Teaching Academic Integrity in A Post-Truth Age

Curator's Note

I’ve joked that John Oliver saw the problematic state of citations before anyone else. Colbert is known for his claim of ‘truthiness’—but Oliver saw the issue of relying solely on citations as a truth claim all its own. In this shorten version of the Last Week Tonight segment on Scientific Studies, Oliver points out how news stations love to take sound bites from academic articles and turn them into something larger for ratings. What I love about this video edit is that the user who uploaded it has written over top of some frames, further explaining the points Oliver is making.

In my first year university classes, I need to spend at least two classes on how to cite information properly. Each university has their own ‘Academic Integrity’ policy; it’s that part on the syllabus that warns students about plagiarism and the ramifications of not citing other’s work. Academic integrity, however, is about more than just plagiarism. But by focusing so heavily on plagiarism and citations in classrooms, it’s implied that there is only one right answer to the material students are looking for, and if they find the most material with an answer they want, then their research is done—and that is how all research is done.

In a post-truth world, that is a dangerous way to structure academic integrity. Instead of finding “the fact” students can cite in their paper, they can find their “alternative facts”—as long as there has been a record of it that they can cite properly. Hinging academic integrity on the idea that we must be able to trace a pattern of citations implies to students that the more citing they’ve done, the better their paper is. With the proliferation of alt-right media and even academic journals that publish questionable views, students can craft a paper that can argue for some terrible ideas—but with the illusion that it contains “academic integrity” because it contains enough citations. And like Oliver (and the YouTube user) point out, even if these studies exist in academia, it doesn’t mean they’ve been interpreted—or even produced—properly.

So when it comes to teaching academic integrity in 2017, I’ve moved away from the plagiarism rhetoric that assumes the students will trick me and started to teach them how to watch for, and be critical of, information that tries to trick them.

Comments

Rhana Gittens's picture

Response

This is a very good point. Because there is such a proliferation of inaccuracies students need to put their citations in conversation with multiple sources. As an instructor, I would want to see differing points of views, similar work, and opposing work cited. It seems to be the only way I can know that the student researched the work thoroughly and did not just use the first research document that came up in a Google Scholar search. I agree with you that we have to teach our students how to question and analyze information for themselves. They shouldn’t take anything at face value.

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