A Word about Ethics in the Age of the Web

 

The computer has changed higher education. In the not-too-distant past, a masterís thesis had to be typed by hand with all mathematical signs hand written or rubbed in. One typo would necessitate retyping a whole page and if it resulted in words spilling over into the next page, all subsequent pages were retyped. Now corrections are simply made on the computer and a new copy is printed out.

 

The computer has made academics easier, but it also provides a greater opportunity for plagiarism. Plagiarism is cheating and may result in expulsion from the university. Any student with a record for unethical behavior cannot be recommended by this university for medical school, so the stakes are high.

 

In high school, some students get by with changing a word or two and call it paraphrasing. This is not the case at the university. It is the scholarís responsibility to give credit to ideas as well as quotations so new knowledge can be built on the ideas of previous researchers (or a faulty idea can be traced back to its origin). This is why scientific papers use some form of referencing of ideas and quotations at the site of the reference as well as listing all references at the end of the article.

 

During the course of your university career you will be asked to write many papers. Some may trace the origin of an idea and then expand it with your own experimental results. Many papers will be a review of the literature of existing ideas and will necessitate your finding those ideas and giving credit to their originators and the journals or books that published their work.

 

The World Wide Web has just made that process a lot easier. A search on a specific subject may yield beautifully written journal articles. The studentís responsibility is to read these articles and use them to create an original paper while referencing each article by footnotes or other citations and by a list of references at the end of the paper. I am now talking to a very small number of people who might be tempted to cut and paste an existing article (or parts of it) and call it their own. First that would be ethically reprehensible. Second, from a practical standpoint, while it is easy for students to find articles on the web, it is also easy for professors to locate them and discover similarities.

 

Use the web as a research tool (it is a godsend to a researcher), but donít be tempted to use it inappropriately. Would you want a doctor who cheats to have the power of life or death over you? The academic world is based on searching for the truth. Remember that and enjoy the search.