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February 10, 2014 5:20 AM   Subscribe

With recognition software making the use of recycled term papers impractical, a new service is now allowing students to hire unemployed professors to write term papers from scratch.
posted by reenum (139 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Fool-proof," perhaps, except when a student who's been pulling a B- and demonstrating no discernible understanding of course content all semester turns in an A paper.

I admit that such a thing could happen without dishonesty, but the morally bankrupt jerks behind this service will now force every instructor (including the harried adjuncts who aren't benefitting from the system said jerks are decrying) to second-guess every "suspiciously good" paper turned in. Thanks, guys.
posted by Bromius at 5:34 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


It's ok because the website has a disclaimer that says they don't mind that it's unethical so that's totally fine. Yikes.
posted by GrapeApiary at 5:37 AM on February 10


$250 for a 10 page paper? These "rogue profs" are not only academic prostitutes, they're really cheap ones. If you're going to whore yourself at least get a good price.

“the academic system is already so corrupt, we’re totally cool with [being really unethical].”

“Students that use the service are not trying to scam the system”

"War is peace"

"Freedom is slavery"

Academia is dying.
posted by crazylegs at 5:44 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


Universities as institutions may claim to care about students taking the easy way out with pre-cooked essays, but it doesn't really jibe with the enormous pressure many faculty face to not fail students.

It seems to me the only reason it gets press is that it undermines the integrity of the university in a way that is visible to the public.
posted by Ferreous at 5:45 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


Of course, it would be a bidding site. Not enough to be a place where broke and displaced academics sell their work, it has to be a place where broke and displaced academics strive to undercut each other so they can sell their work for the lowest possible price.
posted by Frowner at 5:45 AM on February 10 [46 favorites]


Reason # 3,891 that having a profit motive in education is a bad thing.
posted by The Whelk at 5:45 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


If we got rid of the need for industrial scale education (1 worker : 300 widgets students), we wouldn't need the essay mills.

Also: oral exams, mandatory; explain what you wrote and how you wrote it.
posted by lalochezia at 5:54 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


Move it offshore. Then you can make up for the razor thin margins with volume. After that, you can shop the whole operation to different locations around the world as required. When the bottom totally drops out, move it back to the US with an emphasis on quality and hand-craftedness. Charge a slight premium for same. Maintain the writing operations here, but move project management and QA nearshore. Build Quality Centers of Excellence and shift to a follow-the-sun production and support model and move towards multi-language support. Hire professors to staff the QCEs.

Profit!
posted by jquinby at 5:58 AM on February 10 [18 favorites]


Wait, I forgot the greatest bit: you manage it all with a personal virtual assistant. Should only take about 4 hours per week.
posted by jquinby at 6:00 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


Hmm. As someone who has worked with a lot of freelance technical writers over the years, I'm skeptical.

Cheap, good quality technical writers, and I include people who write on specific areas of expertise at undergrad essay level, simply do not exist in abundance.

To draw an analogy: "unemployed professors" here is like the ubiquitous "busty housewife" on hookup adverts. The reality is that:

- just because they say what they are does not mean that is who they are
- all the more so if you never meet them
- if it is embarrassing or hard for you to complain about being misled, then there is less incentive for the service to not mislead you
- if the people delivering the content are freelance and not necessarily professional then turnover will be high. Which means quality and reliability and trustworthiness will be very variable.

My guess is this is just labour arbitrage. You probably can hire an unemployed professor in the US to spend several hours churning out something original for $250. But how many of them are there willing to do this shit work for shit money? By contrast, $250 for a fresh Indian graduate is a tidy sum. It's far more likely this work is being done offshore.

Even assuming the person doing the writing is top notch and trustworthy, my experience is that there is a discernible difference between how a well qualified Indian would write on a topic compared to a similarly well qualified American, not least in the use of language and structure of written content.

Secondly, a very quick way for content producers to improve margins is to syndicate content. So we understand this when the NY Times sells content to The Guardian. But if I've written an essay on topic x I'm going to make sure I bid on future essays on the same topic, where I can use the same research and probably the same content. In short, there are no guarantees this stuff is plagiarism proof.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:05 AM on February 10 [15 favorites]


$250 for a 10 page paper? These "rogue profs" are not only academic prostitutes, they're really cheap ones. If you're going to whore yourself at least get a good price.

Seems pretty expensive for an average student to me. I remember helping friends write computer programs* for the non-major compulsory CS class and my standard rate was a case of beer.

* Fortran 77 on punch cards. Yes, I'm old.
posted by octothorpe at 6:07 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


At least Professor-Rogue has the sense to multiclass. Same amount of skill points, and Improved Evasion will come into use at higher levels.
posted by griphus at 6:07 AM on February 10 [20 favorites]


Any decent professor will just haul the student up, find a nice complex sentence from the paper, and ask the student to explain it.
posted by Slinga at 6:11 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


If Kurt Vonnegut will do it, why would anyone hesitate?
posted by mikelieman at 6:13 AM on February 10 [8 favorites]


The other day a friend who teaches at an Australian uni was telling me that most of the plagiarism cases they see (and it's common these days) seem to be papers bought from sites like this one; the essays are sold to multiple customers at once, or are at least semi-original but have enough cut-and-pasted material to trip the plagiarism detectors anyway, or get shared around by students who buy them and fail to understand how plagiarism detectors work. That's the ones that get caught.

From the third link: “Students that use the service are not trying to scam the system,” she continued. “Students could fall down on a paper and make bad choice and we have to wonder what went wrong. These students lack confidence as learners to express [their] analysis and interpretation.”

Apparently a "Chair of the Subcommittee on Academic Integrity" said this, which is a problem in itself. Another thing my friend said was that academics get absolutely no support from their institutions in dealing with cases of obvious plagiarism (which I'm sure comes as no surprise to anyone who's worked as an academic).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:13 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised you guys think $250 for a 10 page paper is really bad money. A person with a strong education in the subject could easily turn out a 10 page student-quality paper in a single day. I don't know what you do where $250/day is a bad pay rate; it works out to over $30/hour.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:14 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


I taught writing at the college level as an adjunct for years, and I use to fantasize about doing this, figuring I could actually make more money than I did adjuncting. "I guarantee a passing portfolio, or I pay the tuition for re-taking the class!" The problem, I always figured, would be writing like a college student. There's a certain way that college freshmen--even good ones--write, in terms of the topics they choose, the way they structure sentences, the kind of thinking they engage in. It's one thing to be a good writer; it's another thing to be good enough to fake that.

I always figured I'd manage it by digging into the folders full of old student papers on my hard drive, and fixing those up, instead of working from scratch.

This was a very satisfying fantasy.
posted by not that girl at 6:15 AM on February 10 [13 favorites]


When I started college, I wouldn't let myself skip any classes because I knew that once I realized that, unlike in high school, I didn't HAVE to go, I'd never go again, so unless I was actually sick I went to every class.

My first year, I tried to read every assignment, I went to every class, I worked hard on all of my papers, but I was too anxious and shy to go to office hours with professors (I did go to grad student sessions). I didn't do super well; I was reading everything and attending every class and trying very hard, but my grades were pretty poor. My second year I stopped trying to read everything and didn't read enough, though I still went to every class. My grades were better than my first year, but that's partially because I was finished with the core and was taking mostly classes of my choice. My third year I finally hit a decent balance where I read what I needed to read but not actually everything that was assigned and figured out a strategy for prioritizing my work and getting done what I needed to get done. I started going to office hours when I had questions. No matter how much reading I was doing, though, for my first three years and most of my fourth year I went to every class unless I was legitimately sick.

Spring quarter of my fourth year (we had the quarter system so shorter than semesters), I realized that hey, I don't actually have to worry about setting a bad precedent so I went to class, uh, less. A lot less. There was one class that I attended, I believe, four times. That is not very many times for a class that has multiple sessions a week. I was not a good attender of this class. It was also a class outside my field of study; it was basically an anthropology class and I was an English major. Social sciences and anthropology classes are part of what tripped me up while I was finishing my core requirements. Even so, I very, very seldom attended this class because, frankly, I didn't feel like it.

The final paper rolls around and I've done someish of the reading for the class and attended almost never. I read the prompt, wrote the paper, and turned it in, and I got an A. The professor wrote on it something that began "I VERY MUCH (underlined!) appreciate your..."; I forget what he appreciated, but he appreciated something I'd done in my paper! For which I'd never attended class! And hadn't done that much of the reading!

The point here is not "hey look I got an A without trying" although, hey, go me. The point here is that, my first year, I would have tried really, REALLY hard. I would have attended every class. I would have done all the reading. I would have spent more time on my paper. I would have thought about it a lot. By my fourth year, I could write a good paper given the prompt and a basic knowledge of the readings. It was unbelievably satisfying; it was proof that I'd accomplished what I came to college to do! I wasn't just getting a credential, I had actually developed skills! I could prioritize! I could write! I could understand exactly what a professor was looking for and deliver that in a paper!

The problem with services like this is that they rob students of both parts; they take away the "working hard and learning" AND they take away the "oh shit now I get it that wasn't so bad after all". Yeah, a college degree is nice, but it's also immensely satisfying to realize that you've actually developed through the course of your four years and you're not just receiving the degree, you've actually earned it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:17 AM on February 10 [49 favorites]


I'd love it if these profs would take the assignment and then on the due date say, "Oh man! I TOTALLY spaced this, dude! Seriously - I was out with my crew last night and we all rolled in at like 3 am and I didn't get to it, man! Sorry, dude."
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:17 AM on February 10 [16 favorites]


$250 for a 10 page paper? These "rogue profs" are not only academic prostitutes, they're really cheap ones. If you're going to whore yourself at least get a good price.

I imagine that someone with a PhD and some adjunct teaching experience could churn out a ten-pager for a class in a subject they're familiar with in two to three hours. It only has to be good enough to get an A in an undergraduate class (frequently lower level ones at that). If you do a few of these a week, that's rent in many places.
posted by atrazine at 6:18 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't it be easier to just directly bribe the person supposed to be marking the paper? One $250 wouldn't tip the scales, but if you got a consortium together - ten or twenty people - that would add up to a considerable sum for one paper.

It wouldn't be immoral, because the essential purpose of modern education institutions is to extract money from young people in exchange for academic qualifications, and this would simply be an extension of the college's raison d'être. You might have to lay aside some of the money to bribe your superiors, though.
posted by Grangousier at 6:23 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Does it cost $250 or does the prof get $250?
posted by MuffinMan at 6:23 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


5 classes per term, 2.5 papers per class = ~12.5 papers @ $250 = 3,125 per term
4 years = 8 terms @ 3125 = $25,000 per degree.

This obviously wouldn't work for degrees with actual exams, like say engineering or mathematics, but it certainly would pay for one of those lucrative BA degrees.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:26 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


The Whelk: "Reason # 3,891 that having a profit motive in education is a bad thing."

How could you ever remove the profit motivation in this example? In the long-view, if I do better on my course then a fellow student (via good or bad means) I might score a slightly better job at the end of it-- the ultimate profit motive.

As long as humans rank humans there's a motivation to cheat-- so instead of thinking we can fix that side of things, I think academia needs to be a bit more honest about how widespread cheating is.

I believe pretty much every teacher has seen numerous essays that has notable plagiarism, from Wikipedia paragraphs changed slightly, to something as wholesale as this. But of that set, only a small minority actually called the student on it. Find out the motivation for the teacher to do that, and you'll largely solve this problem.

As a pie-in-the-sky idea-- what about a federal academic audit board, where auditors could go into a university and dig through essays and exams, if plagiarism is found on a level higher then an established limit, the school themselves are punished for not catching it themselves.
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:26 AM on February 10


I have less trouble with direct plagiarism than with students claiming to have used sources for which we have no access. A random search of the bibliographies often leads to uncomfortable conversations. This service wouldn't help with that unless the "professor" was at the same institution.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:28 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Previously
posted by MartinWisse at 6:29 AM on February 10


Static Vagabond: what about a federal academic audit board, where auditors could go into a university and dig through essays and exams, if plagiarism is found on a level higher then an established limit, the school themselves are punished for not catching it themselves.

Better yet, for every example of plagiarism found the school is fined X dollars of which X/2 is paid to the investigator who uncovers it. Market incentives at work!

For the love of God, this is an obviously terrible idea; please don't implement it
posted by leotrotsky at 6:32 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


This obviously wouldn't work for degrees with actual exams, like say engineering or mathematics, but it certainly would pay for one of those lucrative BA degrees.

Can we not do this?
posted by naoko at 6:37 AM on February 10 [22 favorites]


"Fool-proof," perhaps, except when a student who's been pulling a B- and demonstrating no discernible understanding of course content all semester turns in an A paper.

"Demonstrating no discernible understanding of course content" will get you a B- nowadays?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 6:38 AM on February 10 [14 favorites]


Coming soon: all grades will be determined by in-class performance. Not two or three papers or projects, but daily performances based on what was discussed or read previously. Give students no time to cheat. Just "Everything off your desk except the exam paper and a pen. This is today's assignment. You have 15 minutes."
posted by pracowity at 6:39 AM on February 10


"Everything off your desk except the exam paper and a pen. This is today's assignment. You have 15 minutes."

sotto voce: "OK, Glass"

RenaissanceRonin99 has joined the chat.
posted by jquinby at 6:42 AM on February 10 [11 favorites]


Hiring unemployed professors to write papers is only fair if the instructor can hire unemployed professors to grade them.

Bonus if it ends up being the same person.

"B+, there were some good ideas in this paper but I think I need to try harder next time"
posted by delfin at 6:47 AM on February 10 [38 favorites]


sotto voce: "OK, Glass"

Jam everything.
posted by pracowity at 6:48 AM on February 10


The rhetoric from the authors in these pieces (and on the website) is pretty blatant. It could be an elaborate performance art piece, with some fun-loving McGill grads at the wheel.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:49 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Coming soon: all grades will be determined by in-class performance. Not two or three papers or projects, but daily performances based on what was discussed or read previously. Give students no time to cheat. Just "Everything off your desk except the exam paper and a pen. This is today's assignment. You have 15 minutes."

But long term planning and prioritizing are really important skills you should develop and improve in college. I get that cheating is a big problem that needs to be addressed but this would basically eliminate some significant portions of what you actually need to learn.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:50 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


I recently taught a research writing class in which I had the students pick three scientific papers and, over the course of the semester, develop a "mini-review" paper. I had them identify their three papers at the beginning of the term, and then each week their assignment was to develop the paper, starting with an outline and adding content in stages. I had them retrieve and turn in all the original papers and just made it as hard as possible for them to have any plagiarizing opportunity.

It was pretty satisfying, the students pretty universally enjoyed the class, and it was a TON of work. I only taught that course once. And in the courses I teach now, I just don't assign writing papers.
posted by gubenuj at 6:51 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I am reminded of the conversations around the Chronicle's publication of a tell-all article by an academic ghostwriter. That was a couple of years ago, so it seems like the market is only getting wider.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:53 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


A person with a strong education in the subject could easily turn out a 10 page student-quality paper in a single day. I don't know what you do where $250/day is a bad pay rate; it works out to over $30/hour.

I never could write a 10-page paper in one day as an undergrad. The fastest I ever did was three or four days, maybe a week from start to finish (while doing other work as well). But then, I did get pretty good grades on the papers that I generally took several weeks on (from starting research to writing).

This is why I know I have no career in the black market of student essays. I never did learn how to satisfize, or fake just enough to get a B. I also couldn't be a journalist for the same reason: I don't write fast, and I especially can't write fast if it means sacrificing accuracy or quality.
posted by jb at 6:55 AM on February 10


Also, the stronger that my education has gotten (masters), the less fast I can write, because I can see so much more ambiguity than I did as an undergrad.
posted by jb at 6:56 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


But of that set, only a small minority actually called the student on it. Find out the motivation for the teacher to do that, and you'll largely solve this problem.

I've always gone after plagiarism like a bloodhound myself, but it is really exhaustingly time-consuming. An average 1st-year 1500-2000 word essay, I can read, mark and write comments on in ~20 minutes. An average plagiarised essay of the same length in the same class takes at least four times as long to deal with, from finding all the sources (and there are often several), to drawing up a document highlighting exactly what's plagiarised from where for the department member in charge of plagiarism cases to look over, to having a meeting with them and the student to discuss the penalties they'd be facing. And that's not counting the extra time spent dealing with stuff like angry parents ("my daughter would never cheat!") and so on.

It made me even more determined to bring plagiarists to justice - I have another fifty of these to mark and it's 1am and I wanted to sleep, you little bastards! - but I can see why it makes some people more willing to turn a blind eye, or just give warnings about proper referencing without going through the whole official procedures. Either that or they really do live in a blissful fantasy land where they believe students never cheat, I don't know.
posted by Catseye at 6:58 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


This is my full time job. AMA.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 6:58 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Let's just say that I am not at *all* aware that this is extremely common among science students forced to work on non-technical subjects, and business students generally, that if you're an above average writer you will eventually get an offer, and that the very people desperate for this help invariably turn around to shit on the arts with STEM and biz supremacist twaddle.

No, I have no direct experience of this at all.
posted by mobunited at 7:00 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


This is my full time job. AMA.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 8:58 AM


Well, I can't really blame you for switching careers after what happened at your old job.
posted by escabeche at 7:02 AM on February 10 [60 favorites]


Hiring unemployed professors to write papers is only fair if the instructor can hire unemployed professors to grade them.

A lot of professors already hire future unemployed professors to grade papers/assignments, aka PhD students.
posted by jb at 7:02 AM on February 10 [14 favorites]


Calling bullshit. The quotes from the professors sound like undergrads - who often complain about having to "regurgitate" information, in any class that expects them to demonstrate that they learned something.
posted by thelonius at 7:03 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Well, I can't really blame you for switching careers after what happened at your old job.

Oy vey, the secrets I had to keep during that period!
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:04 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Hosni: seriously, how do you write fast enough to make this worthwhile? I know lots of graduate students (in the humanities, even), and few of us could research & write quickly enough for it to be worth doing this. (I know one who could write quickly enough, but couldn't research quickly enough to do anything more than a C paper).
posted by jb at 7:09 AM on February 10


Mrs. Pterodactyl, I was reading that comment agreeing wholeheartedly and thought to myself, wait a minute, that sounds that a UofC experience. It certainly fit my pattern as well!
posted by Carillon at 7:11 AM on February 10


that sounds that a UofC experience

Yup!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:14 AM on February 10


I'm just good at writing fast, and tend to use the research sidebar in Google Docs (it hooks up to Google Scholar) for cheap references. One can just read the abstracts to see if the paper supports the point that sentence needs, then cite the conclusions. I write at 750-1000 words an hour, 4-500 for PhDs. One of the best things to do when writing fast is not to arrive at the introduction and conclusion until last. You can then critique the main arguments in the subject area, pick your conclusion and then quickly edit. I used to get firsts for this at uni, and still do now.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:14 AM on February 10 [15 favorites]


I don't care what you all say - I've paid $250 to write papers, I'd love the chance to turn the tables. It looks like it's not just "writing" - there's also editing, proofing, etc. I can't figure out how to apply to be a writer on this website, though, any suggestions?
posted by rebent at 7:15 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Payment tends to be about $40 per thousand words for the agency I work for, so if you can write fast it's reasonably lucrative.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:16 AM on February 10


Oh, and Scholar also lists the amount of citations. This means I can easily reference the most recent important papers without needing to spend much time on research.

Undergrad stuff is very easy, but I've also done PhDs.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:18 AM on February 10


Calling bullshit. The quotes from the professors sound like undergrads

That's exactly what they want you to think!
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:20 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Answers to other questions people often ask: I do pretty much any humanities subject. I have achieved more than one PhD, and it is slower but lucrative when you also get paid to tutor them for the viva. It's mostly foreign students, and when it isn't (for PhD work) it's mostly management types getting a PhD in their spare time for career advancement reasons. It's obviously a dubious line of work, but I do it because it's a job you can do anywhere in the world that has net and can thus support living on a beach in hot and cheap places. I guess I have found my price, as morally abhorrent as I am forced to admit that is.

Unpopular opinion: if I can write a publishable PhD in your subject area in two months...well, it's not a great filter for quality intellectual work and it therefore isn't surprising that non-ghostwritten PhDs no longer act as an academic golden ticket.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:21 AM on February 10 [15 favorites]


Seems that systematizing your approach here is almost more important than the words themselves.
posted by Carillon at 7:21 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Hosni: do you employ some kind of an "undergraduate voice" as appropriate, or otherwise moderate the quality of your prose and research to suit the job?
posted by mr. digits at 7:27 AM on February 10


In my field, a good PhD takes at least a year's worth of archival research, and usually involves unpublished primary sources. I've read one History PhD that didn't adhere to that guide, and it was embarrassingly bad. Maybe it was ghostwritten (it was based heavily on published sources).

Or are you writing/re-writing PhDs after the research has been done?
posted by jb at 7:28 AM on February 10


Very much so. It's a focus on efficient workflow, and if you're doing 3-5,000 words a day inefficiency must be optimised away or you quickly sink. I actually take quite a lot of pride in producing high quality work though, and feel the same responsibility to the client that I would in legal argument. On that note, and quite possibly rather ironically, I would absolutely never plagiarise within the essays I produce.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:28 AM on February 10


Mr. Digits: I do indeed (one has to with EFL students) although there have been times where I've been assigned the first essay of the year and have written it intentionally fluently. This puts the client on the hook for the rest of the year.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:30 AM on February 10 [9 favorites]


This puts the client on the hook for the rest of the year.

You are a monkey's paw and I claim my five pounds.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:33 AM on February 10 [7 favorites]


Oh, and Scholar also lists the amount of citations. This means I can easily reference the most recent important papers without needing to spend much time on research.

Just a question-- how do you deal with subjects for such Scholar/citation amounts aren't useful metrics? There are quite a few humanities subjects that aren't very well-indexed or that use books more heavily, for example. Do you have/maintain any university affiliations that help you find sources?
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:35 AM on February 10


I'm directing field research, then writing up. They typically come to me with a PhD framework rather than a blank page; I'm brought in when things are starting to go wrong for them. I can't go into the papers here in a detailed way for obvious reasons, but an example subject area was emergency response and the ability of the nation of the client to meet best practices (protip: do not disparage the home nation of most foreign students too much, they'll make you rewrite). The client did the interviews, I did the writing up and theoretical comparison/recommendations for change.

I also keep a couple of 90% complete PhDs around for emergencies (aka: "I need something to hand in for next month").
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:35 AM on February 10


This is my full time job. AMA.

In around 2500 words, could you explain to me the impact of global warming on indigenous Guatemalan amphibians?
posted by Drinky Die at 7:39 AM on February 10 [26 favorites]


Just a question-- how do you deal with subjects for such Scholar/citation amounts aren't useful metrics? There are quite a few humanities subjects that aren't very well-indexed or that use books more heavily, for example. Do you have/maintain any university affiliations that help you find sources?

I have an SSH account on a server within a major institution (and a couple on other boxes as backups). I tunnel into that, meaning everything becomes IP-unlocked. For obvious reasons I wouldn't want to detail the institution. I also do use the library search there, although it actually ties in to Scholar rather nicely for PDF links. Outside of that, I will very occasionally buy a textbook on Amazon and then break the DRM on it for search and quote copypasta. It's worth it for esoteric subject areas, as then I effectively have a monopoly on any work in those areas that come in.

Sidenote: how is it that in 2014 I can't text search on Amazon's web reader page? Unbelievable.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:40 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


In around 2500 words, could you explain to me the impact of global warming on indigenous Guatemalan amphibians?

Sure! Paypal or bitcoin?
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:41 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


How often do you get paid in Bitcoin?
posted by griphus at 7:43 AM on February 10


In the future, all papers will be markov chained.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:44 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Jokes aside, never. I collect my work via an agency who pay me by standard bank transfer. Neither I nor the client know who each other are, and frankly that's best for all concerned. The fact I don't have to take calls from panicked clients or deal with sales also makes me quite happy to pay the piper.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:45 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


This is my full time job. AMA.

Understanding that your work tends toward humanities PhDs, are you aware of this business in professional fields like law or medicine? Speaking as a former law student I never saw anything like this happen, but that doesn't mean it wasn't. I'd be curious to know if it is, and how, and at what schools, and at what volume.
posted by cribcage at 7:45 AM on February 10


Law is my main subject (and was my major). I am just able to produce reasoned argument in most fields. I try to focus on law because it's a lot more lucrative, and actually I'm writing a law PhD right now. The amusing thing is that we also get work from qualified lawyers poorly concealed as 'problem questions'. You'd be surprised quite how terrible a lot of high street lawyers are (or possibly you wouldn't). I wouldn't do medicine or actual science though, it's definitely out of my skillset and also requires non-trivial amounts of research.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:49 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


But long term planning and prioritizing are really important skills you should develop and improve in college.

I'm sure you can learn such skills without writing papers, and that you can write good papers without ever learning such skills. Meanwhile, a short daily test would make sure you were reading and understanding all the assignments, attending and participating in all the classes, and doing all your own work.
posted by pracowity at 7:50 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


...and that you can write good papers without ever learning such skills.

As evidence please note Exhibit B: my degree.
posted by griphus at 7:51 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


Speaking as a writing teacher who spends too much time checking student work, I can't seem to work up the expected amount of outrage. As long as academia is going to sustain itself on adjunct labor, I can't fault un-, or underemployed advanced degree holders for supplementing their income by gaming the same system that used and discarded them.

Of course, I teach at a community college, where most of my students need this sort of cash for food and shelter. I also am trying to use a sort of flipped classroom approach, where students do a lot of their writing in class, so I can give them feedback as they're trying to work through their essays. But I imagine a dedicated student could find a way around those difficulties as well.

Honestly, plagiarism is such a widespread problem that I've decided to focus on a) teaching students what it is and how to avoid it, b) creating scaffolded, unique assignments that require a lot of in-class work and supplemental activities, like collaborative annotated bibliographies and Pecha Kucha presentations, c) catching the most egregious offenders, and d) realizing that students who are determined not to do the work are probably beyond my reach. They'll either get caught in a later class, or they'll succeed in their endeavors because we live in an imperfect, unfair world.

But if I catch you, I will fail you so hard.
posted by bibliowench at 7:52 AM on February 10 [13 favorites]


But if I catch you, I will fail you so hard.

Actually taking the time to talk to people about their work will flag it up pretty heavily. The amount of times I have had to explain people's own research area to them so they can coherently discuss it for even a few minutes is astounding to me. I think the difference between good and bad institutions is often that the poorer students don't get the contact time, and thus they end up lacking the tools to analyse the more complex concepts because they never truly grasped the basics.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 7:56 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


For many years, in every class, my primary basis for a final grade in the class is a student paper or project due at the end of class; however, there are several short essays, a conference with me, and a proposal/annotated bibliography assignment that all lead up to that final paper. There is no way you could game that structure with a project you didn't write yourself. I do it for other reasons, but virtually never having to worry about plagiarism (because I am engaged with the development of the ideas at every stage from the second week of the semester) is a nice side benefit, and I recommend this structure highly to those who teach courses where a final paper is the major assignment. Students learn much more by being compelled to spend a semester developing an idea and researching it than they do cramming a paper in during the last week of school.
posted by spitbull at 7:58 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Nth-ing skepticism of unemployedprofessors. They claim 13,691 projects completed and it looks like the domain has been registered since May of 2011. At $250/paper, that's over $3.4 million in revenue.

Paper buyer beware.

Like Bibliowench, I teach in a community college, and use similar strategies. I doubt I could do much to detect a student who's willing to pay $250/paper (which comes to an extra $1500 for the class), but I also doubt that many of my students have that kind of extra cash lying around, when many can't even afford the textbook. Those students I do catch tend to be so obvious as to insult my intelligence.

And now back to grading essays.
posted by fogovonslack at 7:58 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


This is great! We just need to modify the system to let the unemployed profs write much longer and substantive papers. Like, say, dissertations for $10K a pop. Then we'll have a stable loop: PhD candidates pay for their papers to be written all the way from undergrad to the thesis defense, finish their grad programs, realize that tenure-track positions are nonexistent, and become writers for unemployedprofessors.com.

And the capitalist engine grinds on.
posted by Mayor West at 8:00 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


I think the difference between good and bad institutions is often that the poorer students don't get the contact tim

Actually, this may be a situation where community colleges have an advantage. Most of our classes are pretty small (and unfortunately get smaller throughout the semester), and we spend all our time teaching instead of need to balance teaching and research. I've found I have a lot more time to work one-on-one with my writing students than I ever did at a 4-year school. And it really does make a difference, I think, if they feel that you're invested in their progression as a writer, not just as a paper producer.

But it's still early in the semester. I will be much more cynical in a month or so.
posted by bibliowench at 8:04 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


LOL on the idea that a student could get a ghostwritten dissertation past me. By the time a student defends I've combed through every sentence half a dozen times over several years, and worked with that student for several more before that during which I have read multiple seminar, conference, and journal submission essays, heard them improvise orally in seminars and exams, and hung out with them batting ideas around for many hours.

Any PhD program where a ghostwritten dissertation could get through is not even third rate.
posted by spitbull at 8:04 AM on February 10 [8 favorites]


The amusing thing is that we also get work from qualified lawyers poorly concealed as 'problem questions'.

I can't decide if that's good or bad. It's deeply bad that we have licensed attorneys farming their clients' problems to these agencies and then charging a fee. On the other hand, if we have those attorneys out there practicing, then presumably this way at least their clients are not getting worse than if those attorneys were attempting the work themselves.

I got so sick of reading news articles about faked resumes that I assembled an appendix for my own: transcripts, certifications, reference letters. If I ever mentioned it to prospective employers (I usually didn't) I'd pass it off as a lighthearted "audition": after all, assembling and presenting evidence is my field, so I oughtta be able to do it for my own resume, right? But plagiarism is one of the holes. I took a lot of writing intensive classes in law school, and I don't have any way of proving to someone that I didn't buy my way through those classes.
posted by cribcage at 8:05 AM on February 10


But it's still early in the semester. I will be much more cynical in a month or so..

I hope not too much so; right now you seem inspiring.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 8:08 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


I can't decide if that's good or bad. It's deeply bad that we have licensed attorneys farming their clients' problems to these agencies and then charging a fee. On the other hand, if we have those attorneys out there practicing, then presumably this way at least their clients are not getting worse than if those attorneys were attempting the work themselves.

IMO the boundaries are often fuzzy. You find yourself saying 'documents x and y are now well formed, but of course if this was a real court case it would be important to include document z'. I'm always unsure of where the ethical duty lies there, but I tend to take it as being to the ultimate client rather than the person that commissioned us. I tend to think of it as being a good paralegal, and as you say the ultimate clients at least end up with something less horrific then would otherwise have been the case. This is however the one set of our clients I find it hard to have respect for.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 8:13 AM on February 10


LOL on the idea that a student could get a ghostwritten dissertation past me. By the time a student defends I've combed through every sentence half a dozen times over several years, and worked with that student for several more before that during which I have read multiple seminar, conference, and journal submission essays, heard them improvise orally in seminars and exams, and hung out with them batting ideas around for many hours.

Any PhD program where a ghostwritten dissertation could get through is not even third rate.


I dunno. There was a scandal at my undergrad institution a few years back where an adjunct got fired because it had turned out he'd plagiarized his entire dissertation (this was in the social sciences). His PhD department had been top twenty or thirty and put out plenty of good people, and I'm not sure I ever heard any explanation of defense from them as to what happened. My guess is that he was uninspired, he kept up with his deadlines and his advisers didn't give enough of a shit to really follow through on it. Most departments have dead wood, sometimes they're advisers.
posted by dismas at 8:16 AM on February 10


Any PhD program where a ghostwritten dissertation could get through is not even third rate.

I'm probably suffering from confirmation bias here; the students of those supervisors who don't make an effort are exactly the ones I end up seeing. The institutions aren't necessarily those with bad reputations though. I do wonder sometimes if they very heavily suspect but don't care and/or the department wants the more lucrative foreign students in any case.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 8:16 AM on February 10


I do wonder sometimes if they very heavily suspect but don't care and/or the department wants the more lucrative foreign students in any case.

I know American universities that are pursuing foreign-student expansion to increase prestige, but I don't have enough of an inside view to know whether there might be some parallel here to predatory lending. Are we recruiting students who aren't prepared to compete, and/or recruiting from cultures with differing perspectives on "plagiarism" and then tossing those students into our schools' rules?
posted by cribcage at 8:26 AM on February 10


UK institutions get a lot more funding per pupil for undergrad and MA for foreign students. We have clients who ride through from undergrad to PhD.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 8:38 AM on February 10


cribcage: "I took a lot of writing intensive classes in law school, and I don't have any way of proving to someone that I didn't buy my way through those classes."

You mean you don't have all the old versions, drafts, revisions, etc. with the hundreds of comments inked on by your adviser as proof of how embarrassingly bad your writing used to be, saved and archived on your computer and burned to DVD and backed up in at least two other physically separate locations? Personally, when it comes to proving I wrote my own dissertation and papers, I don't delete a goddamn thing.

But I'm in science. The ONLY thing a scientist has to offer is his or her ideas. I don't care how good or bad your ideas are. If you can come up with some plausible reason why your idea is supported, great. I'll listen, I'll collaborate, I'll provide feedback. You present someone else's ideas as your own? I have zero respect for you. In science it isn't plagiarism, it isn't stealing someone else's work. It's stealing someone else's EVERYTHING. We spend enough time trying to get an idea out there before someone else puts the same idea together and publishes first. I've worked with a lot of people, from a lot of backgrounds. I can understand asking for help getting the language right, getting the point across, but goddamn, outright asking someone else to do the work and taking credit... there is a special place in hell for that, whether you are a student who can't cut it or an established researcher taking credit for the work of another who can't or won't speak up for him/herself. I've seen both. I despise both. I don't care what the excuses are.

As a prof at schools large and small, with classes from 5 to 500 students, I've seen both subtle and obvious attempts at cheating and plagiarizing. The push for more personal assessment has actually made cheating easier, in my mind. Everyone hates on multiple choice tests, but it's a damn lot harder to bring in a ringer for that kind of approach than it is to hand in a non-selfwritten paper. Especially now, when it's trivially easy to check a student ID against a name when handing things in, and much harder to check an essay against previous work*. In-class assignments are a pain in the ass to grade, but they are again harder to fake. I usually tell students that their writing will generally suck at first, because no one is born a good scientific writer. I grade them heavily on content for early assignments and switch to a balance between content and style later in the year, so that they have a chance to develop and learn through feedback before it hurts them. But as many have said, this is a huge amount of work. For intro-level classes it generally isn't possible in large schools, not without a lot of training to get the grad TAs on the same page regarding assigning points.

But catching a student? Even clear-cut cases don't end in the discipline they ought to enforce. I had a prof as an undergrad (and worked with him when I started teaching) who used to talk about plagiarism by telling his classes about a specific student, a pre-med student who cheated his ass off and wasn't thrown out. His take was simple: If you ever met a doctor with this name, and he went to this school, ask for someone else, because who knows how much longer he kept cheating and lying his way through.

*Actually, if it were really a priority, administration could enact some kind of database with in-built comparison metrics for student-written essays, to enable profs to compare writing style/abilities across classes. It would definitely be useful to be able to see if Joe Student suddenly went from barely literate to PhD level writing over the course of two classes, right?
posted by caution live frogs at 8:42 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


LOL on the idea that a student could get a ghostwritten dissertation past me.

I had a professor who had a prospective PhD student submit parts of the professor's own dissertation as a writing sample. Obviously he wasn't admitted, but what if another institution didn't catch it?

I do wonder sometimes if they very heavily suspect but don't care and/or the department wants the more lucrative foreign students in any case.

This is a pretty common phrase that gets tossed around but I would like to caution that at some American institutions, including the one I work for, undergrad foreign students can and do get financial aid-- the percentages of students here paying the sticker price is pretty balanced between domestic and foreign students. This is very different than the UK especially for MA and equivalent programs.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:48 AM on February 10


Having written papers for friends, lovers and relatives, I'm in no position to throw stones at someone who does it for money. But I'm curious, Hosni. Is it (from a a non-academic perspective) a completely legit undertaking? Meaning, for example, is your brokerage(?) reporting their payments to you to a tax authority, or is it strictly off the radar?
posted by tyllwin at 8:58 AM on February 10


You mean you don't have all the old versions, drafts, revisions, etc. with the hundreds of comments inked on by your adviser as proof of how embarrassingly bad your writing used to be

At my law school, there were basically two types of classes (in terms of grading): at the end of the semester you write an exam, or you submit a paper. That's it. In exam classes you don't get the benefit of quizzes, and in writing classes you don't get the benefit of revision. You learn the material and you perform. Which makes a certain kind of sense, because it's certainly how the bar exam works and it's mostly how practice is, too.

But it does leave room for things like this to happen, which is why I asked. I never caught a whiff of plagiarism or cheating in my law school, but that doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't happening.
posted by cribcage at 9:07 AM on February 10


As long as academia is going to sustain itself on adjunct labor, I can't fault un-, or underemployed advanced degree holders for supplementing their income by gaming the same system that used and discarded them.

I work part-time for a college (professional non-instructor, doing marketing) which treats its part-time staff and adjuncts as you describe. So I supplement with my freelance writing, mostly journalism/ PR consulting.

A year or so ago I was desperate enough to take a subcontract from a MeFite who does these papers for a living (I don’t think he’s posted in this thread). It did bother my conscience, and so I guess the Ethics Gods got the last laugh on me: After working many hours on a paper that was way out of my field and experience, the MeFite contractor, dissatisfied with my attempts, stiffed me on even a partial token payment.

Yeah, a college degree is nice, but it's also immensely satisfying to realize that you've actually developed through the course of your four years and you're not just receiving the degree, you've actually earned it.

As they say, THIS.
posted by NorthernLite at 9:14 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


A perspective on this from a Lecturer in the UK (Disclaimer: Link to a friend's blog.)
For a student, the end result is the degree. It’s the piece of paper you need to give you access to a hopefully successful life with interesting opportunities. And certainly in the English education system, you’re paying a huge amount of money for it. If you don’t see the value in education as a process, then what is there to stop you simply paying someone to do the work for you? If all the matters is the end grade, and you have the money available, then it’s an absolutely sane and rational thing to do.

That’s what happens if you render education down into a transaction, and it becomes a transaction when all that people care about are the inputs and the outputs.
posted by frimble at 9:20 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


In continental Europe where most of your students will fluently speak at least one language you don't, and many will be native speakers conversant in academic traditions you do not have the language skills to even properly access yourself, there is pretty much no real defense against students simply plagiarizing good but not well known work in other languages by hand translating them into yours. Turnitin and computational tools are completely useless, having no ability to compare meaning rather than the linguistic patterns that would be just as idiosyncratic to a translator as a writer, and even a lifetime of experience is worthless for combating any but the most sloppy frauds.

This has been dealt with for centuries by reducing the value of written work in evaluations in favor of big exams at the end of a term with a significant oral defense component. You can't fake that shit and it doesn't matter how well you can translate Portuguese literature into Flemish, you can't fool anyone if asked to stand and deliver.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:27 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


A perspective on this from a Lecturer in the UK

My finals, and my entire degree, were based on nearly 30 hours of exams that I'd pay good money not to have to repeat again. One response, of course, is to make the whole degree dependent on exam results. In theory you could pay someone to sit the whole lot for you, but it's a lot more hoops to jump through.

There are lots of good reasons why people don't a wholly exam-based system, but by the same token many of the issues with plagiarism, cheating as well as grade inflation result from an overdependence on how a module-based system allows students to game the system legally and illegally. In my opinion.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:33 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


This has been dealt with for centuries by reducing the value of written work in evaluations in favor of big exams at the end of a term with a significant oral defense component. You can't fake that shit and it doesn't matter how well you can translate Portuguese literature into Flemish, you can't fool anyone if asked to stand and deliver.

I'm agape at the notion of people getting their dissertations written this way, but surely the majority of these papers are going to undergrad social science or humanities courses being taken as "core requirements" by people not majoring in that field, aren't they? And I don't think you're going to see oral defenses in that level of course getting much traction.
posted by tyllwin at 9:39 AM on February 10


As much as possible I try to assign things that would be really hard to plagiarize. My current assignment on monuments has students visiting a monument, photographing themselves with it, and writing about it. I even ask them to taste it. (Few do, but they get the point.)
I can't imagine a paper mill sending someone to an obscure piece of public art in the far reaches of suburbia.
posted by cccorlew at 9:46 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I had a professor who had a prospective PhD student submit parts of the professor's own dissertation as a writing sample.

I have a professor friend who had a student not only plagiarize lots of the professor's own work for his dissertation (which got him kicked out of the program), but also submitted and had published in a peer reviewed journal an entire article written by that same professor. This was before the internet, obviously, and should have been caught by the editors, but it wasn't, so the same article is out there in two different journals with two different authors. When the professor told me about this, we got curious about what ended up happening to the guy -- turns out he was a high school teacher for 20 years, until he was suddenly fired for misrepresenting his academic credentials.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:48 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


UK institutions get a lot more funding per pupil for undergrad and MA for foreign students. We have clients who ride through from undergrad to PhD.

Not to mention that they are punished by the govt funding formulas or external funding agencies if students drop out or are flunked out. Also faculty are judged on whether they can get students trough.

So the system is setup so that even the gatekeepers have an interest in letting cheating happen. The real gate-keeping happens at the reference letter writing stage where they will damn with faint praise and add the line "Feel free to contact me regarding this candidate"
posted by srboisvert at 10:13 AM on February 10


Get the degree you want! For a mere $50,000/year (plus tuition, housing, and expenses) we will supply a person to register at college as you, take classes in your name, and graduate, at which point we will mail you your diploma.
posted by fings at 10:15 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


(Thanks Hosni--this is really interesting.)
posted by maxwelton at 10:25 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Doesn't seem any different than the technical ghostwriting assignments I've done for IT management folks. At least I get listed as "managing editor" or some such so the putative "author" and I can BOTH claim it on our publications lists.

But then I also managed to get high honors in my undergrad by essentially throwing streams of philosophical jargon (with references) on pages and handing them in as if I understood what I was writing about. I still don't, but wow can I research and do references! Or, what Hosni has been talking about re: workflow management.

And this is why I'm a musician now - hard to fake non-amplified acoustic music performance, nor given how poorly paid and attended it is, any reason to try.
posted by Dreidl at 10:51 AM on February 10


Get the degree you want! For a mere $50,000/year (plus tuition, housing, and expenses) we will supply a person to register at college as you, take classes in your name, and graduate, at which point we will mail you your diploma.

Make it $52500/year and you'll also get a fully specced and wealthy character in your choice of MMORPGs.

Farming gold, farming parchment, all the same principle.
posted by delfin at 10:55 AM on February 10


Having written papers for friends, lovers and relatives, I'm in no position to throw stones at someone who does it for money. But I'm curious, Hosni. Is it (from a a non-academic perspective) a completely legit undertaking? Meaning, for example, is your brokerage(?) reporting their payments to you to a tax authority, or is it strictly off the radar?

I'd have no objection to people throwing stones, complaining about someone intentionally violating the ethical bounds of the academic system for profit seems entirely reasonable to me.

I do indeed pay my share. It's boringly normal, save for being paid through a billing company to make the whole changing jurisdictions thing a bit more manageable.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 11:11 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Get the degree you want! For a mere $50,000/year (plus tuition, housing, and expenses) we will supply a person to register at college as you, take classes in your name, and graduate, at which point we will mail you your diploma.

You're joking, and yet I suspect some of our richer clients would love that.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 11:12 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Hiring unemployed professors to write papers is only fair if the instructor can hire unemployed professors to grade them.

Adjuncts?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:28 AM on February 10


How long before universities just allow students to skip the whole "course of study" thing and just purchase a diploma? It would be like a return to buying indulgences from the church.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:31 AM on February 10


Which makes it all the more frustrating when, with two decades of experience, and a potential boss eager to hire me, the HR department said, "A Bachelor's level of expertise is required." As long as HR people confuse a credential for actual expertise, this will continue to happen.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:35 AM on February 10


Hosni Mubarak: "Jokes aside, never. I collect my work via an agency who pay me by standard bank transfer. Neither I nor the client know who each other are, and frankly that's best for all concerned. The fact I don't have to take calls from panicked clients or deal with sales also makes me quite happy to pay the piper."

Do you keep copies of all of the work that you do? I imagine it would permanently end your life of crime bringing the untalented and entitled into power, but if you someday published all of the dissertations and papers you've done with a proper journalist who could discretely confirm and vouch for your veracity, they would be pretty straightforward to connect to names and do the world a hell of a lot of good.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:37 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Which makes it all the more frustrating when, with two decades of experience, and a potential boss eager to hire me, the HR department said, "A Bachelor's level of expertise is required."

Oddly enough, one of the sources of clients is (mainly oil) companies in various ME nations. They are required to employ a certain percentage of local nationals at various levels. As one might imagine, this leads to sinecures (especially given the advisability of employing the right families) and employees that aren't expected to do much work. I might go further and say they should have their hands kept off anything important. Now just imagine what happens when said person needs an MA and/or PhD to plausibly be in upper management.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 11:42 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


Undergrad stuff is very easy, but I've also done PhDs.

So how much is the doctoral student then bribing their advisor to never meet with them and discuss the material and the committee not to ask questions that would reveal they had no idea of how the data was put together to form an argument?

(As an aside, when big case Phd plagiarism cases have been come out, they've been caught because they employed the cut and paste method and came from select programs in institutions where the program seems to have been set up to allow people to get their PhDs as a trophy.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:46 AM on February 10


...and that you can write good papers without ever learning such skills.

As evidence please note Exhibit B: my degree.

And as Exhibit C, please also the college paper I got back bearing the lovely, cursive message, "You failed to support your thesis. A-"
posted by wenestvedt at 11:47 AM on February 10


Not to brag (totally to brag) but I once received an A- for the opposite of that: I wrote a paper on the professor's field of expertise and, apparently, I did a really good job of supporting a completely implausible thesis.
posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Do you keep copies of all of the work that you do? I imagine it would permanently end your life of crime bringing the untalented and entitled into power, but if you someday published all of the dissertations and papers you've done with a proper journalist who could discretely confirm and vouch for your veracity, they would be pretty straightforward to connect to names and do the world a hell of a lot of good.

Yes, I keep copies (partly because they've become a big enough corpus to become a useful research tool). Maybe if the company that I'm under contract with went under and I wanted to watch the world burn, but otherwise the NDA is really quite impressive.

I'd also feel that it was unethical to do that to the client, although I'm aware this is possibly objectively odd given that the PhDs in particular are obvious academic fraud (for undergrad it's not published so the 'model essay' polite fiction may actually be true). One of the main thing that irritates me is when someone gets their name on a theory or model that I created, as egotistic as that might sound.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 11:57 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I should also say that all the plagiarized papers I've received (well, that weren't just horrific cut and paste versions of things what were found on the internets) have so not been worth whatever was spent on them (even if that was $5). At best they're wildly off topic or incredibly general in a way that suggests someone didn't read the assignment properly or was dipping into their pool of papers on the general area; at the worst, they're so functionally illiterate that the student would had a better result if they'd hired a Medieval peasant to write their paper rather than whoever they used. Maybe there are places that give people value for money out there, but given that they're dealing with people who frequently can't be bothered to even read through what they handed in for a quick quality check (or can't even work out bad from good writing), they probably don't need to be.

But I don't think the answer is to go to all exams; for one, that type of system is not really fair to people whose either don't test well or who work better with more time to develop their ideas. And it's important that any system doesn't just cater to one sort of learner.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:58 AM on February 10


I should also say that all the plagiarized papers I've received (well, that weren't just horrific cut and paste versions of things what were found on the internets) have so not been worth whatever was spent on them (even if that was $5). At best they're wildly off topic or incredibly general in a way that suggests someone didn't read the assignment properly or was dipping into their pool of papers on the general area; at the worst, they're so functionally illiterate that the student would had a better result if they'd hired a Medieval peasant to write their paper rather than whoever they used.

Surely this is the same confirmation bias as police opining that all criminals are stupid. How would you know that the well-done papers were plagiarised?
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 12:00 PM on February 10 [9 favorites]


Surely this is the same confirmation bias as police opining that all criminals are stupid. How would you know that the well-done papers were plagiarised?

I spend a lot of time designing hard to plagiarise assignments; doesn't mean you couldn't pay someone to write them, but they tend to use such specific texts and sources that it's hard to do easily and involves the person actually reading what I've asked for and knowing enough English to have taken notes in class on what the parameters the assignment is supposed to fulfill.* And if a paper scores a lot higher than an exam, especially in terms of writing skills, the students have to come in to talk. And that's true even in for my 150+ student classes. So, not perfect, but it's been pretty effective in catching purchased papers which were general but weren't catching anything via Turnitin or Google.

The converse of your comment is also true: it's going to be hard for any student to check on whether claims of quality written assignments from a paper mill are any good. It's not like your complaints are going to get much traction (they can hardly take them very public, unless they're a total idiot without a sense of self-preservation) or that there's a Yelp for paper writing services that says 'yes! their A claim is true!'

*They also have to show up for class too, of course.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:29 PM on February 10


Hosni Mubarak: "I'd have no objection to people throwing stones, complaining about someone intentionally violating the ethical bounds of the academic system for profit seems entirely reasonable to me."
I suppose it'd be as entirely pointless to calmly register my disapproval as it would be to rage about how the real product you sell, the legitimacy of the academic enterprise as something capable of solving the worlds problems, is something I personally plan on dedicating my life to building - or how eroding that leads directly to a world that is less free, less fair, more brutal, and run by illiterate idiots - but it just seems so wrong that the obvious has remained so unstated. I'm grateful that you've shared with us how your work props up the aristocratic fictions that ties up obscene amounts of the world's resources in neo-feudal greed and keeps hundreds of thousands in chattel slavery, undermines fragile states, enables the dishonest and incompetent to further dominate business, and provides a framework for people to be cheated out of fair representation in court, but we would be doing ourselves a disservice to ourselves as a community to let that go unchallenged or our polite company go unqualified.

You make the world a shittier darker place, I hope you enjoy the beach.
Hosni Mubarak: "Maybe if the company that I'm under contract with went under and I wanted to watch the world burn, but otherwise the NDA is really quite impressive."
Depending on the caliber of your clients, you may be able to use either the attention brought or, with a move, the weirdness of international law to effectively shield you from claims in creative ways regardless of what you signed, I'm sure any major newspaper would be happy to provide the correct legal resources to help you brainstorm.
Hosni Mubarak: "I'd also feel that it was unethical to do that to the client, although I'm aware this is possibly objectively odd given that the PhDs in particular are obvious academic fraud (for undergrad it's not published so the 'model essay' polite fiction may actually be true). "
You mentioned upthread feeling a duty to the clients your clients were failing to serve, and I get that you're disillusioned with academia, but do you not feel a similar duty to the governments, employers, and shareholders your clients defraud? Or the people, employees, and pensioners who rely on them?
posted by Blasdelb at 12:47 PM on February 10 [15 favorites]


Your point isn't unfair, Blasdelb. The flip side is that I don't think an Internet berating is likely to accomplish much beyond prompting him to close his browser window and I've appreciated the candor with which he's spoken, so I'd rather that not happen. AMA has value. I'm glad he raised his hand. It's been informative, and more information/sunlight tends to be a net good.
posted by cribcage at 1:06 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


I suppose it'd be as entirely pointless to calmly register my disapproval as it would be to rage about how the real product you sell, the legitimacy of the academic enterprise as something capable of solving the worlds problems, is something I personally plan on dedicating my life to building - or how eroding that leads directly to a world that is less free, less fair, more brutal, and run by illiterate idiots - but it just seems so wrong that the obvious has remained so unstated. I'm grateful that you've shared with us how your work props up the aristocratic fictions that ties up obscene amounts of the world's resources in neo-feudal greed and keeps hundreds of thousands in chattel slavery, undermines fragile states, enables the dishonest and incompetent to further dominate business, and provides a framework for people to be cheated out of fair representation in court, but we would be doing ourselves a disservice to ourselves as a community to let that go unchallenged or our polite company go unqualified.

You make the world a shittier darker place, I hope you enjoy the beach.


Now that is a reasonable claim. It does, and I don't really know how to deal with my responsibility for that. At the time that I started it was down to fairly abject poverty, but I can't even entirely reasonably say that any more. It is indeed fairly indefensible work, and I feel fairly ashamed to be involved in it. I've actually talked to someone at the BBC about this already, but details are difficult when one considers that it's career suicide in at least two fields.

not feel a similar duty to the governments, employers, and shareholders your clients defraud?

I'm afraid that in the ME cases it's sometimes the companies that make the referral. Your broader point is however true. I guess what I attempt to do is to tell myself that it's not super important, but I am forced to admit that you are correct. What I do directly enables the less competent to enter roles that are by design limited to the competent. Set against that, when I'm advising lawyers it means that the end client is being saved from incompetence.

I don't really have a good answer here, so I have to conclude that your dislike is entirely justified.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 1:10 PM on February 10 [11 favorites]


I spend a lot of time designing hard to plagiarise assignments; doesn't mean you couldn't pay someone to write them, but they tend to use such specific texts and sources that it's hard to do easily and involves the person actually reading what I've asked for and knowing enough English to have taken notes in class on what the parameters the assignment is supposed to fulfill.

Yes, although I'm not sure that another college wouldn't have access to the same resources.

And if a paper scores a lot higher than an exam, especially in terms of writing skills, the students have to come in to talk

This, I would imagine, is actually a useful way to combat essay writing. The thing is that it isn't plagaism in the traditional sense, it's research done by the wrong person. That means that someone could always do the same work in an undetectable way, as the research done is only disclosed to the student. It's hard to be absolutely unique, and hard to prevent students passing along copies of the resources even when it is. That said, if you're actually paying attention the differences in competence should indeed stand out.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 1:18 PM on February 10


I spend a lot of time designing hard to plagiarise assignments; doesn't mean you couldn't pay someone to write them, but they tend to use such specific texts and sources

Yes, although I'm not sure that another college wouldn't have access to the same resources.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think she teaches Classics, where specific texts and sources refers to, say, Latin poetry and prose-- not that the texts themselves aren't available elsewhere, but translation is another limiting factor. I personally can't imagine how I could have had anyone other than a classics major write my papers for those classes, just given the obscurity of most of what we read. (I could be totally off-base on the subject though!)
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:48 PM on February 10


This kind of fee-for-service, bespoke plagiarism is certainly reprehensible and troubling, but it's also always going to be a pretty minor part of the overall picture of what is going on in most classrooms. The percentage of students who can both afford to pay for all their papers in this way and sees a need to do so is fairly small. No doubt the increasing number of foreign students will increase the percentage to some degree (they're self-selecting as richer-than-average and they will often face second-language challenges that might drive them to seek this kind of help), but such students will also be relatively easy to detect (if someone genuinely struggles to express themselves in English and turns in an essay written as fluently as Hosni Mubarak's comments, for example, you're going to start asking some uncomfortable questions).

My own experience with plagiarists (and I've caught plenty) suggests that they're typically something like compulsive liars (and the various scandals involving plagiarizing authors and journalists usually conform to this pattern). That is, there is some kind of weird psychological imperative forcing them to cheat. I really cannot count the times I've heard the "I've never done anything like this before...it's just that my cat's grandmother died and my great aunt, who raised me from a child, came down with cancer...etc. etc." sob story, only to discover that they've been using the same sob story (often successfully) year after year after year. And the crazy thing is, they've often put more effort into the plagiarized paper than it would take to write an original paper of better quality.

I don't really know what to think about the bespoke paper mills from the point of view of how much it's worth changing one's pedagogical practices to try to defeat them. There's a point, no doubt, where a student who is rich enough can defeat any reasonable countermeasures (as, for example, if they hire someone to take their classes for them). Certainly cases where someone pays someone else to write a Ph.D. or even an extended undergraduate research paper ought not to survive anything better than mediocre instruction, but I know of enough professors who do not meet sufficiently frequently with their Ph.D. students to believe that Hosni Mubarak's claims are plausible. If a student were to pay someone to write a paper in one of my largest undergraduate classes and if it were well written and reasonably on topic I would be surprised if I caught it. That wouldn't do them much good if they were failing the class attendance requirements, the weekly class reading tests and the final exam, though. And if they're passing those and still want to get a free ride on the essay? Well, I expect that's rare enough that it's just not worth investing all that much time or effort into preventing it.
posted by yoink at 1:48 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


What a great way to collectively reduce the market value of the certification you're paying for that tells people you're qualified for more money than those without it. Seriously what a sound decision regarding investment.
posted by womandad at 1:53 PM on February 10


What a great way to collectively reduce the market value of the certification you're paying for that tells people you're qualified for more money than those without it. Seriously what a sound decision regarding investment.

Well, no doubt they're calculating that the individual benefit accruing to themselves outweighs the collective damage done to the credibility of the certification. And, to be fair, they're probably right.
posted by yoink at 1:55 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think she teaches Classics, where specific texts and sources refers to, say, Latin poetry and prose-- not that the texts themselves aren't available elsewhere, but translation is another limiting factor. I personally can't imagine how I could have had anyone other than a classics major write my papers for those classes, just given the obscurity of most of what we read. (I could be totally off-base on the subject though!)

Foreign language stuff is indeed a special case, again involving too much skill to be replicated in a competent way by a person not skilled in the subject.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 1:58 PM on February 10


"Well, no doubt they're calculating that the individual benefit accruing to themselves outweighs the collective damage done to the credibility of the certification. And, to be fair, they're probably right."

Thats the funny thing about this, its not dumb, its just wrong.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:58 PM on February 10


This thread has actually been a bit of a splash of cold water, and Blasdelb in particular makes several points I can't deny. I'm going to leave this thread, the Hosni account and my job. It wasn't what I wanted to do with my life, and I should really put some effort in and do my own PhD rather than just be an almost entirely negative influence on the world because I'm scared of failure outside of this job.

Thanks for your assistance with the realisation. I'll leave this account for MeMail primarily, and if anyone wants to ask any questions (particularly on how to prevent such things in their own courses) they can contact me either by MeMail or on the thread. Other than that, I think we've covered pretty much everything.

My best wishes and apologies to you all.
posted by Hosni Mubarak at 2:01 PM on February 10 [22 favorites]


Well, I hadn't quite expected that.
posted by tyllwin at 2:13 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


This thread turned out a lot better than expected.

Hosni: If you actually follow through with this, you will have earned back a lot of the respect I lost for you earlier in the thread. Even though there really is no other moral choice, I can very much appreciate how hard of a decision it must be. We all deal with fear of failure (or at least I do), and it can be an amazingly powerful force for self deception. So kudos to you for keeping a clear enough mind to see the consequences of your actions, and (hopefully) dealing with them. It's quite a rare skill in my experience.

That being said, I hope that I or my loved ones never have to deal with one of your clients. Though of course we all indirectly have to.
posted by Spiegel at 2:41 PM on February 10


What the what?

Basdelb ftw.

(Though if you don't mind my saying so, this is also the ending I would write if I were smart enough to complete multiple PhDs for other people and participated in a Metafilter thread as an AMA just for fun. That is, we might be having our leg pulled, here: hoaxes happen, people sockpuppet Metafilter with drama-seeking in mind, and this is high drama.)

But still. Blasdelb ftw.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:42 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


"That is, we might be having our leg pulled, here: hoaxes happen, people sockpuppet Metafilter with some drama-seeking in mind, and this is high drama."

There was an ...identity management slip-up... in the middle of the thread that make this career and AMA all more than just supremely plausible.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:46 PM on February 10 [7 favorites]


Oh, is that what happened? I thought I was starting a new career of daydreaming Metafilter comments.

To Hosni: wherever you go and whatever you do, good luck. I hope your talents find a good home in a more fulfilling field.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:58 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Get the degree you want! For a mere $50,000/year (plus tuition, housing, and expenses) we will supply a person to register at college as you, take classes in your name, and graduate, at which point we will mail you your diploma.

You're joking, and yet I suspect some of our richer clients would love that.


This sounds like the starting premise of a Seth Rogen comedy. We should probably bury it as soon as possible.
posted by furiousthought at 3:06 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


To be clear, the hoax could be the change of heart alone rather than the whole AMA.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:10 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


To be clear, the hoax could be the change of heart alone rather than the whole AMA.

Surely you're not saying a person who makes their living doing trickery would LIE to us! Us, METAFILTER? Metafilter dot COM???
posted by Greg Nog at 6:01 PM on February 10 [18 favorites]


I know American universities that are pursuing foreign-student expansion to increase prestige, but I don't have enough of an inside view to know whether there might be some parallel here to predatory lending. Are we recruiting students who aren't prepared to compete, and/or recruiting from cultures with differing perspectives on "plagiarism" and then tossing those students into our schools' rules?

The idea of foreign students adding prestige is not common, but they are frequently used to add money. When I was in graduate school (at a very elite US institution) it was openly discussed how arrangements were made to take a certain number of graduate students each year from various countries -- they didn't go through the regular admissions process, their fees were paid (in full and cash!) by their governments, and degree standards were openly lower. The other side of that arrangement, though, is that even though their doctorates were the same as anyone else's, they were functionally unemployable in the US and European academic job markets, because on this secondary track, there was no way to get the necessary letters and support to do so. I have no idea if this is widely common, or was more unique to that institution -- the more honest approach would have been to give slightly different diplomas, instead of giving the same diploma on paper with the understanding that it wasn't "real."

It gets back to the description above of people in oil companies and government ministries needing credentials, but not having the background, ability, and/or drive to get those credentials fully on their own. You end up with a variety of parallel structures, from paper mills to systems like at my grad school, that provide those credentials in exchange for cash, but I thing everyone involved ends up cheapened.

In theory you could pay someone to sit the whole lot for you, but it's a lot more hoops to jump through.

There have been big scandals around this in the US involving standardized test, like the SAT and GRE. In huge classes, I'm not sure what would prevent someone from paying someone to sit the exams for them -- the hardest part of doing this as a business would be finding a way to scale up, rather than sitting one class for one person at a time.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:29 PM on February 10


Universities in Australia would sink tomorrow if the enrolment fees payable up-front for foreign students were to dry up. Prestige nothing — this is a question of survival in this corner of the world.
posted by Wolof at 10:14 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


The above conversation? Best Of Metafilter
posted by Elysum at 8:05 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


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