian Crenshaw

Ok, this article is in part me being snarky, but a friend said I should make fun of the situation. I figured I could also make an article for InfoSec educators out of it. At one point before I was forced to change majors (granted, for a better career), an instructor referred to me with the statement: “Student asserts and excuses personal and professional anti-law and anti-ethics statements and positions in class; not for beneficial class discussion”. I’m not 100% sure why, maybe because I stated that not all laws are ethical and that sometime the ethical thing to do is break the law, maybe it is because I asked about laws involving technology and hacking (a word that freaks out some people). There’s lots more about that in my IU Southeast Business School write-up. One thing that struck me about my former “Business Law and Ethics” professor, Linda Christiansen, was that she actually defined critical thinking in her syllabus as:

 
“Critical thinking is reasonably and reflectively deciding what to believe or do; thinking that explicitly aims at well-founded judgment.” ~Linda Christiansen
(Update Note: Seems to have been removed removed by the 2013 version of the syllabus. As a matter of fact, she does not even define it in the newer syllabus, which considering her knowledge of it, is probably for the best.)
 
Sounds like a good definition overall. No citation was given, and granted it is just a syllabus, but bare with me. Since my personal experience with her lead me to believe Linda did not understand what critical thinking was, I suspected something might be up. I did some Internet searches on substrings and found:

 
“Critical thinking is "reasonably and reflectively deciding what to believe or do.""
 
Which was cited as coming from “Ennis (1985)” in many references to the definition (Example Search I still have not found what exact work this is). I found this also:

 
“thinking that explicitly aims at well-founded judgment”

 
Which gets cited as “(Elder and Paul, 2007)” (Example Search, this may be the direct link, and yes, I know I’m not using a proper citation form, but I am giving credit and I think this is easier to follow for an online article).

 
It looked like she just jammed two other sources’ definitions together, but hey, there are only so many ways you can define “critical thinking”, and maybe this is such a common phrasing there was no need to cite (“hello world” for Ethics)? The “critical thinking” example has a lot of room for doubt, maybe she wrote it. This got me thinking, if you don’t have access to a service like Turnitin, how do you use just Google and a few tools? While I was at it, I figured I’d check out her definition of Ethics. I decided to use her syllabus as practice for finding plagiarism online (there is a link at the bottom of this page to her syllabus if you want to play along). From her syllabus:

 
“Ethics is the study and practice of decisions about what is good or right.  Ethics guide us when we are wondering about what we should be doing in a particular situation.  Business ethics is an application of ethics to the special problems and opportunities experienced by businesspeople.”  ~Linda Christiansen
(Update Note: Still in 2013 version of syllabus, largely unchanged.)
 
Sorry to link to likely pirated content. Based on the contents, and what seems to be the ISBN number 0073524913, I think this is a chapter of Dynamic Business Law by Nancy Kubasek, M. Neil Browne, Andrea Giampetro-Meyer, Linda Barkacs, Dan Herron, Carrie Williamson, Lucien Dhooge (Published January 4, 2008). I don’t see my old teacher listed as an editor, but maybe the credit is not there and she just did some editing? This is the definition of ethics from that book:

 
“Ethics is the study and practice of decisions about what is good, or right. Ethics guides us
when we are wondering what we should be doing in a particular situation. Business ethics
is the application of ethics to the special problems and opportunities experienced by business-people.”
~Dynamic Business Law

 
Humm. See, this is something I would not have found if I was searching for whole sentences, each line has at least one character different from the first. Tip: There are times when an exact string is not what you want to search for. This actually gets more technical than you might first suspect. Some students have apparently been usinghomoglyphs in Unicode to defeat string searches. Take a few to Latin “e”s and “o”s and replace them with Cyrillic versions. My understanding is that Turnitin normalizes some of these Unicode issues, but check out this talk on Unicode and you will see there are a lot of options. Ok, how about how she defines what “ethical dilemmas” are?:

 
“These problems and opportunities present businesses with ethical choices, each of which have advantages and disadvantages.  An ethical dilemma is a dilemma or choice for which many times no clear right decision is available.  The dilemma has multiple potential solutions, none of which is altogether superior.  Social responsibility of business consists of the collection of expectations that the global community imposes on its firms.”  
~Linda Christiansen
(Update Note: Still in 2013 version of syllabus, largely unchanged.)
 
and:

 
“Such questions present businesses with ethical choices, each of which has advantages
and disadvantages. An ethical dilemma is a problem about what a firm should do for
which no clear, right decision is available. Reasonable people can expect to disagree about
optimal solutions to ethical dilemmas.”
~Dynamic Business Law

 
Ok, that one is not as clear, but it’s interesting to see what is changed (or it might all be original), just to give insight into the workings of one’s mind as to what is important. For the homoglyphs, Elizabeth J. Pyatt's post has covered it well, using visual spell check and changing the font may work for spotting this Unicode technique. I’ll add to that by mentioning that saving the paper as an ANSI file may also make it obvious when letters start to disappear (depending on the conversion), and spotting odd Unicode in custom software is easy (like noticing 5 different kinds of whitespace and non-printable characters such as Unicode tags in the range U+E0000-UE0074). Synonyms though are a little harder in some ways for a computer to detect (though they may be easier for humans). If someone does a global replace of the word “problem” for “dilemma” or “dog” for “canine” the only way to tell is to read for how well the words flow together, see if they sound out of place even if technically right (this is also error prone I imagine due to human judgment). I also imagine most student plagiarists would be too lazy to take the time to proofread a cooked paper again to be sure that it reads right (I like that term, I’m going to start to refer to electronically mangled original text as Unicode cooked, Synonym cooked and Sentence cooked text). The point of plagiarism, at least for most students, is to save time. Like I  said, I’m not sure at all if the quote above counts as plagiarism, at least not a totally horrific kind. I did find other sentences though:

 
“Much of the litigation and liability arising in business is avoidable.  Many times the only difference between an employer being sued or not is a manager or supervisor who recognizes that the decision being made may lead to unnecessary litigation and thus avoids it. “
~Linda Christiansen
(Update Note: Still in 2013 version of syllabus, largely unchanged.)
 
“Much of the litigation and liability arising in the area covered by these statistics is avoidable. Many times the only difference between an employer being sued or not is a manager or supervisor who recognizes that the decision being made may lead to unnecessary litigation and thus avoids it.”
~
HRMD 620: Employee Relation Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander and Laura Hartman,  University of Maryland University College 2007

 
The thing about the above sentences is, while the first two in each set are similar, and the second two are both the same, much of the surrounding text it not. I could think of a technique I’ll call “sentence cooking” when you write a piece of software to interleave different works of a similar theme, then proof read it, but you would still have to edit for flow. This last example might be better referred to as “venetian cooked” as maybe a longer work was cut down by removing the less needed sentences in between, because just a little ways down in the same document we have:

 
“Management often strays from appropriate considerations and treads on thin legal ice.  Many of these mistakes made are based on ignorance rather than malice.  Often it is a result of simply not knowing that a decision was being handled incorrectly.”
~Linda Christiansen
(Update Note: First two sentences in the 2013 version are the same, last one was dropped.)
 
“We have seen how management most often strays from appropriate considerations and treads on thin legal ice, exposing it to potential increased liability. We came to realize that many of the mistakes were based on ignorance rather than malice. Often it was simply not knowing that a decision was being handled incorrectly.”
~
HRMD 620: Employee Relation Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander and Laura Hartman,  University of Maryland University College 2007

 
and then later:

 
Additionally, this course provides a basis for making decisions in “gray areas” through the study of social and political movements, legislative history, and case law.  
~Linda Christiansen
(Update Note Seems to have been removed by the 2013 version, but exists in others.)
  
“In an effort to best inform employers of the reasoning behind legal requirements and to provide a basis for making decisions in “gray areas,” we often provide background in relevant social or political movements, or both, as well as in legislative history and other relevant considerations.”
~
HRMD 620: Employee Relation Dawn D. Bennett-Alexander and Laura Hartman,  University of Maryland University College 2007

 
Yeah, no reason you can’t mix “venetian cooked” with other techniques.  Sometimes, just a few words get changed. This is when not using a exact phrase search helps a lot, much of the difference here is formatting. I found these in the IRAC section of her syllabus, most seemed to come from Benjamin A. Templin, J.D. athttp://www.lawnerds.com/guide/irac.html (I’m not sure when he wrote this, but he has “© Copyright 1999 - 2003” on the bottom of his site) (Update Note: By the 2010 version she dropped the IRAC section completely, at least in the version they sent me.)
 
:

 
“ISSUE
The facts of a case suggest and issue.  The key to issue spotting is being able to identify which facts raise which issues. Because of the complexity of the law, the elimination or addition of one fact (such as time of day or whether someone was drinking) can eliminate or add issues to a case thereby raising an entirely different rule of law. “
~Linda Christiansen

 
“Issue Spotting - The First Step

 
    "The facts of a case suggest an Issue."

 
The key to issue spotting is being able to identify which facts raise which issues. Because of the complexity of the law, the elimination or addition of one fact (such as time of day or whether someone was drinking) can eliminate or add issues to a case thereby raising an entirely different rule of law.”
~


 
RULE
The issue is covered by a rule of law.  Simply put, the rule is the law. The rule could be common law that was developed by the courts or a law that was passed by the legislature.
For every case you read, extract the rule of law by breaking it down into its component parts. In other words, ask the question: what elements of the rule must be proven in order for the rule to hold true?

 
•    What are the elements that prove the rule?
•    What are the exceptions to the rule?
•    From what authority does it come?
•    What’s the underlying public policy (if any) behind the rule?
~Linda Christiansen


 
Rule - What is the Law?

 
    "The issue is covered by a Rule of law."

 
Simply put, the rule is the law. The rule could be common law that was developed by the courts or a law that was passed by the legislature.

 
For every case you read, extract the rule of law by breaking it down into its component parts. In other words, ask the question: what elements of the rule must be proven in order for the rule to hold true?

 
Questions to ask when reading a case:

 
    What are the elements that prove the rule?
    What are the exceptions to the rule?
    From what authority does it come? Common law, statute, new rule?
    What's the underlying public policy behind the rule?
    Are there social considerations?
~
http://www.lawnerds.com/guide/irac.html


 
ANALYSIS
Do not stop at the rule of law.  Compare the facts to the rule to form the analysis.  This important area is really relatively simple. For every relevant fact, you need to ask whether the fact helps to prove or disprove the rule. If a rule requires that a certain circumstance is present in order for the rule to apply, then the absence of that circumstance helps you reach the conclusion that the rule does not apply.
You will be tested to see whether you can apply the law to a given set of circumstances. The analysis is the most important element of IRAC since this is where the real thinking happens.
•    Which facts help prove which elements of the rule?
•    Why are certain facts relevant?
•    How do these facts satisfy this rule?
•    What types of facts are applied to the rule?
•    How do these facts further the public policy underlying this rule?
•    What's the counter-argument for another solution?

 
~Linda Christiansen


 
Analysis - The Art of Lawyering

 
    "Compare the facts to the rule to form the Analysis."

 
This important area is really relatively simple. For every relevant fact, you need to ask whether the fact helps to prove or disprove the rule. If a rule requires that a certain circumstance is present in order for the rule to apply, then the absence of that circumstance helps you reach the conclusion that the rule does not apply. For instance, all contracts for the sale of goods over $500 have to be in writing. Consequently, in analyzing a contract for the sale of goods, you apply the presence or absence of two facts - worth of good and whether there's a written contract - in order to see whether the rule holds true.

 
The biggest mistake people make in exam writing is to spot the issue and just recite the rule without doing the analysis. Most professors know that you can look up the law, but they want to test whether you can apply the law to a given set of circumstances. The analysis is the most important element of IRAC since this is where the real thinking happens.

 
Questions to ask when reading a case:

 
    Which facts help prove which elements of the rule?
    Why are certain facts relevant?
    How do these facts satisfy this rule?
    What types of facts are applied to the rule?
    How do these facts further the public policy underlying this rule?
    What's the counter-argument for another solution?
~
http://www.lawnerds.com/guide/irac.html


 
CONCLUSION
<the first sentences were not much alike>

 
If a rule does not apply, don't fall into the trap of being conclusive on a party's liability or innocence. There may be another rule by which the party should be judged. In other words you should conclude as to whether the rule applies, but you shouldn't be conclusive as to whether some other result is probable. In that case, you need to raise another rule and analyze the facts again.
In addition, the conclusion should always be stated as a probable result. Courts differ widely on a given set of facts, and there is usually flexibility for different interpretations. Be sure to look at the validity of the opponent's position. If your case has flaws, it is important to recognize those weaknesses and identify them.
~Linda Christiansen


 
Conclusion - Take a Position
<the first sentences were not much alike>

 
If a rule does not apply, don't fall into the trap of being conclusive on a party's liability or innocence. There may be another rule by which the party should be judged. In other words you should conclude as to whether the rule applies, but you shouldn't be conclusive as to whether some other result is probable. In that case, you need to raise another rule and analyze the facts again.

 
In addition, the conclusion should always be stated as a probable result. Courts differ widely on a given set of facts, and there is usually flexibility for different interpretations. Be sure to look at the validity of the opponent's position. If your case has flaws, it is important to recognize those weaknesses and identify them.
~

Funny thing is, according to the syllabus, she uses Turnitin.com (she explains this in a section that ironically seems to have been copy and pasted in, but it’s university boilerplate so I won’t split hairs).

 
When she defined Plagiarism in the syllabus, she used this:

 
Plagiarism: Plagiarism is defined as presenting someone else’s work, including the work of other students, as one’s own. Any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged, unless the information is common knowledge. What is considered “common knowledge” may differ from course to course.
a.  A student must not adopt or reproduce ideas, opinions, theories, formulas, graphics, or pictures of another person without acknowledgment.
b.  A student must give credit to the originality of others and acknowledge indebtedness whenever:
1.  Directly quoting another person’s actual words, whether oral or written;
2.  Using another person’s ideas, opinions, or theories;
3.  Paraphrasing the words, ideas, opinions, or theories of others, whether oral or written;
4.  Borrowing facts, statistics, or illustrative material; or
5.  Offering materials assembled or collected by others in the form of projects or collections without acknowledgment.

 
Well, at least she cites a source on that definition.

 
I did some looking into Turnitin by asking some professors I know that use it.  As long as someone is checking the report it spits out, it may be a helpful extra tool, but I don’t trust automation for this completely (but I can imagine there are some professors that do). Then again, I don’t trust human judgment much either. I’d like to get an account on the services, but I’m cheap. If you have one and you want me to send you some cooked essays it would be interesting to see how they normalize Unicode (we would submit an uncooked one I wrote, then a cooked version of my own work). Another research idea I have, along with a Unicode homoglyph encoder, is to use some Google APIs to brute force the effort. Have the tool take a string, parse it, mangle it, cut it in all sorts of ways, and automate what I did by hand. Most of the code should already exist in open source password crackers and web spiders, but of course I would give attribution :). What I’ve not tried far is tossing these sorts of searches into closed databases of periodicals like JSTOR (not free, but I can visit a university library for awhile). Also, try your luck with Google Books.

 
The possible plagiarism I found is only in a syllabus, granted, but shouldn't we expect more from people teaching a business law and ethics class, especially when all they had to do was write a syllabus? Those in glass houses should not cast stones (or ctrl-c apparently).