Poe in Cyberspace
Research, Assisted Research, and the New Plagiarism
Edgar Allan Poe Review, Spring 2002

Heyward Ehrlich
Rutgers University, Newark
E-mail: ehrlich@andromeda.rutgers.edu
URL: andromeda.rutgers.edu/~ehrlich/poe/eap_rev_sp02.html

Not so long ago, when academic researchers were still thought of as noble, newspaper reporters were seen, by contrast, as vulgar. But lately international reporters facing death and danger have become our heroes while academic researchers accused of plagiarism have become our moral villains. Recently charges of plagiarism have been made against two well-known American historians, Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin, and against a Latin translator and departmental chair, Louis W. Roberts. In their defense, academic historians sometimes explain a research assistant lost the quotation marks.

No doubt the industrialization of the research process has diffused responsibility. Although few readers of this column can afford to hire a professional staff of research assistants, nearly anyone can afford electronic research services which vastly extend the scope of research and also change its very nature. Although those with academic affiliations often have access without charge to otherwise costly subscription databases -- a subject which deserves a future column of its own -- any academic professional can afford the monthly fees or pay-as-you go rates of such commercial research services as Northernlight, Questia, and Elibrary, which can access copyrighted articles not generally available on the internet.

First the good news.

Northernlight.com retains its fee-based internet search service even though it has discontinued its free search engine. Now renamed Divine, Inc., Northernlight distributes information in two ways, through its original site and through an attractive new arrangement with Yahoo.

In a recent test on the original Northernlight site, 2481 "Edgar Allan Poe" articles from copyrighted publications were available in its fee- based collection, automatically organized into a dozen categories (including a rather unexpected one): Poe, Edgar Allan; Theater & Performing arts; Book publishing; Poetry; Mystery & detective fiction; Movies; Literary criticism & analysis; Non-fiction literature; Children's literature; Halloween; Feathers & molt (birds); and all others. The typical Northernlight pay-per-use charge is $2.95 per item.

Now for even better news.

Much of this information is also available much less expensively through a new Yahoo service at http://premium.search.yahoo.com. At time of writing, this service is not linked from the regular Yahoo home page. The Yahoo Premium Search is available via a monthly subscription of only $4.95 for up to 50 articles, which may be printed, downloaded, or copied from journals -- provided they are its list of "qualifying" publications. Yes, the cost can be as little as $.10 (yes, a dime) for each article. The list of "qualifying" journals includes these 50 literary journals (listed alphabetically) among hundreds in other fields:

African American Review, American Literature, American Scholar, American Transcendental Quarterly, Antioch Review, Biography, Bucknell Review, Christian Science Monitor, Classical Bulletin, College Literature, Comparative Literature, Contemporary Literature, Criticism, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, Daedalus, Essays in Criticism, Essays in Literature, Feminist Studies, Harper's Magazine, Hemingway Review, Journal of Popular Culture, Journal of the Early Republic, Literature/Film Quarterly, MELUS, Midwest Quarterly, Mississippi Quarterly, Modern Language Quarterly, New England Quarterly, Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Notes & Queries, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Paris Review, Poetry, Renaissance Quarterly, Romance Philology, Scientific American, Shakespeare Quarterly, Shakespeare Studies, South Atlantic Quarterly, Southern Literary Journal, Studies in American Fiction, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Studies in Romanticism, Studies in Short Fiction, Studies in the Literary Imagination, Studies in the Novel, Style, TriQuarterly, Twentieth Century Literature, and Women's Studies.

A complete list of the "qualifying" publications is available at http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/premium/premium-05.html. In practice I found that not every article in journals on this list qualified for the low subscription rates. Yahoo Premium Search claims to provide 7,100 journals, which should be compared item for item with those on other academic fee-based databases, such as Jstor or Project Muse.

The Yahoo Premium Search subscription is appealing because of its low monthly price, short-term month-to-month commitment, and Web availability through Yahoo. Subscribers who exceed 50 items a month or require items from other journals not on the list will be charged the standard pay-as-you-go rate of about $2.95 per item. Subscribers must join www.yahoo.com (no charge) and link a credit card to Yahoo Wallet. The gratis abstracts continue to useful as guides to user both online and printed material. Full price (non-subscription) items are entitled to a a guarantee of a refund within 48 hours.

The results in Yahoo Premium Search may be selected or arranged by periodical, by subject area (e.g. arts. humanities. etc.), by relevance, or by date. The display may be customized to show up to 100 hits at a time, but -- as seems typical with such database queries -- I lost the thread after the first 1000 of 1529 promised "Edgar Allan Poe" hits in the arts and humanities categories.

In one search performed in February 2002, I accessed 23 Poe hits for the year 2002, 210 for 2001, and about 300 for 2000 when I was thrown off the thread. A second run on the same date produced much ampler results. (A few days later, in what may be the growing pains of a new service, the Yahoo Premium Search hits had shrunk to eight! But two weeks later, the full list had returned.) The latest material was only a few weeks old; the earliest came from 1995. Although solid academic journals are part of the Yahoo Premium Search, users should be warned that most of the items in the mix are from non-scholarly general newspapers and magazines. And "hits" in scholarly journals may be anything from passing mentions to full blown articles.

One way to sift through the ore for gold is to look for promising periodical names, some of which are distinguished by this clickable hint, "More results from this journal." Using this method I found multiple hits from Mississippi Quarterly (19), ANQ (16), American Literature (10), Studies in American Fiction (6), North American Review (3), and Journal of Southern History (2). Another tactic is to try other publication names as search categories: using this method I found Style (10). Advanced searches may be by keywords, title words, publication type, broad subject area, or date range. Items may be sorted for display by relevance or a date range.

Be warned that subscribing to 50 copyrighted articles at a dime apiece can be heady and addictive. In a few hours in my first session I used up nearly half of my monthly quota. (I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with the 24 Poe articles I "purchased," but I can hardly remember the last time I had so much fun for $2.40.)

And now for the bad news -- very bad news.

Across the internet, plagiarism sites -- excuse me, "assisted research" sites -- are thriving. A general search on Yahoo for "Poe research papers" produced 9250 hits, while "Poe term papers" yielded 5870 hits. The appearance of specialist paper mill site names, such as http://www.poeessays.com and http://www.allpoe.com, indicates how sophisticated the targeting of this market has become. More distressing, perhaps, is the willingness of established Web portals, such as Yahoo, to favor in its shopping directory any vendor of "research and term papers" willing to pay the Yahoo monthly fee for the priority positioning of their link as a "sponsored site." The 84 items in the Yahoo directory for Research and Term Papers (the URL changed while this article was in draft) during February 2002 included six "sponsored" sites -- all but one selling research and term papers openly and no longer pretending to be offering research assistance: CustomWriting, DueNow, Paper Masters, Jungle Page, 007 Term Papers, and TermPapers.com.

Moreover, Yahoo provided information on eleven more "Most Popular" sites of this kind: Term Paper and Tutoring Helpline, ACI Writing Assistance Center, Collegiate Care Research Assistance, Research Assistance, AfricanLit.com, Studyworld, AcademicMythology, TheologyPapers, LazyStudents, and Paper Masters.

This Yahoo section concludes with 60 additional sites. Evidently the demand for sponsored sites has led to the creation of a second section called "paper databases," containing 23 additional items. As before, "sponsored" items lead the list: 4TermPapers, Research Papers Online, Paper Store Enterprises, Academic Term Papers, Genius Papers. Next come the "Most Popular" sites: Evil House of Cheat (now Cheaters), Genius Papers, A-1 Termpapers, and Research Papers Online

The term paper mills work in several different ways. The commonest is to offer a paper at a fixed price, typically $8.95 a page. Other sites offer a fixed rate for general access or even offer papers without charge. A few offer to buy papers for $30 each. Several provide chat rooms for the discussion of "research" needs, and resources. For those who fear a re-used paper can be detected, elite services are provided to customize a paper for about $89.95. For the truly dyslexic student who cannot master the standard ponies, MightyStudents provides for $14.95 "an unlimited number of Cliffs notes and book reports."

In the spring of 2002, extensive advertising for assisted research sites began to appear even on the normally sedate Google search engine, which added advertisements, sponsored listings, and directory items for school papers depending on whether or not the student wished to pay. Under fee-based academic papers, the Google directory in April 2002 listed (alphabetically) 4termpapers, academia.1hwy, academicpros, Academic-Term-Papers, academon, aci-plus, a-plus-essays, bellwriting, ccthomsonessays, CheatHouse, customwriting, essaymill, geniuspapers, getpapers, greatpapers, impactpapersindex.html, itchybrainscentral, megaessays, myresearchpapers, paperdue, papermasters, papers4less, papersheaven, papersnpapers, papersnreports, papers-online, prewritten-termpapers, reportfinders, research-4-you, research-assistance, research-essays, researchpaperlibrary, speedyresearch, studentpaperexpress, termpapermasters, and term-papers-4u.

At the same time, for those on a tight budget, the Google directory listed gratis academic papers at 4essays, 123helpme, 123student, AllFreeEssays, bignerds, chuckiii, collegetermpapers, coshe, essaysfree, Essayworld, freeessay/killer, freeessay/smart, geocities/CollegePark/Quad/1683/paper, geocities/CollegePark/Quad/2888/, mycgiserver, netessays, oppapers, papercamp, people.fas.harvard.edu/~dberger/papers/, people.mw.mediaone, planetpapers, researchstuff, screw- essays.studyworld, swaptermpapers, termpapers4u, and updatabase -- some of which have a free lance air.

No doubt the wittiest assisted research I encountered site for Poe was Easylit, which offers this refreshing disclaimer: "These essays are NOT my work. SHAME ON YOU! I can't believe that you are too lazy to write a paper on Edgar Allan Poe! He is only the best author of horror and suspense there ever was. What's the problem, does he give you NIGHTMARES?"

The right of these services to operate under the protection of legal disclaimers has been tested in several high profile court cases, and their presence is likely to continue unchecked.

At the same time several anti-plagiarism services have sprung up, including:

Heyward Ehrlich
Rutgers University, Newark

This article is available online at http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~ehrlich/poe/eap_rev_sp02.html.
I did have a few favorite pitches I liked, such as: "The Professor: Research Papers - Have a college professor custom write your research paper for the cheapest rates around -$10/page for writing and $5/page for editing."

Another makes this promise: "Why spend hours mulling over useless websites that only provide scant, background data on Poe when you can download a quality term paper example relevant to YOUR specific topic today! All papers are available for same day delivery via email or fax! Every document contains at least 225 words per page and comes rich with ideas, information, and more! Download one of our papers and cite us as a source TODAY! CLICK HERE!"

Inevitably, the gold standard of the MLA is too tempting not to exploit: "Face it: You don't have enough time to read through 20+ websites and articles! Get concise information from just ONE document on THIS site and finish your own term paper today! Cite ideas from a report that covers what YOU want rather than from dozens of articles scattered all over the internet that barely even touch on YOUR essay's thesis! Any existing paper on this site is only 9.95/page and includes a FREE, MLA-style works cited sheet! There is no marked up shipping,... there are no days of waiting,.... just dozens and dozens of helpful essays on one American author! CLICK HERE TO BEGIN!"

em simt No surprise that the issue of research plagiarism has become a top news item in the nation's press. Here are some online articles: