Monday, February 08, 2010

Gerald Posner: SERIAL plagiarist? (UPDATE: Suspended!)

Update: This is the one of the best days of my blogging career! Gerald Posner, author of Case Closed, has been suspended from the Daily Beast, and this blog played a small role in that turn of events. The lion's share of the credit goes to reader G -- I'll still call him that -- who was intrigued by the first Cannonfire post on the Posner controversy. (Frankly, I was hoping he'd take an interest; I worded the piece to appeal to his skills as a literary sleuth.)

G was the one who discovered that Posner has done this sort of thing on more than one occasion; his evidence is below. He sent that evidence to Slate write Jack Shafer. Shafer found still more examples. As a result, Posner has been suspended from the Daily Beast, which is "reviewing" his articles.

I think that Posner will bounce back. His kind always does. Still, I did get a few giggles from his apologetic twitter message:
I now realize that a method of compiling information that I have used successfully since 1984 on book research, obviously does not work in a failsafe manner at the warp speed of the net.
Is this an admission that he cribbed words in his books? Is this an admission that Posner is not really a writer but a compiler of information? How is it that I (and every other blogger) can deal with the net's warp speed but Gerry can't?

End update; our regularly scheduled post begins after the asterisks. Thanks, G!

* * *

In out last post, we discussed this piece by Slate's Jack Shafer, who in turn exposed plagiarism on the part of Gerald Posner, the chief investigative reporter for the aptly-apocalyptically-named Daily Beast. Posner says that he has no memory of lifting lines, and that it all happened by accident.

Well, accidents do happen. And some people are accident prone.

My post mentioned that, even before the current scandal, a lot of people wondered whether Posner does his own writing, or whether he slaps his name on committee-produced material. Those suspicions arose, in part, from the uncontestable fact that the guy writes in a monotone: Imagine Daria Morgendorffer's voice, without her sarcasm or wit. Perhaps a better pop-cultural reference might go to the computer in the original Star Trek series. I like to think that Posner's first word each morning is "Working!"

Those musings inspired a regular Cannonfire reader named G to do some checking. And he found some real good stuff.

G ran some Posner "Beast" pieces through a nifty website called Copyscape. I did not know about Copyscape previously, although I knew of other sites that did similar work; they are widely used in academia to catch students who prefer xeroxing to writing.

G sent his findings to me. He also sent them to Jack Shafer, and there's a good chance that Slate will run a follow-up piece. Now, if the level of detail in these examples make your eyes start getting droopy, just skim to the end, where we will discuss G's interesting theory as to how this happened.

By the way, I print this material with G's permission. We haven't asked for Shafer's consent -- but that hardly seems necessary.

First, G looked at this article -- the one that started it all -- and noticed that rather more than a mere five lines bore a "family resemblance" to that which had appeared before. Examples:
Posner: “Narcy will likely also gain control of the estate of her late husband's 87-year-old mother, Bernice Novack, who was found dead three months before her son. Part of her estate was inherited by Ben Jr”

Miami Herald: “Narcy Novack will also eventually gain the estate of her late husband's 87-year-old mother, Bernice Novack, who was found dead three months before her son. Her estate was inherited by her son before his death.
Posner: ”Rye Brook detectives received an anonymous letter, after Ben Jr.’s murder, claiming that both Bernice and her son were killed by Narcy and an unnamed accomplice.”

Miami Herald: ”though an anonymous letter received by Rye Brook detectives claims that both she and her son were killed by Narcy Novack and an unnamed accomplice.”
There are further examples. I will concede that, in some cases, there are a finite number of ways in which one can state the basic facts. Still, if you look at all the lifts, you'll see that pretty much the heart and soul of Posner's piece originated elsewhere.

The same issue bedevils previous Posner pieces. Examples:
Posner, July 29, 2009: The new law, passed nearly unanimously in the legislature, requires doctors and pharmacists to record patient prescriptions for most drugs in a state-controlled database.

The Miami Herald, June 18, 2009: The new law, passed nearly unanimously in the Legislature, will require doctors and pharmacists to record patient prescriptions for most drugs in a state-controlled database.
Posner, July 29, 2009: overdoses from painkillers and antianxiety drugs cause more deaths than cocaine, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.

The Miami Herald, June 18, 2009:
Overdoses from painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs now cause more deaths than cocaine, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
Posner, July 29, 2009: Until now, pain clinics have avoided rigorous state inspections because of a legal loophole that exempts facilities that don’t accept medical insurance. Most clinics only take cash. As a result, pill-mill owners and employees don’t have to undergo the background checks required at other medical clinics. More than a dozen doctors and clinic owners in South Florida with disciplinary records or criminal convictions are operating freely. An owner of an Oakland Park pill mill is sitting in jail awaiting trial on charges of trafficking Oxycodone

The Miami Herald, June 18, 2009:
Until now, many pain clinics have escaped rigorous state inspections because of a quirk in the law that exempts facilities that don't take insurance — and many clinics accept cash only. This loophole also allows clinic employees and owners to avoid the background checks required at other health clinics. The Miami Herald has identified more than a dozen doctors and clinic owners in South Florida with disciplinary records or criminal convictions. One man continues to own an Oakland Park pain clinic while in jail awaiting trial on charges of trafficking oxycodone.
Posner, July 12, 2009: 45 South Florida doctors are responsible for prescribing nearly nine million oxycodone pills in the last six months of 2008. Thirty-three of the top 50 oxycodone-dispensing doctors in the United States practice in Broward County.

Miami Herald, April 13, 2009: 45 South Florida doctors sold nearly nine million oxycodone pills in the last six months of 2008. 33 of the top 50 oxycodone-dispensing doctors in the United States practice in Broward County.
Posner, November 21, 2009: Woodward was being held at the Wilshire Division jail, in lieu of $2 million bail on suspicion of murder for the death of an unborn child—believed to be his. At the time, the police said the arrest happened after an investigation revealed "suspicious circumstances of a miscarriage" reported to them only a few days earlier. The fetus was estimated to be in its 13th week.

Miami Herald, October 8, 2009: Josh Woodward, owner of South Beach's 8 Oz. Burger Bar, was arrested Sunday in Los Angeles and is being held on at the Wilshire Division jail in lieu of a $2 million bail on suspicion of murder for the death of an unborn child believed to be his. Police say the arrest happened after an investigation on Monday revealed "suspicious circumstances of a miscarriage" that was reported on October 19. The fetus was estimated to be in its 13th week.
I've done some checking myself, but have not been able to find any "iffy" Posner stories that do not trace back to the Miamai Herald. G suspects that the lifting may actually have been done by Gerry's wife, Trisha. (Presumably, Trisha's the lady he's trying to impress by pouring buckets of hair dye all over his noggin.)

Keep in mind that the questionable "Posner" pieces focus on Miami and on the issues of health and drugs. Now look at what G has to say about Trisha:
1. She's a coauthor for Miami Babylon, and according to Wikipedia, "He works on all his projects with his wife Trisha Posner" (with the citation being Trisha Posner's website).

2. She used to be a columnist for the Miami magazine Ocean Drive, writing their "Health Beat" column.

3. In general, based on the writings of hers that I've found, she likes to write about health, drugs, Miami, and women's sexual issues/hormones. All of this fits with the topics of the articles containing plagiarism. One of the articles was even about a guy who tried to induce abortion by applying Misoprostol to his girlfriends vaginal area (exactly a Trisha-type topic).

4. I ran a couple Trisha Posner articles through Copyscape (the plagiarism detection service), and it flagged a couple sentences that were lifted from elsewhere, with slight rewrites - the same basic pattern as in the Daily Beast articles.
I have not confirmed that last point for myself.

The Washington Post once lauded Posner for his "painstakingly honest journalism." If the WP ever says anything like that about me, you'll know that the time has come to put me out of my misery. Grab a rifle, find a window perch, do the right thing, and then blame some schlub in the lunch room six floors below.
Comments:
Ha - Trisha's website headlines "Turning back the aging clock for millions of women"...even though she and Gerald look like they have the same bad plastic surgeon in common.

If I had lots of bucks, I could look plastic (and young!), too.
 
Now, now. You can't deny that Trisha looks MONTHS younger than she actually is.
 
Wow!
http://www.slate.com/id/2243991/

Daily Beast has suspended Gerald Posner.

Jack Schafer has uncovered additional examples of plagiarism from Texas Lawyer.

My hat is off to Jack for breaking the initial story and doing a nice followup.
 
Hah! He just posted on his facebook page that he's been temporarily suspended from The Daily Beast.
 
That's pretty funny. You mentioned Star Trek just hours after I posted my own article with a reference to Star Trek.

Coincidence, I think not.

(the above is meant as humor).

Click here to see Star Trek / Cannonfire reference.
 
Minor comment - the use of Texas Lawyer as a plagiarism source is (perhaps) somewhat suggestive of copying by Gerald Posner himself (i.e. a lawyer).
 
"Now, now. You can't deny that Trisha looks MONTHS younger than she actually is."

Ah ha ha ha. Ha.
 
Oh, and STILL. A. SPOOK.

Leave us, Mr. Posner. Please.
 
I think I donated --unfortunately a paltry sum--to this blog a while ago so I take some small measure of pride in this--in an otherwise dismal and success-free winter.
 
Joe, I share your joy. Surely this is karmic payback for the loudly trumpeted obscenity that is Posner's "Case Closed." Now let's see if we can expose the shoddy methodology of Vincent Bugliosi, who let two uncredited co-authors do most of the legwork for his heinous whitewash "Reclaiming History" (the 1,600 page Kennedy-assassination book that somehow can't find any evidence that Jack Ruby had Mob connections).
 
http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9DQ515O0&show_article=1

Now I feel like I had front row seats to the hanging. It will be interesting to see who gets attributed for this outing.
Nice work!
 
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