Friday, May 30, 2014

What's this than?

Here's a tatty old headline. It's from Susan Polgar's blog.

There's more to it, though, than just a careless, casual, misspelling. It's careless all right. But the reason it's happened is anything but casual.

The reason for the error in the headline is that it's taken from the text, where the same error occurs.

Mind you, I say "the text", but it rather depends which text you mean, because like many articles on Ms Polgar's blog, this one is taken in its entirety from somewhere else entirely. In this instance, the "somewhere else" is the Telegraph, in which the piece appeared last Thursday.

As it happens, though, if you look at the paragraph in the Telegraph, you won't find any "then". In fact it doesn't say
fewer then one per cent of all chess grandmasters are female
but rather
only two per cent of all chess grandmasters are female

More than that, if you click on the respective links embedded in the stories, the Polgar version has this (which is a load of old rubbish) whereas the Telegraph version has this (which is rather better).

How can this be?

Well the reason is that, having seen the error in the original and having been informed (by Jack Rudd) that the fewer-than-one-per-cent claim was wrong, a source close to the present writer contacted the Telegraph writer who amended the story accordingly. First, the errant "then" was removed

then the "fewer than one per cent" was replaced by a more accurate claim and the rubbishy link (with its repetition of the 605 million nonsense) was replaced by the FIDE page.

And everybody lived happily ever after, albeit in a world of sizable gender imbalances.

Except that back at the Polgar blog, nothing's changed. It still has not just the semi-literate headline, but the error in the text, the error in calculation and the unreliable link.

This is because it doesn't check anything. It just scoops everything up and puts it on the blog. It doesn't check for errors. It doesn't give a stuff about accuracy. It just scoops it up and shovels it on.

If the Polgar blog was a proper site, what you might have is a short piece on the subject of girls' under-representation in chess, illustrated by some quotes from the original story, to which there would be a rather more prominent link than in fact there is.

It'd also check for accuracy. It wouldn't just copy out a blatant error in the piece and use it as a headline.

But it did, because it doesn't do any of the things it should. It just scoops everything up and shovels it on.

When I say that although it's careless, it isn't casual, I mean that it's due to the policy, the operational practice, of the blog. Much of it is essentially a content-scraping operation. Often it reproduces articles in full, unchecked, rather than writing its own pieces with links to the originals, because basically it doesn't want you to read, or pass on, the original story from the original journalist in the original source. It wants you to read the whole story on Susan Polgar's blog instead. And chances are that if you pass it on, you pass on the blog's own link.

So it's not just about some semi-literate English, or some uncorrected errors in a borrowed piece, though inattention to accuracy is a Polgar trademark.

It's about the sheer extent to which Susan Polgar uses other sites' material on her own site. It's about how she uses other people's work to promote herself.

There's a few ethical questions piling up about Susan Polgar. This is another one.


Jonathan B said...

Susan Polgar will be appearing in a bullshitting capacity in the Chess and Dementia series.

To the surprise of nobody, I imagine.

Jonathan B said...

I say 'appearing' as if it were future tense. She already had a cameo here.

Anonymous said...

It's ironic that the article is itself guilty of "semi-literate English" in its penultimate sentence: "There's a few ethical questions piling up about Susan Polgar."

On the more important matter of the article's content, I'm basically with you in finding her blog's propensity to reproduce other sources in full questionable at best. I don't know if it violates any laws, but it seems to be dubious journalistic practice.

ejh said...

"the article is itself guilty of "semi-literate English"

The term you are looking for is "colloquial". English possesses no direct contraction of "there are": we use "there's" instead, which we borrow from "there is".

Anonymous said...

I'm finding it hard to get worked up...

She describe her blog as "Daily Chess News and Information", so I'd expect it to be a collection of news items from various sources.

What's the issue with her being paid a good salary by a University for coaching services? Top premiership players can earn more per week than the annual salary quoted. What does a FTSE 100 CEO earn? What does a top 4NCL team cost to run with foreign GM appearance fees etc?

ejh said...

If you want to know what the issue is, try reading the story within the link, which I do think hides the information beyond all reach.

Funny how often we get anonymous comments on this site which purport to find it hard to get worked up about things which they mysteriously fail to see.

Anonymous said...

Presumably it's known that she and her husband got involved in a legal battle with the USCF. You can Google for more information, but this is the summary issued by the USCF when the legal issues were settled out of court.


ejh said...

That's quite a summary.

Anonymous said...

@ejh, May 31 at 7:04 a.m.: "Colloquial" English apparently refers to a sin against the language committed by an ally, while "semi-literate" English refers to a sin committed by (or repeated by) someone disliked. Sorry, but while I greatly prefer this blog to Susan Polgar's "there's...questions" is simply bad English, not to be sloughed off as a colloquialism. For that matter, it's an exaggeration to dub an article semi-literate because a writer made a single then/than error.

But to the bigger question: is there any way to get Polgar to stop treating other writers as her unpaid staff?

ejh said...

simply bad English

This doesn't become true through repetition. I'd do the same again. I wouldn't use "than" rather than "then".

is there any way to get Polgar to stop treating other writers as her unpaid staff?

One possible answer is "no, not while the chess world turns a bline eye to it. Of course this is normal chess world behaviour.

ejh said...

DH Lawrence using "there's" with a plural.

Anonymous said...

Appeal to authority. If there's no contraction of 'there are', tough!