Friday, April 25, 2008

Ferrofluids, Anne Marie Helmenstine and plagiarism...

Upon my many Internet travels I was recently reminded of those strangely behaving paramagnetic fluids, known as ferrofluids or ferroliquids (see a demo below). Easy to make at home, they provide an ideal party trick and something that will enchant young and old. Unfortunately my surfing also lead me to a case of plagiarism so blatant, I haven't seen one like it in a long time...

Google searching a little for ferrofluid, I came across this little hub on home made magnetic fluids, written by a Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph D, who provides About.com's guide to Chemistry since 2001. The author's 5 page article on ferroliquids is well written and provides a step-by-step approach to safely making your own.

Except, Mizz Anne Marie Helmenstine's method and much of her text isn't really her own. Scrolling down just a little in Google's search results I found another detailed web page describing the home production of such ferrofluids, at Sci-Spot.com and which clearly provided the inspiration, to put things very, very mildly, for Helmenstine's piece.

Anne Marie Helmenstine, "Ph D", has lifted entire passages from Sci-Spot.com's original text, almost verbatim. Read both texts in parallel and see for yourself. You'll also conclude that Anne Marie has probably never ever actually conducted a ferrofluid experiment in her life: the only photo of a ferrofluid in action is a photo lifted from Wiki (but with credit at least). For someone making a living from writing a science column, that's truly appalling and amounts to intellectual property theft, nothing less.

Please don't also forget that About.com generates web content, in this case provided by a paid writer, because said web content provides advertising space and revenue for About.com... that, and that alone, is their raison d'ĂȘtre.

What's more, she could have avoided all this simply by proving proper credit to Sci-Spot.com, she chose not too. Of course being a purely commercial resource, About.com would rather be seen dead than sporting a non-paid external link, so screw Sci-Spot.com, who, after all, are they? Something somewhat similar happened to me sometime ago and I didn't feel happy about it either...

Edit: Lauren Leonardi (Manager, Guide Operations, About.com - see comment section of this blog post) claims Hemelstine does link to Sci-Spot.com. Well, I'll take her word for it but cannot find this link.

Mizz Helmenstine's condescending defense of her actions, presented at Sci-Spot.com as a reply to one of their emails, is also worth noting:

"Yes, your article is one I read when I wrote that tutorial. It was not, however, the only one, and I haven't copied you...

You haven't been plagiarized. You have a one-page recipe for a ferrofluid. I have a 5-page resource, with background information and information on what to do with a fluid. I think it's obvious I didn't lift your text.

Best wishes,
Anne Helmenstine, Ph.D.
About Chemistry"

A 5-page resource... as opposed to a measly 1 page recipe... I challenge anyone to tell me what exactly About.com has added to Sci-Spot.com's original content that isn't simply advertising space and some irrelevant fluff. No, Anne Marie Helmenstine, the lifting is so obvious it's blinding and you're the empress with no clothes on (perish the thought...) Helmenstine strikes me as one of these people that, when faced with personal and genuine criticism, would retort: "Do you know who I am?"

I wonder if About.com has a page about plagiarism...

Sci-Spot.com's response to all this, to invite readers of their web page to contact Anne Marie, is of course a plaster on a wooden leg. They should sue About.com, period.


Update:

The plot thickens somewhat. Because I want to make some ferrofluid too but having no OTC source of oleic acid, one of the vital ingredients in the mix, I decided to make oleic acid by extracting it from its source material, olive oil, via alkaline route. I envisaged a purification step that involves converting the oleic acid to ammonium oleate and decided to Google a bit to see if I could find some more information on this substance.

On page 3 of Google.co.uk's search results for ammonium oleate I found in positions #23, #24 and #25 (at the time of writing) three texts that all share entire sections with Helmenstine's About.com piece and Sci-Spot.com ferrofluid page:

This one cites Helmenstine's piece, but in a strange twist uses the same format as Sci-Spot.com:


Mentoring Advanced Placement

This text here is basically identical to Helmenstine's piece but doesn't cite it:

How to Make Liquid magnets - Introduction

And this one lifts selectively, without citation:

ferroliquid (liquid magnet) (scroll down a bit from top).

This now really begs the question: which is the actual source text? Mentoring Advanced Placement can be excluded as they have at least the courtesy of citing their source (Helmenstine). But whether Sci-Spot.com's claim that Helmenstine's piece lifted theirs holds up to scrutiny isn't clear because it's impossible to establish whether they really were the trailblazers here or whether the phy.hr web page really provided the original information and Sci-Spot.com failed to cite that text. The phy.hr pdf version makes no claims to originality but cites no source at all.

The pdf version of the AP Mentoring web page however is quite revealing: part of the pdf document is simply Sci-Spot.com's web page converted into the pdf format. And in the middle of page 2 of the AP Mentoring pdf there's a bizarre link that compounds Helmenstine's About.com page with Sci-Spot.com's page...


On a lighter note, watch this highly arty demo with sophisticated use of a ferrofluid (turn on the audio). Art, electromagnetism and fluid mechanics all rolled into one. Creepy, isn't it?


10 Comments:

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Mark Wadsworth said...

Indeed, creepy.

 
At 4:42 PM, Blogger Lauren said...

Hi There,

I'm About.com's Manager of Guide Operations, and I'm posting on Anne's behalf. When Sci-Spot initially accused Anne of copying this article we looked into it extensively. As a New York Times Co we take copyright and plagiarism very seriously. Our legal department found Anne innocent of any wrongdoing, and we've been in contact with Sci-Spot politely requesting that they remove their libelous page for some time.

Anne did nothing wrong. As she points out in her own comment on the sci-spot page she borrowed from the recipe, but wrote her own 5-page tutorial. Anne maintains an excellent site full of quality, original content as do all our About.com Guides. Plagiarism would be immediate grounds for termination, and as Anne is still with us, it's clear that she has not stolen. It's a shame that you're attempting to drag her name through the mud.

Lauren Leonardi
Manager, Guide Operations
About.com
A New York Times Company

 
At 11:50 AM, Blogger Gert said...

Dear Lauren,

Only a blind person, an imbecile, a cynic or someone that's being paid not to see what is so blindingly obvious would not see that Helmenstine has indeed lifted entire sections, verbatim, from Sci-Spot.com's original content, without providing any credit.

Perhaps you'd like me to make the plagiarism even clearer to readers of this blog post by highlighting the numerous occasions where Anne's truly clumsy, lazy even, plagiarism took place? I'd be more than willing to do that in the main section of this blog post.

You wrote (quotes italicised):

"I'm About.com's Manager of Guide Operations, and I'm posting on Anne's behalf. When Sci-Spot initially accused Anne of copying this article we looked into it extensively."

No, you didn't. If you had you'd have asked Anne to rewrite the text. I've shown it to several people and all are shocked at the blatant theft committed by Helmenstine. That potentially an imbecile like you can't see that doesn't change that.

"As a New York Times Co we take copyright and plagiarism very seriously."

No, you don't. It's frankly unbelievable that you took the time to write these ridiculous words here with a straight face...

"Our legal department found Anne innocent of any wrongdoing, and we've been in contact with Sci-Spot politely requesting that they remove their libelous page for some time."

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH... HAHAHAHAHAHAHA (NEARLY PISSED MYSELF).

Yeah, wouldn't that have been something, huh? Sci-Spot removing their original page, so that all incriminating evidence of Anne's plagiarism would be forever deleted... Dream on, dear.

"Anne did nothing wrong. As she points out in her own comment on the sci-spot page she borrowed from the recipe, but wrote her own 5-page tutorial."

Yes, she did: she stole someone else's content FOR FINANCIAL GAIN: it's called THEFT. Theft that an imbecile like you, again for financial gain, is trying to legitimise.

As regards the "5-page tutorial": Anne lifted most of her "tutorial" from someone else's web page (and of course someone else's experience), then added fluff to create the advertising space About.com (About.com: it's about MONEY!) so craves. In order to avoid any loss of advertising revenue About.com also refused to provide a link to the source text, as doing so could lead to loss of visitors and we can't have that now, can we?

"Anne maintains an excellent site full of quality, original content as do all our About.com Guides."

Irrelevant. In this case Anne Marie Helmenstine committed gross plagiarism. The quality of the rest of her site does not alter that.

"Plagiarism would be immediate grounds for termination, and as Anne is still with us, it's clear that she has not stolen."

Talk about circular reasoning: "we have found Anne not guilty ergo Anne is not guilty". She is dear, she is... As sin...

"It's a shame that you're attempting to drag her name through the mud."

I don't give a rat's arse about "her name" (or yours for that matter). For all I care AMH is the finest upstanding citizen in the entire universe, but that would take nothing away from the fact she stole, for financial gain, someone else's work because she was too lazy to write it herself and too clumsy to do a good job of the plagiarism.

To Sci-Spot I repeat, "stop lamenting and start suing". Now.

Have a nice day now...

Gert Meyers.

 
At 4:27 PM, Blogger Lauren said...

Gert,

Two points...

You said: >>Sci-Spot removing their original page, so that all incriminating evidence of Anne's plagiarism would be forever deleted... <<

We're not asking them to remove their article. We're asking them to remove their unfair accusation from the page.

You said: >>In order to avoid any loss of advertising revenue About.com also refused to provide a link to the source text, as doing so could lead to loss of visitors<<

Basically none of this statement is true. There is, in fact, a link on the page to sci-spot.com. It's on this page: http://chemistry.about.com/od/demonstrationsexperiments/ss/liquidmagnet_5.htm
under "Ferrofluid Synthesis". About.com often links off-site when that provides the best user experience.


Lauren Leonardi
Manager, Guide Operations
About.com
A New York Times Company

 
At 5:40 PM, Blogger Gert said...

The allegation isn't unfair, it's completely correct.

As regards the link, I'll amend my article accordingly, even if in essence that link changes NOTHING. It's nonetheless completely fair to say Hemelstine didn't link to Sci-Spot.com's ferrofluids page from the [Helmestine's] offending page, although she did from another one.

 
At 2:57 PM, Blogger Jennifer Emick said...

It's true, and it's not the only instance. About's lax standards and low pay make it a haven for lazy authors who appropriate the work of others. To compound the problem, About more or less encourages this behavior- if it's not a word-for-word copy from start to finish, it's perfectly acceptable to them for a guide to "rewrite" another person's work as their own, whether or not they have the necessary expertise or have done any research of their own. Guides are always being encouraged to replace outside links with "original content," which they are expected to produce on a ridiculous schedule.

During my time there I pointed out numerous examples, which were routinely ignored- including several instances where other guides copied my own work!

 
At 3:08 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Thank you, Jennifer.

 
At 8:19 PM, Blogger chandresh kumar said...

Easy to make at home, they provide an ideal party trick and something that will enchant young and old. Unfortunately my surfing also lead me to a case of plagiarism so blatant, I haven't seen one like it in a long time...
Noida Property We specialize in Noida and Greater Noida in all sorts of real estate property. Our impeccable services and honest policy makes us the best to deal in real estate in & around Noida.

 
At 6:55 AM, Blogger Web Hosting said...

Ramprastha SKYZ Gurgaon sector 37D on Dwarka Express Way is Latest residential Project in Gurgaon having option 1bhk/2bhk/3bhk apartment with study room. Contact Homeseek Realtors for Ramprastha city as SKYZ. ">

 
At 8:09 AM, Blogger Web Hosting said...

Gurgaon property asAbw verona hills on NH 8 sector-76 gurgaon is 2bhk/3bhk apartment having all morden facility. Homeseek Realtors for best deal Abw Verona Hills .

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home