Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lovebug Plagiarism: Cline Tells All, Sources Nothing

It’s not clear who “Bobbie Cline” is, but she/he gets the top slot on the front page of The Journal today. Her big story: “If They’re Love Bugs, Why Do We Hate Them?”

Cline is apparently the original source of everything known about the lovebug (except how dictionaries spell it), because she provides not one word of attribution in the entire story. There is no mention in byline, end note or the story itself why any of what Cline writes should be credible, except that Cline says so.

And, speaking of “Bobbie Cline says so,” it’s important to note she doesn't, actually. Most of the article is a light rewrite of Internet sources ranging from University of Florida Extension Service to a Sanibel-Captiva blog post written by a Fort Myers newsman. But not rewritten enough. Like most crime scenes, there is sufficient trace evidence left behind to award Cline the next available slot on Old Word Wolf’s left rail.

Here’s a recap of what Bobbie Cline woke up one morning just knowing without anyone telling her:

There are 200 species of lovebug but “only two species fly around the United States.” That wording appears on a Web page written by Dennis Adams, Information Service Coordinator for the Beaufort (S.C.) County Library. Adams attributes his information to the University of Florida and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services “Featured Creatures” website, but the characterization, “fly around” is entirely his, or at least was his, until it appeared in Cline’s article.

Cline also woke up one morning knowing the common name comes “from the insect’s habit of mating while coupled in midair.” Cline changes the librarian’s “lovebugs’ habit” to “insect’s habit” in an otherwise identical sentence, but that’s what we mean when we talk about trace evidence left at the crime scene.

Cline also woke up one morning knowing “Love Bugs [sic] don’t bite, carry disease, damage crops or fly at night, but they are a real nuisance to motorists.” She was channeling the nice librarian, who put it this way: “Though lovebugs do not sting, bite, or carry disease, they do spatter thousands of auto windshields and clog countless radiators.”

The nice librarian, in his next sentence, notes that a Bradenton (Fla.) Herald reporter said “they are drawn to vehicle vibrations and fuel vapors exposed to sunlight ... and they prefer diesel fuel over regular gasoline.” Cline’s very next sentence is “Being attracted to hot engines, vibrations and diesel exhaust ...”

Cline also woke up one morning knowing lovebugs “have a black body, a thorax that is red or yellow, short antennae and clear wings,” wording identical Charles Runnells’s post titled “They’re BAAACK!” dated May 31, 2006 at a Sanibel Captiva Island Message Board.

Runnells, who writes for the Fort Myers News-Press, lists “Lovebug Facts” in an article that appeared in his newspaper the same day, including this somewhat illogical sequence of ideas: “The males have large compound eyes and the females are larger in size.” The illogic doesn’t faze Cline one bit; she uses newsman Runnell’s sentence word for word.

The nice newsman also writes in his next line that a lovebug’s lifespan is “just three to six weeks and consists of hatching as a larvae, pupating, and then emerging briefly as an adult.” Cline copies it word for word for her report, but never mentions Runnells’ contribution to her fact-finding mission.

The same Sanibel message board reports “they are attracted to anethole, an essential oil found in some plants,” but the proper source for this is Ron Cherry, the Everglades biologist who back in 1998 researched and published “Attraction of the lovebug to anethole,” in the scientific journal, Florida Entomologist. True, I don’t know how many ways one can say this, but it would be nice to credit your source and use quote marks around material you didn't write, even if your specific source doesn't bother with this. (The hidden danger of plagiarism is one might be plagiarising a plagiarist!)

Cline also woke up one morning knowing that “Adult love bugs are vegetarians.” There are a number of sources for this wording – strong evidence Cline probably didn’t write it. But we’re betting she may have been copying from her computer screen while reading a blog, Kudzu Monthly, where other key phrases Cline uses also appear: the idea that lovebugs “congregate ... at truckstops,” and that they “love diesel exhaust.” Even her opening graf, “hard to love bugs” seems like the very echo of Kudzu’s post title.

When Cline woke up one recent morning knowing that lovebug larvae live in swampy areas, she was clearly channeling a radio program narrated by Kevin Pierce with “The Florida Environment.” In spot fe00510, he says: “... they’re found along roadsides and swampy areas.” Cline writes “They are found along roadsides and swampy areas.” Pierce characterizes the environment as “places that have a lot of organic buildup.” Cline characterizes the environment as “any place with organic buildup.”

Cline just woke up one morning knowing that “formaldehyde and heptaldehyde are the two most attractive components of diesel exhaust,” wording that directly from an article by three researchers at the University of Florida IFAS Extension service called “Solutions for Your Life.” Solutions for Your Life.

There's really not much else to say except that the Lake Placid editors didn't even have to do this research in order to decide to spike this article. All they had to do was read it and notice that not one single "according to" lends the thinnest patina of respectiblity to this lie and cheat.

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