This page summarizes the video report and reproduces in synthetic transcript the essential passages.
On May 22, 2017, the evening news the "19 trente" of the television channel "la une" of the Belgian Radio-Television broadcasting services in French (RTBF) presented in its "le SCAN" section a video report by the journalist Tristan Godaert (T.G.) on academic ghostwriting: the non-authorized writing by a professional of a graduate thesis (GT).
This report first shows the importance of this fraud in Belgian universities by questioning the ghostwriter E steban V asque z (E.V.), who self-proclaimed himself as the best in Belgium. Currently, this ghostwriter takes care simultaneously of ten documents.
Writing a GT is easy for him:
E.V.: - An introduction which brings three theoretical parts, then a methodological introduction which prepares an investigation, and then a final analysis. Everything else is just formatting.
According to this ghostwriter, he writes GTs for training in nursing, human resources, accounting, or even for graduation of high school. For the latter documents, he is contacted by the parents, while for the other documents, he deals directly with the student.
The ghostwriter E.V. presents his two Madagascan assistants by video conference. They work for him for less than one euro per hour. He bills 1,700 euros for writing an 80-page paper he believes meets the quality requirements. For E.V., his work does not serve to cheat. A subsidy should even be awarded to him for his assistance to social and professional integration.
According to Philippe Emplit (P. E.), Vice-Rector of the Université Libre de Bruxelles: - If the student did not do the job, there is fraud. The following measures can be taken: cancellation of the GT mark, of the examination session, or even greater penalties for a recidivist student.
The journalist T.G.: - ... But ghostwriters are hard to detect?
This is one of the arguments put forward by the ghostwriter E.V. who claims to have written 350 memoirs by writing like a student who rewrites the same sentence twenty times. For this ghostwriter, this makes his work undetectable.
Undetectable? Not so much, the team of le SCAN found smarter. The journalist T.G. flew to Lausanne, Switzerland (transcriber’note: to the HES-SO) to check whether the writing of ghostwriters is undetectable. He met Claude-Alain Roten (C.-A.R., transcriber's note: director of OrphAnalytics) in Lausanne. Its anti-ghostwriter software enables to determine whether a person is the author of a text, which could be part of political books, novels or memoirs.
According to C.-A.R: - We do not analyze the information, but how it is put into perspective. Turns of phrase, style, choice of words. As soon as the syntax is characterized, the most personal information of an author is obtained... A kind of fingerprint ...
T.G. continues: - We challenged the software with five memoirs written by students from Belgian universities. Three were written by three different students (transcriber's note: one student writer per GT). Two more by the ghostwriter E.V. Results: 24 hours later.
Comparison by multivariate statistics of the most frequent types of words enriched in function words, normalized extracts of approximately 10,000 characters. This graph illustrates the maximum variance that spreads into two dimensions the fragments of text symbolized by pictograms.
The journalist T.G. comments on the graph sent by C.-A.R. of OrphAnalytics.
T.G.: - There are triangles at the top (transcriber's note: pink...), points (... in the middle: red...), inverted triangles at the bottom (...orange). Are these symbols those of the three students?
C.-A.R.: - Indeed.
T.G.: - And the blue cloud made of two types of symbols (transcriber's note: triangles and diamonds) is the cluster of the ghostwriter?
C.-A.R.: - Precisely, it's the ghostwriter’s cloud. He wrote for two students (transcriber's note: one type of symbol per student) that will appear in the same blue cluster.
The journalist T.G.: - Thanks to the style of writing, the software could determine that one person had written two memoirs. Like the 350 others already written by E. V. which have been validated by the best Belgian universities. Graduate cheaters could be detected by anti-fraud software. But its price, 30,000 euros (transcriber's note: the price depends on the options chosen and the number of students) may deter our universities.
Philippe Emplit, Vice-Rector of the Université Libre de Bruxelles: - I concede that it is possible, but if I had important means to implement, I would devote to prevention and education, instead of the detection of fraud, limited in my opinion.
The journalist T.G.: - In Switzerland, the proportion of fraudulent memoirs is estimated around 10%. It is unlikely that Begium will present another trend. Swiss universities have sued ghoswriters' sites. But is too early to pretend that this profession has to worry about it.
A video report by : T.Godaert, M.Saccomanno, D.Delcour, R.Hoyois, R.Halbardier, F.Andreoletti, V.Somers, J.Lagneaux
Note: RTBF has asked OrphAnalytics specialists to carry out text analysis comparisons to the best of their abilities. The latter accepted as soon as the freedom of experts was granted to them, i.e. to obtain and defend their results, if necessary in disagreement with those expected by the team of the RTBF. In return, the team of OrphAnalytics undertakes to keep confidential all that can be deduced by the analysis of these anonymous texts.
We thank the RTBF team led by the journalist Tristan Godaert and the HES-SO (more than 20,000 students) rectorate, represented by Vice-Rector Yves Rey, who welcomed us for this shooting at their Master School of Lausanne. The HES-SO is the first university in the world to introduce a strategy for ghostwriting control, to show the respect of their students for writing good practices, a guarantee of future professional integrity.