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Mind

Plagiarism: Copy, Paste, Thesaurus?

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticFebruary 7, 2015 8:04 PM

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I'm a regular reader of Jeffrey Beall's invaluable Scholarly OA blog. Earlier this week Beall blogged about a dubious-looking new 'predatory' journal called International Journal Online of Humanities (IJOHMN). I took a look and noticed that one of their papers is called Leaders Produce Teamwork Organizations.

plagiarism_roget.jpg

That's an odd title. The prose is even odder. Here's the start of the article:

Wisdom perpetuates the legend of modernism as a private act, a spark of originality imminent, an Aha! Instant in the brain of a mastermind. People in fact favor to consider in the rough individuality of detection, possibly since they hardly ever get to see the sausage-making process behind every get through modernism. Three decades of investigate has obviously exposed that modernism is most often a group attempt. Thomas Edison, for example, is remembered as almost certainly the most American discoverer of the untimely 20^th century. From his productive intelligence came the brightest bulb and the turntable, along with additional than a thousand further untested inventions over a sixty-year vocation. However, he only just worked by yourself.

I wondered if this text was plagiarized. I Googled several fragments of it, but found no hits. However, on a hunch I tried searching for the "greatest American inventor", which I suspected was the meaning of "most American discoverer". I quickly found this article (part of a book called Collective Genius) and the mystery was solved: the IJOHMN paper appears to be a direct copy of the book extract, with various words replaced with synonyms, presumably with the help of a thesaurus. Here's the corresponding text from the book:

Lore perpetuates the myth of innovation as a solitary act, a flash of creative insight, an Aha! moment in the mind of a genius. People apparently prefer to believe in the rugged individualism of discovery, perhaps because they rarely get to see the sausage-making process behind every breakthrough innovation. Three decades of research has clearly revealed that innovation is most often a group effort. Thomas Edison, for example, is remembered as probably the greatest American inventor of the early twentieth century. From his fertile mind came the light bulb and the phonograph, along with more than a thousand other patented inventions over a sixty-year career. But he hardly worked alone.

I'd never heard of this kind of plagiarism before, and I was quite proud of my "discovery". However it turns out that I wasn't the first person to come across this. The problem even has a name, Rogeting (after Roget's Thesaurus). British lecturer Chris Sadler named it this after discovering the ruse in some student essays. Rogeting would probably fool any common plagiarism detection software, but done sloppily (like in the IJOHMN paper) it produces very strange prose. Many synonyms just don't make sense out of context. For instance, while "modernism" might mean the same thing as "innovation" in the context of art history, in other situations it makes no sense at all to switch them. I wonder, however, if a careful plagiarist could Roget a text without making it look stupid? I decided to have a go myself:

Lore maintains the legend of invention as a lonely endeavor, a spark of creative revelation, a Eureka! event in the psyche of a genius. Humans, it seems, want to believe in the harsh individualism of innovation, maybe because they seldom get the chance to witness the sausage-making labor underlying each landmark discovery.

This took me a couple of minutes. I did all the replacements manually, without using a thesaurus. The result is certainly less elegant than the original, but it's much better than the IJOHMN version. My conclusion is that it would be extremely difficult to detect Rogeting, so long as it were done right. In fact, it would be disturbingly easy to produce seemingly original texts in this way.

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