Home » Intelligent Design » My Wife: Sixth Grade Teacher and Design Detection Practitioner (Prize Offered)

My Wife: Sixth Grade Teacher and Design Detection Practitioner (Prize Offered)

My wife teaches sixth grade reading in a public middle school and today the students return from summer vacation.  So it seemed like an auspicious time to write about how she regularly employees the techniques of design detection in her job.

During the course of any given school year she assigns several writing projects.  She is always pleased to receive papers showing excellent writing skills and large vocabularies – up to a limit.  We have all heard that if something seems too good to be true it probably isn’t true.  Sadly, on several occasions each year my wife will receive writing projects that force her to conclude one of two things:  (1) this sixth grader writes like an adult with a post-secondary education; or (2) this kid has committed plagiarism.

My wife does not simply go with her intuition on these matters.  She sets out to confirm it, and this is where Google becomes the plagiarizer’s worst enemy.  She types a line of text from the suspect paper into Google and pushes “send.”  And sure enough, every single one of her intuitive conclusions has been confirmed, because out pops an identical string of text from an article on the internet.

Now, when confronted with the bad news the kid might argue that the sentence from his paper matches the sentence from the internet as a result of a pure random chance.

In honor of the start of school, today’s assignment for the class is to show rigorously why an appeal to chance for even a relatively short duplicate sentence is unavailing for the kid.

The best answer gets a prize (and it is not just a gold star)!

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25 Responses to My Wife: Sixth Grade Teacher and Design Detection Practitioner (Prize Offered)

  1. Now, when confronted with the bad news the kid might argue that the sentence from his paper matches the sentence from the internet as a result of a pure random chance.

    THAT is priceless!! ;-) It certainly highlights the silliness of claiming CSI just happened to come about by random chance.

  2. 2

    “Now, when confronted with the bad news the kid might argue that the sentence from his paper matches the sentence from the internet as a result of a pure random chance.”

    Using the above thirty-one word sentence as an example, and presuming a 10,000 word vocabulary, the sentence exists in a sequence space of (10^4)^31, or 10^124. By pure random chance, this kid only had a 10^-124 chance of arriving at the matching sequence.

    Rather than citing pure random chance, the kid would be better off citing functional constraints — that there exists a finite and narrow number of ways to describe the same idea. He could insist that the rules of grammar, coupled with the need to express this singular idea, leave relatively few combinations which would satisfy the requirement to convey the message. If this kid only had one sentence suspected of being plagerism, this might produce a reasonable doubt, but only by appeal to constraints, and not not by appealing to chance.

  3. News reporters sometimes write stories where there are heavy constraints on how they can refer to a given subject. For example, “Rick Schmeazle, accused in the shooting death of Willy Schmoe, …” Everyone reporting on the case uses the same English Common Law constraint.

    So there can be long strings that are all alike, which do not constitute plagiarism – but they are governed by established constraints that anyone can access.

    Long identical strings that arouse suspicion may contain some constrained strings embedded.

    For example, “[Rick Schmeazle, accused in the shooting death of Willy Schmoe, ...] fled the country Tuesday, taking his famous cigar-smoking cockatoo and four pairs of Yukon Roots boots, as well as his ex-wife’s pregnant Siamese cat as a hostage.”

    Part of the string is constrained [], so calculations must be done on the part that is not constrained.

    The part that is not constrained could have come from a wire service, so if it turns up unattributed, it is possible plagiarism.

    News is not in competition for the prize. These are just typical News desk night thoughts.

  4. Barry Arrington,

    understanding of “chance” of child = understanding of “chance” of adult or of scientist (I D supporter or evolutionist)?

    sergio

  5. 5
    sagebrush gardener

    I remember dumbing-down my science reports in fourth grade so the teacher wouldn’t think I had copied.

  6. She could have him write down several fairly simple sentences about his day. Then set him down in front of a computer and have him slowly type one of his sentences into google with quotes around it so he can see for himself the likelihood of someone writing the same thing as him.

    Something like:
    “Today I went to the park and played tennis” only has 3 or 4 results.
    OR
    “I rode my bike down the street to my friends house” has NO results; therefore, that is now MY SENTENCE and nobody else can use it. I hereby declare ©2012

    :)

  7. Post#6 continued:

    The point of slowly typing the sentence into google (with auto-search on) is to experience the chance of a duplicate sentence decreasing in real-time and disappearing as the sentence increases in length and complexity. The probability of coincidence increases to an astronomical level, so when the kid realizes they are completely busted and can’t lie any more, and starts crying, then you know they understand the design lesson.

    Sorry, my example isn’t mathematically rigorous at all…,

  8. My favourite piece of work that I marked was from a Senior student. She began her essay with, “As I wrote in the last chapter, …”

    She swore it was her work, but couldn’t quite convince me how those first few words realted to anything written prior. Finally she just told me to stick it where it fitted. I thought about putting it in the rubbish in front of her, where it certainly ‘did fit’, but I kept if for a laugh for years!

  9. By pure random chance, this kid only had a 10^-124 chance of arriving at the matching sequence.

    There are at least four factors which conspire against the suspected plagiarist.

    1. The pure chance of landing on a matching letter sequence.

    2. The chance of having done so and actually forming legitimate words.

    3. The chance of those words being fortuitously constructed into a grammatically correct sentence according to the rules of English.

    4. The chance that those same exact words in that same exact order would be found via a Google search on the internet.

    Don’t ask me to try to put numbers on these, lol.

    If someone else can do so I’d gladly cede any prize to them.

  10. And yet a 5th factor is as follows:

    The chance that the suspected plagiarist just happened to be writing a paper on the same topic as the material found on the internet.

  11. Are your wife’s 6th grade students really bright enough to appeal to coincidence, lol?

    One good way to demonstrate the odds to our student might be to have on hand a large supply of letters, such as scrabble piece, and some number of containers. Into each container drop in one piece for each letter of the alphabet such that each container contains one of each letter of the alphabet (26 letters each). Say we have 5 containers. Have the student pull a letter from each container and plae the letters end to end. Then have the student look in a dictionary for a word which matches that sequence of letters.

    Repeat until the student gets the idea or class ends.

    We could substitute a computer program for the letters and containers (and maybe even the dictionary). Just have the student repeatedly press enter.

    Let me know if you want me to write the program for your wife to use, lol.

  12. LOL.

    So now I see an add on this page for Grammarly:

    Grammarly finds unoriginal text before it gets you into trouble by checking for plagiarism against a database of over 8 billion documents. Grammarly not only brings borrowed texts to light, but also suggests citations.

    http://www.grammarly.com/

  13. So a really smart student would check ;).

  14. “My dog ate my cat” isn’t found at grammarly.com, but is at Google….

  15. Looks to me like a stretch to apply the term ‘design detection’ onto something that in this case would more appropriately be called something like ‘suspecting and discovering plagiarism’. This is a case where the ‘actualisation’ or ‘instantiation’ is more important than the ‘design.’

    Conclusion 1 suggests that an adult (or other expert) wrote the assignment for the student. That is not ‘plagiarism,’ but simply cheating, not doing the work oneself. This is much harder to ‘prove’ unless one interviews the family (option 1) or simply asks the student to repeat the effort in front of them (option 2).

    Conclusion 2, the searching on-line for plagiarism, yeah, as a professor I do that too. My best answer: historical precedent. “It’s already been done by someone else.” No innovation or free self-expression, just copying. Writing is a creative process. The human mind (and heart) is more complex than (almost) anything else we know. If a simple search string (usually several search strings) shows prior usage via an on-line source, that’s usually enough to ‘convict.’ Agreed, that’s not a ‘rigourous’ explanation; it’s just a logical one.

    Some have told me ID is focussed on origins of life and biological information, sometimes about human origins. But here is a case where apparently those people are incomprehensive. I’ll add this to my list of ‘argument by analogy’ that some people use to propose a ‘design argument’ generally speaking.

    ‘Design detection practitioner,’ only if not related to Intelligent Design theory as most of us understand it.

    p.s. My sixth grade teacher was one of my favourites, btw, so that is not a slight against your wife. ;)

  16. 16

    Gregory, you don’t seem to understand the theory behind design detection. Let me lay it out for you.

    First, one must determine what one means by “design.” In this case, the design is the intentional copying of another person’s writing and passing it off as your own.

    Now, there are two and only two possibilities: (1) the coincidence between the two writing samples is the result of random chance; or (2) the coincidence between the two writing samples was intentional, i.e. designed.

    The null hypothesis is that the coincidence between the two writing samples is the result of chance. This is the hypothesis that design detection techniques test.

    Obviously, it is possible that for short enough samples of text, chance is not only a possible explanation, but also a probable explanation. On the other hand, for any text sample that goes beyond about 500 bits of information the story is quite different. As has been demonstrated many times here at UD, the probability that the student would alight upon a string of text of this length that is identical to a prior string of text as a result of random chance is less than the universal probability bound. Therefore, we can reject the null hypothesis, i.e., chance. This leaves us with the other possibility, i.e., design.

  17. Looks to me like a stretch to apply the term ‘design detection’ onto something that in this case would more appropriately be called something like ‘suspecting and discovering plagiarism’.

    That is not how ID is defined in ID literature. If you want to define ID a different way, that’s fine, but your notions are not consistent with ID literature, and hence your critique is critical of something ID proponents don’t say. That mistake is understandable, but it is still a mistake.

    The Explanatory Filter faithfully represents our ordinary practice of sorting through things we alternately attribute to law, chance, or design. In particular, the filter describes

    how copyright and patent offices identify theft of intellectual property

    Bill Dembski

  18. Hi Barry and Salvador,

    Thanks for your feedback. I’ve been studying many people who study and promote ‘design.’ It is not clear to me, as you seem to believe, Barry, that there is one single “THE theory behind design detection” or if instead there are multiple and disparate design theories (e.g. Horst Rittel).

    In this example, the ‘copying’ or ‘plagiarism’ is probably best not called ‘design.’ Instead, the ‘design’ (and exceution) was made by whoever wrote the text in the first place, which was later plagiarized. He or she who first wrote it is thus the ‘real designer’ in this case, wouldn’t you agree?

    To go a bit deeper, this is an inversion of Dawkins’ ‘mimetics.’ There had to be a ‘design’ and ‘creation’ first, before the replication, the copying, the plagiarism could take place. The creation itself however, was not merely mimetic, it was a result of a creative act of an intelligent agent, not a robot, but a person, which the student copied.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the ‘intentionality’ involved in the example. But the intentionality was not itself the ‘design.’ Those are two different things, best not to be conflated.

    Could you confirm please, Barry: are you saying that honourable sixth grade teachers checking for plagiarism can and should be called ‘design detection practitioners’ according to Intelligent Design theory?

    To Salvador:
    As Dembski says, “intelligent design’s ([small i+d] main focus is biology.” Are you also suggesting, nevertheless, that you believe Intelligent Design theory can actually be applied, as in the case of searching for plagiarism, i.e. in humanitarian fields too? Iow, Dembski’s EP can (and should) apply to human-made things like copyrights and intellectual property *in exactly the same way* as to origins of life, origins of biological information and human origins?

    Personally, it’s not really a problem for me either way you answer. As it is, I was just involved in a thread that went over 100 posts where several UD regulars absolutely insisted that Intelligent Design theory, as the IDM means it, is *not* about human-made things, but concentrates solely on origins of life, origins of biological information and human origins. For this reason, I had to distinguish between small-id and Big-ID, following others such as Owen Gingrich.

    I hope you’ll forgive that it feels like I’m getting some mixed messages about what UD regulars think ID theory is supposed to explain or apply to. Every sixth grade paper, whether plagiarized, written by their big sister or brother or cousin or aunt, or by the student him or her-self is ‘designed’ by definition of being a ‘human-made’ thing. Saying it is designed is thus redundant and actually adds nothing that is not already known.

  19. Hi again Barry and Salvador,

    Let me just again kindly request clarity on what is meant in this thread.

    Barry wrote: “the design is the intentional copying of another person’s writing and passing it off as your own.”

    Consistent with what I said above, it seems to me that the ‘original composition’ and not “the intentional copying of” is best (most accurately) characterized by ‘design.

    “she regularly employees the techniques of design detection in her job” – Barry

    Is that Intelligent Design Theory’s (Dembski, Meyer, Behe, Nelson, Wells, et als.) meaning of ‘design detection’ or is that some generic (non-technical) kind of ‘design detection technique’ meant instead?

    As I said above, I find this question important because on another thread over 100 posts didn’t bring clarity on whether or not ID theory is officially only (i.e. properly) about origins of life, biological information and human origins, or if it is also (or can be) about building technology today and in the future, i.e. about the designs that human beings participate in which can be ‘detected,’ such as papers which may or may not be copied and/or plagiarized.

  20. Gregory,

    You can’t be serious.

    on another thread over 100 posts didn’t bring clarity on whether or not ID theory is officially only (i.e. properly) about origins of life, biological information and human origins …

    Link please.

    ID is based upon an inference.

    Inferences are based upon actual experience.

    You’re either ignorant or lying.

  21. I think using the term “Design Detection Practitioner” in this instance is not quite accurate and causes confusion, because the method of ‘design detection’ employed is more like a method which confirms if a design has been copied or reproduced; not whether it is an actual intelligent design. The method merely seeks for the existence of a copy.

    The question isn’t whether the kid’s sentence(s) is designed or not. It obviously IS. The question is whether or not the design is an ‘original’ or a copy/reproduction. The kid is saying that it is not copied/reproduced and that it is original, so it must be a coincidence that another exact copy was found. Therefore, the problem is to show why an appeal to chance for even a relatively short duplicate sentence is unavailing for the kid.

  22. “The question isn’t whether the kid’s sentence(s) is designed or not. It obviously IS. The question is whether or not the design is an ‘original’ or a copy/reproduction.” – John W Kelly

    Yes, that’s a clear way to say it.

    The ‘intelligence’ or ‘knowledge’ that went into the original ‘design’ + ‘execution’ (e.g. some people write outlines, while others don’t) of the composition is partly what is evaluated by the teacher in giving a grade (but not if its plagiarized).

  23. When will the prize be awarded?

  24. Mung:

    Grammarly says:

    Over the past several days, there has been considerable debate at UD on thermodynamics, information, order vs disorder etc.

    is plagiarised.

    Seems there is a 1996 Arxiv paper that uses a chunk of similar text. So, one may be nicked as plagiarising when using stock phrases.

    Also since there is not always a case of copying errors unintelligently, it looks like the issue is that a likely original text will not copy unusual expressions and will be neither too good nor too bad for the putative author.

    It will help to have a database of known work by the author to check against.

    KF

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