Part of the reason for the increase in academic cheating is because it is so easy. For instance, I could easy cut and paste most of this blog post, or any of my blog posts from other blogs and claim the work is mine. I just wrote an essay this past weekend, and could have simply copied part of a wikipedia article or online source if I wanted to. No one would know.
There is controversy as to what plagiarism is and if it is wrong. In ethics, there are dilemmas and gray areas, cheating is no exception. But in this post I want to discuss two harms that occur with plagiarism.
Real World Harms
First, when one is outside the academic world, the consequences for making mistakes can result in a loss of large amounts of money and death. (This is not to say that the academic world is not important or its an ivory tower.) Furthermore, when one cheats, the consequences can be extremely great. Enron is a great example and if one attempts to cut corners in the medical field the consequences can be catastrophic. The point, in the real world, cheating can cause great harms.
When you're in the academic world, you're most likely being trained to use your skills in the "real world." If you cheat or plagiarize, the likelihood of these activities developing into habits that follow into your career are more likely. For instance, if you're a pre-med biology major who cheats occasionally on your labs, on small stuff of course, what's wrong with you then carrying that habit over into medical school, then when you're working as a nurse, doctor, surgeon or whatever people in medicine do?
Second, when someone is publicly caught cheating, the institution is publicly embarrassed. When Steve Glass was caught for plagiarizing many articles when he was writing for The New Republic, it was a grave embarrassment. When Floyd Landis was caught cheating, his team, Team Phonak, was dropped and a couple years later, skeptics to the legitimacy of professional cycling have increased tremendously.
If the academic world allows cheating to occur or does not engrain their students with the ethical habit of not cheating then the above consequences are just as embarrassing for universities. The point, cheating causes harms for society and so the academic world should not budge on holding to high standards regarding cheating. It is my personal opinion that cheating is never worth a better grade or a job. One's conscience is of greater value then any grade or job that one can hold.