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Weird question: is this plagiarism?

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  1. Aug 20, 2015 #1
    Hi,

    I've got a strange situation. I'm a teacher in a foreign country, and one of my students wrote stories about historical characters. But his stories are so good, that I'm not shure if he has written them himself... My suspision is, that he has taken some Englisch stories, and translated them. So, now I try to translate back(?) to Englisch what he wrote. Which makes the text below of course kind of indirect...

    Does anybody recognise something like this:
    ----
    1666, Newton was leaning against a tree. He had temporarily stopped his studies at Cambridge because of the plague epidemic. Newton was forced to go back to his place of birth, Colsterworth. He had had few friends at Cambridge University, yet there had been one person who had aroused his interest, Isaac Barrow. Isaac Barrow had instigated Newton's interest in mathematics and physics, and since then he had thought of nothing else. He had studied works of Galilei, Kepler and Wallis. Newton was already convinced of the heliocentric worldview. There had been enough observations, the movement of planets round the sun had been seen and described by Kepler, amongst others. Newton stared ahead and wondered how it was possible that planets moved round the sun this way, without the sun touching them. What was steering the planets? Aristoteles had told it 2000 years ago, in the heavens (space) there are other laws of physics than on earth. Newton deep in his thoughts stared at the tree opposite, an apple fell down and hit the ground. Newton suddenly had an idea, had Aristoteles been wrong and were the laws of physics the same on earth as in the heavens? Was the force on the apple the same as the force on the moon? Newton rose up and ran inside.
    -----
    1684, Newton is now a professor at Cambridge University. He was working in his room, when there was a knock on the door. While Newton was walking down he saw that it was Edmond Halley who had knocked. Newton knew Edmond Halley from a few years before. Halley, like himself, was interested in the motion of heavenly bodies round the sun. After Newton had let in Halley, Halley started talking. 'I have come to ask you something', said Halley. Halley started to tell about the motion of planets. 'Stop', said Newton. Newton had calculated the motion of planets years before.
    ---
    Last example:
    ----
    1924, Edwin Hubble took a long draft from his sigarette and stared in front of him. It was night and dark. The view was fantastic, the moon was the only light that illuminated the mountains. Hubble was standing on the 1742 meter high top of Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains. He had seen this view before, indeed, he saw it every day.
    < ... >
    The Hookertelescope was the best and only of its kind. The telescoop was adjusted to the Andromeda Nebula, the place where he had discovered many Cepheïdes. Cepheïds are stars that with regularity change their brightness. Hubble has been able to determine with which frequency and intensity this brightness increases and decreases. These were nice discoveries, but nothing groundbreaking.
    -----

    Any help will be appreciated very much! Did my student wrote this himself, or is it out of a book?

    Paul
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 20, 2015 #2

    robphy

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    I would use Google to search for phrases from your text (especially the uncommon ones).
    Since there is at least one translation involved, it might not be easy.
    Good luck.
     
  4. Aug 20, 2015 #3
    I'd think not, that which I read would have never made it off the editors deck as written
     
  5. Aug 20, 2015 #4

    davenn

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    you forget that there is at least 1 and possibly 2 translations here that will be screwing up grammar and spelling


    Dave
     
  6. Aug 20, 2015 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    Not sure this will work, but have you tried Turnitin? It's a standard tool over here (US).

    http://turnitin.com/
     
  7. Aug 21, 2015 #6
    Thanks everyone!

    I've tried 'turnitin.com', but it looks like I'm not allowed to create an account. On the other hand, I already tried ´Ephorus´, which I think is exactly the same thing. Ephorus doesn´t find anything, but if it´s a translation -> it is not designed to find it. I agree that two translations probably have screwed up the grammar and spelling.

    I do think it is plagiarism, because:
    1. the devil is in the details.
    (In his Newton-story he uses details like mentioning Isaac Barrow and Wallis. In his Galileï-story he mentions that Galileï is standing on Rialto-bridge in Venice. These very detailed details arouse my suspicion)
    2. One translational error.
    (he translated 'groundbreaking' litteraly to Dutch (my language). But you can't say it like that in Dutch, it's like saying: 'These were nice discoveries, but nothing had broken the floor'. Or like saying: 'what is it that that is'? -> which would be a literal translation of 'qu' est-ce que c'est'. If someone wrote in English: 'what is it that that is?' instead of 'what's that?', you would get *very* suspicious the person translated a French text.)

    I can't find his stories with google or with Ephorus. What I'm hoping for, is that someone recognises the details and can tell me from which book(?) they come.

    (Actualy, what I'm really hoping for is that my student did write it himself, but his translational error raises too much suspicion...)

    Paul
     
  8. Aug 21, 2015 #7

    CalcNerd

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    Plagiarism is very difficult to catch or prove for anyone who simply paraphrases' their work. Is that plagiarism? A gray line to me. If you are asking for a report, facts are facts, if you are asking for creative writing and one story is nearly the same plot, actions and events, sounds like the same story, regardless of how it is written, plagiarism. And that is without the consideration of a translation. What was the intent of his paper? If it is a biography, I would say that anything short of blatantly copying out of the referenced text would probably be acceptable if English is his second language.
    .
    Did he include a bibliography. Now is a good time to teach him how to reference and refer to other sources rather than try to paraphrase text that could be interpreted as plagiarism.
    .
    My own suspicion is that he did as you suspect, found something, copied, translated, polished it up (paraphrased) and turned it in. This is a very gray area. I suggest you self analyze your own goals for this class. Was the assignment to write a biography and this is an upper level college course where the student is expected to KNOW how to write and KNOW the rules of plagiarism, then by all means bring the hammer down. However, if this is a high school or freshman/sophomore college class, now is the time to let this individual know such work is highly unethical and paraphrasing can also be plagiarism as there is gray line out there that he/she either crossed or is on it.
     
  9. Aug 21, 2015 #8

    Andy Resnick

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    I'm with CalcNerd on this- it's not obviously copied, but your suspicions are well-founded. At this point, it's best to (politely and in private) confront the student directly and discuss topics like plagiarism, ethics, citations, expectations, etc.
     
  10. Aug 21, 2015 #9

    robphy

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    Another possible source is a
    documentary, story, or movie clip
    about Newton, Halley, and/or Hubble.
    (The dramatic details are curious.)
     
  11. Aug 25, 2015 #10
    Well,

    for those who followed this, here's the outcome: we invited the student and talked intensively with him. He really managed to convince us that he has written it himself. He could easily account for all details where he had found them (and it was not in obscure places that he found them). Also, he convinced us by telling us how he wrote it, what his thougths had been, et cetera. He understood why we had been afraid of plagiarism and considered it a compliment. In the end, we definitely did compliment him with this product. (Except for his use of sources of course, which we have ordered him to fix. But also there turned out to be a good explanation why his use of sources had been so bad.)

    Paul
     
  12. Aug 26, 2015 #11

    Andy Resnick

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    This is fantastic news- glad to hear all is well.
     
  13. Aug 26, 2015 #12

    Astronuc

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    The matter appears to be favorably resolved.
    This does not appear to be copied, at least not from a reliable source. Compare that writing to this -
    and the following text from http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Biographies/Newton.html

    Barrow apparently encouraged his students, including Newton, but Newton's interest in mathematics and natural science was well developed before Barrow arrived, and certainly before 1666, and thus Barrow did not instigate Newton's interest in mathematics and physics.

    Bibliography on references concerning Newton.
    http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/References/Newton.html

    As for the comment about Hubble's observation of Cepheid variables, it was indeed a dramatic shift in the field of astronomy.

    Ref: http://www.space.com/11761-historic-star-variable-hubble-telescope-photo-aas218.html , and
    [24] Hubble, E. P. (1925). "Cepheids in spiral nebulae". The Observatory 48: 139.
    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1925Obs....48..139H
    https://cosmology.carnegiescience.edu/timeline/1929 [Broken]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  14. Aug 27, 2015 #13

    mathwonk

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    This reminds me of some experiences as a teacher. As I grew older my takeaway was that I had been too intent on proving someone guilty, even when they were, as it was not really worth it. E.g. once when someone behaved oddly during an exam, sitting far at the back, then handed in work that appeared definitely copied from the book, I went to exdtraordinary lengths to prove cheating, eventually making the student repeat the exam. The student argued they had not time to re-prepare and exacted an extra week for study. During this week the student, knowing they could not cheat twice, apparently actually learned the required material, and on the second taking delivered a good product that did not seem dishonestly submitted. Hence the student had the ability to learn the material but somnehow out of resentment, had tried to pull a fast one, and all I succeeded in doing was forcing them to actually learn it. But it was traumatic for both of us and did not prove cheating.

    In retrospect, I would probably suggest I should have interviewed the student as you did, and just said I was pretty sure they had cheated, but I wondered why they had thought that necessary, in view of their obvious ability to master the content. Perhaps even saying that I did not want to prove anything, I just wanted to let them know I ahd faith in them and really hoped they would give me the benefit of the doubt and try to do what I was asking them to do in the course. I.e. what I really wanted to do was communicate to the student the value of doing ones own work, not prove their dishonesty. To some extent this did occur in my case, and the atudent admitted to me they felt under a lot of pressure to do things whose value they doubted.

    anyway, you seem to have done well, if you are correct.
     
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