Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Internet as an information overcrowding experiment

Luis De Souza, well known for his posts at "The Oil Drum" reports a weird, but not uncommon, story in his blog "At the Edge of Time". One of his texts has been extensively reproduced on another blog, without quoting the source. This kind of event is becoming more and more common in a Web which is booming with data and information and where many people seem to choose the weapon of volume, rather than of quality, in order to get attention.

What's especially interesting here is the aggressive reaction of the author of the offending piece when Luis managed to contact him. It looks like internet crowding is making people react like rats in those experiments on overcrowding. Fortunately, these aggressive reactions in the virtual world is virtual, too. So far, at least.

Here is Luis' post, reproduced from his blog


27 November 2013

Help! My blog was plagiarised

Have you ever experienced that feeling when you reach for you briefcase and something is missing? Or arriving at home and understanding someone had been there before you? That feeling of being burglarised was what I felt when I accidentally bumped on an article with the breif title: The real problem with Solar: Panel Prices in Free Fall, and the Fuel is Free: Corporations don’t Know how to Make Money Here (Oprisko). It is published by an Australian web site named The Zero Room and its authorship attributed to George Oprisko, Executive Director of the Public Research Institute in the US.

As it happens, about one third of this article reproduces ipsis verbis parts of The Price of Solar Power post, one of the most popular in this blog, that was also published by the EuropeanTribune and TheOilDrum. Even section titles were copied, but I'm nowhere acknowledged as author. This is in clear breach of the EUPL v1.1 licence under which the contents of this blog are published.

My first reaction was to contact those running The Zero Room, asking for conformance with the EUPL. There are no contact addresses available in the site though, e-mail or other. I then tried to leave a comment on the article; I submitted the first comment on the weekend before last, by the 16th of November and have since submitted similar others. Invariably, these met the following message:
Your comment has been queued for review by site administrators and will be published after approval.
So far none of these comments has been published by The Zero Room.

I moved then to another lead, the first sentence of the article: "a guest column for Informed Comment". There's no link to this hypothetical source (the only link in the whole article is to George Oprisko's profile), but a web search could reveal something. DuckDuckGo tells me that there are at least two blogs that go by the name of "Informed Comment" but none posts content authored by George Oprisko. The Zero Room is indeed the only web site that search engines can find publishing the offending the article.

I thus insisted on this shady Australian web site, filling in a form that supposedly allows for registration. I thought that once registered I could eventually get access to some contact channel with those responsible. I promptly received the following e-mail:
Date: Sat, 23 Nov 2013 19:48:09 +1100
To: luis[d0t]a[d0t]de[d0t]sousa[@t]gmail[d0t]com
Subject: Account details for lads at The Zero Room (pending admin approval)
Sender: mjd[@t]mjd[d0t]id[d0t]au
From: mjd[@t]mjd[d0t]id[d0t]au


Thank you for registering at The Zero Room. Your application for an account is currently pending approval. Once it has been approved, you will receive another e-mail containing information about how to log in, set your password, and other details.

-- The Zero Room team
And never heard from them again.

I thus followed the only link in the article: that to George Oprisko's profile. Luckily, contacts are available at the Public Research Institute; I decided to drop a message:
Date: Sat, 23 Nov 2013 19:08:20 +0100
Subject: Article attribution
From: =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Luís_de_Sousa?= <luis[d0t]a[d0t]de[d0t]sousa[@t]gmail[d0t]com>
To: goprisko[@t]publicresearchinstitute[d0t]org

Dear Mr Oprisko,

Days ago I bumped on an article credited to your name with the following title: "The real problem with Solar: Panel Prices in Free Fall, and the Fuel is Free: Corporations don=92t Know how to Make Money Here (Oprisko)" [1]. This article reproduces ipsis verbis without proper attribution extensive content originally published in a blog post of my authorship [1].

All contents published in my blog are protected by the European Union Public Licence v1.1 [2], which demands attribution in any sort of reproduction or replication. If you are indeed responsible for the article published by the web site "The Zero Room", I would ask you to reformulate it in way to fully comply with the aforementioned Licence as soon as possible.

Best regards,

Luís de Sousa



The reply didn't took long:
Date: Sat, 23 Nov 2013 13:41:44 -0500
From: George Oprisko <goprisko[@t]publicresearchinstitute[d0t]org>
To: =?windows-1252?Q?Luís_de_Sousa?= <luis[d0t]a[d0t]de[d0t]sousa[@t]gmail[d0t]com>
Subject: Re: Article attribution


I have been trying to find you.......... these many days..........

But up until now........... you have been lurking behind a paywall ...........

That is a front for NSA data mining..............

How nice to hear directly from you.................

Only problem with the article you mention..........

I didn't write it!

It is a paraphrase of a post of mine...... which made attribution to "Various Sources".

But I have authored the attached .............

Dr. George
Confused? I was too. Beyond the vehement denial of authorship of The Zero Room article, this e-mail resembles more a soup of cryptic messages. The documents attached are white papers from the Public Research Institute that are irrelevant to this story.

Apparently, George Oprisko was either himself victim of plagiary, or is name was being used by a third party, or both. I replied asking for details:
Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2013 18:57:35 +0100
Subject: Re: Article attribution
From: =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Luís_de_Sousa?= <luis[d0t]a[d0t]de[d0t]sousa[@t]gmail[d0t]com>
To: George Oprisko <goprisko[@t]publicresearchinstitute[d0t]org>

Dear Mr. Oprisko,

I very much appreciate your swift reply, knowing that you didn't write this article put this story in completely new perspective. If I'm allowed, I would advise you to pursuit legal action against the "The Zero Room" web site. I'll also equate similar options from my side.

I don't fully understand what you mean by "have been lurking behind a paywal" and "front for NSA data mining". I'd be grateful if you could clarify this.

Finally I'd also ask you for a link to that post of your you refer to. And thank you for the papers.

Best regards,

Luís de Sousa
The reply was nothing short of surprising:
Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2013 17:13:19 -0500
From: George Oprisko <goprisko[@t]publicresearchinstitute[d0t]org>
To: =?windows-1252?Q?Luís_de_Sousa?= <luis[d0t]a[d0t]de[d0t]sousa[@t]gmail[d0t]com>
Subject: Re: Article attribution

I visited your site, hoping to arrange a collaboration.............

It is impossible to post comments thereon....... unless you succumb to having your gmail or facebook contacts recorded........

Your site has no way to directly contact you...........

This is in direct contravention to the way we at the Institute conduct our affairs....

Our site is hosted by ourselves, has no advertizing whatever, and our direct contact information is freely available.

Also, our research is freely available to colleagues to encourage collaboration and the advancement of a carbon neutral economy.

You, on the other hand, like many associated with The Oil Drum have set your self up as an exclusive "expert" on the topic.

You, are arrogant, and as far as I am concerned too interested in making money off your ideas.

You, seem to have assumed that everyone should kiss your ass.

And, In case you don't understand where I am coming from.......

I have no intent whatever to sue anyone who attributes ideas to me or the Institute.

That is what we are here for.........

That is to foment critical out side the box thinking.........


I don't give a rat's ass how that get's accomplished .........


So, George Oprisko had been trying to contact me, but didn't succeed. My e-mail address is available in my TheOilDrum profile (from where most folk known me), also in my EuropeTribune profile and my Blogger profile is public. Beyond that there's also a link to my employer's corporate web site in the About Me widget of this blog. I can't possibly believe that someone willing to wont succeed contacting me. In any case I added my e-mail in a more explicit way to my public Blogger profile, for less web savvy readers. As for the hate speech against me and other former TheOilDrum contributors I leave for you to judge.

The "goals regardless of means" tone of George Oprisko's discourse shattered any trust in his previous denial of authorship, but the silence from The Zero Room was also compromising. I was back to square one, unknowing the precise perpetrator of the plagiary.

I went back to the Informed Comment lead. On a closer look, Juan Cole's blog seemed the most likely to harbour content on Solar Power. I thus queried him:
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2013 13:51:50 +0100
Subject: Help with plagiary
From: =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Lu=EDs_de_Sousa?= <luis[d0t]a[d0t]de[d0t]sousa[@t]gmail[d0t]com>
To: jrcole[@t]umich[d0t]edu

Dear Mr. Cole,

Days ago I came across an article attributed to George Oprisko titled: "The real problem with Solar: Panel Prices in Free Fall, and the Fuel is Free: Corporations don=92t Know how to Make Money Here (Oprisko)" published by an Australian web site [1]. This article reproduces ipsis verbis without proper attribution extensive content originally published in a blog post of my authorship [2]. All contents published in my blog are protected by the European Union Public Licence v1.1 [3], which demands attribution in any sort of reproduction or replication.

So far I have failed to contact those responsible for the site "The Zero Room", but I have managed to contact Mr Oprisko himself. He denies to have ever written the article but has lashed hateful remarks against myself and (an energy forum to which I contributed for 7 years). I'm thus not sure at this stage who is to blame for the plagiary.

However, a short sentence in the offending article hints at your blog, Informed Comment, as the source of Mr. Oprisko's article. Although there is nothing of the sort in your blog, you might perhaps have some insight to share on this case. Have you published in the past anything written by Mr. Oprisko? Do you know Mr. Oprisko? Do you know who may be responsible for the web site "The Zero Room" and how to contact them?

Thankful for you attention. Best regards,

Luís de Sousa



In the meantime I contacted fellow bloggers and researchers seeking to get into contact with The Zero Room. Among other replies, Gav from Peak Energy noted that there are a few dead links to a post at Informed Comment with the same title of the offending article at The Zero Room.

The story was becoming clear, by I needed a confirmation from Juan Cole to be sure. Fortunately he was kind enough to reply:
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2013 21:27:27 -0500
Subject: thx
From: Juan Cole <jricole[@t]gmail[d0t]com>
To: "luis[d0t]a[d0t]de[d0t]sousa[@t]gmail[d0t]com" <luis[d0t]a[d0t]de[d0t]sousa[@t]gmail[d0t]com>

Hi Luis. Mr Oprisko did submit an essay to IC and it went up briefly until I noticed what seemed to me to be attribution problems. I immediately took it back down, in a matter of hours. I don't however retain any records of the matter.

cheers. Juan
In essence: George Oprisko is indeed the author of the plagiary, and apparently tried to lure Juan Cole. In his first e-mail George Oprisko tried to lure myself falsely denying authorship. His second e-mail is probably a reaction to "legal action".

What I still don't understand is The Zero Room's connivance with George Oprisko. In any case I'll do all in my reach to force the removal of the offending article.

As to George Oprisko himself I'm not certain yet how to proceed. Public exposure might be enough, but on the other hand, the violation of an open source licence is something that should not go without consequence. Everyone should understand that open source does not equate to the relinquish of rights over original work.

How can you help? First of all by exposing George Oprisko too, especially if you are a blogger yourself; it might be your blog to get plagiarised next time. Secondly by sharing your experience on plagiary and/or the violation of open source licences. Any information or advise on how to best proceed are welcome.


I'd like to thank Juan Cole for clarifying this story. I'd also like to thank Antonio, Leanan, Gav and Ugo for the information provided. 


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)