The Influence of the Internet on Plagiarism Among Doctoral Dissertations: An Empirical Study
Plagiarism has been a long standing concern within higher education. Yet with the rapid rise in the use and availability of the Internet, both the research literature and media have raised the notion that the online environment is accelerating the decline in academic ethics. The majority of research that has been conducted to investigate such claims have involved self-report data from students. This study sought to collect empirical data to investigate the potential influence the prevalence of the Internet has had on significant higher education artifacts by comparing dissertations written prior to widespread use of the Internet with those written in a period in ubiquitous Internet use. Due to the prestige associated with the doctoral degree and the fact that the majority of the effort necessary to achieve such a degree resides within the dissertation, this study utilized Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) dissertations written in English and published by accredited universities in the U.S. and Canada. A sample of 384 dissertations were analyzed by Turnitin plagiarism detection software. The mean similarity indices for pre-Internet and post-Internet eras were 14.5 and 12.3 %, respectively. A Mann Whitney U test (Mdn = 13, U = 30,098.5, p < 0.001) indicated that the differences between groups was significant, however opposite than has been purported within the exigent literature. When comparing the counts of dissertations for each time era considering those with plagiarism versus those that had little/no evidence thereof, there was no statistically significant difference (χ2 [1, N = 368] = 2.61, p = 0.11). The findings of this study suggest that the Internet may not be significantly impacting the prevalence of plagiarism in advanced levels of higher education.