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Shadow Scholar Details Student Cheating 542

Posted by Soulskill
from the cloak-and-dagger-academia dept.
vortex2.71 writes "A 'shadow writer,' who lives on the East Coast, details how he makes a living writing papers for a custom-essay company and describes the extent of student cheating he has observed. In the course of editing his article, The Chronicle Of Higher Education reviewed correspondence he had with clients and some of the papers he had been paid to write. 'I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.'"
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Shadow Scholar Details Student Cheating

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  • No engineering? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mangu (126918) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:14AM (#34240842)

    FTFS: "I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration."

    Hah! I'd love to see how this guy would do a physics or calculus paper...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      He says he doesn't do anything that requires math (or video documented animal husbandary).
    • by TheKidWho (705796)

      Engineering students just copy from each other. The penalties are harsh though, I had some friends that were caught doing it for one of the easiest possible classes and they were all instantly failed from the course. I've never personally cheated during my coursework, but from my own anecdotes I would say about 30-40% of my classmates were cheating. Either by copying homework solutions directly from solutions manuals, from previous years papers, or by copying the work from someone else.

      People would also a

      • Re:No engineering? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Moryath (553296) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:36AM (#34241002)

        I had professors who simply gave every student the chance to bring a note sheet to the exam.

        One 8-12x11" sheet of paper. Both sides. Put whatever you want on it. The kids who printed it up with every possible item in 3-point font failed, those who put down the relevant concepts and formulae in a quick and easy-access format succeeded, because the test was actually structured to test whether you had learned the concepts and how to apply them.

        Of course, this requires that the professor isn't a lazy asshole who's been using the same, unchanged scantron-based multiple guess test for the past 20 years.

        • Re:No engineering? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by umghhh (965931) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:57AM (#34241204)
          In my time at school some of our teachers gave us free hand - bring what you want and see if you succeed. The problem was that these were the most difficult exams of them all as they required:
          • understanding of the tested subject
          • ability to solve puzzles related to subject

          And as such exams are time limited no dead tree or electronic material can really help you solve the task in time if you have no clue. These were exams I actually enjoyed as I could pass (albeit not w/o difficulties) and majority of my colleagues (the cheaters and those that learned by the letter) needed few more attempts usually.

          • by mangu (126918) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @09:40AM (#34241650)

            In my time at school some of our teachers gave us free hand - bring what you want and see if you succeed.

            The best anecdote about this was a physics exam at CalTech where the teacher allowed students to "consult Feynman", which was the standard textbook.

            One student grabbed the exam sheet and ran to professor Feynman's office. Feynman, practical joker that he was, was glad to do the whole exam for him.

          • Re:No engineering? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by digitig (1056110) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @11:12AM (#34242946)

            In my time at school some of our teachers gave us free hand - bring what you want and see if you succeed. The problem was that these were the most difficult exams of them all as they required:

            • understanding of the tested subject
            • ability to solve puzzles related to subject

            And as such exams are time limited no dead tree or electronic material can really help you solve the task in time if you have no clue. These were exams I actually enjoyed as I could pass (albeit not w/o difficulties) and majority of my colleagues (the cheaters and those that learned by the letter) needed few more attempts usually.

            They're also the most representative of what most people need to do in the real world. Solve problems in real-time with access to reference material if they need it.

        • Re:No engineering? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by HazMathew (207212) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @09:21AM (#34241466)

          I hardly ever used my "cheat sheets". By the time I was done studying and had created my sheet I knew the material well.

        • Re:No engineering? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jythie (914043) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @09:54AM (#34241838)
          A variant of that idea I rather liked. I had a professor who liked to give 'tests of 2'... i.e. every answer on the test was '2'.... but better show your work.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by friedo (112163)

            Similarly, I had a Calc professor who gave all the answers on the test, but you had to show all the work on how to get there.

        • Re:No engineering? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by x_IamSpartacus_x (1232932) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @09:57AM (#34241854)
          I had a friend whose professor allowed this too. He said pretty much what yours did, that "You can put whatever you want on it, front or back." My friend was in an advanced logic class so he brought an empty 8-12x11" sheet of paper and a postgrad philosophy major who stood on the piece of paper and gave my friend all the answers. Because it was a logic class the professor allowed it. A professor who can admit that he's been outsmarted by a student is a pretty good teacher if you ask me.
        • by onkelonkel (560274) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @11:48AM (#34243590)
          The professor supervising the final English 100 exam tells the 800 or so students in the exam hall “You will have 3 hours to complete this exam, not one minute more. Start writing when I say go and put your pens down when I stop.” When the three hours is up all the students stop writing except for one. He keeps furiously scribbling away as the papers are collected and stacked on the professors desk. As the last papers are stacked the student runs up to the front, paper in hand. The professor says “You know the rules; there is no way I am going to let you hand in that paper.” The student draws himself to his full height and in tones of Shakespearean high dudgeon says “Do you have any idea who I am!” “No” says the professor, and “I really don’t care.” “Good” says the student, slides his paper into the middle of one of the stacks of exams and walks out the door.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          I have run into the, "single page of notes," option many times. I have to say that it is extremely helpful to me as I have a poor memory of things like formulas and names. This is due to a named and diagnosable cognitive issue. Being in my final semester of an MBA program (with no cheating, mind you), I make up for it in other ways.

          I remember one instructors comment on the idea of books during exams and tests. It was during my undergrad yeas sin on of my engineering classes. His comment was, "no one is ever

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by shadowrat (1069614)
        this is OT, but in the real world, none of this is considered cheating. I'm a software engineer. I consider the lone wolf programmer who does everything in secrecy on his own to be a bad fit for my team. I want people to work together. I want people to compare notes and review each other's code. I want multiple people to be involved in working on one cohesive application.

        I suspect other engineering tasks are similar. When someone is building a building, is it forbidden for the other engineers to work to
    • A paper? He'd probably do fine. An exam however? He'd flunk it quite badly.

      This is the difference between subjective and objective metrics.

    • Re:No engineering? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ash Vince (602485) * on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @09:03AM (#34241280) Journal

      Hah! I'd love to see how this guy would do a physics or calculus paper...

      When I studied Physics we had hardly any coursework. There was some but I don't remember it as I never did any. 80% of the course was based on reeling off mathematical proofs in exams.

      In this type of course it would be just too easy to cheat so they force you to reel the proofs off under closed conditions with a limited supply of reference material (if any) provided.

      I do remember when I was studying Physics though one of my house mates who was studying Sociology and Cultural Studies had to write an essay on Neil Stephenson and his book The Diamond Age. He had about as much interest in Science Fiction a I do in Sociology but he chose that book as he knew I had a copy. He also knew I liked the author.

      On the night before his assignment was due in he came and asked me for some help. I proceeded to waffle on about the book based on the leading question he had been given regarding it. He sat there with his pad and took notes as I pointed out the sections of the book that were relevant to the question and gave some examples of the how the technological change (nanotechnology) in the book had changed the separate societies that are mentioned. It probably also helped that I was studying Physics so had some idea of nanotechnology.

      After an hour or so he took his 1 or 2 sides of A4 notes and went upstairs to churn out an essay based on my ideas. He gained a first for that paper, and permanently changed my opinion of humanities subjects: Most of them are so easy to pass they should not even be taught in the same college as the sciences of engineering subjects, they are certainly not the same academic level and do not require the same amount of study. All they require is the ability to structure your ideas (or someone else's) into a well formed English essay.

      Incidentally the guy who wrote that essay passed sociology and now works as a building site labourer. I failed physics and work as a lead software developer for a fairly small but very friendly company. I guess the employment market does not really value his sociology degree either.

      • Re:No engineering? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by digitig (1056110) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @11:28AM (#34243242)

        On the night before his assignment was due in he came and asked me for some help. I proceeded to waffle on about the book based on the leading question he had been given regarding it. He sat there with his pad and took notes as I pointed out the sections of the book that were relevant to the question and gave some examples of the how the technological change (nanotechnology) in the book had changed the separate societies that are mentioned. It probably also helped that I was studying Physics so had some idea of nanotechnology.

        After an hour or so he took his 1 or 2 sides of A4 notes and went upstairs to churn out an essay based on my ideas. He gained a first for that paper, and permanently changed my opinion of humanities subjects: Most of them are so easy to pass they should not even be taught in the same college as the sciences of engineering subjects, they are certainly not the same academic level and do not require the same amount of study. All they require is the ability to structure your ideas (or someone else's) into a well formed English essay.

        I have a humanities degree and an engineering degree. Neither was easier than the other to pass, they just required very different skills. I note that you "waffled" but he had to "structure" the ideas into a "well-formed English essay". Don't you wish more engineers had that ability? And why do you assume he only used your ideas? To get a first he would have had to have shown how it linked in to the rest of the course, something he would have had to do himself when he got back upstairs.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ildon (413912)

          I'm an engineer (well, comp sci, so sort of) and I can write A+ English papers all day. I just fucking hate doing it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by FoolishOwl (1698506)

          Neither was easier than the other to pass, they just required very different skills. I note that you "waffled" but he had to "structure" the ideas into a "well-formed English essay".

          I certainly do.

          I've recently started an entry-level job in IT, in a network operations center. The computer networks we monitor are quite different from each other, with a mix of Linux, Unix, and Windows servers; the networks of corporations and teams are even more complicated. I've found my co-workers to be generally knowledgeable about the technologies involved, though each of us has a particular forte, of course.

          What has really stuck out is that there's a much wider divergence in my co-worker's abilities

  • If you have enough money, you no longer have to try.

    By the way, I see obvious homework projects on the freelancing sites all the time now (some with the actual homework document posted). Thankfully, myself and most of my colleagues avoid bidding on them.

  • Interesting the lack of scientific subjects amongst his claims. Yes, he mentions psychology but I'm talking about things like physics and mathematics which are not that easy to plagiarise or regurgitate from other sources without justification.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Spad (470073)

      Science & Engineering papers usually depend on new work or research, whereas a lot of the subjects he mentioned just want you to repeat whatever the current received wisdom is with your own little bit on why you agree with it

    • Re:No science? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gl4ss (559668) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:31AM (#34240972) Homepage Journal

      science and physics course work you can copy much easier by yourself as it's "absolute truth" from the course material(that's been running in any given university for couple of decades with the same problems and assigments). it's much harder to prove that you copied 1+1=2 than to prove that you copied sentences directly from someone else.

      here's a nice plagiarism tip: use a source that's in another language than the one you're submitting in, then just translate. it's a method many many many songwriters, book authors, reporters, national heros etc have used with great success. the less has been translated to any given language the easier it is.

    • Re:No science? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:39AM (#34241026) Journal
      I suspect a combination of two factors:

      1. Humanities and soft sciences, in my experience, tend to be taught in courses whose grading depends much more on take-home essays than in class exams. Unless you have a smartphone with a nice camera, and a very on-the-ball internet cheating service, you can't really cheat in class over the internet; but doing so on a take home is absolutely trivial. Math and hard sciences often have take-home problem sets, some even worth a few points; but those are mostly just drill/practice for the exams that will curb-stomp you if you haven't done the work outside of class.

      2. I'm sure that internet cheating is a large enough business to support specialization of labor. The writer of TFA clearly specializes in writing. He/she probably has a good academic prose style, and good research skills, along with a jstor subscription or nearby university library. Quite possibly, he did a liberal arts or social science degree, which gave him the necessary practice; but found the job market unexciting with those credentials. Those things would equip him to produce adequate material in a wide variety of writing-heavy areas. If his skill is in writing, and he gets enough business, why would he turn away paying customers in order to brush up on his math, which, unless he has a genuinely unusual talent in the area, could take a couple of years? Presumably(and, taking a quick look at rentacoder, certainly), there are equivalent people who specialize in math, CS, and science. If his area of comparative advantage is writing, why go up against people who have a comparative advantage in other areas?
      • Re:No science? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by szquirrel (140575) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @09:42AM (#34241684) Homepage

        The writer of TFA clearly specializes in writing. He/she probably has a good academic prose style, and good research skills, along with a jstor subscription or nearby university library. Quite possibly, he did a liberal arts or social science degree, which gave him the necessary practice; but found the job market unexciting with those credentials.

        Go back and read TFA. I'm saying this not to be an asshole but because it's genuinely fascinating.

        The author states that:

        * He went to college to be a writer and found out that there's more than one way to get paid for what you write.

        * He uses mainly Wikipedia (for background), Amazon for the free pages, and Google Academics for the abstracts. Everything else he spins from educated guesswork and outright bullshit with lots and lots of filler.

        * He doesn't edit his work at all, this helps him work faster and heads off requests for him to "dumb it down".

        * His clients often thank him for making typos (presumably because it looks more authentic that way).

        He's not producing high quality work for top honors, he's producing "good enough" work for the sake of graduating at all. It may pay to get A's but C's get degrees, etc.

        I've said for years that not everybody needs a college degree. I would guess (I would hope) that this guy is helping along the raft of mediocre graduates who won't ever really use their degree except as resume fodder. Unfortunately this just devalues college degrees even more so that employers keep on requiring degrees for jobs that don't really need special training.

        He's right about one thing, blame the colleges that are more interested in collecting tuition fees than in producing actual, competent scholars.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Alioth (221270)

        And there's also an *awful* lot of waffle in these types of things, too.

        When I was a first year student, one thing I had to do on my degree course was Industrial Socieology. A group of us were sitting around in one of the computer rooms one evening, having been given an assignment for this course, and we were having a bit of a group-moan about the awful paper we had been forced to read first. The first paragraph of this tortured and abused the English language as far as it would go: a single run-on sentence

  • Notice there's no STEM items here (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Highlighting that all these "soft" type courses accept, potentially, a lot of BS. (I think philosophy classes are enormously important, the root of our culture, but still... I know it's BS'able in many cases.) No wonder some students find the actual hard sciences -- that have actual right and wrong answers and require justification -- overwhelmingly difficult in comparison.

    • The big difference is the amount of coursework. My degree only had a couple of modules that were more than 20% coursework, while people in humanities courses had a lot that were completely assessed by long essays. Paying someone to do all of the coursework on my degree would, even if they got 100%, only just be enough to move you up one grade boundary. The coursework was mainly there so you knew before the exam whether you really understood the subject.

      To cheat, you'd need to pay someone to sit the ex

  • by Albanach (527650) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:35AM (#34240996) Homepage

    Students are placing a lot of trust in these folk. What if one of the writers sells an old laptop on eBay and the recipient posts the hundreds of essays on the interwebs. If you were to wait twenty years before doing so, you would probably find at least a few of the clients now hold well paid jobs. Similarly, these folk are at very great risk of future blackmail when their job, family and home are on the line.

    Students will eventually suffer if it becomes too much of a problem. Courses will simply revert back to 100% final exams.

  • by FuckingNickName (1362625) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:38AM (#34241012) Journal

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, why are we prepared to take it on trust that this man who claims to make his life from cheeters isn't himself cheating the system by exaggerating the extent of his abilities and achievements?

    If it is easy to write an undergraduate nonscientific essay, it is even easier to fake correspondence.

    • by dargaud (518470)
      So let's ask him to publish extracts of 'his' multiple theses...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Which, of course, won't be plagiarised...

        Except he can't release evidence because that would get the non-authors in trouble.

        So we can't reasonably falsify his statement, as he is aware.

        I get the feeling this man is a scientist and a troll, and he intentionally indicated that he was not writing science/mathematics/engineering papers to mock the other disciplines as bullshit.

        8/10 very good effort.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by szquirrel (140575)

      Except that his story isn't that hard to believe. I can remember busting out 20-page papers overnight when I was in college and I'm not a particularly fast writer. It's easy to imagine that someone with enough practice and motivation could churn out papers like this for a living.

      Today I code web applications and I recognize the process he describes. He has essentially built a research paper "framework" that lets him quickly build products that fit a baseline set of requirements. In fact it sounds like he ra

  • Just the tone of the article is a giveaway. Another giveaway: google "widespread cultural, social, and economic change that would define" which he says is one of his stock phrases. Surely someone would have posted at least one of the papers he claims to crank out. Aside from references to this one article, nothing comes up.

  • by mbrod (19122) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:45AM (#34241078) Homepage Journal
    It doesn't take students in higher education long to see cheating and lying are the norm, even required. It prepares them for what they are about to have to do for the Corporations.
  • by justleavealonemmmkay (1207142) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @08:53AM (#34241152)
    You told us to write an ese, so we sent letters to our friends in Mejico
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @09:11AM (#34241362)
    It's tough as hell to have someone else walk up there in your tux with your horn and give a recital in your name.

    And that 10-pager I wrote on French opera in a two-year span of the 18th century [wikipedia.org], the only one in the class that got an A -- I'd like to see some shadow writer pull that out of thin air in 6 hours like I did.

    ....yeah, I'm just trying to make myself feel better after finally raking in the salary that my peers got right out of school.

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @10:14AM (#34242030)

    I certainly hope most of the students who use these services are going into management, where they'll never be required to use any skills.

  • by Aquitaine (102097) <samNO@SPAMiamsam.org> on Tuesday November 16, 2010 @11:07AM (#34242848) Homepage

    I was a liberal arts major at an Ivy League school and graduated with a BA in English. I later lived for a year or so with a fellow graduate who had taken a job for one of these paper mills for the money. I saw the kind of people who ran the place as well as the kind of people who needed work done.

    All the points about how this is easier with a humanities degree because you're not being tested in class are correct, but they're not a complete picture. Liberal arts degrees are indeed much easier to get than a science degree for the simple reason that you can't BS your way through math and physics (at least nowhere near as much as you can through the humanities). But a humanities education isn't meant to train you as a scientist or for a specific career, or a group or specific careers. It's meant to give you the intellectual tools to analyze anything. It's meant to make you intellectually agile, so that you can learn new (and possibly completely unrelated) fields very quickly. It's meant to give you a sense of what it means to be a damn human being and to give you the chops to appreciate arguments and ideas that might be contrary to your own, and to get to the bottom of why that is.

    My experience was that, if you did the work and applied yourself, you got exactly that. But the nature of the work is such that there are not as many external factors forcing you to do the kinds of things you have to do in organic chem. It used to be that this kind of intellectual laziness would mean you washed out, but these days, even at an Ivy, you have to be pretty terrible for that to happen. I've seen resumes and letters from some of my fellow graduates with English degrees -- people who, presumably, ought to be expert writers -- and they aren't. Sometimes it's just because they're lazy, and sometimes it's because they got all their credits studying ultra-specific intellectual theory, whether it's queer theory, post-modernist theory, feminist theory, or anything else that makes for interesting graduate work but shouldn't be forming the entire basis of your undergraduate curriculum. But the grad students are pretty much forced into claiming an intellectual niche and working it to death, and that is reflected in the classes they teach. All of this in the name of a 'broad' intellectual base!

    My recollection is that my friend was not writing papers for top tier schools most of the time, but it did happen. I remember that a lot of her clients were in one- or two- year master's programs (and sometimes MBAs) and almost always had the attitude that they just couldn't be bothered to do it themselves. Even if it started out as a single occasion where some kid just couldn't finish one paper on time, it became like a gateway drug.

    And the people who ran the paper mill were absolute scumbags. This one was in NYC. They would withhold payment from their writers, promise things like health insurance and not deliver, and otherwise screw the people doing the work as much as possible so that their margins would be as high as possible. But they always had work.

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.

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