Daily Archives: May 18, 2010

Hubbub Explainer: Suspect Plagiarism? Turnitin.

Published May 18, 2010

In the Web age, it would seem difficult to plagiarize and get very far. Can’t an admissions officer just, you know, Google it?

Of course, there’s more to the Web than what Google knows about. That’s where Turnitin comes in, a service that helps teachers root out plagiarism. Seems it could have saved a lot of trouble in the case of Adam Wheeler, the ex-Harvard student accused of an elaborate and calculated lie. The district attorney’s press release alone reads like a scene from “Catch Me If You Can.” (Wheeler pleaded not guilty in superior court Tuesday.)

The company was started about a decade ago by grad students, including an MIT math guy, who couldn’t believe the amount of plagiarism they found while grading papers. Now there’s a spinoff of the service for university admissions — apparently a highly requested feature.

The Turnitin people have a huge database of existing work. I’m talking huge. Imagine the entire Internet. Petabytes of data. Millions and millions of gigabytes. Turnitin has a copy of all of that plus newspaper archives and paid academic journals, plus all of the documents ever submitted to the service previously — something like 120 million homework assignments and terms papers.

[pullquote]Lorton’s BS detector goes through the roof. He says “ideas and inspiration” means “copy and paste.”[/pullquote]

When a student’s work is uploaded to the service, Turnitin’s ever-evolving algorithm flags any derivative patterns and alerts the client (the university). What fascinates me is how the company keeps up with new forms of plagiarism.

I talked to Jeff Lorton in Oakland, Calif., who runs Turnitin for Admissions.

“There are literally thousands and thousands of companies and websites that you can commission just about anything you want, including everything through your Ph.D. thesis, if you could convince your review board that you wrote it,” Lorton tells me.

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Paul Levy In The Hot Seat

Published May 18, 2010

On Tuesday’s Radio Boston, Meghna interviews Beth Israel Deaconess CEO Paul Levy, who has admitted to an improper relationship with a hospital co-worker that may have lasted for years.

The hospital board fined Levy $50,000 and asked Attorney General Martha Coakley to review its handling of the transgression. Levy openly and plainly apologized, saying he looks forward to “putting this chapter behind us.” Now Levy embarks on a speaking tour to rebuild his image — reminding people of his reform work at the hospital and at that other agency in the news lately, the MWRA.

I want to know what you think about all the hubbub at Beth Israel. Can Levy focus on running a major hospital after a high-profile embarrassment? Is his personal life any of our business? Meghna’s conversation is being recorded in advance of the live broadcast, so we can’t take calls. But you can shout out in the comments.

Tuesday Morning: Casinos, Shakespeare And Yes, Obama's Aunt

Published May 18, 2010

What’s happening in the Boston news universe on a cloudy Tuesday morning.

  1. At Harvard, Kagan Won More Fans Than Foes

    Even critics say Elena Kagan’s tenure as dean of Harvard Law School was largely successful. But some take issue with her management style and legacy on minority recruitment. (Nina Totenberg/NPR)

  2. Palmer Goes All In On Casino Hopes

    There’s a sense of inevitability in Palmer when it comes to casinos. Right on Main Street is a Mohegan Sun office, which has been there for a year. If Massachusetts allows casinos, one thing seems pretty clear: Palmer is ready. (Bob Oakes and Lisa Tobin/WBUR)

  3. Ex-Harvard Student Accused Of Living A Lie

    He crafted an elaborate web of lies to con his way into Harvard University, authorities say, but Adam B. Wheeler wasn’t content to graduate quietly and get away with just a degree. (John R. Ellement and Tracy Jan/Globe)

  4. Sentenced To Shakespeare

    When juveniles break the law and get convicted in court, part of their punishment usually involves community service or rehabilitation. But in western Massachusetts, some young offenders are being sentenced to Shakespeare. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

  5. Obama’s Aunt Can Stay In Southie

    It remains a mystery how the Onyango Zeituni’s legal team got the immigration judge to reverse himself on deportation, but the White House insists the president had nothing to do with it. (Laurel J. Sweet/Herald)