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Harvard Plagiarism Scandal Discovered Partly Due to Typo

In what surely ranks highly on the list of Scandals Discovered Because of Grammatical Errors, Harvard‘s most recent academic witch hunt was kicked off in part because one professor noticed an unusual typo in the same place in two exams. The discovery, made by assistant professor Matthew Platt, initially placed 13 final exams under suspicion this past spring. When Harvard publicly announced the inquiry at the end of August, the number of undergraduates being investigated had increased to about 125.

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They probably would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids. By “those meddling kids,” we actually mean “Matthew Platt.” The intrepid assistant professor took a closer look at the final take-home exams for his Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress” course after noticing an odd combination of repeated lines in various places and a single typo present in two different exams.

Two of the shared phrases are mentioned specifically by The Harvard Crimson:  “22, 500 organizations in 2008” and “Freddie Mac’s stealth lobbying campaign.” The unnecessary space in “22, 500” was found in two different exams. It’s not impossible, of course, that both students made the same mistake, but it is highly unlikely, especially since the rest of the phrase matches as well.

Due to the fact that these were take-home exams, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that multiple students collaborated to provide answers to the questions. In a regular setting, nearly everything in the exam would be different from those submitted by others, even if they come to the same conclusions. Basically, they didn’t plagiarize very well.

(The Harvard Crimson via Hacker News, image via Alberto G.)

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