Sunday, June 12, 2005

Plagiarism lows

Sunday morning trivia, and I google for leopards in Bannerghatta national park (a small but remarkable National park of scrub-deciduous forest near Bangalore). The first hit takes me to the official Karnataka tourism website, and this is what it said about the national park.

“Bannerghatta National Park
For a walk on the wild side, look no further than the southern outskirts of Bangalore city, where you can find everything from avifauna to panthers in the Bannerghatta National Park. The 25,000 acre park is home to panthers, lions, tigers and a large variety of birds. Indulge your sense of adventure with a lion and tiger safari for a tête-à-tête with the big cats. You could also wander through the Zoological Garden, with its canopy of shady and sturdy trees, find a quiet resting spot beside a pond and watch waterfowl frolic. The zoo boasts an amazing reptile collection; a snake park lets you get up close and personal with the scaly, slithery creatures. A children’s corner provides an added attraction. Trekking enthusiasts will enjoy Uddigebande (3.5 kms.) a natural rock formation called Hajjamana Kallu (3 kms.) and Mirza Hill (1.5 kms.).”


I then check the second link, from an eco-tourism company called Indian Wildlife Resorts, and my eyes nearly popped out when I read THIS on their website.

“Bannerghatta National Park
For a walk on the wild side, look no further than the southern outskirts of Bangalore city, where you can find everything from avifauna to panthers in the Bannerghatta National Park. The 25,000 acre park is home to panthers, lions, tigers and a large variety of birds. Indulge your sense of adventure with a lion and tiger safari. You could also wander through the Zoological Garden, with its canopy of shady and sturdy trees, find a quiet resting spot beside a pond and watch waterfowl frolic. The zoo boasts an amazing reptile collection; a snake park lets you get up close and personal with the scaly, slithery creatures. A children’s corner provides an added attraction. Trekking enthusiasts will enjoy Uddigebande (3.5 kms.) a natural rock formation called Hajjamana Kallu (3 kms.) and Mirza Hill (1.5 kms.)”


I’m a little shocked, since they hadn’t even bothered to change some adjectives of the description (or was it the Karnataka tourism site that plagiarized?). So, I go on to check the NEXT link on google, from ANOTHER eco-tourism company, the very well-known Jungle Lodges. And, guess what THEIR SITE says?

“For a walk on the wild side, look no further than the southern outskirts of Bangalore city, where you can find everything from avifauna to panthers in the Bannerghatta National Park. The 25,000 acre park is home to panthers, lions, tigers and a large variety of birds. Indulge your sense of adventure with a lion and tiger safari ……(snip)………amazing reptile collection; a snake park lets you get up close and personal with the scaly, slithery creatures. A children’s corner provides an added attraction. Trekking enthusiasts will enjoy Uddigebande (3.5 kms.) a natural rock formation called Hajjamana Kallu (3 kms.) and Mirza Hill (1.5 kms.).”

Three different websites/companies, all describe one of India’s lesser-known National parks (most Bangaloreans themselves only know of the zoo next to the national park), and ALL THREE have identical descriptions, to the punctuation marks. Who copied from whom? I don’t know, and frankly, that is not the issue at hand.

The plagiarism rot has set in very deep within the Indian society, and the problem really starts in our schools and colleges. In school, students do science or social studies projects on various topics, come up with beautiful charts or models, and do not bother to cite their sources. In colleges, students don’t blink twice before copying the record notebooks of the “class fruits” (“pazhams” in Tamil), the one or two conscientious students in class who take the pains of doing their assignments. The plagiarizing students don’t even bother to change typos and spelling mistakes. Citations and references? Forget about it.

When you do something wrong for a long time, you no longer feel you are doing wrong. Especially if everyone around you is doing the same thing.

****************
Post script
Nitin Pai of the Acorn had his blog plagarized recently (as Michael points out), and was justifiably mad. I think this post (where even a humble and obscure National Park's website was plagarized) just shows how deep the malaise has set in.

18 comments:

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
That was interesting that found this. Actually India Uncut mentioned that Nitin Pai of the Acorn had something he wrote directly lifted and pasted on the BSNL website. You can go to the Acorn and read about it.

You might recall that in February, the whole Indian blogosphere was alit by the Rohan Pinto plagiarism affair. If you do a search of Rohan Pinto in India Uncut (the little box a the top right) you'll get a lot of information about it.

It is a problem. It isn't legal in the U.S. and I doubt its legal in India either. Many bloggers add a creative commons license to their blog as extra legal protection.

Sunil said...

Yeah Michael...I remember reading about the Rohan Pinto affair some months ago.....I think he was cutting bits and pieces of india uncut and other popular bloggers...and using it as his own.

But the fact that a small and somewhat obscure indian national park too meets the same fate......in official websites of MAJOR tourist companies is scarier.

Suhail said...

hmm..not quite shocking. Recently BSNL was found to have plagiarized from Nitin Pai, including the typos! and patrix reported about his dissertaion being plagiarized in Mumbai univ.

Must say, not all copying that goes on in colleges can be termed as plagiarizing, as we know it. In my final year engg, there was this prof, who used to give 'assignments' for assignment's sake. Nothing to tease your brain. A long list of atleast 30-40 questions for each chapter he'd cover('read' is the correct word). All the answers were obvious no-brainers and were supposed to be taken frm his notes. Usually a diagram and some explanation to go with it. Now this prof wasn't interested in any real learning per se...he just wanted a thick journal with filled-up pages. The number of questions would go up as exam time approached. And with so less time on hands, we students had to be co-operative. One of us(usually the girls) used to take up one assignment, and fill in the pages..the rest simply copied -ofcourse with their knowledge. We took turns in this exercise. I'll let you in on a secret. Some of us were too smart not to even copy those hundreds of pages. So we doubled our font sizes and used to snip paras and paras at random from those notes. You won't believe, I used to get more or less the same termwork marks as my peers. The prof simply didn't read any of those assignments. And very rightly, I don't feel guilty of my actions. You want pages splattered with blue ink? take it. As for learning the subject, I'll do it on my own and take care of my grades. And little can be done against such profs, coz, if students take 'panga' with the prof. they are never gonna clear practicals and internals in that course.

Ofcourse, the thing that you pointed remains an issue. Our schools simply don't believe or teach the concept of "references".

Sunil said...

Suhail.....I think you brought out exactly what I'd hoped many of us would think about after reading this post. I had the same experiences in college.....and a major cause for this is that (1) Professors don't give thoughtful assignments to students (but expect answers to be copied from their own notes) and (2) Students are not taught or told to "research" projects....and cite their sources.
Both of these concepts are really basic, and students here in the States learn that VERY EARLY.
Like I said in my post...
"When you do something wrong for a long time, you no longer feel you are doing wrong. Especially if everyone around you is doing the same thing."

Most of us do not think we're doing anything wrong.

Vishnu said...

I've had similar experiences when I was an undergrad (at a "premier" institute in India), and even at present when I am doing my PhD in the US. Some professors not caring about assignments, which make people copy.

Probably, the blame is not entirely on the professors; they could have become this way from the constant lack of interest from students. I've seen this happen a lot during undergrad, since in India, most of the students choose our field of study based on performance in some entrance exam and the common trend that so-and-so discipline is better than others. This is detrimental in two ways: one, the lack of interest in students, and two, some students start thinking that their discipline is bad even before they start!

Sunil said...

Vishnu, thanks for your comments.
"his is detrimental in two ways: one, the lack of interest in students, and two, some students start thinking that their discipline is bad even before they start!"
That's bang on......it fosters a system where you just are not motivated to do your own work. And one thing leads to another.......
But I think this problem of plagarism can be effectively checked in school and in the first couple of years of college itself.....IF there is a will to do it. Unfortunately, the teaching faculty of India couldn't care less.

Vishnu said...

Unfortunately, the teaching faculty of India couldn't care less.
Sunil, I feel that it would be harsh to generalise. I had a teacher at school who insisted on a bibliography for a sixth-standard project! Of course, that's an exception.

I agree with you that this practice can be stopped right in school.

Kiran said...

Another addition to my list of horror stories related to the competency of the great Intelligroup! I would not blame BSNL - the whole job was probably outsourced.

Arun said...

quite thought provocative. Plagiarism..umm..let my thoughts sink in too..

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sunil, I'm quite startled that you stumbled on all this -- I ran into exactly these sites and the identical language when I was researching a piece on wildlife parks in South India (Jungle Lodges, Bannerghatta, Mudumalai etc) last year. I then made some calls to some of these places to get current rates and so forth, and I remember asking one of the guys about the identical websites. He had no idea (or said he had no idea) what a website was, so I left it there.

But I later found this was common. For example (from more research I was doing last year), see the references to the Rock Fort temple in Trichy here and here. (Clearly someone thought "collection" would be better as "conglomeration" or vice versa, but the other stuff could stay as is...).

And if you think those are just two Government agencies (Kerala tourism and TN Tourism) exchanging notes, check this ("Where Tradition meets Technology").

And after that, look at this (scroll down to third para from bottom), where they have taken "The two storeyed Taayumaanavar temple, built on (in) a hill is a masterpiece of construction" and changed it to "Built on a hill, this two storeyd temple is an engineering marvel and is accessed enroute to the Ganesha temple in the Rockfort complex and is a masterpiece of construction with several intricacies." (Or was it the other way around?)

Sunil said...

Yeah Dilip.....
after I found these sites....i did some more googling for some common Indian tourist spots (try Elephanta caves, or Hampi or Mudumalai....), just like you did, and it's absolutely unbelievable how many websites have identical content. I was very shocked when I saw these.....and Government websites were almost leading the way in this!!

I still can't fathom why this has to be the case....i mean...it's not that hard to change a paragraph!

Charu said...

sunil, you might find this interesting - 'Technology ethics lessons shouldn't begin at college' - http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050607/OPINION02/506070319/1039/OPINION - on illegal peer-to-peer file sharing of music files among university students - not exactly related to this topic - but the article raises some interesting questions... about how the cyberspace has dimmed lines defining ethical behavior...

for instance, the students and the teachers you talk about - do they even realise what they are doing is unethical - illegal at tmes?

Aditya said...

sunil ... my first visit to your blog - enjoyed reading the posts and discussions too! will definitely visit more often!

SK said...

There is a website that can be used to track plagiarism of content on the web. You might probably be knowing it by now as my comment comes in very late. Anyways - here it is: http://www.copyscape.com/

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