Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tuning-Fork Therapy Inventor is Newest Sun Plagiarist

Congratulations to Francine Milford, “Sun Correspondent” who today helps continue Sun Media Group’s tradition of filling its pages with plagiarized material. The Reiki Master and inventor of Tuning Fork Therapy -- turned journalist -- has raised the bar for "stoopid" reporting: her plagiarism is combined with her naïve promotion of a dentist whose practices have put his license at risk and who is facing substantial fines and professional probation from the state's Board of Dentistry.

We’ll start with the plagiarism.

Milford’s 20-incher on page 11 of today’s local section, “Area dentist hopes to improve quality of life,” is a pastiche of dentist Joseph A. Gaeta Jr.’s own Web sites and chunks of material that appear in scores – hundreds, actually – of other practitioners’ vanity sites.

Using the pre-written material is plagiarism because Milford, a licensed massage therapist who offers Bamboo Chair Massage when she’s not doing journalism, copies and presents the words of others as her own – her byline alone with no attribution, no credit, no quotation marks, no acknowledgement.

Through a combination of state-of-the-art technology and treatment plans, Gaeta preserves healthy teeth and gums, alleviates oral discomfort and improves the appearance of smiles on a daily basis. He has applied his unique blend of artistic and technical skills to produce durable and aesthetic results in thousands of patients.

Search using any key phrase in the paragraph and Google coughs up 380 occurrences on the Web – only the names change to accommodate specific practices, which range from Los Angeles to New York and seem to appear in most if not all 50 states. With that number and range, the statement comes close to being an industry standard. Milford, however, claims she wrote it when she hands it in to her editors without quote marks, attribution, or a source other than her own name on the article.

Sun Correspondent-Reiki Master-Tuning Fork Therapist Milford presents this article as an interview she conducted with the dentist, ostensibly eliciting this personal anecdote from Gaeta:

Before I became a dentist, I had observed my grandparents in their twilight years and specifically the impact that failing teeth had on them. Their quality of life had been diminished and there was a constant complaint of discomfort. Failing dental health affected their self image; it limited their diet and the basic ability to chew.

Compare that with a Web site called Imagine Your Smile where a testimonial by John C. of St. Paul MN posted two years ago that goes like this:

I had observed my parents and grandparents in their twilight years and specifically the impact of failing teeth. In each case, the quality of life had been diminished. Failing dental health affected their self image; it limited their diet and the basic ability to chew. Also, there was a constant complaint of discomfort ...

Actually, it's unlikely Milford stole the testimonial from “Imagine Your Smile” because Gaeta himself had already plagiarized the material and posted it on a free, self-publishing vanity service called PRLog just this past March.

Milford’s plagiarism isn’t her only failure as a journalist. She didn’t take a peek at Florida Department of Health’s Web site and check Gaeta’s status with the state. If she had, she would have found six administrative complaints and four disciplinary actions -- and the threat of additional sanctions -- lodged against Joseph A. Gaeta Jr. D.D.S.

Gaeta's most recent discipline stems from a 2003 patient complaint described in the disciplinary section of the minutes of the Board of Dentistry’s July 31, 2009 meeting. In this case, Gaeta is accused of failing to meet “minimum standards in diagnosis and treatment” and failing “to keep written dental records” that would justify a specific course of treatment.

The Board of Dentistry’s hearing officer that day recommended a $20,000 fine and a 30-day license suspension, during which time Gaeta could not practice dentistry. The hearing officer also recommended five years professional probation, a two-year remedial education course, and continuing education credits every year for the rest of the life of his practice.

In its final decision, the disciplinary board moderated the recommendation to a reprimand, $5,000 fine and a 30-day license suspension. It ordered Gaeta to take and pass a laws-and-rules exam within one year of the board’s final order. It ordered him to complete a two-year, comprehensive dentistry course within 36 months and remain on probation until this is done. In addition, Gaeta must also complete continuing education credits annually for the next four years. And finally, he has to reimburse the board within three years for the $40,000 it is costing the state to investigate, prosecute, and oversee his case until it closes.

The most recent communication from the state to the public about this dentist occurred just four weeks ago. On April 26, the board posted notice that Gaeta failed to pay the $5,000 fine and now is seeking “one or more” of several actions that include permanent revocation or suspension of practice, restriction of practice, an administrative fine, reprimand, probation, or “other corrective actions,” such as remedial education.

Milford has an obligation to readers, editors and journalism’s professional standards to report these charges instead of simply promoting Gaeta’s practice expansion as the next best thing to Color Therapy. She has an obligation to ask if his sudden affailiation with Alan Devos' dental practice (Devos will be Gaeta's "associate," Milford writes) has anything to do with a state requirement for professional supervision.

** The link seems to not work. Here's a copy of the page at the DOH Website, which is availble by clicking on the dentist's information card at that site.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Arcadian Journalism: How to Say Nothing in 600 Words

Today’s editorial is small town journalism at its worst: important and powerful names are scrubbed from the record, facts are vague, unsourced, and undated. The issue is never clearly stated. The outcome is never explained. The various sides of the debate are not aired. No one is interviewed.

“Athletes learn wrong lesson from parents” allocates almost 600 words in six hefty paragraphs in paen to the virtues of sports for kids. The brave writer tells Arcadians that sports are an “important, positive influence” in child development. The brave writer goes out on a limb to opine that young athletes learn cooperation, playing by the rules, and acceptance of authority.

The brave writer broaches the notion that sports require “practice and determination.” She endorses good parents who “enroll” and then “transport” children to an activity that will make their offspring “better off.”

Whew! Are we there yet? Readers who have slogged more than halfway through the “editorial” (we are so very very grateful that the U.S. Consititution protects free speech so we can mull this amazing communication), wondering what any of this bland vanilla, clichéd, trite, homogenized, platitudinous verbiage has to do with the headline.

Oh, here it comes! Fifth graf:

“In recent times [that’s the “when” part of Arcadian journalism], it appears some parents and parent coaches have lost sight of what the real purpose and goal is for participating in sports. [So many purposes have been regurgitated that we lost track of the “real” one.]. There is a report of three parent coaches of a winning team [named?] trying to change league [which league?] rules to allow them to coach their league all-star team, instead of allowing the other head coaches in the league to participate. [Who made this report? Which league is under discussion here? Where and when did the attempt to change league rules occur? What's with "allow?" Isn't a rule a requirement?]

When the coaches [which “the coaches”?] were unsuccessful in changing the rules [rule or rules?] , they walked off of the field, [which field?] in full view of the other children, [the coaches are “other children?”] with the head coach taking his own child with him. [And that head coach is named?] In other words, if the coach couldn’t have his way, then he wasn’t going to participate at all or even allow his child to participate. Are these the guiding principals [principles] we are trying to instill in our children through sports? Certainly not. [Is this the standard of journalism we are want to instill in our editorial writers? Certainly not.]

Shame on those parents and coaches who display conduct they would never condone from their own children or players.[Shame on editorial writers who fail to adhere to the basics of journalism, like explaining who, what, when, where and why.] This type of behavior [journalism] is unacceptable and should not be tolerated by ether [either] those parents who participate for the right reasons or the league that organizes these sporting opportunities for children. [How can we be warned about this terrible danger when readers don’t know any of the most basic facts.] We cannot let a few bad apples spoil the sports barrel for the rest of us. [Another charming cliché – but what the heck is a sports barrel?]

Excuse me; I have to go find some fish to wrap.

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.