Spinning it out

A few weeks ago, my eye was caught by an article in The Guardian, Overconfident of spotting fake news? If so, you may be more likely to fall victim.  Natalie Grover reported on a recent survey of 8285 Americans which suggests that 90% of participants thought that their ability to distinguish between fake and accurate headlines was above average, that those who had over-high perception of their abilities were more likely to visit websites which tended to publish false or inaccurate news items, and they were also more likely to share fake news; on the other hand, those who took a more thoughtful approach to their news reading were less likely to be misled by or to share inaccurate and false news reports.

There have been many studies of over-confidence in recent years.   It may be this misplaced self-confidence which leads students (and people generally) to go for and to use without question whatever comes up as Google hit number 1, this regardless of anything they have been told and taught about website evaluation.  It may be a form of cognitive dissonance – knowing that they have to slow down and think about what they find online while at the same time accepting what they find online without thinking about it.

Who needs those CRAAP and WISER and CARRDS or other evaluation tools?  Why bother to laterally read and think, or use Four Moves?   We do not need to think, we cannot be taken in, we know best.

Think again.

I am not sure about my own general news-reading habits, but I do know I tend to be extra careful when reading reports of surveys. I prefer to know who was surveyed and when and who by, the size of the survey, who was behind the survey, how it was carried out, the questions asked and how they were asked, how the sample taking part was chosen and how representative it is of the general population and more. I like to read the research report behind the newspaper report.

So the Guardian article:  I could not decide, reading Grover’s report, whether those who took a more thoughtful approach also thought of themselves as having higher-than-average abilities or whether they lacked self-confidence in their ability to identify fake news and so were more careful. All the more reason to get hold of the original research report.

There was a link in Grover’s report in The Guardian. Unfortunately, when I clicked on it, it led to an error message:

Annoying.  I completed the “Report this error” form and sent it off, not really expecting anything to happen, and went searching.*

Grover said the study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, but I could not find it there.  So, search engine.  The search terms [“Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” Lyons 8,285] brought up just two likely hits, the Guardian article and another article, this in Insider Voice.**

There was a link in this report too … and it brought up the same DOI error message.

For one article to make a mistake in a hyperlink might suggest a typo. For two articles to make the same mistake does tend to suggest that one article is a copy of the other.

A quick check showed that these were not the same article syndicated to different outlets, as sometimes happens. They had different authors: Natalie Grover in the Guardian, Gary Miller for Insider Voice.  The titles were not quite the same either:

Overconfident of spotting fake news? If so, you may be more likely to fall victim” (in the Guardian) and
Overconfident about spotting fake news? If so, you are more likely to be a victim” (in Insider Voice).

There were other differences in the text, all small, such as in these three non-consecutive paragraphs: 

The Guardian Insider Voice
Although Americans believe the confusion caused by false news is all-pervasive, relatively few indicate having seen or shared it, something the researchers suggested shows that many may not only have a hard time identifying false news but are not aware of their own deficiencies at doing so. Although Americans believe that the confusion caused by fake news is ubiquitous, relatively few report having seen or shared it something the researchers suggested shows that many may not only have a hard time identifying fake news, but are unaware of their own. deficiencies in doing so. then.
“No matter what domain, people on average are overconfident … but over 70% of people displaying overconfidence is just such a huge number,” said the lead author, Ben Lyons, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah. “No matter what domain, people on average are overconfident … but more than 70% of people who are overconfident is a huge number,” said lead author Ben Lyons, assistant professor of communication. at the University of Utah.
Although the study does not prove that overconfidence directly causes engagement with false news, the mismatch between a person’s perceived ability to spot misinformation and their actual competence could play a crucial role in the spread of false information, the authors wrote in the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Although the study does not prove that overconfidence directly causes engagement with fake news, the mismatch between a person’s perceived ability to spot misinformation and their actual competence could play a crucial role in spreading false information, the authors wrote. authors in the publication. study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The differences, most especially the errors in punctuation, strongly suggest that the Insider Voice article is a copy of the Guardian story, confirmed by a check of the time stamp in the Page Info information of the articles.  (Additionally, the Guardian is the more reputable newspaper. Insider Voice has a long way to go; if it has a reputation, I doubt that it is a good one.***)

I might have pursued this and published more quickly if I suspected that it was the Guardian‘s story which was a partial re-write of the other story but all indications pointed the other way.  With other work needing my attention,  I made notes on the re-use of Grover’s article, made screengrabs, saved the pages, and put it all aside for possible use later.  (Later came sooner than I thought it would.)

Spinning it out some more

Then came the Fred Mogul story.  In my last article Feeling the draft,  I told the story of Mogul’s sacking from an online radio station as a result of allegations of plagiarism in the draft for an online news story.  It seemed that Mogul had attributed whatever was alleged to be a plagiarism in the style used by his company but his new chief editor did not recognize that style of attribution.  The situation was further complicated in that the problem passage did not appear in Mogul’s story as published, we do not know what he actually wrote or how he wrote it.

In trying to work out for myself just what had happened, I realised there were several issues worth following up – not in the article which Mogul had written but in the reports of his sacking.  As I said in my previous post, I thought the Nation World News report was curious; It was not just the story, it was the headline that attracted my attention.

The Nation World News headline runs This is the ‘mean-to’ moment of the media. Stop shouting and go to HR. My first thought was “mean-to” was a pun on the #Me too movement, and maybe it is.

The first paragraph reads

Perhaps worse, Ms. Cooper quickly remarked that she had never heard of Brian Lehrer, the beloved WNYC Morning host, whose slowly-scrutinizing, public-spirited interview materializes the station’s appeal, and That he did not “get” why he was popular. WNYC spokeswoman Jennifer Houlihan Roussel said in an email that she has since believed “Bryan is the soul of the station and in many ways the city itself.”

Perhaps worse…”?  “Perhaps worse” than what? I wondered.  This article reads as if the story is starting in the middle.

Further in, we read:

Ms. Cooper refused to talk to me …

Who is “me”?  This story is attributed to the Nation World News Desk.  I am not surprised that “Ms. Cooper refused to talk to me,” I would refuse to talk to a desk as well.And there is something odd about the end of this paragraph and the next two as well :

… But then a number of stunned radio journalists questioned the move, explaining that they regularly included the AP copy in on-air stories, and the practice at WNYC’s small website, crediting the AP at the bottom of the story Was imported.

“go Through each of our articles and set us all on fire, because that’s what we all did, “Rebecca Ibara, a host, told her.

On February 10, more than 40 employees, including Mr. Lehrer, signed a letter calling for Ms. Cooper to reconsider and firing a “disturbing precedent.”

… crediting the AP at the bottom of the story Was imported“???  we read.  What “Was imported”?

Then there is the punctuation of the next paragraph, which starts with the lower case “go” followed by the upper-case “Through.”   Also, there is a misplaced quotation mark in front of “Rebecca,” it should go before the space, not after it.

And that last paragraph in the extract above “more than 40 employees … signed a letter calling for Ms. Cooper to reconsider and firing a “disturbing precedent.”“:  did the “more than 40 employees” fire a “disturbing precedent” – or did they describe the firing as “a disturbing precedent”?

This looks like a spun article, an article originating somewhere else, copy-pasted (in this case badly) and put through an article re-writer or spinner, so changing a few words here and there.

Sure enough, my search for [fred mogul plagiarism] also brought up an article on WorldBestNews, It is the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Instant. Quit Yelling and Go to Human Resources.   This is datelined 23 May 2021 so a day earlier than the Nation World News article.  There is no byline to the story but here is a tagline, sherzod@worldbest.news.  Below the same photograph, the story again seems to start in the middle:

Possibly even even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d under no circumstances listened to of Brian Lehrer, the beloved WNYC morning host whose carefully probing, public-spirited interviews embody the station’s enchantment, and that she did not “get” why he was well-known. She has due to the fact occur to the watch that “Brian is the soul of the station and, in many ways, the city itself,” a WNYC spokeswoman, Jennifer Houlihan Roussel, claimed in an e-mail.

Possibly even even worse…” it starts.  Even even worse than what?

And the story continues in the same vein as the Nation World News article though with even less-grammatical English…

And Ms. Cooper started out pushing the radio journalists to decide on up their rate and to file stories for the net. That appeared like a sensible request, but it led to yet another stumble in early February, when an 18-12 months veteran of the radio facet, Fred Mogul, filed a story with just one paragraph printed in a different font. The editor recognized it was Connected Press copy Ms. Cooper instantly fired Mr. Mogul for plagiarism with no a assessment of no matter whether he’d at any time finished it prior to.

I rather think that,  far from the Nation World News story being a rehash of the earlier World Best News story, they have both found and used the same story found elsewhere – one using an even more thorough spinbot than the other.

It could be that they found the original on one of those sites which spreads long news stories over several web pages – which might explain why the story starts in the middle, they had spun page 2 of the article but not page 1?

But what was the site from which they copied and spun?  There is a whole bunch of articles from which to choose!

News Chant 23 May 2021. It’s the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Moment. Stop Yelling and Go to Human Resources which starts

Perhaps even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d by no means heard of Brian Lehrer…

Tash Solution 24 May 2021.  It’s the Media’s ‘Imply-Too’ Second. Cease Yelling and Go to Human Assets

Maybe even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d by no means heard of Brian Lehrer…

Alice. Update to the Date News 24 May 2021. It’s the Media’s ‘Imply-Too’ Second. Cease Yelling and Go to Human Sources

Perhaps worse, Ms. Cooper noted early on that she had never heard of Brian Lehrer…

Espanol News 24 May 2021. Es el momento ‘malo’ de los medios. Deje de gritar y diríjase a Recursos Humanos

Quizás incluso peor, la Sra. Cooper comentó desde el principio que nunca había oído hablar de Brian Lehrer…

Germanic 24 May 2021. Es ist der “Mean-Too” -Moment der Medien. Hören Sie auf zu schreien und gehen Sie zur Personalabteilung

Vielleicht noch schlimmer, bemerkte Frau Cooper schon früh, dass sie noch nie von Brian Lehrer gehört hatte…

I have found three sites which had the grace to include a link to the original story, published in the New York Times on 23 May 2021:

Laura Foti. World News Era 23 May 2021.  It’s the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Moment. Stop Yelling and Go to Human Resources

Perhaps even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d never heard of Brian Lehrer…

GWN/ Good Word News. no date This is the “mean” media moment. Stop yelling and go to human resources 

Perhaps worse still, Ms Cooper noticed early on that she had never heard of Brian Lehrer…

Sahil. Global Circulate 24 May 2021.  It’s the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Moment. Stop Yelling and Go to Human Resources

Perhaps even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d never heard of Brian Lehrer…

The original article was written by Ben Smith and published in The New York Times on 23 May 2021.  Its headline reads It’s the Media’s ‘Mean-Too’ Moment. Stop Yelling and Go to Human Resources and the report begins

For 20 years, the WNYC radio show “On The Media” has been the sort of place where the hosts’ on-air repartee makes it a fun listen, while their off-air screaming matches send producers diving for cover.

But times are changing.

The story that all those rewriters are picking up on starts at paragraph 16 of the New York Times article; this begins:

Perhaps even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d never heard of Brian Lehrer…

The story copied and/or re-spun in all those articles begins at paragraph 16 of the original New York Times article – and somehow all the rewritten stories include the same photograph taken from the top of the NYT article.  Perhaps even more odd, though maybe not so odd to an unintelligent AI re-writer, is that the photograph shows Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone – neither of whom appears in the shortened and rewritten versions carried elsewhere.

Now had I but world enough and time,**** I might go looking for a rewrite of the New York Times story which uses the complete article.  It was possibly, probably, not necessarily, maybe that story which these others (and many many more since I began writing this piece) have picked up on and spun?

What so amazed me, what makes me feel small and naive (as I indicated in Feeling the draft) is that there is a whole rewriting industry out there!


I found those NYT rewrites as I was writing my previous blog piece.  They came up in my Google search for [cooper mogul lehrer].  The New York Times article was #7 in the list of hits.  So much for Google’s recognition of authority. Beware, those who use Google #1 as their gospel without thinking – you may be a touch too overconfident of your website evaluation skills.

Before I could come back to completing this post, copyright and plagarism guru Jonathan Bailey published a blog article on 23 June 2021, telling us Why Plagiarisms Can Outrank Originals in Google.  It seems that even when Google is aware which site published the original article and which sites have copied it, it may well prefer to place the pirate sites above the original.

Lateral reading really does pay off – step number one, check who and what your sources really are.

Reader, be aware! Beware!!


*    The link was corrected the next day and now provides a direct link to the article.

**   Repeating the search as I wrote this article, I find many many more copies and spins on the original Guardian article.  The Insider Voice version was the first copy I found; it was and is not the last.

***  The Guardian is the more reputable newspaper. It is one of the UK’s leading national newspapers with an international reputation, and is this year celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding.

      Insider Voice, according to its About us page, is less than 10 years old and was founded by Gary Miller, the author of this piece.  The first paragraph of the About us page reads
        Apart from its claim to “101% original content,” I cannot help wondering which “united state” that was?  But then Insider Voice makes me wonder about a lot of things, in this paragraph, elsewhere on the site…

**** Not being coy, but what Andrew Marvell actually wrote was “Had we but world enough and time.”

Feeling the draft

News reporters who plagiarize their stories occasionally make the news themselves – when they are found out.  I was alerted to just such a story a few days ago. My alert service pointed to two short online reports and I had a look.  There were a couple of statements in those reports which puzzled me, they were so intriguing they got me looking for more details and for clarification.

I am not sure that I found clarification.  I did find more reports on the same story, some published a day or two later but quite a few published much earlier. The core of the story remained the same but each succeeding report I looked at seemed to add a different detail.  Unhelpfully, some of those extra details did not quite match the details of other reports.

And while I do not want to comment on the case itself, not least because there is an active legal case going on (the reporter is suing for unfair dismissal), I think there are general points which can be made and general questions to ask which are of interest with regard to honesty and integrity in education and academia.

Let’s dive in!

There is agreement on the basic situation Continue reading

Reader beware – different views of point

Do you use Reader View?  Do you recommend it to your students?  I often use Reader View when available, especially if I want to print out or save a PDF version of the page I am looking at and there is no ready-made PDF version already linked on the page.

Reader and Reader View are extensions or apps which enable “clean” views of the page you are looking at, keeping the textual matter but avoiding the advertisements, embedded videos, navigation and sidebar matter and other distractions.

Here, for instance, is a page on MacWorld, How to enable Reader View automatically for websites in mobile and desktop Safari:

The advertisements flicker and change, the video clip plays automatically and floats so that it is always on the screen, there are several more distractions as you scroll through the article.

These distractions disappear Continue reading

Nothing but …

Last week, I received an email message from Chegg, telling me they had recently changed their Terms of Service.  It was very much an in-your-face message, in Helvetica 21.  That is big.

The body of the message reads:



We have updated our Terms of Use.

The updates are effective as of March 17, 2021. They apply to all accountholders, so we encourage you to read the Terms of Use fully. Some of the updates include changes to the Dispute Resolution section, the Arbitration Agreement, and to the procedures for filing a dispute against Chegg. The Terms of Use can be found here.

If you do not wish to have these Dispute Resolution updates apply to you, you must notify us as described in the Terms of Use within 30 days of their effective date.





It is a very carefully worded message. We are urged to “read the Terms of Use fully” and are told that “some of the updates include changes to” three specific areas of the Terms of Use, all three dealing with problems arising from using Chegg services and procedures in case of  dispute.   Note that use of “some of the updates include changes to…” – note that “some.”  The implication is that there may be other updates, other changes, but they are not mentioned in the email.

Nor are they listed on the Terms of Use page. There is no summary of changes made, no indication of what the previous terms were for comparison purposes.  Nor is there any indication of what, outside the dispute procedures, has also changed – just that note in the email suggesting that there have been changes elsewhere in the Terms of Use.  It is for the user to find them, “we encourage you to read the Terms of Use fully.”

There are 47 topics in the Terms of Use, more than 14,000 words on the page – Continue reading

Tempting snakes

It is some time since I last wrote about Viper, a free service which called itself a “plagiarism checker,”  housed on a site called ScanMyEssay.  It is worth writing again, because there are a number of changes in Viper’s  services and in the Viper business model.

In those earlier posts, Authentic Authenticity (published September 2013)  and Snake (in the grass) (March 2016), I advised against Viper because among other things: Continue reading

MLA9 already – and already mixed feelings

it does not seem long since the Modern Language Association published its 8th edition (MLA8) – but I see that it was released as much as 5 years ago, April 2016. Now, next month sees publication of MLA9, the 9th edition of the MLA Handbook – and yesterday MLA hosted a webinar preview of the new edition.

I well remember my excitement and delight, as that edition seemed revolutionary (as I wrote in MLA8 – new edition of MLA Handbook and Back to basics – MLA8 revisited).  Instead of presenting lots of rules and variations from and exceptions to the rules in an attempt to include all types of known (and unknown) source, format, medium, platform and more, we were given a template to follow with which we could build the references which informed our lists of Works Cited, while still being faithful to the rationale and the principles of academic referencing and supporting our readers.  This was empowering, it was liberating.

The principles of MLA8 citation and referencing are Continue reading

The integrity of integrity

One of my neighbours was livid earlier this week. The council recycling collection team had not emptied his recycling box. We leave our recycling boxes at the roadside for collection; everyone else’s recycling had been collected, our boxes emptied, but not his.  A large tag tied to the handle explained why:  the recycling was contaminated.

Someone, presumably a passer-by, had deposited a polystyrene carton and the remains of a take-away meal in the recycling box. The whole box was deemed contaminated and could not be taken for processing.

Contamination of recycling is a problem. If not caught Continue reading

Cheap Shots

It is easy to take pot-shots at EasyBib. They make it too easy, as I have suggested many times over the years.  They have an imperfect citation generator which frequently churns out incorrectly-formatted citations (especially in auto-citation mode). They give wrong advice in their guides to citation styles. They have produced many flawed add-ons which attempt to enable “Smarter Research. Powered by You,” such as their Research and Essaycheck services (both of which were abandoned some years ago; the links here go to the Internet Archive records).  Their grammar and spelling checkers need to be used with great care – but that goes for many, probably most, possibly all grammar and spelling checkers.

[Among my various blog posts whch mention EasyBib, Getting it wrong…, Not so easy does it, APA mythtakes  and Not such a wise OWL are particularly pertinent here.)

As I say, EasyBib makes it easy to shoot ’em down.  I probably would not have bothered this time, except that, clearing my inboxes (long overdue), I came across an EasyBib blog post which Continue reading

Stylistically speaking

A pedant myself, I was naturally attracted to an article by Elizabeth Ribbans in the Guardian this week: the headline read COVID or Covid? The comfort of pedantry at a time of national crisis.

Ribbans is the newspaper’s readers’ editor; her team is responsible for fact-checking, correcting copy and dealing with readers’ questions, comments and complaints. The question which inspired the headline was from a medical specialist who asked why the Guardian insisted on using Covid-19 when the medical profession uses COVID-19.

Ribbans explains that it is the Guardian‘s practice, along with many if not most British newspapers,

to use uppercase for abbreviations that are written and spoken as a collection of letters, such as BBC, IMF and NHS, whereas acronyms pronounced as words go upper and lower, eg Nasa, Unicef and, now, Covid-19.

(This is, incidentally, a practice I abhor. “Nasa” and “Unicef” are not words even if their abbreviations/ acronyms can be pronounced; when I see them spelled as “NASA” and “UNICEF” I am aware of the full title of the body and its responsibilities, just as I am aware of who the BBC, IMF and NHS are and what they do. Continue reading

Avoid like the plague…

It’s an ill wind, they say, an ill wind which blows nobody any good.

Covid-19 / coronavirus is spreading, more people are affected, the global death toll keeps rising, and at exponetial rates.  Businesses are closing, in some cases for good.  Parents are having to stay at home to look after children whose schools are closed. Stay indoors, do not go out unnecessarily, keep your distance, wash your hands.  The times are grim, the news is grim, we are all indirectly and directly affected (and if we aren’t affected yet, we will be).

The times are bringing out the worst in us, the times are bringing out the best in us.  While many selfishly rush to stockpile and the shops empty and more are happy to flout emergency regulations, we also see much that makes us proud : the selfless dedication of medical personnel and others in key services, new community awareness, measures of environmental recovery too.  These may be bad times but there is much that is good too, generosity and compassion..

Even cheat sites are playing their part. Well, one at least is. A special offer in the face of global catastrophe, Continue reading

None too advanced

In my last post, Guest what?, I described how I got intrigued by an article extolling the virtues of online essay writing services. It was posted on a website devoted to trashing the Royal Dutch Shell oil company. The article seemed so very out-of-place that I started investigating, both the gripe site itself as well as article.

Although the article, 10 Interesting Facts about Online Essay Writing Services, reads as if talking about essay writing services in general, it gives no names, no  examples. There is, however, a single hyperlink to one of these services.  It links to a site well worth looking at more closely. It might even be worth sharing and discussing with students, the better to put them off any temptation to use such sites themselves.

The underlined text links to a site called Continue reading

Guest what?

Now here’s an oddity. My plagiarism news alert alerted me to 10 Interesting Facts about Online Essay Writing Services the other day. What I found interesting, even before I clicked on the link, was that the article was posted on the Royal Dutch Shell plc .com website. What interest did Shell, the multinational/ global oil company, have in online essay writing services?

I just had to find out.

It turns out that Royal Dutch Shell plc .com is a gripe site, someone with a grudge against Royal Dutch Shell. The Shell website is simply www.shell.com, not royaldutchshellplc.com.

The site was founded by and is maintained by John Donovan.  On his disclaimer page, he openly proclaims the nature of his grudge against Shell.

Donovan might have good cause for his grievance; he certainly seems to have grievance, be it justified or not.  His site is full of whistle-blowing articles pinpointing practices which may be of a dubious nature. The origins of his grievance are highlighted on his eponymous site, johndonovan.website (one of several he maintains):

And the puzzle: in among the many many articles accusing Shell of misdemeanours of many kinds is the article,  10 Interesting Facts about Online Essay Writing Services. It seems out of place. What’s more, the “10 interesting facts” article extols the supposed virtues of a good essay writing service. Donovan appears to be very much in favour of them.  The article claims that “trustworthy and effective” services provide Continue reading

Here’s a how-de-do

In a recent post, APA7 – not so sure…, I said that one of the things I like about the latest edition of the APA Publication Manual is that it standardises the recording of a DOI – to the form: https//doi.org/10.xxxxx.yyyy.  Previously there were several different ways of recording a DOI, including


All three methods were accepted in APA style documents, with the caveat that the formats should not be mixed in any one reference list, authors should change the format of any DOIs if and as necessary to provide a consistent style in that paper.

The latest edition of APA advises a standard format, so this item would now be referenced only as https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2010.0321.

This standardisation is good, it reduces potential confusion.

But it’s not just online documents which have DOIs – print documents are often assigned DOIs as well. The APA-style reference for APA’s Publication manual is (according to my paperback edition of the style guide, p. iv):

American Psychological Association (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000

Which may make for complications (especially for students in IB schools).

In an earlier post, Just a matter of time, I pointed to confusion between online material and material obtained online. Students (and teachers and others) are often confused in this regard; the title of Katie Greer and Shawn McCann’s article says it all: Everything Online is a Website: Information Format Confusion in Student Citation Behaviors.

IB adds to the confusion by requiring students to provide dates of access for electronic sources.

Now APA7 adds to the pot by requiring that DOIs be provided, using the https:// format, for print materials as well as for online materials:

Include a DOI for all works that have a DOI, regardless of whether you used the online version or the print version (APA7, p. 299).

Putting it all together, I’ve got a little list – of incompatible requirements. * 

  • Many referencing style guides (including APA) advise that date of access is needed only for online materials which are unstable, their contents or the URL might change or be changed.
  • The guides advise that materials with a DOI are regarded as stable so do not need a date of access.
  • APA7 requires that if a source has a DOI then it should be included in the reference.
  • APA7 requires that the DOI use the https:// protocol, thus
  • (As noted,) materials with a DOI are regarded as stable so do not need a date of access (in major referencing guides).
  • IB requires that references for electronic sources include the date of access.
  • IB examiners have been known to comment “Date of access?” on reference lists which include DOIs which do not have dates of access – marks may have been deducted for the omission.
  • It is unlikely that IB examiners will check whether a work in a reference list which carries a DOI is available in print; the DOI will have the https:// protocol and therefore look just like an online source.
  • IB examiners might therefore deduct marks for not including the date of access of a print work because they think it is an online source and therefore should have a date of access.

It’s a fine how-de-do, isn’t it, a pretty mess AND a state of things? *

Here are two suggestions for resolving the conundrum:

1) if referencing print materials with DOI for IB assessments, advise students not to give the DOI despite any advice to the contrary in the referencing guide.


2) IB should instruct examiners that if a reference includes a DOI – including entries in the form https://doi.org/10.xxxxx.yyyy – then no date of access is required; to dispel confusion in schools, this advice could (and should) be added to IB guidance such as the page Acknowledging the ideas or work of another person—minimum requirements.


*  I seem to have Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado playing earworm, both “I’ve got a little list” and “Here’s a how-de-do” feature in the comic opera – which leads to the thought, if we are trying to “make the punishment fit the crime,” we must first be sure that a crime has been committed.

No dumb questions

Some of the questions asked in forums to which I subscribe are often basic and quickly answered, questions such as

  1. I’ve heard that the abstract is no longer required in Extended Essays. Is this true?
  2. Can students write an Extended Essay in their ab initio language?
  3. Should a Language B student write the RPPF in their own language or in the language of the essay?

Sometimes the writer knows that these are basic questions, prefacing the question with something like “Apologies if this is a stupid question…”

Those who do apologise should understand, there are no dumb questions. If you don’t know the answer and you need to find it, it’s a valid question.  If you have made the effort to find out but cannot find (or do not understand) the answer to your questions, then it may be that your search powers need boosting, it may be that you are looking in the wrong place/s, it could indicate a fault on the part of those who compile the guides or design the websites – but these questions are still valid and those who ask them still need answers.  Don’t apologise! (But see (4) below.)

I am very aware that, especially in the extended essay forums, supervisors may not have supervised a student under the current curriculum (which was introduced in 2016), their experience (if they have experience) was some years ago using an earlier and in some respects very different guide. There is no use saying, they should know by now; they have not had the opportunity to find out. Their questions are still valid.

[As an aside, I would add that I am sometimes struck that many forum users only use the forums when they have questions, they do not visit (or receive notifications by email) as a matter of course. That’s sad – and a missed opportunity.  I find the forums an invaluable and free source of continuing professional development. I do not read every post, far from it, but I do read threads that interest me and I occasionally bookmark a thread because I don’t know or am unsure and I want to see what others have to say on the topic.]

What often surprises me (I am being very careful with my words here) is the nature of the responses they get. While the answers given are most times correct, they do not always give provenance, they do not say where the original questioner can verify the response, in which document the answer can be found. On what page too, please, it’s often not helpful enough simply to say (as one recent respondent to a question did), “on the EE website.”   Not pinpointing the source strikes me as unhelpful, certainly not as helpful as it might be – especially if the question has been asked because of disagreement in the school and the questioner needs support from documentation to settle the argument.

This could also be important when, instead of a single right answer to the question, there might be different and equally valid answers. That often happens when it is not a matter of policy but of local practice, with those responding stating what happens in their own subjects or schools as if this was the only way to do it (whatever “it” is), without appreciating that other subjects or schools may do it differently and also be right.  When the source is not documented, those following the thread cannot verify the accuracy of those responses and may be confused. Or worse.

And of course, if the respondent gets it wrong, gives a wrong answer and misleads the questioner (and is not corrected), the consequences may indeed be worse.

What surprises me most of all, concerns me most of all, is that we expect documentation from our students. When they make statements or claims in their work (and especially in their extended essays) that are not common knowledge, they are expected to state their source/s – and will probably lose marks if they do not and in many cases may well be found to have committed plagiarism or other form of academic misconduct.

Please note, I am not suggesting that colleagues are committing plagiarism when they do not source their statements in the forums. These colleagues are not writing academic papers. But this just adds weight to one of my guiding principles, we do not just cite our sources in order to “avoid plagiarism” – we cite our sources to help our readers.  When we do not cite our sources, we are being less helpful than we might – we should – hope to be.

What’s more, we cite our sources to help ourselves. Even if we think we know the answer to a question, it is worth checking that we have it right – and having checked, to share the location in our response.

What source?

Not too far removed from these considerations is the nature of the source.  We teach our students CRAAP and other models for evaluating their sources, we promote lateral reading and other strategies for evaluation purposes, we demonstrate that Google hit #1 is often not to be relied on or may not provide a full answer, we implore them to go to the original source. We despair when our students ignore our advice and our warnings and fail to think critically about the information they find and they use.  Information is not all equal – but so often is treated as if it is.

And yet (here’s another gripe), on those occasions when sources are cited in the forums, whether by questioner or respondent, it is often not the guide or other official documentation which are cited. So many times the source is given as my colleague/s (or even my student), my coordinator, a workshop leader, a textbook, or “someone from IB” (who is more likely to be a workshop leader or field representative and not actually from IB) (not that everyone who works for IB is equally knowledgeable on all matters IB).

Occasionally, one even gets the impression that respondents know that the official guide and a textbook say different things – and they seem more inclined to believe the textbook than the official document.  But that’s a completely different matter. It remains, information is not all equal.

So, a plea: when responding to questions on forums, cite your source/s, cite authoritative source/s.   Our citations do not need to be perfect APA or Chicago or whatever. They need to be helpful. A direct link to the page will do, a path will do.  It’s helpful, it’s good practice. It gets to be a habit – which makes for good role-modelling as we work with our colleagues and with our students.

Let’s do it!



  1. Abstracts are no longer required in extended essays – and have not been since the introduction of the new curriculum in 2016 for first examination in May 2018. If included in an extended essay, they count towards the word count and – given that examiners stop reading after 4000 words – may mean that the examiner does not reach the conclusion of the essay, which could affect the marks awarded (What’s new in EE from 2016).
  2. It says specifically in the Language Ab Initio Guide (for first examination 2020, page 8) that students may NOT write an extended essay in their ab initio language.
  3. The RPPF must be written in the language of the essay. This is stated several times in the guide itself. It is also stated, in bold, on the RPPF itself. (Although the examiner will be fluent in the language of the essay, there is no guarantee that that examiner has any knowledge of the student’s own language, whatever that may be.)
  4. It would be good to think that those posing basic questions have made an effort to find an answer, in the guides and in other documentation or in the forum/s. Given the frequency with which same basic questions recur in the forums, one cannot help but wonder if the questioner made any effort to see if that question has been asked before. In many cases, I doubt it, given the frequency of the same, frequently asked questions.
    Nevertheless, there are no dumb questions.


APA7 – not so sure…

Remembering my excitement when MLA8 was announced (see MLA8 – new edition of MLA Handbook) and then when it was published (Back to basics – MLA8 revisited), I have to admit a degree of disappointment in the latest edition of the APA Publication Manual, APA7.

I am not a fan of MLA and its author style for in-text citation, I much prefer APA’s author-date approach.  Knowing the date of publication of a source is an important detail in the kind of reading and academic writing that I generally do.

But I do like MLA8’s approach, the principles of documentation that it announces right at the start.  There are just three principles and two of them resonate, they sum up my philosophy of and pedagogical approach to citation and referencing: Continue reading

Numbers count

Nadine Bailey’s Informative Flights blog is always worth reading. Her latest post, Resist the list, is as spot-on as ever.  Nadine doesn’t like compiling grade level recommended reading lists for a number of reasons and in this post, she lists some of those reasons.  Her stand is that already-hooked readers don’t need lists (they have other strategies for working out what to read next) and lists don’t work with those who aren’t hooked-on-books.  For them, other techniques and strategies are needed.

Perhaps the only suggestion I’d add to her post is Continue reading

Invisible women

I was intrigued when Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, was published earlier this year.  It got a lot of exposure on radio (and no doubt in other media outlets too) – and deservedly so. Perez’s thesis is that it’s a man’s world: the world is unconsciously and often consciously designed and regulated by men for men and that women are too often seen as smaller and less powerful versions of men.  Even in countries and cultures in which men think they believe in equality in all spheres of life and that  systems are designed and shaped to ensure equality as far as is possible, there are often huge gaps and inequalities, completely unintended because nobody thought froma woman’s point-of-view.

One of the hooks which grabbed me, listening to the reports and the interviews, was the built-in gender bias of technology. For instance, when a gender-neutral language such as Turkish is fed into Google Translate, “o bir hemşire” translates as “she is a nurse” while  “o bir doktor” comes out as “he is a doctor.

(Recordings of many of the interviews and other items are available Continue reading

Just a matter of time

A recent post in a closed Facebook group for IB Diploma Programme Extended Essay Coordinators asked, “Would this be a complete reference for a painting?”

There followed a curious discussion, some 20 comments long.  The discussion inspired this blog post – and also got me reviving a post I started earlier this year on the same theme but had not managed to finish. I have now. My earlier thoughts are weaved in below, but let’s start with this recent, curious discussion.

The very first response declared,

The EE guide specifies that all online sources must have [Date accessed etc]

and thereafter the discussion focused on the date of access and its formatting and placement. After the person who posted the original question pointed out that the suggested reference did include the date of access (“Retrieved July 30, 2019)” that first responder came back with

(the Guide) requests a specific format for this and this point was reiterated in a workshop.

This same responder said in a later comment that the workshop leader had explained that having the date accessed in square brackets at the end of the reference enabled the examiner quickly to determine that the date of access had been included.

This raises a number of points – as it did in the discussion.  Yes, on the page headed Acknowledging the ideas or work of another person—minimum requirements, the Guide states that date of access must be included in any reference to an electronic source (whatever that means, the starting point for my original blog post as taken up below)

Regardless of the reference style adopted by the school for a given subject, it is expected that the minimum information given includes:

        • name of author
        • date of publication
        • title of source
        • page numbers as applicable
        • date of access (electronic sources)
        • URL.

and goes on to state

Examiners are required to alert the IB when minimum requirements are not met by a student, and the work is investigated accordingly.

IB has its own requirements for referencing.  While the IB does not legislate which referencing style is used,  it does require that the style used is used consistently.  IB also advises that when its own requirements are different to those in a published style guide, then IB requirements must be followed.  This is acceptable.  Many if not most of the published style guides state explicitly that, if an instructor’s, school’s, institution’s or publisher’s requirements are different to the suggestions in the style guide, writers should meet the requirements of the instructor (etc).  Say it loud: even if a style guide recommends that date of access is not needed, for IB assessments the date of access is needed.

But, despite our workshop’s participant’s protestation, the IB does not prescribe Continue reading

Good for a hangover

Speaking through the Dean in Hogfather, Terry Pratchett remarked that what is good for a hangover is drinking heavily the night before.

I get that feeling thinking about Cite This For Me (a Chegg product).  It works, every time, and I don’t even need the alcohol.

Join me on this voyage of serendipity (if you dare).

It starts with the May 2018 subject report on the IB MYP Personal Project.  On page 3 we read

Those candidates who did not include an evaluation of their sources (which could be done through a CARRDS or OPVL tool) limited their achievement; there was often insufficient identification and evidence of other research skills

I know that OVPL is an evaluation tool often used in history and similar disciplines; you consider the Origin, Purpose, Value and Limitation of sources.  I could not recall meeting CARRDS before, but the context suggests that it is similar to the CRAAP tool, the acronym standing for Currency, Relevance, Accuracy, Authority and Purpose.

A quick search Google on Google confirms this: Continue reading

Selling me softly…


An oddity.

A link in an online workshop took me to 7 Alternative Technology in the Classroom Presentation Tools, an article by Daniela McVicker posted in TeachHub, a wing of the K-12 Teachers Alliance.

Probably published in March 2017 (that’s when Internet Archive first saved the page), it provides a quick introduction to 7 presentation tools, alternatives to PowerPoint. Some were new to me, some I already knew, one is my presentation tool of choice. McVicker gives us recommendations for Emaze, Google Presentations, Keynote, Prezi, Nearpod, Tellagami, Haiku Deck and Powtoon.

What jumped out at me as I read was her critique of Keynote (that’s my own preference for presentation). It’s the last paragraph which Continue reading

Not such a wise OWL

It came as a bit of a shock, a press release declaring The Purdue University Online Writing Lab and Chegg Partner to Make World-Class Writing Education Tools More Accessible.

Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, often referred to as “the OWL at Purdue.” is a much-respected service, providing advice on academic writing in all its aspects, most especially for its comprehensive guidance on the formatting of MLA, APA and Chicago references. .  For many, it is the number-one go-to guide.

I have to admit, the OWL at Purdue is not my number-one source.  For my own referencing queries, I go Continue reading

Finding my voice

A few years ago, I wrote (in Somewhere, over the spectrum …) of an AHA! moment, a realisation that understanding of academic citation practices may best be imaged, not just by a straight-line continuum from black to white with shades of grey between, but by a spectrum, all shades of the rainbow and anywhere in between.

It was Teddi Fishman, then director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, who gave me this insight.  In a plagiarism case in which she was asked for her opinion, had a published piece of work had been plagiarised, Fishman said

With regard to citation errors and plagiarism, there is a wide spectrum and certainly not all are created equal. The main defining characteristic in cases that we’d classify as citation errors is that there is an attempt to identify the source of the information rather than to make it appear as if the words or ideas are those of the person using them in the document.

(The full article from which this quotation is taken is no longer available on the Cambridge Chronicle site.  Fortunately, it can still be found in the Internet Archive;  the quotation of Fishman’s response as reported by journalist Sara Feijo is on page 3 of this article.)

Fig. 1 – Black and white and shades of grey

In the continuum imagery, the white end comprises writers who know the rules, know what is right, what is expected, what is needed – and do them!  Ideally they will observe the conventions of citation and referrencing because they have integrity, they wouldn’t – couldn’t – do otherwise.

At the black end we have the writers who know the rules, who know what is right, what is expected, what is needed – and they knowingly break the rules! They copy, they paraphrase without acknowledgement, they use other people’s work and claim it as their own, they use their own work over and over and claim Continue reading

Consistently inconsistent?

I’ve got a bit behind in my reading lately. Although it was published in May 2018, I came across Jennifer Yao Weinraub’s  Harder to Find than Nemo: The Elusive Image Citation Standard only recently.  In this paper, Weinraub discusses confusion and inconsistencies in the citation of images and the lack of good examples, with particular reference to MLA8 and Chicago. She also discusses other style guides and citation generators, the recommendations of some specific image collections. She points to tutorials and libguides which also attempt to give guidance.

Coming across this article is timely.  Over the last few weeks I seem to have received a steady stream of image citation questions in my inbox. Some notifications originate in online groups and forums, some are emails sent to me directly. It’s a hot topic!  The images presented by questioners are rarely straight-forward, rarely textbook examples. I suppose if they were, there would be less doubt as to how to cite them, the questions would not be asked.  So it is good to find Weinraub’s article, if only to confirm the difficulties and the contradictory or missing advice.

Weinraub suggests confusion in the use of the terms caption and citation (which I would call “reference” – the location details which specify edition (etc) and enable retrieval). She also suggests differences, uncertainty and inconsistencies as to what might or should be included in these. She also notes Continue reading

Names will never hurt me (perhaps)

I am halfway through my next article but just had to come back to the theme of my last few posts, confusing terminology.

A post today on Int’l School Library Connection, a FaceBook group, asked whether and how IB MYP students writing their Personal Projects can include sources they have read but have not cited in their Projects.

Yes they can, and the advice is to include both a list of Works Cited (which includes a list of all the works cited in the text) and a separate Bibliography (comprising a list of all works used to inform the project).

In the course of the conversation, I looked up the MYP Projects Guide (March 2018 edition) which makes a very clear distinction. In the Glossary (page 61), we see: Continue reading

Bibliographical footnote

This is a follow up to my last post None too sweet. There I discussed different understandings of the term “bibliography” – I said inter alia that different understandings of what this word means can confuse students and other writers, and may even underlie some instances of unintended plagiarism.

A week later, catching up on my reading, I came across a review of Jason Puckett’s  Zotero: a guide for librarians, researchers and educators by Keith Daniels in CILIP’s Information Professional (October 2018). My eye was caught by a paragraph which reads:

Published by the Association of College and Research Libraries, the book does have an American slant, using the terms “bibliography” to encompass what UK-based students and educators would usually refer to as “references” and teaching staff as “professors”.

It seems a curious point to pick up on in a short review, the use of “bibliography” instead of “references.”  But, given my background in international education, perhaps I have become less aware of such distinctions, or maybe more aware of different and other terms in different style guides and/or in different countries.

Is “references” a British usage?  Maybe.  Many British universities use varieties of Harvard.  Although there is no single definitive version of Harvard (as detailed in the three-part-post Harvard on my mind), they all use the term “References.”     Certainly, this is so at the University of Bedfordshire, the stated affiliation of Keith Daniels, the author of the review. The University’s page Using the correct referencing system suggests Continue reading