It appears my blog has suffered an SEO attack – not surprising considering I helped get 2 Public Relations people fired and blogged about it on here. I am too lazy to figure out how to make the stories show back up on Google, so I will repost my best hits here.
The Daily Cougar has a very big problem. You could say this problem stems from UH, where students are supposed to learn about journalism. Or you could say it stems even further back to early grade school when we first learn it’s not right to plagiarize others’ intellectual works. Or to when we are children and learn it’s not right to steal anything that isn’t yours.
Wherever the roots of this problem may stem from, the effects are clear – plagiarism is rampant at The Daily Cougar.
In the summer, about 50% or more of the ‘student paper’ articles stemmed largely from UH News releases, and some seemed to have been quickly rewritten with a thesaurus. Professor David McHam encourages his Reporting students to read these propaganda releases for story ideas, but perhaps he didn’t adequately explain to them that they shouldn’t plagiarize them.
Look at this article, for instance
It mentions a quote comes from a press release, but fails to mention that nearly the entire article is just the press release rewritten, or what some might call plagiarism.
The only original part of the daily cougar story – i.e. part not found in the press release (seen here )- was this quote: “’We will assess the extent of the pollution with the dioxin and PCBs and make recommendations on identifying historical and other current sources if they exist to the state and (Environmental Protection Agency),’ Rifai said.”
There are more recent examples as well…
Tonight I was told “You are rude, high maintenance and your writing skills still need a lot of work, so before you criticize my section you need to work on your writing first” by Special Projects editor Reesha Brown.
This was in response to this (completely quoted) email:
“ I wish you had responded to this email and told me that you only needed one story so I didn’t waste my time writing stuff you didn’t save space for . I turned in a paper late so I could do these well.
Why didn’t you run the marijuana one? I thought you said it sounded most interesting, so I put a lot of work into it. Weren’t there any head shops that could’ve advertised in the insert?
Why do a story about blood pressure in a student paper?
How many students have BP problems?”
Not the rudest thing I’ve ever written, but you can’t tell from her response. I mention this to show that the plagiarism may go deeper than inadequate education to what kind of students UH (and maybe all schools) seem to have an abundance of: students trained to value obedience and lack critical thinking. These fairly innocent questions became rude because they weren’t deferential enough to her authority, which she has been taught throughout her life should not be questioned.
Wanting to see how I could sharpen my writing skills that “need a lot of work”, I looked her up on The Daily Cougar’s website.
The first story of hers I looked at was this (article removed.)
Being the cynic, I googled to check for plagiarism.
This is what I found
I won’t do a thorough analysis, but here are the intros (unedited) of these nearly identical articles:
Reesha Brown (rewrite):
A recently released report by the Pesticide Action Network North America and Commonwealth found that Americans can experience up to 70 daily exposures to residues of a class of toxic chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), according to the organization’s website.
The report analyzes chemical residue data collected by the US Food and Drug Administration and finds persistent chemical contaminants in all food groups, from your grocer’s baked goods and meats to fresh fruits and veggies.
Here’s the problem: Exposure to POPs has been linked to serious diseases and developmental disorders, including breast and other types of cancer, immune system suppression, nervous system disorders, reproductive damage and disruption of hormone systems.
Panna.org(source of rewrite):
U.S. consumers can experience up to 70 daily exposures to residues of a class of toxic chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants–POPs–through their diets, according to report released by Pesticide Action Network North America and Commonweal.
The report, “Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S. Food Supply,” analyzes chemical residue data collected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and finds persistent chemical contaminants in all food groups–from baked goods and meats to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Exposure to POPs has been linked to serious disease and developmental disorders, including breast and other types of cancer, immune system suppression, nervous system disorders, reproductive damage, and disruption of hormonal systems.
She does mention that she found the first part on the organization’s website, but she is wrong that the report is recent. It’s from 2000. The rest of the story makes it seem as if she actually read the report, which, if she had, she would surely know it wasn’t recent. Notice how she uses almost the exact sentences, but changes little things like “hormonal systems” to “hormone systems” to avoid plagiarism detection.
Then I looked up a couple more stories. This was the 3rd one I googled:
This article looks like it was mostly copied from Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers – a daytime TV show.
In both examples she relies almost completely on one source, rewriting much of what it says. Rather than learning how to investigate social issues, ask hard questions, develop sources and all of the other things that journalists should learn, many students seem to be learning how to rewrite press releases.
Perhaps it is time The Daily Cougar start considering making a move similar to The Red and Black at the University of Georgia, who is shifting it’s daily news production to digital. This will hopefully end the practice of “putting stuff in the paper that didn’t deserve to be there” in order to fill the often unread pages in traditional ink and paper daily newspapers.
Hopefully by posting these stories here, something will be done, but I remain cynical. So in the mean time – I will just try not to think how much money Reesha made for rewriting articles and putting ads around stories written for her at no cost. I will try to be happy knowing that at least some people will read this and confirm I’m not crazy for being outraged that someone can achieve an editor position at the school paper and plagiarize and it will probably not matter much. I doubt they will even run a retraction/correction. (They never publicized the event, only removing one of the plagiarized examples mentioned in this post.) They didn’t the first time I told them about this.
Maybe Reesha will be punished, maybe even fired – but it will likely end there as just a freak occurrence. It will not likely be seen as indicative of systemic flaws in UH’s journalism education program or the school’s basic newspaper’s policies and practices. (It wasn’t.)
It is much easier to just let “fecal gravity” take care of the situation though; and the boulder always seems to roll as far down hill as it can, onto those with the least power and responsibility.
For those who care enough to have made it this far, I encourage you to vote in this poll, answering the question :Should Reesha Brown be fired for plagiarism? and I encourage you to share your opinion in the comment section.
I also encourage anyone else interested in this problem to read The Daily Cougar and look for stories that look like rewrites. They might be overly technical or seem better than you are used to for the school paper. Direct quotes, statistics and other substantial pieces of a story are a good starting place for detecting plagiarism. You can also search for key words like “press release,” which currently has 184 hits.
I just took a senior-level course final exam provided by the University of Houston’s Professor Dale Higginbotham while under the influence, with no studying done before hand (the whole semester), guessing most of the answers and googling the rest. The final score was 92% in about 24 minutes.
Drinking during a final exam might seem outrageous since alcohol so greatly impairs cognition, and it was indeed left unattempted until this exam, but after taking the mid-term with similar preparation and results, I decided I would try to make the final a little more challenging, and film it and put it on the internet for the world to see.
It’s not likely that many people will find this outrageous, though – least of all the students or the school.
The school, after all, uses My Edu to organize online school data for students – such as registration, enrollment, financial aid, and other data, apparently in exchange for MyEdu using this data to make money…by telling students which classes are easiest.
As you can see, the default view for courses on MyEdu is mainly comprised of a list of professors with a grade chart next to their names. The chart changes as you move your mouse over the names so you can quickly find the professor who gives the nicest grades. Profiting off of helping students get through school uneducated might seem incidental next to all of the other services it provides, but considering MyEdu’s shady history it wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t designed to be one of the site’s main selling points.
Ratemyprofessors is another site students use to find easy classes – or even “hot” professors.
My Edu shows that one of Higginbotham’s courses has a 4.0 Average – meaning all students got As. One course has 3.7, and the other has 3.0. He emailed our class the statistics for my course – the median final grade was 93. Ratemyprofessors rates his easiness as 4.7/5.0.
It’s easy to see why professors don’t want to give bad grades. Bad grades not only hurt students- they hurt the school – through rankings and students dropping out, but what does giving so many students good grades do?
What happens when an employer at a big company has a UH graduate in, looks at their 4.0 GPA and sees that they are completely uneducated and unprepared for life?
What value will UH degrees have as this happens more and more as a result of the business-like/capitalist nature of the school to get as much money and grow as big as it can, exchanging short term gains for long term losses.
Poor and mediocre students subsidize the rest of the school for now, but this short term thinking will eventually end up costing the university much of the prestige it constantly tries to bestow on, and buy for, itself (nevermind that it’s instructional costs are about as much as most local community colleges.)
If Mr. Higginbotham’s grade distribution and ratings aren’t enough, there are alse these very telling (in more than one way) student comments on Ratemyprofessors and MyEdu to consider:
“I was a little worried since it was a Sr. course and because it was only online, but I ended up loving it…. It’s too easy.”
” Tests are EXTREMELY easy. I cannot emphasize that enough!! Read the powerpoints ONE hour before the test and you will make an A. “
“TAKE HIM!! Easy A! “
“You would have to be absolutely comatose not to get an A+. “
“you can get an A on if you put forth any effort at all. Take this class!”
“Want an easy A just take this class. Very happy when it was recommended to me.”
“One of the easiest online classes I’ve ever taken”
” I’ve gotten 100’s on everything, I think he might just grade on whether you participate and submit something.”
“he gives you the answer… but as a counselour he’s not very helpful at all. i dont think he knows what hes doing.”
“Take this class if you need an easy A.”
It’s amazing how many students love easy courses at UH – unless you’ve ever been in one of the many degree factory classes the university provides. Legendary comedian Bill Hicks noticed this problem from the start when he attended UH.
Also of note in this particular course – many of the courses, which came in the form of weekly blogposts, were plagiarized from various websites.
Here are some of the blogposts that contain plagiarized readings:
65 students paid for this course, so that’s about $65,000 in tuition and fees that the school makes for what amounts to almost no work on their behalf. The tests are graded automatically, there’s no lecture – there’s not even much work put into plagiarizing from many different sites/mixing it up a little when putting together the plagiarized course readings.
The students can and do easily and happily learn nothing from the classes – at least probably not much more than they could learn from reading one short decent book (instead of skimming it for answers.)
In short, this is a pretty good deal for all involved – the many students who enjoy the easiness of this and other classes, the professors who don’t have to do much teaching/grading, and the school who can justify their paying approximately 3000$ per course (for adjunct professors, such as Mr. Higginbotham) to the professors who do little, and 650,000$ a year to the school president who facilitates such clever business practices.
I challenge the school to take the students from this class and retest them on this material without any advanced warning and see just how much they remember or what skills they felt they learned aside from obedience. I would be willing to bet whatever amount that it’s close to nothing. Of course this will never happen. Not at UH, and probably not at any of the many other schools who must secretly know deep down that they aren’t really educating students, no matter how loosely they try to define education.
I also challenge them to handle this professor, who I will soon be reporting to the school, accordingly (they didn’t.)
More importantly, I challenge the school to look at the deeper problems in our university and be honest about them instead of obsessing over public relations, image and rankings. I have almost never heard anything about education in the many speeches I’ve heard at this school by administrators – it’s clear they’ve taken it for granted that students will learn and professors will teach, and the only thing really left to discuss is the fine art of reaching “Tier One” – aka more financial assistance from the state.
Until we change the administration’s emphasis from fundraising, expansion and adorning the school with various rankings from the ever growing amount of prestige salesman, back to education – UH will continue to decline. It will continue to offer more and more easy classes, and it will get older and older with no especially notable intellectual alumni (unless you count Randy Quaid or Master P) to show for it’s many years, and then no amount of “Tier One” billboards or free promotion on taxpayer funded radio will be able to fix UH’s brand/image/PR/what admins care most about.
What goes on in the mind of an editor? Is it deep? Is it interesting? Is it deserving of the great power afforded to it?
The duty to enhance democracy – through mass education on important issues, providing a platform for debate and conducting watchdog investigations – is very important and should be afforded the utmost respect and scrutiny.
How can we ever know what’s on these powerful gatekeepers’ minds, and if they deserve the respect given to them?
Social media is a place where people may feel safe to come out and express their true selves. Some of the material they say there may be misinterpreted without understanding who the person is…
That being said – I leave it to readers to determine the level of depth and intelligence of the following comments, which were found on Editor in Chief – Jack Wehman’s Twitter account last semester.
This wasn’t due to an intense interest in Jack, but rather to my finding his Twitter due to him linking The Daily Cougar on his Twitter’s description next to “Something Witty, Something Clever, My Name’s Jack, and I’m An Editor.”
Feel free to comment on how witty and clever these Tweets are. Keep in mind these were posted on a Twitter account that represented The Daily Cougar and implied he was an editor there. He was representing the school paper when he said all of these things. Here’s a screenshot.
Jack Wehman – Editor in Chief of The Daily Cougar:
Fuck the Kemah boardwalk. I just sat in traffic for thirty minutes so you can dress your dog in costume? Kill yourself.
Texas weather making sense. Seriously, rain all day? Fuck you, God.
I wouldn’t be so pissed about the Heat losing if it wasn’t for every asshole in Dallas celebrating right now. Fuck you, and fuck Dallas too.
Osama is dead? Then who has been working at the Mini-Mart all these years? #confused
These retarded seat belt commercials make me want to be on safe just so this stupid woman will be wrong. #fuckoff
When did Alabama get good at like every sport? Fuck that. I hope the tide rolls over their campus Katrina-style. #stillbitteroverColtsdemise
Good beer, a gun range and friends make for a legitimately good way to forget about everything else in life.
Acting like an asshole in a suit and getting away with it is about the only perk a white person still has.
#chrisbrownneedsto see that he’s a worldwide TT, realize we all hate him and put the shotgun in his mouth.
Outraged? Indifferent? Somewhere in between? Comments are appreciated.
Keep in mind this person is in charge of content at a student newspaper that expends the better part of the Student Publication’s $800,000+ a year and had zero competition in his “election.”
Could the problem be stifling bureaucracy keeping truly gifted people from reaching positions of power where they might threaten the status quo and actually investigate things?
A journalist armed with the Investigative Reporter’s Handbook, and who cares more about truth than tradition, might investigate the school and point out flaws- even without getting paid vacations to go learn about investigating at fancy seminars, like our friend Mr. Wehman did this summer.
Despite this expensive, student-funded educational voyage, there remains to be seen any substantial investigation at the school paper. Perhaps Mr. Wehman is too busy tweeting his clever observations or drinking alcohol while he fires guns.
For those who don’t know, there’s a new, trendy news company on the block. It fancies itself younger, cooler and all around better than the boring, uncool mainstream media (MSM.) It even goes so far as to describe the MSM as mostly being “old, white cowards” based on a recent survey showing journalists are “older, whiter, and better-educated than they were a decade ago—and more timid than ever before.”
With such a proudly non-timid and anti-mainstream brand, you might expect that Vice is really something new and bold, but their HBO-series’ story on the Texas drought, which aired on May 9th, is nowhere close to matching their description of being a “series featuring startling, groundbreaking stories.”
Years of Living Dangerously (YoLD), a new show on HBO’s competing network ‘Showtime,’ which also covered the Texas drought (but began filming over a year ago and aired their drought episode a month before Vice/s) has many striking similarities in their drought reporting.
Similarities between the shows include:
the overall narrative of conservative faith and politics vs. climate science and a liberal, but modest reporter.
the emphasis on the same meatpacking plant closure and resultant ‘prayer run’ in the small town of Plainview, TX (in the context of a multi-billion dollar drought, which caused fires that burned more homes than the total amount of jobs lost in this plant and devastated many other industries.)
using the same sole scientific source (Dr. Hayhoe.)
the resounding lack of belief by conservatives and Christians (except Dr. Hayhoe) in climate science.
filming churches praying for rain.
Showing governor Perry denouncing global warming.
Its understandable that more than one show would cover the issue of faith vs. climate change – its a big issue. And the Texas drought is also a big issue – but why would Vice cover the same plant in the same small Texas town when the drought caused an estimated 5.2 billion dollars of damage in 2011 alone? Why not cover the fires that destroyed as many homes as jobs were lost in the Cargill plant closing – or the timber industry which lost billions?
Why use the same climate scientist as their sole scientific source? Why cover the same prayer run – all without mention of YoLD, who did a nearly identical story a month ago (YoLD also did the same thing as Vice by not mentioning the NYT story on the plant that was printed the month before celeb-reporter Don Cheadle was in Plainview, and which also mentions the prayer run. At least YoLD was adding video to a print story though – and they found their own scientist source and developed their own narrative.)
Enter Fareed Zakaria.
Mr. Zakaria, who was caught plagiarizing in 2012, recently said of his new position at Vice “What I have tended to do is always try to focus on the spine of the story. It’s great to have color, it’s great to have juice, it’s great to have attitude. You also want to couple that with a narrative or analytic spine that’s coherent and intelligent, and that’s what we’ve focused on.”
So the kids are bringing the color/juice/attitude, and Fareed is bringing the narrative – which is arguably the main part that is plagiarized. YoLD has already laid out a nice, neat story of TX’ climate change butting up against it’s religious fundamentalism, complete with location (borrowed from NYT) and sourcing, which Vice then adopts.
(To Vice’s credit, they also briefly tied in fracking to Texas’ water supply issues, as it uses a lot of water. And they had a lot of shots of shrinking Texas’ bodies of water. And they didn’t copy YoLD’s (accurate) number of people laid off in the Plainview plant, saying it was 2,000 instead of the correct 2,300 . And Vice doesn’t let the climate scientist explain the science behind the issue like YoTD did. So Vice wasn’t completely unoriginal.)
You might think that Fareed’s fellow journalists would keep an eye on him more closely and not let such a “mistake” happen again, but no one at Vice seems to have a strong journalistic background. Vice even describes itself as a “leading youth entertainment company” – entertainment having little to do with journalism. Bill Maher, one of the “group of clean-shaven, middle-aged adults to supervise” Vice’s young team , is a comedian. Tom Freston is an ex-CEO of Viacom, and the other hygeinic adult listed by Huffington Post is Fareed, the one person who seems to have a bit of journalist credibility – who has recently been caught plagiarizing.
Whether Vice didn’t mention YoLD intentionally is debatable. Whether someone at HBO heard about Showtime, their main competing network, having an expensive new show with lots of huge names that covers a similar issue as Vice, is pretty hard to debate though. Which means they probably knew that they were doing a very similar story but failed to mention it in any way, which allows them to feign originality as well as ignorance.
Vice exists in the same environment as all the other mainstream media venues – surrounded by the rich white men who have entrenched interests in and an affinity for the status quo system that made them rich. Vice may say they have a “fearless approach…like nothing else on television,” but that fearlessness doesn’t extend to their owners or their owners friends (see their coverage of 5% Vice owner Rupert Murdoch.) No organization reports against their own best interests, and Vice by way of it’s ownership and branding, has many interwoven and elitist interests which promote money over truth. Even Vice’s leader Shane Smith says “Money runs America, money runs everywhere.” A real journalist would hopefully put a little more emphasis on the power of knowledge and an informed public.
This typical, non-journalistic environment and the resultant mild effort at serious reporting on big topics is bound to lead to big problems for Vice. Not to mention it’s not helping an already almost universally hated news industry by making even the self-proclaimed innovators look like the same untrustworthy tripe.
This quote from Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time magazine (where Fareed works and Dr. Hayhoe was interestingly recently awarded by Don Cheadle of YoLD), seems to sum the situation up nicely :
“There’s a hunger for international news done in a different way. And when you’re trying to tell a story in this kind of world, you have to push it. I don’t know that you can ever go too far these days.”
Going “too far” might end up being HBO’s biggest ‘vice’ though, judging by the quality of this show and the lengths they let that show go to feign journalism – much like how Vice’s daddy Maher feigns debate on his HBO show.
And what is the purpose of all of Vice’s slop masquerading as journalism?
“I want to build the next CNN – it’s within my grasp” – Shane Smith, Vice Co-founder and CEO.
…so they can feign journalism (like CNN) on a larger scale and ironically become the mainstream that they proclaim to despise.
I just clicked a link in my old blogpost about the easiest class I’ve ever taken – a journalism class taught by a public relations person – to see if the link still worked. To my surprise, not only did the link to his plagiarized lesson still work – but this plagiarized gem was made available by Mr. Higginbotham.
“Some think that if they change a few words, they are not guilty of plagiarism or copyright infringement. That, of course, is false. The idea cannot be copyrighted, but the words can, so to use that information and avoid infringement, it would be necessary to extensively rewrite the copy in your own words.”
Notice he didn’t bother to change any of the words. Nor did he bother to cite the site that he stole the previous paragraph, as well as much more, from.
My guess is the professor, when faced with my accusations via the dean, asked himself what they expected for $3,000 per course. Or maybe he just thought they don’t really care. After all, UH doesn’t mind using public relations (anti-journalism) experts to teach senior level journalism courses, even after they are caught not attributing the sources from their hastily compiled course ‘lessons’ and not making exams above a 6th grade level. So why should they care much if he plagiarizes someone’s explanation of plagiarism?
Here we have another misleading claim by the University made on the UH Facebook account a few weeks ago.
Maybe this is minor, but I think it deserves a quick going over as it reflects a common problem at UH and society in general: logrolling.
Some website creates a mediocre list of higher-ed admins who use Twitter, and, perhaps, in exchange for them putting the most PR-oriented admins at the top of the list, they get free publicity when those image obsessed admins brag about how they’re at the top of the list on this website.
Nevermind that the list isn’t a ranking (Khator isn’t #1 as her Facebook suggests – she was just at the top of the list), that 3 out of 6 comments on the list website are pointing out misspelled names of 3 different admins, or that the descriptions of why the admins should be followed are all pretty bland/similar:
” shares updates about school events, research, and even a few tidbits about his personal life”
“shares great higher ed news, Houston updates, and, of course, information about Rice”
“uses her feed to talk not only about Webster but about higher ed in general.”
The poor quality, arbitrary listing arrangement, and obscurity of the site ( it’s just a blog published by one person (and now a guest writer) are no match for school’s hunger for good publicity.
With mutual itches being scratched at UH and this education blog, and the trusting students high on school pride, it seems like no one is hurt. A minor truth merely suffered minor abuse.
This example still serves as one of many that speaks to too often overlooked issues (something lacking in the media) of public relations’ tendency to bend or break the truth, as well as how businessmen may use subtle marketing techniques, such as utilizing publicity seekers’ desire to self promote.
A few weeks ago I went to a House of Pies on Westheimer and picked up a copy of the local paper, The River Oaks Examiner.
I didn’t get around to reading it until recently, but I’m glad I did because there’s yet another example of poor journalism in it.
This example comes from Katherin Cabaniss, “a former prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and currently the Executive Director of Crime Stoppers, a nonprofit organization” according to the Examiner.
In her article on tanning beds, Cabaniss talks about a recent infamous case of a woman tanning her 5 year old kid, lists some Texas laws regarding tanning, lists some risks of indoor tanning, and then goes back to listing more Texas laws.
In “The Risks” section, Cabaniss says:
“Tanning is a trend that is here to stay. However, the risks are significant.
The Department of Heath and Human Services actually declared that tanning beds are carcinogenic! They are formally defined as cancer causing instruments. Studies have shown a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma in those exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning.
Nonetheless, 28 million people tan indoors annually. Seventy percent of those users are Caucasion girls and women. In 2010, the tanning industry saw $2.6 billion in revenue.
Further, frequent intentional exposure to UV light may lead to an addiction to tanning! (This clearly applies in the New Jersey woman’s case.)”
While it may seem to some that the author is an expert on tanning risks, since she knows so many facts about tanning apparently off hand, in fact the author got all of these facts from the same website.
The American Academy of Dermatology’s “media resource” on Indoor Tanning says:
“The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency of Research on Cancer panel has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogens (cancer-causing substances).6”
“Studies have found a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning.9,10”
“Nearly 28 million people tan indoors in the United States annually.”
“Nearly 70 percent of tanning salon patrons are Caucasian girls and women, primarily aged 16 to 29 years.2”
“In 2010, the indoor tanning industry’s revenue is estimated to be $2.6 billion.5”
“In addition to the above mentioned risks, frequent, intentional exposure to UV light may lead to an addiction to tanning.16”
Once again, the author seems to think making minor changes to the sentence structure and adding shallow/obvious things like tanning is “here to stay” and “the risks are significant” means she doesn’t have to cite her source at all, even though she used over 5 quotes from the same web page.
This seems especially odd considering the author is a former prosecutor.
So is this hypocrisy? Is the Crime Stopper committing intellectual theft?
Does the fact that her facts came from AAD’s “Media Resources” section mean that she doesn’t need to attribute?
Does the fact that AAD hasn’t responded about the incident mean that it doesn’t matter???
Comments are appreciated.