Plagiarism Plague in Russia
Via Slate: The Craziest Black Market in Russia. Apparently, a lot of Russians are paying for dissertations:
In the past few years alone, there have been credible allegations of dissertation plagiarism made against Russia’s minister of culture, the governor of St. Petersburg, and the head of the country’s top federal investigating authority. Just in the past month, copy-and-pasting has been discovered in the dissertations of the deputy finance minister of the Russian republic of Mordovia and a government adviser on justice who is the putative author of a thesis comparing legal principles in Russia and the West.
Quantifying the scale of Russia’s plagiarism problem is difficult, but based on the data it has collected so far, Dissernet estimates that improper borrowing can be found in about 4 percent of all dissertations defended in the country. That doesn’t include ghostwritten work that is plagiarism-free: According to Ararat Osipian, who completed a Ph.D. on academic corruption at Vanderbilt University and is now doing field work on the subject in Ukraine, between 20 percent and 30 percent of all dissertations that have been completed at Russian universities since the fall of the Soviet Union were purchased on the black market.
This market feeds on the Russian elite’s surprisingly intense yearning for the markers of academic status. According to Parkhomenko, Russian bureaucrats, lawmakers, doctors, and businesspeople regard advanced degrees as part of the same “package of success” as expensive jewelry, fancy cars, and giant homes. “If a person has achieved this—if he could get himself this title, it is supposed to mean he is capable of something in life,” Parkhomenko said. “It means he’s worthy of respect.”
The prevalence of academic fraud in Russia is fueled in part by the structure of the country’s higher education system. Unlike their American counterparts, would-be academics in Russia can receive doctoral degrees without doing any substantial coursework, as long as they convince a “dissertation board” to approve their theses. These dissertation boards exist inside universities, where they are organized by discipline and staffed by faculty members; there are several thousand of them throughout the country. “If it’s a big university, they might have 10 of these boards, each one devoted to a different academic field—one for European history, one for Russian history, one for philology, one for French language, one for philosophy, and so on,” said Parkhomenko.
Over the past 25 years many of these boards have become corrupt, with faculty members and academic advisers taking bribes in exchange for rubber-stamping obviously shoddy, or stolen, work, according to Osipian, who is not a member of Dissernet. “Everyone wants to get his cut,” he said. “You bought a dissertation, fine, but you still have to pay the people on the board to let this dissertation go through. At these universities, everyone needs money—they are all overworked and underpaid.”
Corrupt dissertation boards, according to Zayakin, are the “core” of the supply chain for academic fraud, and some of them “have effectively become places where fake degrees are manufactured.” But what really makes the system hum is the thriving marketplace of dissertation-writing firms, which often masquerade as mere academic consultancies, that broker deals for buyers. For the most part, these firms do their business out in the open and are easy to find by looking up “dissertation for order” on Google or the Russian search engine Yandex.
A key component that contributes to this process is the lack of coursework for a doctorate, which places all the entirety of the burden of proof on the dissertation. Quite frankly if the article is correct in that description, it raises question in my mind about the general quality of a Russian doctorate in comparison to one earned in the US which typically included multiple years of coursework plus either fieldwork of some kind or substantial lab-based research.
At any rate, the whole thing is worth a read, and does describe a depressing (and staggering) amount of corruption.