IHSA plagiarism scandal/Email from David Reinstein to Ron McGraw
On Tuesday, March 12, 2013, David Reinstein sent the following email to Ron McGraw, IHSA Assistant Executive Director in charge of Scholastic Bowl, who fired him in response. For more details, see IHSA plagiarism scandal. The following people were copied on the email: IHSA head editor Sister John Baricevic, New Trier athletic director Randy Oberembt, New Trier activities director and IHSA Scholastic Bowl Advisory Committee member Stacy Kolack, New Trier principal Tim Dohrer, and Reinstein's fellow IHSA proofreader Tom Egan.
I am writing this so that the recipients can be made aware of some disagreements that have arisen over questions submitted and used in the IHSA Scholastic Bowl Tournament this year. I worked this year as the Math Subject Editor and as one of the Assistant Editors for the overall set.
As an Assistant Editor, I do not know who wrote each question, so this is not a personal matter for me.
According to IHSA Scholastic Bowl Term & Condition M.13:
Questions should be pristine. While there are many text and internet based sources for facts from which questions can be constructed, word-for-word plagiarism from copyrighted sources or previously used question sets is not permitted. Short excerpts from primary sources such as literature, poetry, music, film, and other media are permitted, especially when the intent of the question is to identify the source, author, era, or other information for which the excerpt is a clue.
I do not believe that this Term & Condition was followed this year, and I am writing this to find out whether there will be any difference in future years. Fortunately, the problematic questions I found will not be used at the State Finals this Friday, though one question each was used at the Regionals and Sectionals which just take place.
I understand that the IHSA uses many writers, and it is a fact of life that some writers will not meet all the expectations on them. What frustrates me is that when word for word copying is pointed out to other editors, those editors do not view it as a problem. The questions are used, and the writers are paid for their work and rehired the following year.
Here is one of the questions I was sent to edit:
Some animal cells have junction proteins that join them to other cells of the same tissue. Identify these types of junctions.
[A] This names the junction between cells when adjacent plasma membrane proteins join to form an impermeable barrier. It is commonly found in cells of the kidney and intestine.
Answer: tight junction
[B] This names the junction between cells in which the adjacent plasma membranes do not touch, but are held together by intercellular filaments attached to button-like thickenings. These junctions are the most common type of intercellular junction between skin cells.
Answer: adhesion junction
[C] This names the junction allowing cells to communicate as well as lending strength and allowing ions, sugars, and small molecules to pass between cells. These junctions are important in heart and smooth muscle as they permit a flow of ions between them to allow cells to contract as a unit.
Answer: gap junction
Here are definitions that exist on the internet, such as at http://quizlet.com/14170423/gi_biol117_test1-flash-cards/
Tight junction: Junction between cells when adjacent plasma membrane proteins join to form an impermeable barrier.
Adhesion junction: Junction between cells in which the adjacent plasma membranes do not touch but are held together by intercellular filaments attached to buttonlike thickenings.
Gap junction: Junction between cells formed by the joining of two adjacent plasma membranes; it lends strength and allows ions, sugars, and small molecules to pass between cells.
I pointed out this similarity to the Head Editor, who passed my comments along to the Science Editor. He told her it was fine to use the question as written, and she approved its use at the IHSA Sectionals which took place this Saturday. I wrote a replacement that did not quote sources word for word, but the Head Editor chose to use the original question anyways.
Here is another question that was sent to me:
Identify these types of behavior as classified by psychologists.
[A] This type of behavior cause psychological or physical harm to another individual.
Answer: aggression [Accept variations such as “aggressive”.]
[B] An individual carries out this pro-social type of behavior without considering his or her own safety or interests.
Answer: altruism [Accept variations such as “altruistic”.]
[C] This change in behavior is consistent with a direct request from someone or something in authority or power.
Answer: compliance [Accept variations such as “compliant”.]
Here are the definitions found at http://www.apa.org/research/action/glossary.aspx
Aggression: Behaviors that cause psychological or physical harm to another individual.
Altruism: Prosocial behaviors a person carries out without considering his or her own safety or interests.
Compliance: A change in behavior consistent with a communication source's direct requests.
This question had problems other than the fact that it was copied word for word from another source. I wrote a replacement for it, and my replacement was used, though the Head Editor denied that there was any plagiarism involved in writing the original question.
Here are other examples I found.
A parenthetical is a phrase that is not essential to the framing sentence.
[A] This type of parenthetical is subordinated to the sentence, and often denotes an ingratiating or apologetic attitude. It is sometimes placed in parentheses to more clearly identify it as a trivial comment.
[B] This parenthetical is a noun or noun phrase placed in opposition to another such construction that defines or modifies the first.
[C] This type contains at least a noun or a pronoun and a participle but not a true verb, and modifies the entire sentence. For example: “Mike stayed up late, writing his paper.”
Answer: absolute phrase
Here are quotes from http://www.dailywritingtips.com/8-types-of-parenthetical-phrases/
A parenthetical phrase, sometimes called simply a parenthetical, is one that is not essential to the framing sentence.
An aside is a statement that is subordinated to the sentence, often denoting an ingratiating or apologetic attitude. It might also be placed within parentheses to more clearly identify it as a trivial comment.
…an appositive, a noun or noun phrase placed in opposition to another such construction that defines or modifies the first.
An absolute phrase, which contains at least a noun or a pronoun and a participle but not a true verb, modifies the entire sentence: “Jane stayed up late, writing her report.”
The Head Editor agreed to get another editor to modify this question but refused to acknowledge there was a problem, stating, “When I looked at the website you cited, I saw similar wordings in some places, but not a direct lifting of the question.”
Another original question:
The plasma membrane regulates the passage of molecules into and out of the cell. In general, small, non-charged molecules such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, glycerol, and alcohol, can freely cross the membrane. They are able to slip between the hydrophilic [hy-droh-FILL-ik] heads of the phospholipids [FOSS-foh-LIP-idz] and pass through the hydrophobic [hy-droh-FOH-bik] tails of the membrane. As these molecules move from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration, what gradient are these molecules following?
Answer: concentration gradient
Here is a quote from http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/dl/free/007340344x/805232/mad0344X_ch04.pdf:
The plasma membrane regulates the passage of molecules into and out of the cell...In general, water and small, noncharged molecules, such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, glycerol, and alcohol, can freely cross the membrane. They are able to slip between the hydrophilic heads of the phospholipids and pass through the hydrophobic tails of the membrane. These molecules are said to go “down” their concentration gradient as they move from an area where their concentration is high to an area where their concentration is low.
Another original question:
This apparatus works best at a pressure of 15 psi [spell it] and a temperature of 121.5 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. It kills vegetative microorganisms, bacterial endospores, and viruses. Name this large metal pressure cooker that uses steam under pressure to completely destroy all microbial life.
Here is a quote from http://books.google.com/books?id=RaVKCQI75voC&pg=PA376&lpg=PA376#v=onepage&q&f=false
An autoclave is like a large metal pressure cooker that uses steam under pressure to completely destroy all microbial life…Autoclaving at a pressure of 15 psi, at a temperature of 121.5 C, for 20 minutes, kills vegetative microorganisms, bacterial endospores, and viruses.
Here is another question:
Artists use the term “edge” for a boundary along which two different colored areas or surfaces meet.
[A] This edge is a blurred boundary between areas sometimes rendered even less distinct by similarities in color and values.
Answer: soft edge
[B] This is the edge that seems closest to the viewer.
Answer: leading edge
[C] This is the leading edge of paper as it feeds into a press
Answer: gripper edge
Here are the definitions at http://www.oswego.edu/~metzgar/html/vocab_list.htm:
soft edge - A blurred boundary between areas sometimes rendered even less distinct by similarities in color and values.
leading edge - The edge that seems closest to the viewer
gripper edge - The leading edge of paper as it feeds into a press.
Since I moderated at a Regional, I reviewed those questions the day before the contest. Here is a question I found:
Name these types or categories or branches of psychology.
[A] This branch of psychology, originated by Jung [yoong], views the person as a complex collection of compensatory internal forces in a dynamic balance.
Answer: [Accept either. “Jungian psychology” is wrong.]
[B] This psychology studies higher mental processes such as attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, and thinking.
Answer: cognitive psychology
[C] This area of psychological investigation is concerned with understanding the nature of individual pathologies of mind, mood, and behavior.
Answer: [Accept either.]
Here are the definitions at http://www.apa.org/research/action/glossary.aspx:
Analytic psychology: A branch of psychology that views the person as a constellation of compensatory internal forces in a dynamic balance.
Cognitive psychology: The study of higher mental processes such as attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, and thinking.
Abnormal psychology: The area of psychological investigation concerned with understanding the nature of individual pathologies of mind, mood, and behavior.
I contacted the Head Editor the day before the Regional, and the question was not changed. I could understand if the question was not changed because it was too late to make changes at 64 sites, but the Head Editor told me that this should not be changed because it was not a case of plagiarism.
Last night, the Head Editor sent me a message with some examples she found of other question vendors using questions whose wording matches that of other sources. The vendor she cited is NAQT, a company she knows I do some work for. She knows that I also chair the Illinois High School Scholastic Bowl Coaches Association, which buys questions from NAQT for our tournaments.
I am attaching her attachments. The first one shows a question that begins:
He won four gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. For 10 points each--
A. What American sprinter was named "Sportsman of the Century" by the International Olympic Committee?
answer: (Frederick Carlton) Carl Lewis
She then shows that these quotes match a newspaper article. I have seen the rest of the question, and it does not match the article she found.
The second shows a question that uses the phrase, “resigned after pleading no contest to taking bribes in 1973.” This exact phrase appears on a website. That is the only quote the question and the website she located have in common.
I hope that the differences between the exact quotes I found and the exact quotes she found are obvious. I found cases where entire questions were taken from a website, and she found cases where short quotes stating commonly known facts could also be found on the internet. I hope this will not be seen as evidence that what happened in the IHSA State Series this year is common in Scholastic Bowl. I have performed many roles in Scholastic Bowl for many years, and I can promise you that the copying done by IHSA writers and approved by IHSA editors this year is not normal. It was a systematic use of other people’s words that would not be tolerated by respected question vendors.
She attached another document that was two pages long. The first page showed some of the cases I listed above. The second page showed some question edits made by me and one of the other editors. It asks why the edits made by the two of us were so similar.
For one thing, the writers who wrote the questions above were being paid by the question. Tom Egan and I were not, and we had the understanding that we could collaborate. For another thing, the reason our edits were so similar is that we were editing the same questions, and the parts that match are the parts of the question we didn’t change. If you want to make a comparison, here are the questions we were sent:
An electro-active type of this is used in making artificial muscles. Chitin [KY-tin] and cellulose are natural examples, while neoprene [NEE-uh-preen] and silicone are synthetic examples. They can be synthesized from one-alkenes [al-KEENZ] using a Ziegler-Natta [ZEE-gler NAT-tuh] catalyst. They are synthesized through initiation, propagation, and termination steps from a radical. PVC and many other plastics are also examples of what long molecules made up of many subunits called monomers [MAH-nuh-merz]?
This man modified Planck’s hypothesis concerning the zero points of an oscillator’s energy levels by defining the lowest energy state to be half the energy spacing between levels. The 1905 annus mirabilis [AN-nus mir-ROB-uh-lis] was named for this man due to the extensive work he produced, including his Theory on the Critical Opalescence of Light, as well his works on Brownian Motion where he provides empirical evidence of the atomic theory. Expanding on the works of Satyendra Nath Bose [saht-YEN-dru nath BOHS], the resulting statistics are now used to describe the behaviors of any assembly of bosons [BOH-sahnz], and lead to their namesake condensate now regarded as the fifth state of matter. Name this patent clerk turned Nobel physicist who developed his General Theory of Relativity which led to the famous equation: e equals m c squared.
John Dewey referred to this American pragmatist as “a seminal mind of the very first order”.
[A] Name this philosopher and social theorist, primarily affiliated with the University of Chicago, considered by many to be the father of the school of Symbolic Interactionism.
Answer: George Herbert Mead
[B] According to Mead, the self that arises in relationship to a specific, generalized other is a cognitive object, known only retrospectively. What term did Mead use for the self?
Answer: the Me
[C] Classical Pragmatism traces its roots to group of Harvard-educated men who met for informal philosophical discussions during the early 1870s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Members of the group included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Charles Sanders Peirce, and William James. Name this group.
Answer: The Metaphysical Club
This document from the Head Editor seems to imply an equivalence between my work and the plagiarized questions because another editor and I left good parts of questions alone when we edited them. I hope that it is obvious that leaving part of a question alone when you edit it is different than writing a question by copying and pasting from the internet. I cannot imagine why a comparison is being drawn.
I understand that the IHSA uses a lot of writers, and it is impossible for the IHSA to guarantee that all of them will be perfect. However, I would like to know whether the IHSA expects its Head Editor to replace questions that she knows have been copied word for word from other sources, or whether it is acceptable for the Head Editor to knowingly use such questions.
I will add that I often collaborate with other writers, and I would not continue to collaborate with writers who copied and pasted questions as I have shown above.
Thank you for reading this long message. I am hopeful that somebody can tell me whether the IHSA will make a determination as to whether or not this behavior will be tolerated in the future.