term papers + capitalism = ???

The Chronicle has a great article by a professional term paper writer.  I’m calling it great because it’s well-written, interesting, and provocative.  (Interestingly, those three attributes don’t directly reflect the subject matter.)  I certainly don’t support cheating, but the author’s job is pretty interesting.  It sounds like he/she gets to learn about all sorts of things as part of their job.  Though the nature of those deadlines seems unappealing.

Some of the comments are interesting, but they bored or bothered me after reading halfway.  One great point is the difficulty in identifying such cheating.  Typically, cheating that we find is one student copying from another in the same class/section.  I’ve heard of cases where people find a copy from a previous year of the course (though I haven’t taught long enough to experience that yet).  I can’t imagine the burden of proof in these cases though – if you somehow got a copy of the email, would that count?  Maybe if you could show a clear difference in writing style, maybe.  Also, there is criticism about lack of content in “fake” papers, but the author makes it pretty clear that he/she checks the background information from google/amazon.  Adding google scholar to the list makes me think the output must be pretty decent, though I can’t imagine the technical content of the output would match a decent paper.

Another part of me wonders about writing publications.  In some sense, the “novelty” of the publication is the research itself, not the writing.  And it’s tempting to believe rumors of grad students not being attributed for their efforts (which is not too different than this story).  At the same time, when I read poorly written papers I wish a professional writer had written them, even at reduced content.  It might be interesting to have some sort of professional writer in the department to help advise about writing, though the author really needs to have control over the content.  For those who are modest at writing (like me), it’s probably good enough to plan/write things yourself, but bounce ideas off of those around you, and ask for people to review your articles.

The article really reminded me of the movie Catch Me If You Can; even though the protagonist is a “bad guy”, it’s fun to watch.


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