• Solutions
  • Resources
  • Pricing
  • Buy Credits

Plagiarism by the Numbers - Risk & Reward

Posted by David Rothschild on Nov 8, 2011 4:00:00 AM

Why do people plagiarize? A Huffington post article recently started off by answering this question. Ellen Siminoff writes: “It's that plate of cookies on the counter that you know you should keep away from because you're determined to stick to your diet ... but they're right there.”

Temptation has always been a primary catalyst for cheating the system. It’s a risk / reward calculation to breaking the rules: if the reward outweighs the risk of getting caught and facing punishment, then an individual may be more inclined to cheat. Although morality and ethics play a role in preventing cheating within certain individuals, they still can fall to temptation based on the risk / reward factor.

why plagiarism happensEven among our closest relatives – the great apes – cheating to get ahead is a practice that has been observed in the wild. Renowned primatoligst Frans De Waal has made numerous observations of chimpanzees deceiving one another. One example showed a chimp luring members of his group to a false cache of food in order to keep the real food hidden for himself.

Of course, students, authors, bloggers & researchers are most often more sensible than chimpanzees. Most people know that it’s not OK to cheat just because there will always be cheaters. On the more extreme side of the law, there unfortunately will always be criminals who commit felonies as well. This is why there are harsh punishments for these types of crimes.

There also will always be plagiarism. No matter what enforcements and regulations are in place, individuals will attempt to take shortcuts by illicitly copying other people’s work. What matters is plagiarism by the numbers. From a quantitative viewpoint, various sources have pointed to plagiarism being on the rise over the past decade. This increase in cases of plagiarism threatens the integrity and effectiveness of various institutions (universities, publishers, researcher groups).

Cutting down on the rate of plagiarism and preventing the deterioration of our educational and scientific institutions requires a few things; teaching what plagiarism is at an early age, increasing the risk (punishment) for getting caught, as well as implementing systems and technology to detect cases of plagiarism. Essentially, this is pushing the ‘reward’ factor down and the ‘risk’ factor much higher: the result is more individuals realizing it just isn’t worth it to cheat.


Siminoff, Ellen. “Discouraging Internet Plagiarism.” The Huffington Post. October 28th, 2011.

Givens, David B. “Crime Signals – Deception Cue.” 2008.