Sunday, March 27, 2016

Plagiarizers, Eastern Cultures, and GSoC.

Every time a plagiarism is detected or some copy-pasta is found, there is always someone who defend the offender as "It is common in the Eastern cultures. It is not considered a crime there. Plagiarism is not well-defined in those countries" Those who defend these offenders themselves come from the Asian countries, and while they are genuinely attempt to help a student from their region, they are doing more harm to the system than helping to fix it. As usual, we also have the plagiarism issue pop up in the GSoC, and people attempting to forgive the offenders in the name of culture.

Even in Eastern cultures, there is a clear difference between copying from another student vs. copying from elsewhere (such as the Internet, or seniors' notebook). While some students (the not-so-smart ones, obviously), tend to assume it is ok to copy text segments from the Internet, everyone (even the stupidest kid from the middle school) knows that copying another student is a serious offence. It is simple as that from the primary school that you may not just copy your friend's homework.

On the other hand, this year, I found at least 3 project proposals that were copied from the Internet, word-by-word. 2 of them did not even modify a single word from a white paper. There were some obviously vague and generic proposals (the student may have sent the same to multiple related organizations), and some proposals in the form of just a CV (with text copied from the project idea list, sometimes) even from students of higher academic level (such as being enrolled in a PhD from a well-known university).
Probably these students should understand that mere copy-pasting or similar vague proposals are not going to help them get selected. The mentors have big eyes. They are not going to get you in, just because you have some text entered in your proposal.

Regardless of whether this was due to plain ignorance or an attempt to cheat, these students just do not fit the GSoC, and probably they can re-apply next year. Someone who cannot just put up a simple proposal is not going to be a good student anyway. On the other hand, there are many strong proposals from the Eastern cultures. Defending, tolerating, or forgiving plagiarizers in the name of culture is counter-productive. I don't really think this has anything to do with the culture at all.

I myself am from a country of Eastern culture, and I was well-aware that plagiarism is not right from very young ages. I was taught so in the schools. Similarly, when I was mentoring students at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka, I always warned them not to plagiarize work from the Internet. Even before I warned them, they were still aware themselves that that is not ok to copy other students' work. So if you think you may seek forgiveness to the offenders in the name of culture, you are just harming the system than helping to fix it.

Not really sure whether it is important to spend too much time discussing the bad proposals, as we are just seeking the best one (not ordering the proposals from best to worst).

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