We haven’t discussed plagiarism much on this blog, which is a little strange. Even though teaching basic research skills and scaffolding assignments can help prevent plagiarism, it can still be common among undergraduate students.
Here’s the simple message that I give my students: plagiarism makes you look stupid. The most recent demonstration of this principle that I can point to comes from one of our elected officials, Rand Paul, U.S. senator from the state of Kentucky. He used unattributed sentences from Wikipedia in a recent speech. I should emphasize that he’s not the only U.S. politician to have plagiarized. As the video clip at the link above points out, the current vice president of the U.S. damaged his reputation for approximately a decade by doing the same thing.
There are a few people who manage to have successful careers despite plagiarizing the work of others — notably the historian (I use the term loosely) Stephen Ambrose, who died before his decades-long theft of others’ work became widely known among members of the public. Information on Ambrose’s plagiarism and other fabrications can be found here, here, and here. But for every person like Ambrose who manages to evade detection and public ridicule while alive, there are probably at least one hundred who don’t. And the more prominent the offender, the greater the reputational consequences.
Another egregious example in this regard is Elizabeth Paige Laurie, a descendant of the founder of WalMart. Ms. Laurie paid another student to do her coursework while at the University of Southern California. After media attention (here and here), she forfeited her diploma. Quite an accomplishment for someone so young. With such a wealthy family, she doesn’t have to worry about getting a job, but it will be a long time before people stop associating her name with what she did while in college.