The ghostwriters I’ve called

By Bill WirtzLex Kleren

Through Xavier Bettel’s alleged plagiarism of a university dissertation, the issue of fraud in higher education has been back in the news. We looked at a different, less detectable, and more secretive technique that worries universities: ghostwriting.

"Did you really write that?" can be a nightmarish question for any student handing in homework that uses "borrowed" passages found online, without any reference or quotation marks. Plagiarism is probably as old as academia itself, but while universities struggled for the longest time to detect acts of copy-pasting, modern technology has given it updated tools to detect fraud. One of the popular plagiarism-detecting tools is Turnitin, an American company founded in 1998 that created an international database of published works – comparing them to the dissertations of thesis handed in by students. As a general rule, most papers will get a plagiarism match within a 5 to 10 percent margin: this happens because sometimes these analysis tools are unable to differentiate between quotations and the original writing. Usually, professors tend to get suspicious at a rate surpassing 20 percent, which then activates a thorough review of the work. Turnitin advertises its services with the following pitch: "Ensure original work from students and address even the most sophisticated potential misconduct."

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