By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Globe and Mail has offered a threefold response today to the critics who have been raising a stir about Carol Wainio’s prosecution brief against Margaret Wente for the crime of plagiarism. Wente has written her own apologia; the Globe has made public an internal memo on the issue, written by editor-in-chief John Stackhouse; and Stackhouse has also used the paper’s media reporter, Steve Ladurantaye, as a ventriloquist’s doll for a short news item on the scandal.
Wente’s column does go through the motions of contrition, while leaving the distinct impression that she regards herself more as victim than perpetrator.
A blogger has accused me of substantively plagiarizing the column, and much else. The allegations have exploded in the Twitterverse and prompted harsh commentary from other writers, some of whom are characterizing me as a serial plagiarist. …I’m far from perfect. I make mistakes. But I’m not a serial plagiarist. What I often am is a target for people who don’t like what I write.
Imagine that: a columnist who is a target for people who don’t like what she writes! This may come as a shock to Margaret Wente, but the difference between her and other columnists is not that other columnists don’t have haters. The difference is that other columnists don’t keep handing their haters ethical ammunition by the crateload.
She may find, unhappily, that “I’m not a serial plagiarist” goes down in history as an example of this. Carol Wainio is slightly more free with the word “plagiarism” than most reporters and columnists would be, but Wainio caught Wente in what look like pretty clear, if minor, examples here, here, here (at the end, where Michael Barone’s words appear as her own), here (Joel Kotkin), and here (Steven Pinker). That’s just since late 2011. Having made the fast shuffle from “I’m not a plagiarist” to “I’m not a serial plagiarist,” where might Wente go next? “OK, I am a serial plagiarist, but I’ve never borrowed an entire column?” “I am a serial plagiarist but I bake a damn fine tollhouse cookie?”
Our collective instinct as a trade may have been to give Wente the benefit of the doubt up until now—her occasional difficulties with quotation marks being no secret—but when she says “There was no intent to deceive”, we must recall that last week she told Globe Public Editor Sylvia Stead that she didn’t remember reading the Dan Gardner column she stood accused of borrowing from. Hadn’t seen it, couldn’t pick Gardner out of a lineup, couldn’t see what the fuss was, etc., etc. Stead, as part of a supposed “investigation”, chose to accept this. Today, the party line has undergone a sudden change:
Columnists often write about the same subjects and often reach similar conclusions. That isn’t plagiarism. But there is a sentence from Mr. Gardner’s column that also appears in my column. The only explanation is that I put it in my notes, then put it in my column. That was extremely careless and, for that, I apologize.
One would think it was awkward for Stead that the cock-and-bull story she believed, and gave the stamp of moral authority to, held up for about 48 hours before collapsing in a wave of well-deserved internet ridicule which required the intervention of Stackhouse. Or the appearance of intervention, anyway. The obvious problems still left are twofold.
1) Stackhouse won’t tell us how he is sanctioning Wente, though he will say what he is not doing, i.e., letting her go. I don’t know that I would fire Wente for plagiarism in his place, though I am near-certain I would fire her for being pathologically unable to tell her own prose apart from quotations scribbled into her notes. (What say we give the real estate to someone who doesn’t have a tin ear and a crappy attitude?) The real point is that the Globe is giving us no practical indication whatsoever of how seriously it takes plagiarism, or of how Stackhouse proposes to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. It is literally all talk.
2) Stackhouse has dealt not at all with Sylvia Stead’s failure to detect obvious plagiarism when someone came up with overwhelming evidence against an old crony. His response, incredibly, was to make Stead fully independent of the person who had to bail out her behind and uphold some standards—namely himself. How is this supposed to solve the problem the Globe created by making a lifer the public editor? Have we got this straight…after that absurd display, he has decided to give her even more power?
Perhaps Stackhouse, by taking Stead out from under him in the chain of command, is offering some kind of tacit admission that he influenced her investigation. I cannot see any other reason to do it, but he is very welcome to give us a fuller explanation.
By Jesse Brown - Monday, September 24, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Because of the Internet. As Sabrina Maddeaux points out in the Toronto Standard, quality safeguards in newsrooms have disappeared. Fact checkers and copyeditors are scarce or non-existent, while any editors who haven’t been laid off must sign off on more copy more quickly than ever before. Legacy media institutions have been gutted by the disruptive effects of the Internet. Everyone is expected to maintain the same standards while working with a fraction of the resources. That’s simply impossible, and the fact that sloppy work sees print is an inevitable result.
But that’s just one part of it.
The Internet explains why plagiarism gets through more often than it used to, but it’s also the reason why plagiarism is so easily exposed. Tracking down a swipe used to be pretty tough. Fifteen years ago, if something you read in a column twigged as something you’d read before, how would you prove it? Unless you felt like spending a day (or a week) at the library, knee-deep in microfiche, you’d probably just let it go. Even if you were able to trace it back, the task of publicizing plagiarism would be daunting.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 8:10 AM - 0 Comments
In January, the Globe and Mail appointed longtime editor and correspondent Sylvia Stead its first “public editor”. What say we pause right there, before we go any further? The job of “public editor” is one most closely associated with the New York Times, which has had five different people doing the job since it created a post with that title in 2003—soon after the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal. The function of the public editor at the Times, as the title suggests, is to advocate for journalism ethics, fairness, and proper practice on behalf of the paper’s readership, dealing with concerns and challenges as they arise.
To that end, the Times—quite naturally, one would think—has always recruited people for the job who haven’t been associated with the Times for their entire adult lives, but who do have some knowledge of journalism and non-fiction practice. The first Times public editor was Daniel Okrent, a legendary book and magazine editor. The new one, Margaret Sullivan, has been associated with the Warren Buffett-owned Buffalo News since 1980.
The Times is probably careful about this because it created the “public editor” job in the wake of a serious credibility crisis. It could ill afford to choose somebody who had grown up in the Times cocoon and was an irrecoverable permanent hostage to old friendships, work relationships, and office politics. In fact, it would be fair for you, dear reader, to ask the question “Why would you?” Why wouldn’t you hire someone with some independent standing to represent the public, if you were serious about it?
Well: those last six words bring us to Ms. Stead’s remarkable papal bull, published Friday, concerning Globe columnist Margaret Wente. Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 6:40 AM - 0 Comments
Emma Teitel says the anti-youth, ‘kids these days’ reflex is cynical beyond belief — especially coming from the Canadian baby boomer generation
The Toronto Star ran a story recently about a 24-year-old “super intern” named Maeghan Smulders, who graduated from Mount Royal University with 29 job offers—all of which she rejected. Smulders figured if she was going to begin her career, she was going to do some research first. So ProjectONE12 was born, a postgraduate’s 112-day exploration into the world of unpaid internships. Smulders took stints in Toronto, Montreal and even San Jose, interning with 10 companies, all in the hopes of finding and landing her dream business job. She did. At the end of her seven-month journey (which she documented online) she took a job at Beyond the Rack, a Canadian online retail start-up. “Being in all the different places,” she said, reminiscing about the project, “you get a taste for culture and you get a taste for not just the work you’re doing, but the people there. I really wanted to find an environment I could really grow in.” Don’t we all.
Maeghan Smulders is not spoiled. She worked incredibly hard and obviously incredibly well to rack up those 29 job offers, and an additional 18 during ProjectONE12. But a hard job well done doesn’t make you a “super intern.” Money does: a reality that both our increasingly ageist media and government don’t like to acknowledge. Because while it’s true that the economy has severely limited our postgrad opportunities and unpaid internships are replacing the entry-level job, it’s also true that it costs a lot of money to work for free. Log onto Smulders’ website and you’ll see a heading called “sponsors,” under which is listed (among a few other groups) “my Toronto family.”
Funny. We have the same sponsor. Mine was kind enough to fund my three-month internship (for which I was extremely lucky to have been paid at all) and all 22 years of my life preceding. I would not be writing this column right now were it not for my sponsors. Thank you, Jay and Karen. Sorry about the trip to Curacao.
By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 5:25 PM - 0 Comments
This past weekend, Science-ish was disappointed to read Margaret Wente’s column on health evidence, in which she opined: “Today’s health wisdom has a way of becoming tomorrow’s bunk… This may help explain why all the standard diet and exercise advice is worthless.” Sure, evidence about the best way to eat is evolving, the media screws up reporting on science all the time, and the health sciences are particularly vulnerable to what Edmonton-based health law professor Timothy Caulfield calls, in his insightful new book A Cure for Everything!, “an unprecedented number of perverting influences” like Big Food.
But that’s no reason to discount science altogether. When you look at the evidence about diet, some things are pretty straightforward. So rather than taking a blind approach to a healthy life, Science-ish will stick to the science, and give you the six things you should know about an evidence-based approach to diet and weight loss.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 11:57 AM - 68 Comments
When the U of T Cities Centre announced a couple weeks ago that middle-class neighbourhoods are disappearing in Toronto, the Globe and Mail latched onto the study and squeezed it for all it was worth. Or, rather, what little it is worth and then some. The Globe used the study to craft a news article with a horror-movie lede, to order up a nostalgic Margaret Wente column, and to conduct a live online chat debating the issues raised. In the chat a user named “Paul” brought up a technical question for the study’s lead author, David Hulchanski:
I note that the maps drive off AVERAGE income. Do we know what they would look like if they drove off MEDIAN income? The published maps tell us that there is a growing class of people with super-high incomes. I think maps based on the median would be more informative about the middle class.
Let’s raise a glass to Paul. Even if you don’t understand why his point is important, you can see in the chat that Hulchanski’s answer is unsatisfactory: he says both that his team didn’t have median-income numbers going back far enough to make them the focus of the study and that he’s confident it wouldn’t make any difference. I think a criminal lawyer would call this “presenting an alibi and a justification at the same time.”
Hulchanski’s study found that the proportion of middle-income neighbourhoods in Toronto was 66% in 1970; it is now just 29%. Low-income neighbourhoods made up 19% of the city in 1970; that figure’s now 53%. Paul’s problem is that these types of neighbourhoods are defined relative to the mean individual income for the whole city ($88,400 in 2005). A middle-income neighbourhood is one whose residents are within 20% of the mean either way, while a low-income neighbourhood is 20%-40% below it. But a mean or average, unlike a median (i.e., the income that half the city makes more than and half makes less than), is sensitive to scale changes in individual outliers at the top of the distribution.
We can see the problem if we perform a thought experiment and imagine another city; we’ll call it Otnorot. In 1970, Otnorot had an unusual economic structure: it was divided into 100 equal-sized neighbourhoods numbered 1 to 100, each with an average real income corresponding (by total coincidence) to its number. In miserable Neighbourhood 1, the residents scrape by on 1 credit per year per person. In Neighbourhood 47, they make 47 credits on average. In Neighbourhood 100, they make 100 credits apiece, the filthy plutocratic bastards.
What would the Prof. Hulchanski of imaginary Otnorot report back to us about the economic structure of his city? The average income of the neighbourhoods (and the people in them) is, as the young Carl Friedrich Gauss could tell us instantly, the sum of the numbers 1 to 100 divided by 100: 50½ credits. Neighbourhoods 41 to 60, or 20 in all, are “middle-income” neighbourhoods within 20% of that mean. The “low-income” neighbourhoods are numbers 31 to 40; there are 10 low-income neighbourhoods.
By 2005, the vast majority of Otnorotians are living just as they and their forefathers always did. In Neighbourhoods 1-99, real incomes have not changed at all, nor have the relative population sizes changed. Neighbourhood 1 still earns 1 real credit per person, which buys exactly what it did in 1970. Neighbourhood 99 still earns 99. Only in Neighbourhood 100 has there been a change. Perhaps the residents held shares in the wildly successful Otnorotian version of Trivial Pursuit; perhaps they put their heads together and invented smell-o-vision. For whatever reason, they have gone from wealthy to superwealthy (at nobody else’s particular expense, or at least nobody’s in Otnorot), and they now earn a fantastic 8,000 credits per citizen every year.
For most Otnorotians, life hasn’t changed. The presence of the one new hyperrich neighbourhood would certainly have social effects, probably a mix of good and bad; you could, for example, almost certainly expect the Royal Otnorot Museum to acquire a hideous new glass mega-extrusion. But you wouldn’t say that the Otnorotian middle class had disappeared.
And yet—Shock! Concern!—that is exactly what Otnorot’s version of Prof. Hulchanski finds, unwisely using average incomes as his baseline. The overall average income for Otnorot is now a whopping 129½ credits a year, so no group at all outside lucky Neighbourhood 100 reaches the lower middle-income cutoff (103.6). The lower bound for a “low-income” neighbourhood, however, is now 77.7 credits. Where we once had just 10 low-income neighbourhoods out of 100, now everybody from 78 to 99 is defined as low-income, so we have 22.
It so happens that in Otnorot, lukewarm social science performed at public expense and promoted by newspaper editors is punished by means too horrendous to translate into English. Things are done differently in the real Toronto, a mercifully liberal-minded place. But the processes that so confused our alterna-Hulchanski are surely, in an oversimplified way, the same processes that have confused the real scholar. Observers of inequality have observed a genuine, dramatic numerical increase in it over the past two or three decades; one only need have been looking at business-magazine “rich lists” for a while to see that billionaires, all but unknown in the early 1980s, are now as common as seagulls.
There are real social and political dangers from this, to the degree that we allow economic power to translate into social and political power. But it does not mean that the “middle class” has really disappeared or dwindled. It only means that the logarithmic scale of possible incomes has stretched out at the top in a new Gilded Age, a realm of pervasively low marginal taxes and new deregulated industries.
Toronto might really, in some sense, have become bifurcated more arrestingly between rich and poor. But the Cities Centre’s measurement procedure cannot prove that this has really happened. Would it be a good thing for social conditions in Toronto if the Bridle Path were annihilated by a meteor? If that happened, Prof. Hulchanski (and the Globe) would probably be able to report several “low-income” neighbourhoods magically re-entering the “middle class”.
Respectable social science of this sort will ordinarily work with medians or with log-income (as the UN Human Development Index does), or it will approach inequality questions with the aid of the Gini coefficient—a metric totally absent from the Hulchanski study. No doubt Prof. Hulchanski would give the same sour-grapes defence he gave to our friend Paul: don’t have the numbers, don’t need the numbers. But there’s a further question. Why should we necessarily be concerned with between-neighbourhood inequality at all? The Cities Centre would use the same “average income” figure to describe and classify both Neighbourhood X, where everybody makes a healthy $100,000 a year, and Neighbourhood Y, where half the residents make $200,000 and half make nothing, bartering and stealing for their living. Funny sort of egalitarianism, if you ask me.
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 10:01 AM - 355 Comments
MARK STEYN: The niqab deserves no more respect than a Vader mask
The other day, a reader wrote to say that, while en vacances au Québec, he had espied me in a restaurant. With a couple of obvious francophones. And, from the snatches of conversation he caught, I appeared to be speaking French. “Appeared” is right, if you’ve ever heard my French. Nevertheless: “You’re a fraud, Steyn!” he thundered. The cut of his jib was that I was merely pretending to be a pro-Yank right-wing bastard while in reality living la vie en rose lounging on chaises longues snorting poutine with louche Frenchie socialists all day long.
I haven’t felt such a hypocrite since I was caught singing The Man That Got Away in a San Francisco bathhouse two days after my column opposing gay marriage. But yes, you’re right. I cannot tell a lie. I have a soft spot for Quebec. Not because of its risible separatist movement, for which the only rational explanation is that it was never anything but one almighty bluff for shakedown purposes. Yet, putting that aside, I’m not unsympathetic to the province’s broader cultural disposition. I regard neither Trudeaupian Canada nor Quietly Revolutionary Quebec as good long-term bets, or even medium-term bets. But, if I had to pick, I’d give marginally better odds to the latter. And the reasons why can be found in the coverage of Ms. Naema Ahmed and her “illegal” niqab, the head-to-toe Islamic covering that only has eyes for you.
The facts—or, at any rate, fact—of the case is well-known: a niqab-garbed immigrant from Egypt has been twice expelled from her French-language classes at the Saint-Laurent CEGEP and the Centre d’appui aux communautés immigrantes by order of the Quebec government. That much is agreed. Thereafter, the English and French press diverge signiﬁcantly. The ROC reacted reﬂexively, deploring this assault on Canada’s cherished “values” of “multiculturalism.” In the Calgary Herald, Naomi Lakritz compared Quebec’s government to the Taliban. So did the Globe and Mail, in an editorial titled “Intolerant Intrusion.” In La Presse, Patrick Lagacé responded with a column called “The Globe, Reporting From Mars!”
By Alex Shimo - Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 5:30 PM - 32 Comments
Could an economic recession actually be good for climate change? Such a thought strikes…
Could an economic recession actually be good for climate change? Such a thought strikes fear into every moderate green’s heart, because if environmentalism is actually antithetical to the capitalist project, if it is incompatible with economic growth and our post-industrial, urbanized society, we might as well fry now and pay later. Reversing centuries of development, infrastructure, jobs, careers, education, the NHL and all the other twenty-first century essentials and luxuries is not going to happen any time soon.
Yet, the incompatibility of these two movements – environmentalism and growth – is often written about like it just one of sad little truths you have to live with. On Thursday of this week, Margaret Wente, wrote in The Globe and Mail:
“Even global warming has moved down the anxiety scale, but that’s okay, because the recession will slow down global warming more than all the carbon-trading schemes put together.”
Wente makes one of those breezy, glib comments that has a modicum of truth, but doesn’t get to the real heart of the issue. Continue…
By selley - Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 4:40 PM - 23 Comments
Margaret Wente …in today’s Globe and Mail:
The lesson of the black swan is
Margaret Wente in today’s Globe and Mail:
The lesson of the black swan is that the world is governed not by ordinary and predictable events but by extraordinary and unpredictable ones. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs is an example of a black swan. The Internet is a good black swan, the crash of ’08 a bad one. Except for one or two eccentric cranks, no one saw it coming.
An easily Googlable Bloomberg story, in which Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, insists the economic crisis is not—repeat, not—an example of a black swan, and explains that among other people he—Taleb—saw it coming some time ago.
“The financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic—when one fails, they all fall,” Taleb wrote in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, which was published in 2007. “The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup.”
Taleb said the current crisis is a “White Swan”, not a Black Swan, because it was something bound to happen.
“I was expecting the crisis, I was worried about it,” Taleb said. “I put my neck and money on the line seeking protection from it.”
Wow, is that ever embarrassing. And it’s precisely why we’re not reading Wente anymore unless someone calls our attention to something particularly extraordinary. In this case, that person is Dan Gardner, who politely notes this egregious error on his new blog.
By selley - Wednesday, October 29, 2008 at 6:59 PM - 46 Comments
UPDATE! Behold: the Stand up for Margaret Wente Facebook page!
Behold: the Fire Margaret …
UPDATE! Behold: the Stand up for Margaret Wente Facebook page!
Behold: the Fire Margaret Wente Facebook page, where a simple, defensible message—basically, that Margaret Wente is a lazy hack—is almost totally subsumed by shrieking accusations of racism, thus summoning all manner of right-wing pundits and bloggers to her defence on grounds that a racist is a liberal losing an argument with a conservative, or some other devastatingly droll summation of the great battle of our times, when really we all should be able to agree that lazy hackery shouldn’t be gobbling up column-inches in The Globe and Mail. Another opportunity for harmony and bliss safely averted.
(Here’s the column that started it all, by the way. She ought to have known defending Dick Pound is never a good idea.)
UPDATE: That wasn’t one of my clearer blog posts ever. Just to clear up any confusion, I absolutely reject the idea that what Wente said on this issue should be some kind of firing offence, or that it was prima facie evidence of racism. Continue…
By selley - Sunday, July 6, 2008 at 6:33 PM - 0 Comments
In Thursday’s Globe and Mail (as noted in Thursday’s Megapundit), Margaret Wente …argued that
In Thursday’s Globe and Mail (as noted in Thursday’s Megapundit), Margaret Wente argued that the “nearly 30 per cent of pregnancies in Canada [that] end in abortion” is an uncomfortably high figure, and ought to be lower
Well, here’s some good news: it is.
Statistics Canada says there were 96,815 abortions performed in Canada in 2005, as Wente noted—a figure that works out to 28.3 for every 100 live births. But that’s not the same as 28.3 per cent (i.e., “nearly 30 per cent”) of total pregnancies. It means that out of 128.3 abortions and live births in Canada, there were 28.3 abortions. That works out to 22 per cent.
But that excludes a very common pregnancy outcome: miscarriages and stillbirths, or as StatsCan calls the sum of these unfortunate events, “fetal loss.” The full breakdown of these pregnancy outcomes hasn’t been released for 2005, but in 2004 there were 445,899 pregnancies recorded in Canada, of which two per cent resulted in “fetal loss” and 76 per cent in live births. 22.4 per cent ended in abortion (slightly higher than in 2005).
That’s not the end of the story, however. The “fetal loss” figure is way too low, because Statistics Canada only counts miscarriages that require hospitalization, and stillbirths “where the product of conception has a birth weight of 500 grams or more or the duration of pregnancy is 20 weeks or longer.” Experts disagree on the actual percentage of pregnancies that end in miscarriage, but one in five is a frequently cited figure. If that’s right, for the sake of argument, then the actual percentage of pregnancies that end in abortion would probably be less than 20.
This may still be too high for Ms. Wente, for all we know. But we hope it brightens her Sunday.
By Paul Wells - Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 7:03 PM - 0 Comments
I am in a high-school auditorium in Waterloo, Ontario. Six hundred people are here for a lecture by Nobel laureate William Phillips. So is Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail and Mike Lazaridis, founder of Research in Motion. Lazaridis’ presence will turn out to be significant. Peggy Wente’s is merely a pleasant surprise.