Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Suspected Blogger on Blogger Plagiarism

This a pretty simple and straight-forward post, wherein I would like to get people's thoughts on whether they suspect this is plagiarism or merely coincidence.  I will give my conclusion at the end. (Seems like a good place for a conclusion, right?)

On August 6th, Russell Carleton wrote a piece for Baseball Prospectus detailing how a manager's job is much more than a mere mathematical undertaking.  Rather, managers are required to constantly deal with the ever-beloved human element of baseball.  One point Carleton makes regards how difficult late-inning relief decisions can be, especially when dealing with the psyches of various players  Here is his passage in full:

"It's the ninth inning, and you're up by one. Your top two relievers are Smith and Jones, and both are fresh and available, which is great, because you're in the thick of a tight pennant race and need this game. Smith is generally better than Jones and usually gets the call here. But there's a complication today. Smith has a daughter who has a chronic medical issue. He's a private man and doesn't discuss this with the press, because he wants to keep his family out of the limelight. (Can you blame him?) He got some bad news about his daughter earlier and has been walking around with his head down all day. You've seen him like this before. He'll say he's okay, but he can't concentrate, and his performance suffers to the point where Jones would actually be the better pitcher tonight to nail down that lead."

On August 21st, Josh Worn wrote a piece for the Detroit Free Press (8/22 update: apparently the Free Press has deleted the column) detailing how Jim Leyland's job is much more difficult than the standard fan assumes it to be.  In that piece, Worn gives an example of how difficult a late-inning relief decision (this one between Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde) can be.  Here is his passage in full:

"It's the ninth inning, and you're up by one run. Your top two right-handed relievers are Benoit and Valverde, and both are fresh and available. Benoit is the eighth inning guy, and Valverde is the ninth inning guy. They’ve been in their roles all year. Benoit has been plagued by a case of “homeritis” since the All-Star break. You really don’t want to use him, you really don’t, but Valverde has a brother who has a chronic medical issue. (Please note that I have no idea if Valverde has a brother with a chronic medical condition. So, it wouldn’t be a good idea to spread a rumor like that.) He's very private and doesn't bring this up with the press because he wants to keep his family out of the news. He got some bad news about his brother the night before and has been walking around with his head down all day. You've seen him like this before. He'll say he's OK, but he can't concentrate, and he’ll go out and walk four batters and give up a couple doubles in the gap. Basically Benoit would actually be more likely to nail down that lead."

 Let's look first at the exact word-for-word similarities.  Both articles featuring the following exact phrases:
  • "fresh and available"
  • daughter/brother "who has a chronic medical" issue/condition
  • "He got some bad news about his" daughter/brother
  • "and has been walking around with his head down all day"
  • "You've seen him like this before.  He'll say he's [okay/OK], but he can't concentrate"
  • "to nail down that lead"
Next, let's look at nearly word-for-word similarities.  Both articles featuring the following, similar phrases:
  • a mention of it being the 9th inning with one team down one
  • a reference to the team's two top relievers, and the manager having to choose between them
  • a claim that the pitcher with the sick relative is a private person who would prefer to keep the issue out of the media, specifically for the sake of his family
It also must be noted that these similarities appear in the same order in both articles.  That is, there is no need to jump around to find the similarities.  They track in a corresponding, one-to-one relationship throughout both articles.

I brought this up to Worn, who made assurances that he had not read the article from Carleton.  He acknowledged that the two articles were certainly similar, but claimed that he did not plagiarize it in any way.

In philosophy, we use what is known as Inference to the Best Explanation in order to form beliefs in situations such as this one.  Basically, we look at the evidence in front of us and ask, "What's the best explanation of this evidence?"  In this way, we treat the belief formation process like a detective treats a crime scene investigation.

So, here's the evidence we have in front of us: two extremely similar passages, containing extremely similar words and phrases, used in the exact same order.

Given this evidence, I believe that the reasonable conclusion to draw is that plagiarism has occurred.  The "coincidence explanation," which posits that the similarities between the two posts are merely a series of coincidences, does not appear to be the best explanation.  To determine this, merely ask yourself, "Which is more likely?  (1) That these two pieces were written independently and coincidentally contained nine phrases/sentences, placed in the same order, attempting to make the same point?  Or (2) that plagiarism occurred?"

Now, perhaps some people know Worn personally and have extra evidence to add to their reasoning.  For example, if someone has known Worn for a long-time, has great evidence in support of his integrity, and has a justified belief that he would never plagiarize, then these pieces of evidence would factor into their reasoning process.  Perhaps they would be strong enough to allow the "coincidence explanation" to overtake the "plagiarism explanation" in terms of the likeliness of each being true.

As it stands now, lacking that evidence, I believe that the best explanation is plagiarism.

Though I certainly hope I am wrong.

(8/23 update: Though the Detroit Free Press story has been deleted, a Google search of the URL shows that it certainly once existed: http://tinyurl.com/9cypshd)


  1. Okay, I just stumbled across your post after doing some investigating and subsequently seeing the previously mentioned twitter post.

    A few things:

    1. I am glad you wrote this because I find the plagiarism to be offensive. Intellectual theft is deplorable and should be seen as such by anyone who expects authenticity from individuals employed to use their creative and intellectual capabilities.

    2. I had written a rather short post (similar to yours) in the comments section of Walkoff Woodward. It was quickly erased.

    3. The similarities do not end with the paragraph you quoted. They continue on into the next paragraph -- "X reporters in manager's office," "manager mumbles better matchups," "moron posts on Twitter," "this is America," and so on... The number of word-for-word and very-similar uses are much higher than you mention.

    4. Mr. Worn published an article with Baseball Prospectus on July 31st of this year. (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17837) This establishes his familiarity with the site in question beyond a doubt.

    5. As a student of philosophy as well, I read through these articles a handful of times and thought, well this makes me think of Occam's Razor.

    6. It is, without a shred of doubt, plagiarism.

    I won't ramble on about bloggers, and new-media types, but this instance of obvious laziness really casts quite the (albeit small) shadow on this type of journalism.

    This has bothered me all afternoon. Again, I am saddened to see this occur, but I'm glad you pointed it out here.

    1. Attempting to in any way generalize about bloggers or new media based on this episode is, I have to tell you, ridiculous.

    2. I agree with Kurt. Plagiarism occurs in the more established media forms as well. No conclusion should be drawn concerning bloggers at large, the VAST majority of whom are doing good, honest work.

    3. I had absolutely no intention of implying that bloggers and new-media types are more likely to plagiarize, necessarily. What I refrained from rambling on about was the idea that in the blogosphere, fact-checking, proof-reading, etc... is generally eschewed for quickness in "publication." A general lack of oversight is more likely to lead to errors in this type of media than in print journalism. Many bloggers are free to throw whatever they would like into the ether without having to worry about (economic) consequences.

      That is a generalization, I know, and I'm not trying to castigate all internet journalists (really, I'm not).

      I absolutely enjoy reading plenty of blogs, and I do appreciate the ethos behind this type of media, to an extent.

      To say that no conclusion can be drawn, though, isn't correct; the conclusion I meant to get at was that blogs tend to put a higher value on both speed and volume of publication than traditional media outlets do - thus, these type of things are more likely to go overlooked. I do not believe plagiarism is some pandemic in the blogging community or some kind of scourge particular to new-media.

      I'm just trying to make a very minor point about oversight. It took me less than 20 minutes to discover this particular fraud. I think, had this not been written by a blogger and meant as a special to the website, it may have been caught before publication.

      That's all, you guys. Blog right on into the sunset, and I'm all for it.

      (And I admit, I could have been more tactful in my choice of phrase... I'm just a little shocked by such blatant - and based on the twitter feed - shameless fraud. The denial just compounds the original bad decision).

    4. I think you make a legitimate point concerning speed and volume being encouraged by the blogging system. But I think we should also note that bloggers' credibility is strongly tied to their name recognition, wherein mainstream media members' credibility in tied to the institution they represent. Because of this, bloggers have reason to be even more vigilant of plagiarism than a mainstream media member would be.

      Still, this is just a general comment and may not offset the value of speed/volume, but it is worth noting.

    5. Also, it is possible bloggers do not realize how important their name-attached credibility is. If so, my point holds less weight.

    6. Now, I'll preface this by saying that there are a myriad of wonderful bloggers who do a bang up job (Kurt, if that is the Kurt from BYB, is one example).

      Here's what I really meant to get at with that. It really only comes down to two things: Money and Reputation.

      If one derives significant income from blogging, then I would expect him or her to behave professionally when blogging. If one hopes to one day make money through writing and uses blogging as a step there, I would also expect him or her to behave similarly. If one stakes a significant part of one's reputation upon blogging, I would also expect similar professionalism.

      The vast majority of bloggers do not earn a living by blogging. The vast majority of bloggers can write whatever they would like with few consequences.

      Not that this is necessarily applicable to the case of Mr. Worn, here. But that was basically what I was getting at with that off-handed comment about "rambling on about new-media."

  2. Wow, I had somehow not noticed the glaring similarities in the next few paragraphs. This further evidence confirms my belief that it is plagiarism.

    Also, good work pointing out Worn's familiarity with Baseball Prospectus. I had not realized that either.

  3. Yes, I just wanted to line these paragraphs up for easy comparison.

    Carleton, August 6th.
    "It's easy to say that you'd go with Jones in this situation. But if you do, there will be 12 reporters in your office after the game. All of them will ask why it is that you didn't go with Smith. Is there a closer controversy? Is Smith injured? When you mumble some made-up BS about "better matchups," they'll go to Smith to ask him how he feels about losing his job as closer to Jones. And Smith definitely does not want to answer those questions tonight. If you tell the truth, but kindly ask the reporters to leave that out of the game story, some idiot will put it on Twitter anyway, because he... gets... to... break... a story! Because America has a right to know!

    So for whom do you ask on the bullpen phone?


    After the game, go to sleep knowing that one of your 25 charges might just go out, get drunk, and do something that will land him in jail. In the morning, you'll be awoken to those same 12 reporters who want to know all the details, despite the fact that you were sleeping at the time."

    Worn, August 21st.
    "Say you go with Valverde in this situation. You may cheat death, but if he gives up the lead, which you’re pretty sure he will, you’re goal of winning the game is destroyed. What if the team misses the playoffs by one game? And if you’d rather do this than deal with the media controversy, you’re not going to last very long as a manager. If you go with Benoit and he gives up another home run, there will be 18 reporters in your office after the game. Even if he nails down the save, all of them will ask why you put Benoit in a closing situation. Is there a closer controversy? Is Valverde injured? If you mumble something about "better matchups," they'll go to Valverde to ask him how he feels about losing his job as closer to Benoit. And Valverde definitely does not want to answer those questions right now. If you just tell the truth, but ask the reporters to leave that out of the game story, some moron will put it on Twitter or Facebook anyway, because he wants to break the story! Because this is America and America has a right to know!

    So who do you ask for when you dial the bullpen up?

    After the game, you get home and you hit the pillow and fall asleep (after ignoring your wife), knowing that one of your 25 giant children might go out, get drunk, and do something that will land him in jail. Again. In the morning, you'll wake up and face those same 18 reporters who will all want to know the details, despite the fact that you were dreaming of retirement at the time."

    Do you believe in synchronicity?

  4. Thanks for putting these right next to each other.

    Again, I would like to believe this is NOT plagiarism, as I have read Worn's stuff for a while and generally enjoy it. But the mountain of evidence is pretty substantial.

  5. Sir, I appreciate that you have pointed this out, but may I ask that you kindly let it go now. BP has contacted the Free Press and made them aware of the situation. The Free Press will take whatever action they deem appropriate. I personally consider the matter closed. I would ask that you do the same.

    peace, love, happiness, banana pudding,
    Russell A. Carleton

  6. Mr. Carleton,

    If you are happy to see the matter closed, I am too.

    Even if we disagree on banana pudding.


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