Inside Russia's Black Market for Dissertations

Thousands of the country's elite are buying dissertations, many of which are plagiarized
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted May 29, 2016 8:37 AM CDT
   (Andrew D. Brosig/The Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP)

(Newser) – Academic achievements are held in high regard in Russia. And thousands of Russians, including plenty of politicians, judges, and other public officials, submit doctoral dissertations each year. But that doesn't mean it's a country full of intellectuals. Instead, academic status—or, at least, the means to academic status—is a commodity that can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market. It is common for "would-be academics" in Russia to hire ghostwriters to draft their dissertations (buy one here) and then bribe academic boards to accept them, writes Leon Neyfakh in a lengthy Slate article. About 4% of those dissertations include plagiarism, says activist group Dissernet, which uses software to compare dissertations with previously published work. When the software flags a dissertation, it gets a closer look by a human. (Even Vladimir Putin has been accused of plagiarism.)

So far, per Neyfakh, Dissernet has identified about 5,600 suspected plagiarists. (After jumping from 15,000 to 30,000 between 1993 and 2005, the number of dissertations submitted each year dropped to 16,500 in 2014.) In January, Dissernet reported that one out of nine members of Russia's Duma legislative body "has a suspect or blatantly fake degree," per PRI. Sometimes, Neyfakh writes, the fraud is "comic in its brazenness and absurdity." Take, for instance, the Duma member who allegedly adapted someone's dissertation on the chocolate industry to one about meat by simply swapping out the word "chocolate" with "beef." A Dissernet founder says the group just wants people to care about academic fraud. But that may not be so easy. Just a small number of officials have been forced out of their jobs because of fraudulent dissertations. After all, "cheating is a national sport and a source of pride," Russian writer Diana Bruk opines in Esquire. (Is Russia training dolphins to kill?)

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