NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
Probably none of us got through school without at least the temptation to let our eyes drift over to the test paper on the desk of the smart kid, and some fraternities kept files of old papers and exams you could look at.
These days, a cell phone opens access to Wikipedia in a classroom, and any number of websites offer thousands of papers to crib from. Schools, though, are fighting fire with fire. Some use technology that can catch the culprits who cut and paste even a few sentences into their work, but inventive students will inevitably come up with new tricks and rationalize that it's okay to cheat because - well, why?
If you cheated, call and tell us how you did it and why. And teachers, professors, we want to hear from you, too, about your side of this: 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, the discrepancy of outrage over oil spills off the mouth of the Mississippi and in the Niger Delta, in West Africa. But first, Don McCabe joins us from member station WBGO in Newark. He's a professor of management and global studies at Rutgers University, and he conducts surveys and research on academic integrity and business ethics. Nice to have you on the program today.
Professor DON McCABE: (Management and Global Studies, Rutgers University Business School): It's a pleasure to be here.
CONAN: And you've attributed part of this problem to kids who don't understand that borrowing a few lines from here, and a few more from there, is actually cheating.
Prof. McCABE: Well, in a sense, I have. That's certainly what students are telling me is part of the problem, that what they learned in high school is very different than the expectation that colleges have. And in many cases, the colleges don't clarify for them what they're really after. And so they blame it on the colleges.
I think in some cases, they certainly know what's going on. They're using that as an excuse. But in other cases, I think it's real.
CONAN: Even so, the instance of cheating still seems pretty high: in confidential surveys, over 60 percent.
Prof. McCABE: That's correct. You know, of course, it depends on what you include in the index. I can get it all the way up to probably 80 percent if I include everything including the kitchen sink. But including the things that people have tracked over time, it's about two-thirds.
CONAN: About two-thirds. And this is everything from outright plagiarism to - well, how many things do you count?
Prof. McCABE: There's nine different behaviors in there, ranging from probably the most extreme being either extensive plagiarism or copying from somebody else on a test, all the way down to such things as letting somebody else copy your homework or collaborating on an assignment when you were told to - you know, that the expectation was you would do it alone.
CONAN: And it was interesting to me that you also did a survey of professors, teachers, and half of them admitted that at one point or another, they overlooked cheating.
Prof. McCABE: Correct. And, you know, I think in many cases, their excuse, if you will, is that they really didn't have strong proof. And if you take a case forward that doesn't have strong proof, you're going to lose the case. It's embarrassing. You know, they're worried about legal suits on the part of the parents or the students themselves. And so they don't pursue it.
CONAN: And do you get information on why students cheat?
Prof. McCABE: I try to. Certainly, I think one of the big issues in my mind that other people don't necessarily find as often as I do - it's a question of fairness.
They see other students cheating and getting away with it and getting ahead in this great GPA race that, you know, if they're in high school, will determine what college they get into; if in college, will determine what grad school they get into. And they feel like they're being left behind unfairly.
So they use that as their excuse to justify their own cheating. Other than that, it's all the typical reasons - you know, they didn't have a chance to study; the work was too hard; the teacher's unreasonable, etc.
CONAN: Etc. But it is, at least in part, due to what they see as the competitive - highly competitive nature, and that everybody else seems to be doing it.
Prof. McCABE: That's correct.
CONAN: And in that analysis, at least, they're not wrong.
Prof. McCABE: Not based on the data that I'm collecting, no. And it seems it's interesting. My data would suggest the problem's actually getting a little bit better. But I don't believe that, based on the comments that students make.
Fewer and fewer students are admitting to the cheating they do. I think part of it is that they've convinced themselves that some of the things that I ask questions about simply aren't cheating. So they say they haven't done it.
I've had students who will check no as an answer and later on explain to me, you know, actually, I have done that, but when I did it, it wasn't cheating because - and then they'll provide me whatever explanation they have.
CONAN: And rationales are - well, I think rationale - the dawn of human consciousness was probably due to rationalizing bad behavior like cheating. We'd like to hear go ahead.
Prof. McCABE: And there's no question that a big issue here is what they see going on in the larger society, with the quote-and-unquote adults in society. I've often said to people that if I took the surveys that I've done at different points in time and threw them on a table in groups, you could tell when I did them just by who they're blaming their cheating on - whether it's Enron, whether it's President Clinton, whether it's President Bush or whomever.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Those guys at Enron did end up going to jail.
Prof. McCABE: Right. Students who cheat don't expect to get caught, number one, and even if they do, they figure they're going to get off with it. There are a few schools that are very strict, you know, your guest that you had on at the beginning, the woman faculty member who said, you know, she has to fail students. That's unusual. Most faculty will not go to that extreme.
Prof. McCABE: It's more a slap on the wrist, in many cases. At some schools that support faculty, you know, in accusations they might make -you know, expect them to prove it, obviously - but if they do, will back them up and will help them prove the case if there's sufficient evidence. You will see stronger punishments but in general, students know they can get away with it - or get off with a slap on the wrist.
CONAN: Our guest is Don McCabe from Rutgers, and he conducts surveys and research on business ethics and academic integrity. We want to hear from both sides of this equation, from students. Why do you do it? And if you have, then how did you do it? Also, we want to hear from professors. 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cody's(ph) on the line, calling from Norman, Oklahoma.
CODY (Caller): Yeah, hi. Great to be on the air, actually. I love your show.
CONAN: Thank you. Norman, last time I heard about it, was a college town.
CODY: Yes, sir, very much so.
CONAN: And did you attend the university there?
CODY: I currently am, actually.
CONAN: And do you cheat?
CODY: I guess I would have to define what you would consider cheating, to be honest. I mean, the I don't want to say requirements, but the demands to get into grad school and Ph.D. programs, and the demands of the teachers, all culminate to you taking 18 hours. And every teacher believes that their class is the most important class you'll ever take.
In fact, I hardly remember a class where that wasn't typically the first thing coming out of the teacher's mouth. I do believe wholeheartedly that total plagiarism is bad. However, working with your classmates, trying to figure out exactly what the teacher wants whenever you get a test back, going over the answers, and then somehow you're not always given exactly - what the teacher is wanting. And in every class that you take, the teacher's word is God. So you kind of want to please that teacher.
And if it takes getting together, using the same sources, kind of making every individual project a group project with your classmates that you've been together for three, four years, I mean, there has to be a line drawn somewhere, but most definitely, I would assume that some of the things that me and my classmates do that teachers would consider cheating or...
CONAN: And would you think yourself badly used if the teacher called you out on it and, indeed, failed you for that?
CODY: No, not necessarily, because it is their class, and they run it how they want it. I mean, it's always - I wouldn't say a cat-and-mouse game, but you do have to find some way to make time. Every teacher says that for every hour that you're in class, you need three to four hours of preparation for that class.
And when you have to pay $10,000 a year just for tuition and then living, and you have no family helping and you have a 40-hour job, I mean - well, something has to give, eventually. And if you're going to make it, then you have to do - something has to happen.
CONAN: And do you select - I mean, if you're going to go to graduate school - and I'm just picking something out of a hat here, business - do you skimp on the do you tend to cut a few more corners in English lit?
CODY: Not at all. I mean, typically, what I'm looking for when I'm doing my graduate applications is somebody who's going to provide me funding. Right now, I have no funding for school, which means I do have to work.
I remember some weeks, I have 60 hours a week just to pay for school. And it's very, very hard. It's very hard. And typically, most graduate institutions provide funding for some type of work, I mean, whether it's just paying for up to six, seven hours of tuition, providing a stipend. I mean, past the undergraduate degree, the work might get harder, but the funding gets easier.
CONAN: I see. All right. Well, Cody, good luck to you, and do you really want to get away with it?
CODY: It's not necessarily a question of getting away with it. It's more a question of expectations. I mean, if you look at a typical paper written by a Ph.D. student, it's all citations and citations, citations, where it's repetitive and repetitive.
I mean, if a teacher wants us to write a position paper on a particular topic - let's say business and the ethics of the Enron scandal - I mean, you bust your hump looking for all these sources, and someone who doesn't cheat and cites everything perfectly but ends up forgetting one or two sources will get failed.
I mean, it's very necessary to have these standards drawn but at the same time, I find it hard to believe that there are a significant number of students who have not cheated at some point in the college life.
CONAN: Cody, we're glad you take some time out to listen to the radio, too. So we appreciate that.
CODY: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it. Joining us now from KSJO in San Jose is Kirk Hanson, executive director forthe Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, where he's also professor of organizations and society. Nice to have you with us today.
Professor KIRK HANSON (Social Ethics, Santa Clara University; Executive Director, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics): Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: And as you were listening to Cody there, that was the quality of rationalization, was that not?
Prof. HANSON: Well, I think it's inevitable that the kind of pressures we put on students today create the kind of reactions that Cody represented.
But, you know, frankly, it's - it is the first and most common rationalization: There's too much to do, and I've got to cut corners somewhere. And unfortunately, if you adopt that kind of convenience rationalization while you're in college, it will carry over as part of your character into later life.
I understand it, and students are under a lot of pressure. But this is perhaps the first test of their character as they come into college - is, how are they going to manage that kind of a rushed and pressured kind of environment?
CONAN: But a lot of people would say, look, it doesn't matter how you got the grade. What matters is the grade. That's how you're going to get the job. That's how you're going to get on in life.
Prof. HANSON: Well, from a professor's standpoint like myself, what we hope, clearly, is that students get something out of the experience of taking the class, and it is supposed to be an opportunity for them to put some effort in. And through that effort, you learn - not I copied it from the best sources and therefore, I got a good grade.
Somehow, we've got to focus back on evaluating the effort, and students have got to be convinced that it's just - it's not just a matter of getting the best score or getting into the best graduate school, but that it's a process - of learning something in the process.
CONAN: More with Kirk Hanson and Don McCabe and the question of cheating: why students do it, and how professors try to stop it. We want to hear from you. If you cheat or cheated, call, tell us how and why.
Teachers, professors, we also want to hear from you about your side of this story: 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com.
Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
There was a time when cheating consisted of peeking over a classmate's shoulder or writing down the answers on the back of your hand. Simpler times, perhaps. Now cheating begins with an Internet connection and has mushroomed into a technological game of cat and mouse between students and teachers.
We're looking at the problem with cheating in college this hour. We want to hear from you. Have you cheated? If so, why? Teachers, professors -how do you deal with cheating in the classroom? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Our guest Don McCabe, a professor of management and global studies at Rutgers who has written extensively on cheating and plagiarism; also Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
And let's go next to Ben, and Ben's with us from Phoenix.
BEN (Caller): Hi, first-time caller, big fan of the show.
CONAN: Well, thank you.
BEN: So I'm well out of college now, but when I was in high school, I was president of the National Honor Society, and we caught four or five students, including the valedictorian, using papers from the year before, by other students, in a class.
And they all received failing grades in that assignment, and they were kicked out of the honor society, and the valedictorian was ineligible to be valedictorian. But they all passed the class, even though it was a major assignment, and they all still received state scholarships to get their tuition fully paid for.
So it was I mean, at the time I was, you know, a high schooler with like, a really well-developed sense of self-righteousness. So it was kind of an outrage, but - not that they should like, keep paying for what they did, but it was just kind of frustrating to see those, you know, people who cheated on a class get money that could have gone to people who deserved it more, maybe, on the basis of need, even if they didn't have the grades.
CONAN: Kirk Hanson, I know in a piece you wrote a couple of years ago, you said, you argued that indeed, Ben had every reason to be outraged.
Prof. HANSON: I think he does. I think the difficulty for all of us is knowing how to respond to incidents. And for institutions like Santa Clara or Rutgers, where Don teaches, or other places, is how tough to be when you have a violation.
I have a policy that any violation produces a failure in my class. But as Don suggested, that isn't pursued; that isn't shared; that isn't followed by a number of other professors.
But clearly, there has to be some kind of reaction from the institutions that we're a part of. The difficulty is simply, you're sympathetic to the student, to the pressures they are under. You are sympathetic to their notion that everybody out there must be cheating and wanting to level the playing field. But you've got to start creating a different culture.
CONAN: This right along Ben's point, a tweet from ToddX(ph). The valedictorian of my high school was caught cheating. They still let him keep the honor, just got a zero on a quiz. No justice, he concludes. So Ben, you're not alone out there.
Prof. HANSON: Well, one other thing, Neal is that there is a phenomenon we've seen, which is that the brightest students seem to be cheating as well as - if you like - the less-performing students. And it may be that there's a perception that to get that little bit of extra kick in one's GPA, thereby getting into the top grad school - rather than the second-tier grad school - somehow makes the entire difference in your life.
We have a generation of students that seem to believe that it's a star system - that you either come out number one, or you're nothing.
CONAN: Don McCabe, does that accord with your studies?
Prof. McCABE: Yeah, I would only add one thing to that, and that is that I'm not sure it's the students, so much, that are worried about a star system, as their parents.
CONAN: About - their parents, yeah, sure.
Prof. McCABE: Yeah, they're under tremendous particularly in high school - they're under tremendous pressure from their parents to do well and to get into that Ivy League or equivalent school. And in grad school, you know, the parent pressure is still there, although it's reduced a little bit, and it becomes more a self-pressure. But there's no question, the pressure to get ahead is a definite issue.
And I might comment, since I have some data on it, that I agree with completely with Kirk - that it's the top and the bottom seem to self-report a little more cheating than the group in the middle, GPA-wise.
Prof. McCABE: I've often said the top's cheating to thrive, the bottom's cheating to survive, and those in the middle are content with their grades and just go along in life and are happy.
CONAN: That's interesting. Ben, thanks very much for the call.
BEN: Thanks a lot.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email, this from Amanda(ph) in Little Rock. As a good student who studied hard and had an aptitude for foreign language, I was very frustrated in high school that I could see people trying to see my answers on tests.
Our teacher was not aware or in control of our class. I had very long hair and would purposely let it hang down over my paper so other kids could not see my work. I tried to be subtle because I didn't want to pay the price socially for people not being able to reap the benefits of my studies.
And Kirk Hanson, that's interesting because obviously, the people who do pay the price are those who don't cheat and do their studies.
Prof. HANSON: I think that report is very apropos. One of the things we do is study what are the most commonly encountered ethical dilemmas that students face in college. And with my colleagues David DeKass(ph) and Lester Deans(ph), we have been teaching a part of orientation, raising the three most commonly encountered ethical issues in academic integrity.
And one of them is exactly that, that you know someone else is cheating, maybe they're cheating off of you. A second one is what we've talked about before, that you're late at night, you haven't started the paper due at 8 a.m., and you're tempted to plagiarize.
And the third one is that you're in a group project, and one of the people flakes, and the question is, you know, is it fair for you to get a low grade because your paper's either late or not as good because one of the people didn't do his or her part of the work.
CONAN: Don McCabe, there are any number of schools that have honor codes. You think of the military academies but the University of Virginia as well. Do people there self-report less cheating than at other places?
Prof. McCABE: They do, but that relationship is changing somewhat. They consistently - all along have reported less cheating, but the difference between the honor code schools and non-honor-code schools seems to be shrinking a little bit.
Now, of course, I've got to remind you that I see some decline in my numbers overall as students seem less willing to report that cheating. But you know, that may explain part of the shrinking difference. It's off of a smaller base.
But there's no question that there is a difference, and it's fairly significant.
CONAN: Let's go next to Morty(ph), Morty calling us from San Francisco.
MORTY (Caller): Hi. So yeah, the way we used to cheat in high school - I graduated in 2000 - was to take little pieces of paper with like, you know, the vocab quiz for Spanish, and put it inside of the pen and then, you know, take it out and put it back in, and if there's a lot of information, your pen ran out of your ink, and you grabbed your other cheat sheet.
CONAN: Ah, so you brought in any number of pens.
MORTY: I have no guilt over it because frankly, I wasn't very good at Spanish, and I wouldn't cheat on the other classes. But I was talking to my little sister about our method, and she said that currently, they'll take a Coke bottle, scan the actual label, change the nutrition facts to -let's say, the formula for their math quiz or their chemistry quiz, and then re-tape it on after they print it, and take that into their final or into their midterm in college.
And that just blew my mind. We never cheated in college, just out of fear. Just study harder. So cheating has definitely changed, in my opinion.
CONAN: I had not heard of the I heard of the rolled up in pens; that existed even in the Pleistocene Era, when I went to school. But I had not heard of scanning the Coke can for the nutrition. That's boy, and Don McCabe, that suggests, you know, this is a cat and mouse game, leapfrog approaches.
The schools will figure out something - and a lot of them use this place, turnitin.com, to scan for similarities in other people's tests or other people's papers, over time. But somebody will figure something out.
Prof. McCABE: Oh, there's no question. It's like nuclear proliferation. You know, one side figures out something. The other side reacts to that, etc., and it just continues to escalate.
And as far as the Coke thing, I have heard that before, at a number of different high schools, as a matter of fact. I haven't heard that as much in college. I agree with what Morty had to say there.
But in addition to that, a favorite that I've heard is you take the label off, and you put your notes in very small print on the inside of that label and then reattach the label. And if you fill the bottle with water, if the professor is coming down, there's nothing he can see. But if you tilt the water at the correct angle, it magnifies the print that you have there, and you can read your notes.
CONAN: It'll say E equals MC squared, or whatever if it is you need to see. Morty, thanks very much for the tutorial.
MORTY: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. This from Johan(ph) in Dundas in Ontario: Teaching high school civics yes, the irony is not lost on me this past semester, I ran into a number of cases of plagiarism.
After quickly and easily finding excerpts or whole paragraphs taken directly from Internet sources and giving students zeroes on those assignments, I found myself thinking, if you're going to plagiarize, why not use a book? It would make my work so much harder.
Is there any evidence students are going back to using books to plagiarize?
Prof. HANSON: I think we would be very pleased, Neal, if students were going back more to books. I think one of the problems in education, generally, is a reliance only on sources online, or even only on Wikipedia. And clearly, we hope that they will return to the sources of books.
I just want to comment on the comment earlier, about the escalation of these technologies. It seems to me that that's a never-ending game, and you have to get ahead of it by somehow creating a different kind of culture within the university or within the high school, which is less tolerant of the kind of cheating that we've been seeing. It's something that's got to be a commitment of both the faculty, to take on their responsibilities, and the students.
And therefore, I think you do much better if you put a lot of emphasis upfront. Talk about it in orientation. Talk about it the first days of school. That's one of the values of the honor codes, is that it forces a lot of explicit discussion at the beginning of the time students are in college.
CONAN: Let's go next to Laura(ph), and Laura with us from Macomb in Illinois.
LAURA (Caller): Hi.
LAURA: When I started teaching at the university level 10 years ago, I was completely unprepared for the amount of cheating that I encountered. And the Internet plagiarism, I was catching students left and right. I was doing what the woman said at the beginning, which was failing them for the entire class, which was very rare at the institution I was at. And so I started to develop methods to try to prevent plagiarism - which I know a lot of other people do - which basically, in part - trying to train them in proper citation and avoiding plagiarism, things that I had assumed incorrectly that they would've learned in high school.
And so now, 10 years later, for one thing, I'm much more lenient than I used to be simply because of the copious amounts of time that I have to spend with doing this. And also because I have come to understand that the students - many students come to college, particularly if they're not, you know, top-of-the-class students who come to college out of high school - that they are taught - I mean, they tell me this and also, high school students that I know in my personal life - when they're in high school and they write papers, they're apparently taught to just use Google to find sources for everything.
So they come to college and they have no understanding that, you know, they can't just go to Wikipedia for everything or that they can't -anything that they find on the Internet isn't fair game.
CONAN: Isn't necessarily true, either, but that's another issue.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LAURA: So it's kind of - it's really frustrating, and it's difficult. And I think that the frustration that myself and a lot of my colleagues feel is that we feel like we're having to re-teach them things that they should have already learned when they got to university level.
LAURA: And it's kind of difficult to do. I mean, because I'm not an English teacher, and so I really can't spend, you know, my entire class teaching somebody how to write without cheating, you know. But I feel like that's what I have to do.
And so what I would like to see, I guess, too, is us - to consider what can we do, you know, in high school. There seems to be a pretty big gap between what's expected in high school and what's expected in college.
CONAN: Or do it in, you know, first class in college. I mean, that could be part of orientation.
LAURA: Yeah. We don't have - exactly have that where I teach. So not all colleges have, like, a whole class devoted to orientation.
LAURA: And that's the other thing. I mean, I think your guests are -you're talking about students' motivations. You guys talked about the top and the bottom. And I think that's certainly true. The other thing is that - where I'm at, I mean, a lot of - most people don't go to college and then think about going to a Ph.D. program. A lot of people go to college and they just want to get through, right?
LAURA: And most people go to, you know, state universities where there's, you know, pretty open entrance examination. So you get students with this huge variability in preparation for college. So you're dealing with students, you know, who are well prepared for college - and you're dealing with a lot students who aren't. And I think that leads, you know, myself and other people to be more compassionate, which is probably why, as your guest was saying, you know, a lot of professors say that they've overlooked it, you know, or worked with students. And I've certainly done that, and it's not something that, you know, again - when I started my career, that I thought I would be doing.
LAURA: And I would like - I would really like there to be more standardized, strict standards, you know, at different universities. But again, when you're dealing with students who come in with a set of expectations that, you know, we as a society are giving them when they come into college, it's kind of - you know, they really hit a brick wall if you like, fail them for the first time.
And they - I mean, honestly, I mean, I really - I used to think that, you know, they were faking or whatever. But some students, they are honestly coming out of high school, you know, without the skills that they need. And for the first time, when they meet me, you know, they're coming up against those standards for the first time.
CONAN: Laura, thanks very much. We appreciate it.
CONAN: We're talking about cheating in college.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And Kirk Hanson, I think you were arguing a moment ago that in the case of somebody like that, yes, there ought to be consistent policies across the entire school. That's hard to do. But those policies ought to be tending towards the strict rather than the not.
Prof. HANSON: I think we as faculty, and institutions as a whole, have an obligation to set a standard, to communicate what the expectations are. Students do respond to the expectations, and they do respond to being taught what is important. They pick up the culture of organizations - just like faculty do, who join them. And so I think that's part of the expectation.
I think there's an obligation to do some training around what is plagiarism, and I think Don has done some nice research about the impact of that, that it seems to lower the incidence of plagiarism if students are educated to that.
One other thing I'm concerned about is the unfortunate attitude that some students have - that, I'm either bright or I'm not. And if I'm at the lower end, and society has told me I'm not amongst the brighter students, that there's no hope for me to get out of that position, even in -particularly in a recession and when jobs are so hard to come by, and that the only way to excel is to cheat. So I think there's a desperation on the part of some students, that they think cheating is the only way to a good job and to a successful life.
CONAN: And Don McCabe, is Kirk Hanson right about your research into places that have tutorials on how to do proper research and what plagiarism and cheating really is?
Prof. McCABE: There's no question that that helps. I would like to maybe disagree just a little bit on one point. And that is, I think there's a place for leniency for a first offense. If it's minor offense and it occurs in the first or second year that a student's at the institution, I'm willing to accept the excuse that maybe they didn't learn it in high school and feel that as an educational institution, we have a responsibility to make sure that student is educated.
If they come back a second time, I'm more than happy to throw the book at them. Or if they do something very egregious the first time, same thing. But for a minor offense early on in their student years, I think we need to be a little lenient.
CONAN: Don McCabe, thanks very much for your time today.
Prof. McCABE: My pleasure.
CONAN: Don McCabe, professor of management and global studies at Rutgers. He joins us today from member station WBGO in Newark. Kirk Hanson, thanks to you as well.
Prof. HANSON: Thank you very much, Neal.
CONAN: Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in - with us from KSJO in San Jose.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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