Plagiarism and Essay Mills: An Experiment

Dan Ariely describes an experiment in which he and colleague solicited essays from four websites dedicated to helping students cheat, paying between $150 and $216 for each. The essays were for a hypothetical social psychology class. All four essays were terrible — real F-quality material even if the student weren’t caught. Richly, two of the essays themselves were plagiarized from other sources, but the websites would not refund their money.

He concludes, “I think that the technological revolution has not yet solved students’ problems.  They still have no other option but to actually work on their papers (or maybe get help in the old fashioned way and copy from friends).  But I do worry about the existence of essay mills and the signal that they send to our students.”

It strikes me that this particular technology will probably never come. The reason is that the students most interested in buying their essays online are going to be the worst students. They’re probably not going to know the difference between a good essay and a poor one, and they probably aren’t even conscientious enough to review thoroughly the essay they receive. This is one market in which we professors can be thankful for the problem of asymmetric information.

HT: Steve Saideman

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