Science - February 3, 2005

Debate / Plagiarism

It’s now possible for lecturers to check work handed in by students for plagiarism using a new detection system. It has become easier to carry out this type of fraud in recent years, but how common is it in Wageningen? Do students just copy and paste without thinking about it or are they aware that they might be committing plagiarism?

Dr Paul Berentsen, secretary of the examinations committee for Social Sciences:
‘The examinations committee hands out punishments for plagiarism about three times a year. But I don’t know if these are the only cases; some chair groups take their own measures. Things have changed a lot in the past years, especially with the rise in the use of internet, which has made copying and pasting very easy. We want to make students aware that this is not the idea and that this behaviour will be punished. At present you often hear students saying ‘I didn’t know it wasn’t allowed’. Often it’s the international students, who are used to other cultures. Another common reaction is ‘Plagiarism? How come? We’ve been doing this since high school’. Dutch high school students are used to downloading information from the internet for essays and assignments, and their work is often not checked for plagiarism. Students really have to learn what is allowed and what not. They cannot just take an article that has been published, write one sentence in front of it and then leave the rest as it is.’

Richard Wilbrink, first-year student in International Land and Water Management:
‘It’s difficult to say what plagiarism is. If I read a good piece, I copy it. You can then alter or expand on things that are not clear. But if you copy the whole structure of a piece then I consider that plagiarism.’

Judith Westerveld, first-year student in Forestry and Nature Management:
‘As long as I understand what is in an article I don’t consider it plagiarism. Here in the university they regard it as a cardinal sin, something that’s just not on. But surely, the information is freely available on the internet? The issue was dealt with in detail during the course on writing reports. It’s now clearer to me and I am aware of what I am doing.’

A transfer student from a polytechnic, now doing Marketing and Consumer Behaviour:
‘I was told I had committed plagiarism, but at the polytechnics they don’t really pay attention to how you use sources. They use a different definition of plagiarism, and here at the university they don’t tell you how to incorporate work from other authors in your own work. We were just thrown in at the deep end. You can only keep to the rules if you know what they are. In this course they have explained things in detail, and they have also said they are going to be very strict on the matter.’ / JH