Friday, July 07, 2006

Ann Coulter Caught Plagering. Her Employers Seemed Indifferent

Conservative Molotov Cocktail chunck-er Ann Coulter was caught with a stream of plagerism on her hands this week. I've been wanting to as our friend, and frequent contributor--The Hud--about all this. He's the one person I know that would be the most familiar with this. It seems that John Barrie has used a program he divised to detect plagerized passages of text. Basically, the text is fed into the computer and a program searches for matches in other works. This reported from TPM:

He told me the [NY Times] had approached him [John Barrie] with Coulter's book after she appeared on Larry King to discuss her comments about 9/11 widows -- having called them "witches" and saying "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much" in her latest book.

"The next day, [NYPost reporter] Philip Recchia called me and said, Ann Coulter's book. . . let's run that through," Barrie told me. But his company does its analysis by computer, so the book had to be scanned into a digital format. "The New York Post, at their expense, OCR'd every damn page of that book.

The paper also scanned in the last 12 months of Coulter's columns for Barrie to analyze.

"After we found three in the book, we called it quits. I think we found four of her syndicated columns that had problems." But the task proved draining, he said -- on himself, not his technology. "After combing through Ann Coulter for a while, it doesn't take long before you want to call it quits. I want to prove the technology, but I don't want to make my eyes bleed."

The part that kills me is that United Press Syndicate (they syndicate her column) just YESTERDAY started to inquire about this problem. not DO anything about it, but inquire! As of this date, The Clarion Ledger still carries the column. I think they need a letter to the editor.


The Hud said...

I'd like to know what and from whom she plagiarized.

I'd be curious to know what this guy's program does that is any different than any of the others. In theory these things aren't that hard. Mostly, they search for every X number of words and then compare the number of relveant responses. So, say its looking for every 6 words, it would start at word one and look for the five words that follow it. Then, it would move to word two and do the same thing.

Another way is to look at the entire thing and find out how often words appear in relation to each other. You might think that, because its the world wide web, any collection of words appears in relation to any other collection of words. Boy would you be wrong.

The thing is, Scott could probably write one of these tonight. If this guys stuff is this proprietary, then it must be because he is doing something really fancy, something like trying to look at word context meaning. Several companies are working on search engines that pay attention to word meaning and not simply word use. This, if they get it working, would be a leap in search technology. But it has the weird side effect of giving philosophers jobs; they actually hire people with the job title "ontologist."

Now, onto Coulter being a plageristic cheater. I am tempted to launch into a freak out diatribe about plagiarism but why waste that on Coulter. However, I will say that for someone who spends her time complaining about the loss of American moral fiber this is a really bad move. I am real curious what O'Reilly has to say about this, since I have seen him go ballistic on plagiarists and cheaters before. Considering the state of conservative behavior though, no one should be surprised.

Polly said...

the article i first read about this (and have not found. i'll post it if i do) discussed the method and what had been plagerized. i do recall the article saying something to the effect of: we found XX number of lines--that were 35(!) words in length--that appear to have been lifted. i think they also found a few other 20-something word strings as well. this, of course says perhaps less about the program and more about the plagerism.

Polly said...

OK. here you go. follow this link for a complete cite/breakdown of the alleged plagerism (known thus far).

Polly said...

The Hud said...

Right, so, clearly she has ganked stuff from other people. Mostly though it just seems to be poor writting and poor thinking. Don't get me wrong, if a student turned this in, we'd be having a meeting. But I would have to decide if I thought the student was intentionally trying to deceive. Ann might apologize but I suspect she will claim that they were research mistakes and not that she intended to do it. Then, she will likely go on the offensive, attacking those who point out that she plagiarized. She'll claim that most of this stuff is fairly well known, which if true, means she didn't plagiarize it. And she'll likely get away with most of them, hell most are just bad paraphrases.

I'm not defending her, mind you, but I'm not surprised by any of it. Ever time I have ever heard her speak or read anythign of hers it has been poorly reasoned. Basically, I think that she isn't smart enough to notice that she is plagiarizing. And I am willing to bet that she'll think that there is nothing wrong with this sort of lifting of material.

Have I mentioned recently how much I hate Ann Coulter?

Polly said...

I don't konw. i think that may be a hard argument to make. it's not like they have caught her copying loose things like stats or common phrasing (like "the employment numbers are good"). that link seems to show a substantial use of the exact phrasing of other people. I don't know if her culpability is lessened if the stuff she lifts isn't particularly GOOD, let's say.

Would you fail a student doing this? Should Ann pay a penalty in losing distribution of her column?

The Hud said...

Would I fail her? Its hard to answer I'd need to see it all in context. For me to fail someone I have to believe that they are intentionally attempting to deceive me. There are a number of instances of plagiarism but placed among the entire body of her work its not a lot.

I mean, they show where she plagiarized in her book, but it looks like she didn't even plagiarize 5% of that, which isn't much in a the long run. And they will argue thatin the scope of things, this is either a mistake or that this slight plagiarism isn't that bad. Take the Stephan Ambrose case as an example.

Now, concerning the word for word extent of what she took. Yeah, its plagiarism, hell anytime you get six words in a row to match exactly you've more than likely got a case of plagiarism. But the first thing to watch out for is how many of these cases contain quotations. The answer is a lot. The second is how many are really unique; by this I don't mean the word for word so much as 'how else would you say it?' Tale the bit about Xenu for instance. In a quick retelling of the Scientologist tale, how else would you do it? Sure, you might, after thinking about, come up with a unique way but it wouldn't be a surprise if unrelated people all wrote that nearly identically.

Seriously, I'm not trying to defend her. I can technically fail a student for plagiarizing a single student but I wouldn't. Its just not enough for me to believe that the student behaved maliciously. And as much as I dislike Ann, this isn't enough though, I might change my mind depending on how she responds. And I think she is going to argue that she hasn't done anything wrong and that she will more than likely get away with it. I think the penalties should be incredibly harsh for this in the world of national journalism, that is, because of her position she should be held more accountable than someone else. However, because she generates lots of money for someone (though I am still baffled as to how) it likely won't happen.

And, not for nothing, I've seen lawyers, business majors, and even PhD candidate philosophers argue that plagiarism is no big deal; usually with the argument that the "real world" doesn't function as if plagiarism is bad.

Polly said...

i guess i didn't mean fail the class but rather "fail" the paper in that Classroom Hypo. I have a feeling that this will all be swept away because she stradles this weired divide between being recognized as a crackpot and a legit commentator. they YEARS of disregarding the crackpottyness seems to imply no one really cares if she's making shit up or stealing her stuff. just show up and start calling people names. i mean, that's her job...isn't it?

The Hud said...

Her syndicators are claiming that she hasn't done anything wrong. It sound like they are saying she is, at worst, a bad paraphraser.

The thing is, their defense, as I read it, shouldn't work (which is different than saying that it won't work). They claim that there are numbers of ways to rewrite facts and that there is similarity between her writing and the writing of others is no proof of plagiarism. The thing is, plagiarism is taking the thoughts or words of another without giving proper credit. So, even if she took someone else's facts and tried to rewrite them, she would still be plagiarizing if she did not cite the person whose data it was. Now, I doubt that those who read Coulter are going to care much for this distinction but I suspect that if it were some godless liberal who did this than Coulter would be screaming her head off about the impropriety of it all.