- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2005

Automated cheating for students in both college and high school is among the more interesting businesses generated by the Internet. If you search “term papers,” you get a choice of several sites that sell essays intended to be turned in as original. Well, they don’t say so. But check out the sites.

There is, for example SchoolSucks.com, which plugs itself: “Free homework, term papers, games, chat, forums and fun. School Sucks is around since 1996 and we’re proud to be a popular teen site.” Cheater.com is similar.

Another, more professional site — Thousands of Papers (www.termpapers-on-file.com) — boasts: “Welcome to the largest catalog of expertly researched term papers, all created by our company recently! … All references are fully cited! All papers contain original ideas and supporting sources.” They cost $9.95 a page and the bibliographies are free. You can get them by e-mail, fax or FedEx.

They are not trivial sites. Thousands of Papers offers an extensive list of subjects — communications, ethics, Asia, alcohol, economics, on and on.

Protestations of innocence abound. For example, Thousands of Papers says: “The intended purpose of our term papers is that they be used as models to assist you in the preparation of your own … neither T.O.P. nor any subdivision of the Paper Store Enterprises Inc., or its affiliates will ever sell a model paper to any student giving us any reason to believe that (s)he will submit our work , either in whole or part, for academic credit at any institution in their own name. Plagiarism is a crime!”

And when you download software whose use is universally understood to be piracy of copyright music, the company will tell you that you should never, ever pirate music. Oh no. Perish the thought.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, professors turn to the Internet to combat plagiarism.

For example, there is Turnitin.com to which you send a suspect paper electronically. Says Turnitin, “Using advanced pattern-matching technology, Turnitin’s servers compare submitted documents against our proprietary database of ten million student papers.”

The company also checks papers against millions of pages of books and against Web pages. It says it gets about 20,000 papers a day.

This is interesting technically, but it bears on the question of public morality in the information age.

Cheating in school is hardly new. Yet by my observation in both high school and college in the early ‘60s, it was much rarer, could easily result in expulsion from college and was not casually regarded.

Today, scholastic cheating seems to have joined the club of acts that, while illegal, are widely practiced and seldom sanctioned. Copying commercial compact discs and downloading copyright music are both theft.

Yet technology has made both so easy that they have become part of the culture.

In researching this column, I repeatedly came across the assertion by professors that today’s students aren’t prepared for college work. So, they look for shortcuts.

Fine, except that it doesn’t answer a fundamental question. Did morality change first, perhaps consequent to the anti-establishment sentiment of the hippie years, with the Internet a convenient tool for cheating? Or is it that when the technology makes easy and perhaps almost undetectable acts that once were forbidden, people start doing them?

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