The memory hole gets deeper

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The news that the respected Forbes magazine published an opinion (op-ed) article by Panos Mourdoukoutas, Chair of the Department of Economics at Long Island University, with the title “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money” a few days ago is hardly news any more. It has been shared widely and commented on in the mainstream media and in social media too. It’s old news.

Mourdoukoutas’s argument is studded with dubious and irrelevant claims and arguments such as


(“Third places” like Starbucks) provide residents with a comfortable place to read, surf the web, meet their friends and associates, and enjoy a great drink. This is why some people have started using their loyalty card at Starbucks more than they use their library card…

Then there’s the rise of digital technology. Technology has turned physical books into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for library borrowing services…

Amazon Books is a chain of bookstores that does what Amazon originally intended to do; replace the local bookstore. It improves on the bookstore model by adding online searches and coffee shops. Amazon Go basically combines a library with a Starbucks…


The article concludes

At the core, Amazon has provided something better than a local library without the tax fees. This is why Amazon should replace local libraries. The move would save taxpayers money and enhance the stockholder value of Amazon all in one fell swoop.

Thousands of people, perhaps hundreds of thousands, responded in those various platforms, mostly – but not all – crying out against the views expressed; Amazon’s physical bookstores are not the same as a library, they are not a substitute for a library, libraries offer so much more than any physical bookstore, even Amazon’s.  The outcry was not just in Forbes’ comment column nor just on social media.  The world’s mainstream media took up the story too, few of the publications or those commenting on them showing any support for the notion. The UK Guardian newspaper headlined its report on the Forbes’ story “Twaddle.”

Not everyone commented adversely. There are many who feel that libraries – especially public (publicly funded) libraries – are an anachronism, no longer needed or used in the 21st century, that funds could be better spent elsewhere and/or that taxes can and should be reduced, that local community initiatives will suffice.

Dawn Finch, a past-President of CILIP, the UK’s professional association of librarians and information professionals, is reported in The Bookseller as describing Mourdoukoutas’s piece as “dripping with privilege.”   Coincidentally, just a few weeks before the Forbes article, Finch posted an article What is a library? in her blog A Medley of Extemporanea.   Hers is a passionate piece which answers the Forbes article before it was ever published, including evidence that the cost-benefit or return of investment from libraries is generally four or five times the amount invested in them – and perhaps even more (see the Arts Council England’s report: Evidence review of the economic contribution of libraries).   The pennies we might save in taxes would cost us big in so many other ways.

Forbes deleted the post from its website just a few days, possibly just a few hours, after posting – but this is not news either.  The deletion may have been reported even more widely than the original article – and is still being reported as I write.  A Quartz writer, Thu-Huong Ha, cites an unnamed spokesperson for Forbes as explaining:

Forbes advocates spirited dialogue on a range of topics, including those that often take a contrarian view,” a Forbes spokesperson says in a statement. “Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.
Forbes deleted a deeply misinformed op-ed arguing Amazon should replace libraries

It is easy – and common – for posts to be removed from FaceBook,  Twitter, and other social media.  It seems to be the trend. No apology necessary, just do the damage and escape.

Forbes magazine is NOT social media. Deeply embarrassing for Forbes as Mourdoukoutas’s piece might be, its deletion raises questions.  The article existed, it was on the record. Copies of the article abound on other sites, screenshots of the top-screen abound and don’t go away.

Not so with the Forbes website.  Follow the links to find the original (it was posted at and you get a wry touch of humour, not really funny in this circumstance.

I can’t help thinking that, instead of claiming that “We can’t find the page you requested,” it would be far more honest of Forbes to admit that the page has been deleted – and preferably include a statement as to why it has been deleted.  Maybe something more convincing than the “article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise” – or failing that, an explanation as to why the piece was commissioned in the first place, why the editor accepted it, and especially, why they think matters of public taxation are outside the expertise of a university professor of Economics?

Or perhaps – and maybe even better – an explanation that they are deeply embarrassed by the article and responses to it; they could even publish a responding op-ed?

After all, isn’t the point of an opinion piece that it is a matter of opinion, however slanted and minority that opinion might be?   Unless it is so outrageous that it cannot be published at all.  It was published. Forbes cannot do themselves any good blaming the professor for allegedly writing outside his area of expertise. How many newspaper and magazine articles published every day, written by people writing outside their areas of expertise?  If there is blame, it has to lie with the editor, has to lie with the magazine.

The memory hole

Just as serious a matter to my mind, the record appears to have been removed from the Internet Archive as well.  The IA’s Wayback Machine did manage a few snaps

– but then it started getting those 4-0-Forbes error messages, the page could not be found. Trouble is, the original snapshots have disappeared too. Almost. Click on the snapshot and briefly, very briefly, the page as captured appears – and then disappears. See for yourself.

Now it’s there:

and less than a second later, it’s gone:





Who “disappeared” these first captures? Did Internet Archive get a request from Forbes itself?  Is it possible to hack into the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine and to change the record? Here too disclosure would be good.

Fortunately, the Internet Archive is not the only cache machine available. Here is the Googlecache capture:The article existed. It was published. It is a matter of record, however much the publishers wish it wasn’t.

It is dangerous stuff, this playing with history, this change of the record…  It is another form of manipulation.  It’s far too common, and this is not the first time I have commented on the issue (see, for instance, The memory hole and Wrong to be forgotten?

But this was published in a week when an article in BBC News Vote Leave’s targeted Brexit ads released by Facebook  reported on how FaceBook was used to provide advertisements targeted to particular groups of people in the Brexit campaign before the referendum in June 2016. Many of the advertisements were distortions of the truth, some downright lies and fabrications.  Not everyone got to see the messages.  They were aimed at sympathetic individuals to reinforce beliefs, to play on fears and to cement prejudices. Truth did not matter, the advertisements played on feelings, and powerful they were.

[The interim Report on which the BBC’s article was evidently based, part of a Parliamentary investigation into the use and misuse of fake news, targeted advertising, misinformation and disinformation, is just published: Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Report.]

One problem with targeted advertising, a real problem when the information carried is manifestly untrue, is that those with different views have no means of knowing what is being said, they cannot refute the claims.

There is nothing new here – the dangers have been known and discussed for years.

In 2014, Robert Epstein told us in USNews, How Google Could End Democracy : Research suggests that Google has the power to manipulate elections around the world and Jonathan Zittrain told us in the New Statesman that Facebook could decide an election without anyone ever finding out Only we are finding out.

In 2011, Eli Pariser’s book The filter bubble and his TED Talk Beware online filter bubbles made us aware of the dangers of group-think and manipulation and targeted information.  And before Pariser, warnings and signals aplenty.  Well before the internet, we were warned of the dangers of subliminal advertising and other subliminal techniques.

Just as it is difficult (= impossible) to argue against information (or misinformation or disinformation) of which you are unaware, it is difficult to argue against information which has disappeared.

The Forbes article has not completely disappeared; it has been too well spread.  It does make one wonder …

It’s a dilemma. We don’t want mistakes to be erased, just because they are mistakes. They are part of the record.  But at the same time, we don’t want misinformation and disinformation left available to infest and infect impressionable minds. And who is to say?

One part of me says we need “health warnings” – statements of retraction or objection on articles such as the Mourdoukoutas article; we need “disinformation warnings” on the fake news, the information posted with malicious intent, once it is discovered.

“Discovered”?  We tell our children to beware people who say, “Let’s keep this our secret.”  It’s a danger signal that something is wrong, that we don’t want others to find out. Perhaps it’s that targeted advertising we need to eradicate – making information available only to a certain people, certain sections of society.

The Parliamentary Committee may come up with recommendations on how to curb targeted misleading misinformation.  Maybe it is too late to stem the tide.

It behooves us not to take anything on trust, not unless we really can trust the source. In the meantime, keep digging, don’t stop thinking.


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On 19 April 2016, Kendra Perkins wrote an article for the RefME blog with the title The CRAAP Test: An Easy & Fun Way to Evaluate Research Sources. RefME was taken over by Chegg and subsumed into the Cite This For Me service in 2017 and her original post is no longer available. Fortunately, you can still find the original post, preserved by the Wayback Machine (the Internet Archive).

Kendra had long been a fan of RefME and frequently recommended it in librarian listservs and forums such as iSkoodle. Towards the end of her RefME blog, she declared that she had compiled her list of References using the RefME referencing generator.

A year later, May 2017, Kendra posted an article in her own blog, The Inspired Librarian, a piece with the title Cite This for Me Changed my RefME Blog Post. Here she relates how her RefME post had been reposted on the Cite This For Me site. Her article now read:

The note towards the end of the article had also been changed:

making it seem that she had used Cite This For Me to compile her references. She says (in her The Inspired Librarian post)

I do not like the product, Cite This For Me. I wouldn’t suggest it’s use to anyone. Mendeley, Zotero or NoodleTools, in my opinion are far superior products. They produce much better quality citations with far less errors.

Cite This For Me edited my original blog post for RefME without my permission, and without my knowledge. I have been unsuccessful in contacting them so I am writing here to clarify.

In no way would Kendra endorse Cite This For Me and neither would I. What’s more, it is still as flawed as it was when I wrote A gift that kept on giving back in December 2016.

Just a month after that post I wrote By any other brand-name, not so sweet? inspired by an email from RefME which said it was being taken over by Chegg, allegedly to be amalgamated with Cite This For Me; the takeover would take effect on 28 February 2017.

Cite This For Me might not have replied directly to Kendra, but they did remove her post, it is no longer available on the Cite This For Me site. Fortunately, I Scrapbooked the Cite This For Me page when I first read her article – these last two images are taken from my own Scrapbook archive, which showed it as posted at

It strikes as a form of piracy and possibly even worse, as a re-writing of the record without permission and with no indication that this has been done.

Double double-dipping – doubled and redoubled

I remembered Kendra’s experience when I was preparing for a recent academic honesty workshop. I wanted to use some of the statistics in a RefME blog/report on student attitudes to plagiarism. I blogged on it at the time, Self-serving survey? posted on 13 July 2016. The report was a masterpiece of misunderstanding and misdirection. This extract from my article illustrates at least six problems with the RefME report on the survey:

• the discussion of the surveys reads at times like an inadequate discussion of the surveys and at times like a press release produced by the RefME publicity bureau;
• the report manages to confuse and conflate incorrect or inconsistently formatted references with plagiarism and/or academic misconduct;
• the discussion grabs at different research and studies, and suggests (inter alia) that small-scale surveys can be regarded as universal truths;
• in grabbing at those different research reports and studies, the writer misreports some and fails to do the homework, to check on the source behind the source;
• the report, despite praising RefME for enabling correct and consistent referencing/ endnoting, manages to be incorrect, incomplete and/or inconsistent in at least 11 of its 13 references.
• a small matter of several, many, passages which reuse so much wording from source documents that it might be felt that quotation marks are required; some readers might even class these passages as plagiarism.

I explored each of these issues more deeply in my post.

The RefME article is no longer available (of course), and it took a little detective work to find it on the Cite This For Me site. A few differences were immediately apparent. Where the RefME report had carried the title Survey Reveals Unique Insights to US Students’ Attitudes Towards Plagiarism (the link leads to the Internet Archive’s capture of the article), on the CTFM site it has a new name, 10 Things We Discovered About Students’ Attitudes Towards Plagiarism. After Kendra’s experience, I was not surprised to find that the post had a new author – the original is recorded as by RefME, the CTFM post is “by” Cite This For Me.

At first glance, the main bulk of the report appeared to be the same, right down to the graphics.  The change of title seemed to be the only difference.

But then I came across other differences and oddities: the percentages recorded in the section headed Survey reveals the most common referencing mistakes were slightly different to those I had quoted in my blog post. A glance at the reference list showed that while many of the footnotes were the same in both versions, several were different.  A more careful reading revealed even more differences.  I saw that the number of students taking part in the survey was different between the two reports. I was even more puzzled as I came across a sequence of passages which referenced problems in Australian universities. There had been no mention of Australia in the earlier report; that was about US students, obvious in the original title “Survey Reveals Unique Insights to US Students’ Attitudes Towards Plagiarism.” US students!

Searches on the Internet Archive revealed more discrepancies; the following links lead to the various archived versions.

The RefME article is dated 20 June 2016. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine captured it twice on 8 July 2016, a few weeks after its original publication:

the third and last capture of the article was on 11 May 2017, and redirects to the Cite This For Me site.

The Wayback Machine captured the “original”  Cite This For Me version five times;

all five versions are the RefME article, under new authorship; the last of these saves is dated 26 June 2017.

The original RefME URL was:

Apart from the domain name, the “original” Cite This For Me version had the same URL:

The revised Cite This For Me article has the different title, a different date and a different date in the URL:

Despite the date claimed, the Wayback Machine’s first capture of the latest incarnation of the article is dated 25 March 2017.

Does all this matter, what’s the point?

The point is that Cite This For Me appears to have committed piracy, has perhaps plagiarised itself and in consequence leaves us unsure as to the veracity of the data and the (second) report.

Whole chunks of the articles are identical and near identical as in these extracts (similarities highlighted):

and a little later

The first half of Cite This For Me’s later version of the post is almost identical to the RefME report. There are just the few variations similar to those highlighted above. The differences are mainly of three kinds:

• the different numbers and percentages between the original and the later article,
• the different platforms, RefME replaced by Cite This For Me
• the different uses of “reference” and “citation” (between USA usage and usage in other countries).

I have remarked on the different usages of “references” and “citations” in another blog post, Language and labels; there I pointed out that RefME’s US site used the term “Citation Generator” while the UK site preferred “Referencing Generator.”

But how many surveys were there? Two – or four?

Does the CTFM report with its 4,979 respondents include RefME’s original 2,111 US students or are the samples completely different? Why is there no mention of the earlier report in the later article? Isn’t that what researchers do, refer to earlier studies and show how their own study is different, builds upon earlier work and affirms it or is different?

The main differences between the two articles are in the second half, for suddenly in the Cite This For Me version we are looking at reports of cheating in Australia, no mention of findings among US students.

It is worth noting that the first six footnotes and three later footnotes are identical in both versions (including the errors noted in Self-serving survey?). The CTFM article includes four new references in the second half, three of them referring to reports published in or about the situation in Australia. As with RefME’s set of footnotes, these new references include inconsistencies of style and incomplete information. Two of these include enough wordage copy-pasted from the original sources to raise thoughts of plagiarism (since there are no quotation marks to indicate a quotation) and one piece of summarised material manages to misrepresent the original and include misinterpretation and misinformation.

Here is an extract from Timna Jacks, Deakin University students kicked out for ‘contract cheating’, The Age 18 May 2016:

Apart from the direct copy-paste (highlighted), the original states that students might lose their visas if “caught cheating” which is slightly different to CTFM’s “caught paying for these services.”

The IDP post used later in the article is no longer available but, thanks once more to the Internet Archive, we can read the original International Students in Australia, Blog, IDP. Thinking of cheating? Think again:


As well as the direct copy-paste here, it may strike that the IDP piece, written for an Australian audience, uses $1000 without qualification knowing that its readership will realise that they mean AU$1000. It seems likely that readers of the Cite This For Me article are more likely to think this is US$1000.

And then, from RMIT University, Academic integrity:

Once again, the Cite This For Me paraphrase is too close to the original for comfort. And, while “cheating in an exam” is a form of academic misconduct, it is not a form of plagiarism as suggested in the Cite This For Me article.

In my original article on the RefME report, I noted that the footnote references might have been more complete and consistent if the writer had used the RefME software to generate the references. As it was there were major inconsistencies, including failure to identify the authors of some of the sources used, and some entries using the date of access but not all. The same issues are noted in the four new references in the Cite This For Me article (entries # 7, 8, 9 and 13 if you want to follow these up for yourself).

In the earlier article, I pointed out that the RefME blogger’s report did not necessarily reflect the RefME reference/ citation generator itself. This does not hold true of Cite This For Me. The rehashed report really does reflect the problems with the software.

Moreover, are the two writers, the RefME blogger and the Cite This For Me blogger, one and the same person? If different people, then the CTFM writer has appropriated someone else’s work and presented it as his (or her) own. If there is just one person responsible for both versions of the article, then this approaches self-plagiarism, what the IB terms double-dipping, attempting to gain repeat credit for the same work.

The questions keep coming. Is the second CTFM report solely about student attitudes in Australia or is this now a worldwide study? For both articles, how were the students surveyed chosen? How representative a sample is it? Given the second report’s notes about difficulties faced by international students, how many international students are included, are there significant findings coming from their responses?

Given the lack of transparency, we are entitled to ask, how do we know that either survey report is genuine, how do we know that the figures have not simply been pulled out of the air?

It is all very disturbing. It all suggests we can have little confidence in Cite This For Me, even less confidence in the blog writer’s objectivity, his (or her) scholarship, his credibility, his lack of respect for his readership, his very integrity.

Kendra, you made a wise choice, disowning those revisions made to your article.

How many…?

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It’s a fascinating and possibly pointless exercise, trying to work out how search engines work.  Although this article was inspired by a news story on beating (so-called) plagiarism detectors, I found myself more interested in what the story told us about Google and (presumably) other search engines.

The story starts withn an article in Hoax-Alert: Forget Russian Bots: Fake Native Americans Are Using Russian Characters To Avoid Fake News and Plagiarism DetectorsThe story relates how a number of websites which appear to be promoted by Native Americans are in fact sites originating in Kosovo and other countries. It seems that they are stealing content, disguising it (to escape similarity detectors) and getting away with it. The way they disguise the content is to substitute Cyrillic characters which look like Latin alphabet characters in text, in order to beat text-matching software.  The HoaxAlert story shows this illustration: Continue reading

Not just CRAAP – 3

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[In part 1 of this 3 part article we looked at Wineburg and McGrew’s study which suggests that a fresh look at the way we evaluate web pages and sites could be valuable.]
[In part 2, we looked at a rebuttal of Wineburg and McGrew’s study – and rebutted the rebuttal.]
[In this third part, we look at reasons why we may need a compromise between the “old” and the “new” ways of evaluating pages and sites online.]

In my last two posts, I discussed a study by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew into different methods of search-and-find as employed by three distinct groups, professional fact-checkers, professional historians and first-year undergraduates. The researchers found that the methods used and the thinking processes of the historians and the students were different to the strategies and the thinking processes of the fact-checkers – and that the methods used by these historians and the students could be among the reasons why many of them made incomplete analyses of the sites visited and made flawed conclusions.

In one particular task, a comparison and evaluation of two articles both of which dealt with bullying, the researchers found that historians and students tended to spend much time considering the actual articles before they moved elsewhere; some never left the target sites, some left them to look elsewhere. By contrast, the fact-checkers spent very little time on the target pages – sometimes just seconds; they all quickly looked elsewhere, often outside the publishing sites. That is not necessarily (at least in my eyes) a concern. What does concern is that the evaluations made by the two groups were very different. Continue reading

Not just CRAAP – 2

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In part 1 of this three-part article, I discussed a study by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew into different methods of search-and-find as employed by three distinct groups, professional fact-checkers, professional historians and first-year undergraduates.  The researchers found that the methods used and the thinking processes of the historians and the students were different to the strategies and the thinking processes of the fact-checkers – and that the methods used by these historians and the students could be among the reasons why many of them made incomplete analyses of the sites visited and made flawed conclusions.

The three groups were asked to complete six tasks in timed conditions. The findings and ensuing discussion are detailed in the paper Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information.

In this earlier post (Not just CRAAP – 1), I invited readers to try one of the tasks for themselves. If you haven’t already done this, it might be a good idea to try before reading on here.

The task asked participants to imagine they looking for information on bullying, and describe their thought processes as they considered two particular articles on two different websites.  The articles were Bullying at School: Never Acceptable on the site of the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds – the College) and then  Stigma: At the Root of Ostracism and Bullying on the site of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP – the Academy).

Participants were allowed to look elsewhere on the sites and anywhere else online that they wished.  They had to decide which website was the more reliable and trustworthy.

What the researchers found was that Continue reading

Not just CRAAP – 1

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Over the weekend, a newsletter item in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my attention, One way to fight fake news by Dan Berrett and Beckie Supiano.  It was originally published in November 2017;  I’ve got behind in my reading.

The item reports on a study by Sam Wineburg and Sarah McGrew.  Wineburg and McGrew compared the search habits and evaluation techniques of three different groups, professional historians, professional fact-checkers, and students at Stanford University.  They found that :

  • the historians and the students mostly used very different techniques of search and evaluation to the techniques of the fact-checkers;
  • the historians and the students could not always find the information they were asked to search for;
  • the historians and the students took longer to decide on the validity and reliability of the sites they were asked to look at;
  • most disturbingly, the historians and the students came by-and-large to diametrically opposite conclusions to those of the fact-checkers as to the validity and reliability of the various sites; the two groups could not both be right.

Before reading further, you might want to try an approximation of one of the tasks undertaken by the participants (there were six tasks in all, in timed conditions). Continue reading

Guilty by association

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A month or so ago, an incident at Ohio State University made headlines. One or more students had posted information on business course assignments in a GroupMe study group.  The type of information shared violated the University’s code of student conduct.  As a consequence, more than 80 students – all members of the GroupMe group – were charged with cheating.

GroupMe is a free group messaging app, widely used to send messages and documents simultaneously to all members of a group. Members of educational GroupMe groups often use it to share dates due and study tips and readings. When collaboration is permitted, this kind of app can be a great boon in assisting collaborative work. In this particular case, however, some users had overstepped the mark and had posted suggested answers to homework assignments. Legitimate collaboration had become illegitimate collusion.

By and large, the headlines (of which this is just a small selection) seemed to get more dramatic Continue reading

WHYs before the event

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I have long suggested that students will more readily understand the conventions of citing and referencing if they understand WHY we do it, WHY they are asked, expected and required to do it.  HOW to do it is necessary, but knowing WHY we do it gives purpose, can even make it fun.

When I “crowd-source” the reasons WHY we cite and reference, in classrooms and in workshops, the group usually comes up with the main reasons between them. That is good. But there is no guarantee that any one individual in the room appreciates all of those reasons – as evidenced perhaps by my questioner in Qatar, a story I relate in Lighten the load, “Is referencing taken as seriously at university as it is in this school?”

Trouble is, for many students, the notions of building on what has gone before, showing the trail which has led to our present thinking or contributing to an academic conversation are just too abstract to appreciate. This is so, even at university level, as suggested by Continue reading

We value our libraries – shout it loud!

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I mused on coincidences in my last post but one, APA mythtakes. Here’s another one!

Over lunch today, I read a piece in my library magazine, CILIP Update, a story about Bury Council in England. The Council had closed a public library, and some bright spark sent out a tweet, asking the community to advise on what could be done to “turn a former library into a valued community asset.”

And guess what the community replied?

If you’re not sure (I’m sure you are, really), try the Manchester Evening News item Bury council tweeted about making closed libraries into ‘valued assets’ and everyone said the same thing

Everyone saying the same thing, that’s not the coincidence. The coincidence is courtesy friend Christina who just an hour or so later sent me a link to a story in Huffington Post, ‘The Angriest Librarian’ Schools Columnist Over Anti-Library Tweets. This is one person’s response – multiple responses – to a New York journalist’s tweet suggesting “Nobody goes to libraries anymore. Close the public ones and put the books in schools.”

The Angriest Librarian wasn’t the only person who responded. Within hours, more than 110,000 people had responded. Andre Walker, the journalist, had to admit that libraries weren’t as unpopular as he had thought.

We value our libraries – shout it loud!


It takes time

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One of the basic tenets of this blog is that we do students a disservice when we give them the impression that the main purpose of citing and referencing is to “avoid plagiarism.”

The way I see it, “avoiding plagiarism” is at best a by-product of citation and referencing. It is a long way from being the main or the only reason for the practice. It makes for angst (“what if I get it wrong?”) and it leads to confusion. Because of the nit-picking demands of getting one’s references absolutely perfect, it can lead to boredom. It leads to taking short-cuts, to avoidance of using other people’s work in support of one’s own ideas and statements, to a loss of the writer’s own voice and ideas.

At the same time, as demonstrated by repeated uses of Jude Carroll’s Where do you draw the line? exercise, there are wide differences between what different teachers class as plagiarism. This serves further to confuse, as when a student who has had work long accepted finds her standard practice is suddenly condemned Continue reading

APA mythtakes

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We don’t take note of non-coincidences, do we? It’s different when two similar events happen close to each other. Wow! we say, what are the chances of that happening twice in the same day? Coincidences stick in the mind, single events do not stick so readily. (This one stuck so solidly that it pushed me into blogging again.)

A recent EasyBib blog post was one half of such a coincidence. Michele Kirschenbaum’s blog post Video Lesson: In-Text Citations had upset me on two counts. Although published on 29 September 2017, my Google Alert did not pick it up until last week.

Count #1: the video gives the impression that in-text citations and parenthetical citations are one and the same

This impression is confirmed in the text of the blog where we read “We think this video, which provides an introduction to in-text, or parenthetical citations, is a great addition to your classroom resources.”

Me, I don’t think it such a great addition, not least because parenthetical citations are one kind of in-text citation, but not the only kind.

Other kinds are available, not least when the citation starts the sentence Continue reading

By any other brand-name, not so sweet?

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Something is afoot in the world of reference generators. The American company Chegg, which claims to be  “all about removing the obstacles that stand in the way of the education YOU want and deserve” [Chegg: What we’re about], seems to be buying up service after service.

They already own CitationMachine,  BibMe, EasyBib, and CiteThisForMe. None of them is particularly good at what they claim to do, and (in their free versions and since being taken over by Chegg) they are bedevilled by splash and flash advertising (as with Citation Machine, illustrated on the right).

Several of my earlier posts point directly or indirectly to shortcomings in these services.  Their auto-citation generators leave much to be desired. They also leave much to be edited or added after the reference is auto-generated. A common plaint is that students don’t do this – they unthinkingly and uncritically accept auto-generated output no matter how many errors or omissions.  Alas, the manual form-filling modes are often not much better. Too often Continue reading

A gift that kept on giving…

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Regular readers will know my opinion of the (so-called) Harvard referencing, but in case you don’t, it is low. (If you don’t, then see, as instance, the three-part post which starts at Harvard on my mind 1.)

So there was some delight and much sinking feeling when my daily GoogleAlert for [plagiarism] today brought up the hit How to Reference Your Sources Using Harvard Referencing.

  The first line or so of the alerted post by someone signing in as techfeatured reads:

An article in the Sunday Times (Jones, 2006) claims that up to 10% of all degree level submissions commit some form of plagiarism – the act of …

It wasn’t just the mention of Harvard that set the alarm bells ringing and the red flags flying. It was the statistic itself, that 10%, and the ten-year old source. Surely there is more recent research, surely the rate is higher? What is meant by “degree level submissions”?

Today (as I start drafting this post) is Christmas Day Continue reading

Of honesty and integrity

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One of my favourite classroom and workshop activities is a “Do I need to cite this?” quiz. Those taking the test are presented with a number of situations and asked to choose between “Cite the source/s” and “No need to cite the source/s.” *

I like to do this using Survey Monkey – other polling applications will do just as well. It means that I can home in on any situation in which there is divided opinion, or which many respondents are getting wrong. There is no need to go through each situation one at a time if there are just two or three situations which need to be discussed.

Much of the time, the answers are clear: the situation is academic (a piece of work submitted for assessment) so should demand academic honesty, and most students and other participants get it right.

Some of the situations are less clear and lend themselves to discussion, considerations of common knowledge, learned expertise, copyright, credibility and reputation, honesty (as against academic honesty) and integrity.

One situation, for instance, presents Continue reading

Knowing how to write is not knowing how to write

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A month or two ago, but within the space of two weeks, three very different, very similar, situations:

Situation 1 : a student in a school in Asia wrote a comment on an earlier blog post, How Much Plagiarism?  asking for advice. She had misunderstood the instructions; she “forgot to include in-text citations” in the draft of her IB extended essay. All her citations were at the end of the essay. There was no intention to plagiarise.  Since this was a draft, the IB is not involved;  there was still the opportunity to put things right. But she was worried about her school’s reaction which could include note of her transgression on future university recommendations. Her question was, is this excessive?

Situation 2 : an inquiry on an OCC forum: it was the school’s deadline day for submitting final copies of extended essays.  One student, known for his dilatory habits, managed to submit his essay on time. Reading through before authenticating it, the supervisor realised that in the first half of the essay the student had included footnote references for each superscript number in the text. Then the student seemed to have run out of time or stamina, for in the second half of the essay the superscript numbers were there but with no footnoted references to support them. Would it be ethical Continue reading

A footnote on footnotes

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Just as a footnote to my last post, Yes and No – footnotes (in MLA8), there is now a post in the MLA’s Style Center which addresses this very question. I don’t think this page was there at the time I wrote my post, but I won’t swear to that.

The question asked was Are notes compatible with MLA style? – and the answer was much as I suggested: in the absence of specific guidance, follow the suggestions made in the previous edition, MLA7: you can use footnotes (or endnotes) to “offer the reader comment, explanation, or information that the text can’t accommodate,”  and you can make bibliographic footnotes in limited circumstances: “bibliographic notes are best used only when you need to cite several sources or make evaluative comments on your sources.” Footnotes are the exception, not the rule, not if you want to abide by strict MLA style.

[For the purpose of IB assessments, possibly other exam boards too, you should note that the first use is heavily discouraged: such footnotes MAY NOT be read but WILL count towards the word count.]


Readers might want to know that the latest edition, the MLA Handbook, 8th edition, is now available in Kindle format.


Yes and No – footnotes

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A question that comes up regularly in the forums is, “We use MLA; can we use this style with footnotes?”

I think there are two answers to this. The first is “No, you can’t.” The second is, “Yes you can.”

Before I explain my thinking, I will just add that the reason most frequently given for wanting to use MLA and footnotes is “the word count.” If the citation is in a footnote and footnotes aren’t counted in the word count, then the rationale is that using footnotes will save words. This could be crucial in, for instance, an IB Extended Essay.

Q:  Can we use MLA style and footnotes?
A:  No, you can’t.

MLA, the student-level style guide of the Modern Language Association as published in the MLA Handbook, recommended the use of footnotes in the 1st edition, published in 1977;  in the 2nd edition, published in 1984, MLA stated a preference for citation in the text. (This piece of history is gleaned from page xi of the 8th edition, published in 2016.)

The 6th edition (2003) noted that some disciplines using MLA still used “endnotes or footnotes to document sources,” and gave a few examples in an appendix (298 ff). The only recommendation regarding footnotes in the 7th edition (2009) was that Continue reading

Smoke and mirrors

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“Technological solutionism” – a term coined by Evgeny Morozov – offers us solutions to problems we often do not know we have. Some might feel that it sometimes creates new problems, too often without solving the problems it is designed to solve. So often and too often, it fails to do what it says on the tin.

On the other hand, technological solutionism can make big money for the companies behind the so-called solutions. It can blind us to other, often more workable, often more less expensive and more low-tech strategies, approaches and solutions.  Worse still, it can divert attention from the real problems, including situations which might cause the problems in the first place.

I have blogged before about technological solutions which promise far more than they deliver. Turnitin and EasyBib are the ones which come most readily to mind. You can name your own “favourites.”

And now, Microsoft has just released enhancements to Office 365. The announcement is made in an Office Blog article posted on 26 July 2016 with the snappy-catchy title New to Office 365 in July—new intelligent services Researcher and Editor in Word, Outlook Focused Inbox for desktop and Zoom in PowerPoint. The piece is written by Kirk Koenigsbauer. He is a corporate vice president for the Office team, heavy-hitting stuff indeed.  In this post, we’ll be looking just at Researcher and Editor.

In the blog, we read that

Researcher is a new service in Word that helps you find and incorporate reliable sources and content for your paper in fewer steps. Right within your Word document you can explore material related to your topic and add it—and its properly-formatted citation—in one click. Researcher uses the Bing Knowledge Graph to pull in the appropriate content from the web and provide structured, safe and credible information.

and that

Editor assists you with the finishing touches by providing an advanced proofing and editing service. Leveraging machine learning and natural language processing—mixed with input from our own team of linguists—Editor makes suggestions to help you improve your writing.

Powerful tools indeed.  If they work.

Given the first look that Microsoft gives us, they have a long way to go.

First, Researcher. The section heading in the blog reads Continue reading

Seeds or weeds?

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It is sadly ironic when someone writing about plagiarism (with the intention of helping readers understand what plagiarism is and how to write correctly) commits plagiarism.

It happens all too often. I am sure that, in most cases, it is unintentional. The trouble is, readers of their work may sometimes be confused, especially if confused examples are presented. As instances, there are writers on plagiarism who still seem to believe that it is enough to list their sources at the end of a paper.  There are some who appear to think that citation in the text is enough, but are apparently unaware (or who forget) that quoted words demand quotation markers (such as quotation marks or indented paragraphs or a change of font).

I don’t know what to make of the writer of the article, “Planting Seeds,” published in Blossoms: the official newsletter of Abuja Preparatory School (No. 25, 9 March 2016).

The newsletter is aimed at parents. Full credit to the writer for trying to help parents understand what plagiarism is, and understand how students can legitimately use other people’s words and work [“All they have to do is always acknowledge who and where they got it from”]. There is also a section on how some forms of help which parents often give are actually unhelpful, not least because they encourage bad habits and understanding/s. I am particularly impressed that this school takes students up to year 6, ages 10 to 12. I believe the earlier the values of honesty and integrity are inculcated, the better – the awareness of honest use of others’ work is “planting seeds” indeed.

But there are two paragraphs in the newsletter article which give me pause.

The first of these is Continue reading

Self-serving survey?

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When a company (or other group with vested interest) conducts its own research and publishes its own analysis of the results, it is usually worth investigating more deeply. Turnitin has long been a favourite source of disingenuous disinformation (see. for instance, my posts How much plagiarism?, Guilty: how do you plead?, A second look at SEER, and Not as I do, but… ).

Now my attention turns to RefME, the reference generator (unless it is a citation generator; there may be language differences here, as discussed in Language and labels).

RefME has just published a report Survey Reveals Unique Insights to US Students’ Attitudes Towards Plagiarism on two surveys which the company carried out in recent months. It seems a prime example of how not to analyse data, how not to write a report. That’s a brutal assessment, but I think the brutality is justified. Just be sure to get in quick in case the report is edited or deleted.

I think there are (at least) five or six ways in which the report can be considered flawed. Fuller explanation follows the list:

  1. the discussion of the surveys reads at times like an inadequate discussion of the surveys and at times like a press release produced by the RefME publicity bureau;
  2. the report manages to confuse and conflate incorrect or inconsistently formatted references with plagiarism and/or academic misconduct;
  3. the discussion grabs at different research and studies, and suggests (inter alia) that small-scale surveys can be regarded as universal truths;
  4. in grabbing at those different research reports and studies, the writer misreports some and fails to do the homework, to check on the source behind the source;
  5. the report, despite praising RefME for enabling correct and consistent referencing/ endnoting, manages to be incorrect, incomplete and/or inconsistent in at least 11 of its 13 references.
  6. a small matter of several, many, passages which reuse so much wording from source documents that it might be felt that quotation marks are required; some readers might even class these passages as plagiarism.

This is not to denigrate the RefME software itself. I have no opinion there. Until I bought a new computer a few months ago, I found the app hung up too often to enable a valid critique of its performance as a reference (or citation) generator. Now, I find it Continue reading

Language and labels

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Different people have different understandings of the terms “citation” and “reference.” This can – and does – cause confusion. In my classes and workshops, I usually start discussion of use of other people’s work by stating how I use and will be using these terms, following the International Baccalaureate (IB)’s use of them. In brief:

  • citations are the short notes which go in the text, as part of the text or in parentheses;
  • references are the full bibliographic information which goes in the list at the end.

If we all have the same understanding of the terms, we are nearer being sure that we are talking about the same things.

There is much to suggest that many students go through secondary school and enter university believing that they understand how to document their use of source material correctly and appropriately, when all they have learned and practised is making an alphabetical list of sources at the end of their work. When told they need to cite their sources, Continue reading

Copy, paste, EDIT

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Following on in this mini-series of common errors in extended essays: one of the ways in which IBDP extended essay candidates drop marks for  Criterion I: Formal Presentation (Criterion D: Presentation from 2018) is inconsistency in the formatting of references.

IB examiners are instructed that consistency and completeness of references is more important than notions of accuracy, which is good. Given that students are free to use any referencing style that they wish, it is not possible for an examiner to declare that this or that reference is recorded inaccurately, not according to style guide.

But the criterion requires that references are consistently formatted within the list itself. If the reference list is something like this: Continue reading

Back to basics – MLA8 revisited

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I have to admit, I am excited by the latest edition of the MLA Handbook. Gulp! Does that make me some kind of uber-nerd?

I am breaking into my mini-series on common documentation errors in IB extended essays to share my excitement. MLA8 gives us a new way of looking at citation and referencing, very different to the approach taken in the previous edition. What’s more, the hopes I expressed for this new edition (well before it was actually published – see the post MLA8 – new edition of MLA Handbook) are incorporated in the new approach.

The special delight is because, in basing its new approach on the principles and the purposes of citation and referencing, MLA8 provides us with principles which can be applied to any referencing style or style guide. What you might call a WHYs move, perhaps. Continue reading

Orders are orders

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In my last post, What’s in a name, I discussed the need for clear linkage between the name/s used in an in-text citation and the name/s used to start the entry in the list of References. If the citation reads,

“According to Michaels and Brown, ……”


“‘……’ (Singh 2014)”

then it is helpful to the reader if the entries in the References list start

Michaels, J., & P. Brown….


Singh, V. (2014).

Many students, however, seem unable to make the link. A number of extended essay examples posted by the International Baccalaureate show instances where students manage to mismatch names – detailed in that last post. Two of the instances I listed were essays in which students had used Continue reading

What’s in a name?

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In my last post, Credit where it is due, I discussed IB’s approach to referencing, with special regard to the new Extended essay guide. The guide affects students starting their two-year diploma programme in September this year, for first examination in May 2018.

In an attempt to ensure standard understanding of citation and referencing, IB is instructing examiners to refer to the Awards Committee all cases of inaccurate or inconsistent citation and referencing. This will be, I hope, for the good, for the benefit of students. I fear, however, that the committee will be inundated with such cases.

I have another concern here: the comment (on many commentary forms printed alongside sample essays) reads, “Under the new requirements this essay must be referred as a possible case of academic misconduct due to incorrect and inconsistent citing and referencing.” My concern is that examiners may be wrongly influenced in their overall assessment of the essay by any “incorrect” or inconsistent citation or referencing; they may be prejudiced as they read, and award lower marks than if the student had used “correct” and consistent citation and referencing – even when there is no misconduct, just mistakes. This is a big concern, but I will reserve discussion of this aspect for another post.

For the moment, I want to ignore notions of misconduct and concentrate on consistency, possibly with a view to reducing the number of essays submitted for further consideration.

So, in that last post I discussed the notion of accurate referencing, which could be seen to contradict other IB advice to the effect that “Students are not expected to show faultless expertise in referencing…”. I argued that the notions can be reconciled if “accurate” referencing is taken not to mean accuracy of formatting of the references but instead used to mean that the right authors are cited (as against just any names randomly plucked from a hat). Now, accuracy makes sense.

The right authors, the right names

Some of the comments on the sample essays suggest that essays are referred to the Awards Committee because Continue reading