Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Email to D.D. Guttenplan and the New York Times

I just sent the message below to D.D. Guttenplan and the editors of The New York Times (don@ddguttenplan.com, letters@nytimes.com, oped@nytimes.com, editorial@nytimes.com, executive-editor@nytimes.com, managing-editor@nytimes.com, public@nytimes.com) with the subject line

D.D. Guttenplan lifted our story without attribution



This is regarding your November 14 article Questionable Science Behind Academic Rankings.

Why did you not cite El Naschie Watch? I'm sorry, but "soon identified on various blogs as Mohamed El Naschie" does not cut it. It's obvious you used us as a primary source.

You cite University Ranking Watch, the blog of Richard Holmes. He learned of the El Naschie citation scam from us. After tracing the problem to the "subsubdiscipline" level, Holmes stopped -- just short of fingering El Naschie. We were the ones who did that. We ourselves learned of it in a private email from a math professor in England. El Naschie Watch broke this story and has been covering it in numerous posts for a long time, as you well know:



You know it because you stole the story from us. We want an acknowledgment and an apology.



Posts about D.D. Guttenplan:


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محمد النشائى El Naschie Watch محمد النشائي El Naschie News محمد النشائى محمد النشائي All El Naschie All The Time محمد النشائى
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21 comments:

  1. Jason, I really appreciate this blog and what you do but I am very happy that they didn't cite El-Naschie Watch.

    As you have stated many times before, you do this for fun and have no intentions of doing anything in a professional manner (and I have criticize you for that a few times). If a serious journalist writes an article about El-Naschie and cites you as the main source, the creditability of the article is long gone. Accusing a "scientist" of fraud is a very serious thing. Although many things you write on this blog is true, your way of expressing yourself (in my opinion) makes you look rather untrustworthy. A journalist however, cannot afford to look like that.

    But your blog is working and making people aware of El-Naschie, why is it important for you to be directly mentioned?

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  2. "why is it important for you to be directly mentioned?"

    For one thing it's simply dishonest of them to take my story and not credit me. For another, being mentioned in the NYT would increase our traffic by orders of magnitude.

    We may be bristly and disreputable, but that's not an excuse to steal from us.

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  3. "If a serious journalist writes an article about El-Naschie and cites you as the main source, the creditability of the article is long gone"

    The citation could simply take the form "We learned of this from a sleazy tabloid blog called El Naschie Watch. Their story checks out." Problem solved. I would be perfectly happy with that acknowledgment.

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  4. It's not public, but in alerting my colleagues to this wonderful story, I've linked here. May your traffic increase.

    I think the most important message in this story is that the cooperation between multiple cheating researchers using several journals is totally undetectable using the bibliometric methods that are beginning to rule our lives. The fact that Ji-Huan He was cited by Thomson Scientific for his Hottest Research (see Arnold article) is a stunning indictment.

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  5. PS. Your blog doesn't really qualify as tabloid - it's true!

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  6. There's ways to cite the blog that doesn't make the NYT story seem "unprofessional." For example, they could've said "based on a tip from blogger Jason [...], we investigated..." it doesn't have to mention the blog by name to give credit to the blog.

    Keep them honest Jason!

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  7. "PS. Your blog doesn't really qualify as tabloid - it's true!"

    Thank you. We are less disreputable than we used to be.

    "based on a tip from blogger Jason"

    Yes. There are any number of ways to cite us without being tainted. The notion that newspapers don't use information from questionable sources is ludicrous anyway. The problem I think is that the old media resent bloggers and consider themselves to be on a higher plane, held to higher ethical standards and standards of fact-checking, etc., and feel that blogs are not worthy of credit if Real Journalists can get away with not crediting them. While I don't agree with the first commenter's opinion

    "If a serious journalist writes an article about El-Naschie and cites you as the main source, the creditability of the article is long gone. Accusing a "scientist" of fraud is a very serious thing. Although many things you write on this blog is true, your way of expressing yourself (in my opinion) makes you look rather untrustworthy. A journalist however, cannot afford to look like that."

    I do think Guttenplan may have had similar thoughts.

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  8. Your message to the NYTimes misses the real point.

    It's already silly that a "newspaper" is finally picking up on "news", all available two months ago. But the reporter made no pretense of comprehensive reporting. The story is primarily about the potential flaws in bibliometrics, and devotes only a few sentences to El Naschie.

    Since it's about institutional rankings, it was natural for the reporter to find and check a blog devoted to that issue, Holmes' "University Ranking Watch". There the reporter might have noticed a post as early as 20 Sept ("Perverse Incentives"), naming El Naschie, but not specifying where the info came from. (e.g., perhaps it came from Baty).

    Maybe the first version of the article even tried to say that El Naschie was identified on the above blog, but Holmes said no, he learned it from elsewhere but wasn't sure exactly where. And he might not have been certain, after all your tip came from a math prof and maybe that was the real source. (Holmes' own heavy-handed deletion of comments pointing out El Naschie's lack of intellectual credentials was also problematic.) From the standpoint of this nytimes article two months later, "identified on various blogs" is thus perfectly accurate: his name did appear on various blogs, and there's no attempt to disentangle whether those identifications were independent or stemmed from a single source.

    Yes, it is possible with only slightly more effort to determine there was a single source, both by checking links to your blog and from comments left on Holmes' blog. But that wasn't the point of this article. So I doubt Guttenplan (or the editors who went over his article afterwards) had any thoughts whatsoever about this blog, one way or another. They do occasionally mention blogs, but rarely if ever link to them. So you're getting exercised about absolutely nothing in some odd attempt to cash in on some 15 min of fame.

    But it's also true that the nytimes article could have been much more amusing had it been more about El N. For example, during the entirety of the decade+ the crackpot was editing CS&F, he was in Surrey, perhaps never at Alexandria either before after, just held some honorary affiliation, and was moreover never a prof anywhere. So on the basis of that most tenuous of associations leading to ranking Alexandria's research "higher than Harvard and Stanford" is even more ludicrous than most readers of the articles could possibly appreciate.

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  9. Sorry Blogger comment software is so bad. I deleted dupe comments.

    When I read the Guttenplan piece I see many signs that it was put together by reading El Naschie Watch. It's possible in principle that he didn't -- but Occam's razor says he did. As I read it from beginning to end I see dozens of statements that could individually have been sourced elsewhere, but the simplest explanation for the fact that they all appear in his article is that he read El Naschie Watch.

    Let's see how he responds, if he does at all. Maybe he'll fess up. If not, we'll see if he can come up with a plausible list of "various blogs" other than this one that "soon identified" the great man. And supplied all the other diverse facts he apparently pilfered from the posts I listed.

    Yes, it's only a few sentences he devoted to El Naschie. But they are the most important sentences in his article as judged by the fact that those who quote it invariably mention the El Naschie connection. Which we revealed.

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  10. > I see dozens of statements

    To the contrary, most came from neither one blog or the other, but there's not a single statement in there that's more likely to have come from this blog than from Holmes' (which was undoubtedly the primary source, or equivalently Holmes himself since he's quoted).

    > Let's see how he responds, if he does at all.

    A response might have been more likely had the message not been sent simultaneously to seven addresses (usually a bad sign from their viewpoint)

    > But they are the most important sentences in his article

    Only if you find quotes of the article by searching for "El Naschie". The article has been picked up in many more places not using those parts of it, and focusing instead on the uses and abuses of bibliometrics.

    And as said, it is unfortunate that the article misses the opportunity to expose just how much of a scam it was, leaving readers with the impression that ElN may or may not have abused editorial privileges, with the case still in court, and never even intimating that the 320 articles were raving lunacy with zero intellectual content. The article may also convey the mistaken impression that this scam went unnoticed prior to the THE rankings, giving short schrift not only to this blog, but to many people aware of the issue long before the inception of this blog.

    The article could also have usefully have mentioned Arnold's recent documentation of the He/ElN mutual admiration society for gaming impact factor. All this makes the THE ranking methodology that much more scandalous: if they couldn't recognize even the known major con artists, guess how much else they're missing...

    This blog did play the essential role of attractor, aggregator, and disseminator of the info: beckoning to the unnamed math prof to finger the culprit (crowdsourced), then actively advertising the perpetrator. But there's no indication it was the primary source of material for the article, since the questions about this and other ranking schemes have been independently active for many months.

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  11. In other words, this is not a case in Poynder.

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  12. :) Fair points. Particularly that I do search for "El Naschie" rather obsessively. But "there's not a single statement in there that's more likely to have come from this blog than from Holmes' " is surely wrong.

    Start with the first two words of the title: "Questionable science". A commenter noted it as a possibly intentional, possibly unconscious "double entendre on bibliometrics and e-infinity". I think it might be made by an El Naschie Watch reader who had the words "Skurrile Wissenschaft" lodged in the back of his mind. It is only suggestive, but there are many such coincidences throughout.

    Here is another example. The name "Ann Mroz" appears both on Holmes's blog and on mine. But if you use Google advanced search you'll quickly discover that the Ann Mroz quote Guttenplan used: "any institution that makes it into this table is truly world class" occurs only on my blog, not Holmes's.

    I could go on and on but it is too boring to write it all down, and I still have hope that he will fess up. After all, he hasn't yet denied it, and he has had time to do so. The long and short of it is that the simplest explanation for his overall article is that he reads El Naschie Watch.

    It was rude of me to spam all their editors, but my rudeness is not an excuse for them not to have credited me prior to said rudeness.

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  13. Also, note that El Naschie Watch's Caltech, MIT, Princeton, Alexandria University (September 18) predates Holmes's Perverse Incentives (September 20) which you mentioned (in the context "as early as Sept 20"). The former was in fact the reason the latter talked about El Naschie at all!

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  14. > who had the words "Skurrile Wissenschaft" lodged in the back of his mind

    That association is hallucination.

    > But if you use Google advanced search you'll quickly discover that the Ann Mroz quote

    Also absurd. The Ann Mroz quote appeared in all the rollout articles for the THE rankings, before it could have appeared in either blog. Of course the reporter looked up the earlier articles from two months ago, and the nytimes article contains many such items adapted from those rollout articles, which is precisely why it seems so deja vu to you.

    > After all, he hasn't yet denied it, and he has had time to do so

    Reporters move on fairly quickly (plus this article may have been sitting in the nytimes queue for weeks), and they have little reason to respond to such an argumentative message. A strategy of "By the way, I am curious if you knew that El N was first identified as responsible for the Alexandria anomaly on this blog, which contains much other useful information about him", and to the reporter alone, would have been more auspicious.

    > which you mentioned (in the context "as early as Sept 20"). The former was in fact the reason the latter talked about El Naschie at all!

    Mentioned intentionally: yes, as stated, it would have been simple to verify even two months later that El N unambiguously appeared here earlier, but the nytimes article was not interested in that precedence. The point made was that the reporter could have seen Holmes' entry or talked to Holmes and naturally assumed it was quickly some form of common knowledge. This could be viewed as sloppiness or laziness, but as also mentioned El N was not the focus of the article, so an unimportant clarification.

    > the simplest explanation for his overall article

    No, there's still not a single compelling example. The nytimes article did not start from this blog, it started from the controversy over the THE rankings, an issue discussed by many people, the vast majority of whom have never looked at this blog. The simplest explanation is that two months ago this blog, Holmes', and many others, were all pulling from the same limited set of data (#4 and #147) and quotes from news sources (Mroz, Baty) so all sounded similar. This blog associated a name to the single researcher mentioned by Baty, whose backstory then made it even more scandalous, but the nytimes missed most of that.

    To the contrary, one could argue that had Guttenplan read this blog, he might have written a better article, with another few sentences about El Naschie, explaining just how well known a quantity was El N, rather than just the perfunctory and ambiguous mention of a pending lawsuit, giving the typical reader no indication of just how egregious and notorious has been his malfeasance over an extended time period.

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  15. Dear Jason Rush,

    As anyone who has read my book The Holocaust on Trial would know, I am not a fan of British libel laws. But your inaccurate, intemperate, and frankly defamatory response to my article on academic rankings in the International Herald Tribune almost makes me see their point. For the record: I did not "lift" or "steal" your story. I do my own reporting, as anyone less self-involved might have noticed from the number of sources named and cited in my article. As one of your commentators has correctly deduced, I was reporting a story on rankings, and was naturally delighted to discover a blog called "University Ranking Watch" where I came across the critique of THE--and which I credit fully in my article. (Which by the way ought to disabuse you of your notion that we Real Journalists--your capitals-- are somehow prejudiced against bloggers. However one thing any real journalist could tell you is that newspaper reporters don't write our own headlines. We do, however, try very hard to verify our information before going into print. If your forensic skills were as good as you seem to think they are you might have discovered that Ann Mroz quote on the University of Alexandria's web site, which is where I found it.

    In the course of reporting my story I did come across your web site. But since I was writing about university rankings and the methodology behind them, not about the worth (or lack of worth) of any individual's publications (something I'm not qualified to judge in any case) the material didn't really seem relevant.

    It is you who ought to apologize--to me, to the International Herald Tribune, and most of all to your readers. If some journalists remain dismissive of bloggers this episode offers a vivid illustration of why that skepticism might have some basis in reality.

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  16. @ DDG. So how did you identify El Naschie as responsible for the Alexandria score? For me that was the interesting point in your article.

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  17. Dear D.D. Guttenplan,

    "For the record: I did not "lift" or "steal" your story."

    I think you did, and that your irritable response belies you.

    Mysteriously, you have omitted addressing the question I asked: What were the "various blogs" you meant when you said

    "Phil Baty, deputy editor of Times Higher Education, acknowledged that Alexandria’s surprising prominence was actually due to “the high output from one scholar in one journal” — soon identified on various blogs as Mohamed El Naschie, an Egyptian academic who published over 320 of his own articles in a scientific journal of which he was also the editor."

    I await your response with anticipation and amusement, not only because you have unaccountably failed to name even one besides University Ranking Watch, but because you have doubled-down, saying of El Naschie Watch that

    "the material didn't really seem relevant"

    to the subject of your article.

    A post with a response to you is in the pipeline. In the meantime, I request that you submit a correction to your article, replacing "various blogs" with "the El Naschie Watch blog" or explain your refusal.

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  18. I agree with the earlier commenter that you're getting bent out of shape over nothing -- the accusation of "stealing" is serious and thoroughly unwarranted.

    This blog is interested in the rankings only because it involves El Naschie, the article starts from interest in the rankings and mentions El Naschie only because he was involved, and draws on the standard set of materials available two months ago (from which this blog also drew, while breaking the news of the identity of a key person involved).

    By this time, the identity has appeared in multiple places, so he may or may not have learned it from here (though more likely from Univ Ranking Watch, which learned it from here, or some other 3rd party which picked it up), but it doesn't matter since that wasn't the focus.

    The real problem with the article is entirely different, that it wasn't newsworthy since there is nothing in it beyond what was already known two months ago, so it could have been written then. It would have been news, say, if THE came out and said they now realize they've made a horrible mistake, and are not only planning to revise the methodology, but also to re-release the corrected Sept rankings (fat chance). Or if Alexandria had announced that its ranking was illegit because it was too strongly influenced by the questionable activities of an honorary affiliate.

    But none of that happened, so anyone following developments from two months ago learns nothing. On the other had, the article presumably remains informative to the typical New York Times reader who doesn't follow these issues, so it's understandable they ran it, albeit belatedly.

    The only sensible strategy for Guttenplan at this point is to ignore your unwarranted belligerence.
    (Note I had no prior familiarity with his work but from his website http://ddguttenplan.com/about.html see he has a serious academic background in the humanities, a couple of well-received books, and probably should have been able to find someone to provide an objective assessment of El Naschie's scholarly corpus.)

    > A post with a response to you is in the pipeline.

    Better to just let it go at this point.

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  19. According to D.D. Guttenplan in his response to Jason.

    In the course of reporting my story I did come across your web site. But since I was writing about university rankings and the methodology behind them, not about the worth (or lack of worth) of any individual's publications (something I'm not qualified to judge in any case) the material didn't really seem relevant.
    quote ends.

    The interesting statement for me is
    "..not about the worth (or lack of worth) of any individual's publications (something I'm not qualified to judge in any case).."

    To judge the quality of El naschie's work, it doesn't need to be qualified, his fradluence is evident even for nonspecialist.
    We invite D. D. Guttenplan to give a look at El nadchie's papers in Chaos soltion and fractals.
    You have a degree in philosophy and a Doctorate in history fromm the University of London. These are more than enough to judge El naschie's work. You will find the typical content of El naschie paper something at the level of popular science and history and manipulating numbers through addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and at the advanced level maybe you find logarithm.

    It will be enjoyable if you do the trial, after which you will wonder how this kind of work could be published and even worse could be used in ranking. By the way El naschie earned a doctorate in civil or structural engineering from University College London in 1974.

    I think any real journalist would be captured by the El naschie's case and his unprecedented success in publishing junks for almost twenty years in a supposed respectful publishing house like Elsevier. And at the end these junks used in ranking.

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  20. "To judge the quality of El naschie's work, it doesn't need to be qualified, his fraudulence is evident even for nonspecialist."

    Yes... If only there were some website where DDG could find information about El Naschie.

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