Commenters here are occasionally bothered that I spend so much time attacking frauds and plagiarists. See, for example, here and here. Why go on and on about these losers, given that there are more important problems in the world such as war, pestilence, hunger, and graphs where the y-axis doesn’t go all the way down to zero?
Part of the story is that I do research for a living so I resent people who devalue research through misattribution or fraud, in the same way that rich people don’t like counterfeiters.
What really bugs me, though, is when cheaters get caught and still don’t admit it. People like Hauser, Wegman, Fischer, and Weick get under my skin because they have the chutzpah to just deny deny deny. The grainy time-stamped videotape with their hand in the cookie jar is right there, and they’ll still talk around the problem. Makes me want to scream.
This happens all the time. All. Over. The. Place.
Everybody makes mistakes, and just about everybody does things they shouldn’t, every now and then. But to not apologize when you’re caught, that to me just seems evil, showing a disrespect not just for the people involved but for the very concept of truth. (As you can see, I wouldn’t make a good criminal defense lawyer.)
Anyway, here’s the latest story. There’s always an outrage-of-the-week, and I don’t mean to make a big deal about this particular scandal. It’s just another example of what I consider the disgraceful pattern of people refusing to admit error.
Part 1: The mistake
The following question was on a New York State eighth grade reading exam:
The Hare and the Pineapple
by Daniel Pinkwater
In olden times, the animals of the forest could speak English just like you and me. One day, a pineapple challenged a hare to a race.
(I forgot to mention, fruits and vegetables were able to speak too.)
A hare is like a rabbit, only skinnier and faster. This particular hare was known to be the fastest animal in the forest.
“You, a pineapple have the nerve to challenge me, a hare, to a race,” the hare asked the pineapple. “This must be some sort of joke.”
“No,” said the pineapple. “I want to race you. Twenty-six miles, and may the best animal win.”
“You aren’t even an animal!” the hare said. “You’re a tropical fruit!”
“Well, you know what I mean,” the pineapple said.
The animals of the forest thought it was very strange that tropical fruit should want to race a very fast animal.
“The pineapple has some trick up its sleeve,” a moose said.
Pineapples don’t have sleeves, an owl said
“Well, you know what I mean,” the moose said. “If a pineapple challenges a hare to a race, it must be that the pineapple knows some secret trick that will allow it to win.”
“The pineapple probably expects us to root for the hare and then look like fools when it loses,” said a crow. “Then the pineapple will win the race because the hare is overconfident and takes a nap, or gets lost, or something.”
The animals agreed that this made sense. There was no reason a pineapple should challenge a hare unless it had a clever plan of some sort. So the animals, wanting to back a winner, all cheered for the pineapple.
When the race began, the hare sprinted forward and was out of sight in less than a minute. The pineapple just sat there, never moving an inch.
The animals crowded around watching to see how the pineapple was going to cleverly beat the hare. Two hours later when the hare cross the finish line, the pineapple was still sitting still and hadn’t moved an inch.
The animals ate the pineapple.
MORAL: Pineapples don’t have sleeves
Several questions follow, including:
The animals ate the pineapple most likely because they were
Which animal spoke the wisest words?
A The hare
B The moose
C The crow
D The owl
Nope, I don’t know how to answer these either.
Part 2: Exposure
Part 3: No admission of error
From Time magazine, a memo from Jon S. Twing of Pearson, the company that made the test with the silly questions:
Pearson is confident that the NYS Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics assessments have been developed to support valid and reliable interpretations of scores for their intended uses. The “Hare and the Pineapple” passage and associated items were placed on the Grade 8 ELA test after the NYSfield test data associated with the multiple choice items and the feedback from the “final eyes” committee determined that this was an appropriate passage and set of items to include on the test. . . .
“The Hare and the Pineapple” passage is intended to measure NYS Standard “interpretation of character traits, motivations, and behavior” and “eliciting supporting detail”. . . .
Blah blah blah . . . But now the good part. Jon S. Twing writes:
There have been two items of the set of six that have been challenged by NY teachers and students as the test was under way April 17-19, 2012 -Item 7 and Item 8. The correct answers and rationales to Item 7 and Item 8 are as follows:
• Item 7: The correct answer is C. The question regarding the animals’ possible motivation for eating the pineapple requires a reader to infer the correct answer from clues conveyed in the text. While all of the options are plausible motivations, the most likely answer is that the animals were annoyed. Paragraph 13 indicates that the animals support the pineapple to win the race because they assume the pineapple has a clever plan. However, the pineapple never moves during the race. From these clues and events, a reader can infer that the animals are annoyed. The text does not support the inference that the animals are motivated by hunger, excitement, or amusement.
• Item 8: The correct answer is D. The question regarding the wisest animal requires the reader to apply close analytic reading skills to determine which of the choices represents the wisest animal based on clues given in the text. The moose and the crow are the two animals that present the incorrect idea that the pineapple has a clever plan to win the race. This idea is proven false when the hare wins the race. The hare is presented as incredulous that a pineapple would challenge him to a race, but overconfidently agrees to race a pineapple.
Huh? The hare “overconfidently agrees to race a pineapple”??? What’s overconfident about that? A pineapple can’t run at all!
Finally, the owl declares that “Pineapples don’t have sleeves,” which is a factually accurate statement. This statement is also presented as the moral of the story, allowing a careful reader to infer that the owl is the wisest animal.
Sorry, Jon S. Twing, but that doesn’t make sense at all. The moose makes it perfectly clear that “a trick up the sleeve” is just a figure of speech. The owl is wise for taking a figure of speech literally? In that case, why not kill the joke entirely with “hares can’t talk”? Grrrrrr.
You gotta remember that the people taking this exam are 8th graders who are trying to not get tricked themselves.
And, by the way, I have a feeling “the moral of the story” is a joke, in the style of James Thurber’s Fables for Our Time.
Twing wraps things up with a bunch of words and numbers suggesting that these questions have good psychometric properties, i.e. that students who got other questions right tended to get these right also. That’s interesting: even an impossible-to-answer question has some patterns which some students are able to match. But that doesn’t make these good exam questions.
The psychometrics are relevant but I just think it’s embarrassing that this poor guy is in the position of claiming, first, that the animals are annoyed, when there is no evidence at all of that in the quoted passage, and, second, all that business of pineapples and sleeves.
Why not just say: Hey, it’s not easy to write a test! We made a mistake! Sorry!
But nooooooo, he can’t do that, he’s gotta defend defend defend defend defend. OK, I’m not calling him a Wegman—there’s no reason to suspect that any botched wikipedia copying went down—but that makes the whole thing even worse, in a way. These people didn’t even do anything intentionally wrong. They just made a mistake. But they still won’t admit it. “The correct answer is C,” indeed.
Here I am, railing against universal human nature again. That’s what blogging is for, I suppose.