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5.02.2006

Under pressure 

Remember when Vanilla Ice flatly denied lifting the bass track on "Ice Ice Baby" from Queen's "Under Pressure"? That was pretty funny.

Anyway, you may have heard of Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard undergrad, writing a teenage chick-lit novel during high school which plagiarized a few passages here and there.

This article from the Harvard Independent suggests that she may have pressured herself into signing her book deal and finishing up her work in order to strengthen her college applications, and that she may have fallen to the temptations of plagiarism as a result. The fact that her mea culpa is really weak doesn't help either.

I don't really have anything further to say about this incident, but I do know that there have been at least two incidents in the history of the Westinghouse/Intel Science Talent Search, a high school scientific research contest that gives out large amounts of scholarship prize money, where authors submitted mathematics papers that were almost wholly unoriginal and copied from other sources and won significant prizes. I do know that there were significant consequences for one of the authors; I don't know about the other. I don't know if the prizes were subsequently revoked or not.

I won't identify the students here, as both of these incidents happened a number of years ago -- high school kids do stupid things and shouldn't have it held against them forever. I'd say the same about Kaavya, but her story is currently national news that will be preserved for posterity, thanks to the Internet. The fact that these projects could slip past the judges, however, reflects very poorly on the judges of the contest. I'm not sure if they were genuinely unfamiliar with the work, if they're expected to consult reviews of math research articles or other experts, or what have you.

Kids these days feel immense pressure to earn admittance into, secure funding for, and succeed at top colleges. (As a college TA/instructor for the past several years, I have caught on average about 1.5 incidents of cheating on schoolwork per year.) Projects and publications like the ones described above often impress admissions officers. If your son or daughter is in high school, feels this sort of pressure, and is working on one of these kinds of projects, make sure it is completely vetted for authenticity before it gets submitted.

EDIT: Salman Rushdie agrees.

Comments:

kaavya's novel was a sloppy first effort. i hope her second helping will be better.
 


You, sir, are committing plagiarism. Megan McCafferty and Random House are going to be all over your sorry ass.
 


I read McCafferty's books in high school and I loved them. My use of her phrases is completely unintentional; they must have filtered into my subconscious. I’ve been unable to contact her and all I want to do is tell her how profoundly sorry I am for this entire situation.

Also I have been unable to contact Viswanathan, even though all I want to do is tell her how profoundly sorry I am for stealing her apology.
 


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