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Lesson 21: Academic Dishonesty

The second unforgivable mistake is academic dishonesty. This is the crime of claiming that someone said such-and-such, when in fact they said no such thing. For example, consider the following sentence:

Hitler killed more than 6 million Jews (Smith).

What that sentence really means is this:   

According to a writer called Smith, Hitler killed more than 6 million Jews. Of course, Smith didn’t use those exact words—if he had, I would have put his words within quotation marks. But trust me: Smith claims that Hitler killed more than 6 million Jews.

If I examine your source—the book or article written by Smith—and I find that Smith in fact made no such claim, you are guilty of academic dishonesty.

Academic dishonesty is often a result of laziness. Many times, a student collects a handful of statistics or quotes, but then forgets where each of these pieces of evidence came from. Trying to save time, the student takes a guess: “I think I got that from Smith.”

Don’t guess. If you guess wrong, you haven’t simply made a mistake. You have misrepresented the work of another author. And that, in academia, is a very serious crime.

Academic dishonesty also includes other forms of misrepresentation, such as:

To put it simply, academic dishonesty is basically the crime of "lying about your evidence." In can be compared to the kind of lying that an uscrupulous police officer or prosecutor might be tempted to do.

Imagine a prosecutor who is trying to convict an alleged criminal. Unfortunately, her case is rather weak, so she decides to lie in court about the evidence. Perhaps she lies about the source of the evidence, or she lies about the contents of the evidence. In any case, she misrepresents the evidence in some important way.

How would you feel about this prosecutor?

Check Your Understanding:

  1. What is academic dishonesty?
  2. How is academic dishonesty sometimes the result of laziness? How can you avoid this mistake?
  3. If a police officer or a prosecutor gets caught lying about evidence, he or she will certainly get fired. What do you think happens to a university professor who is found guilty of academic dishonesty?

Quiz: MLA 21