Anda di halaman 1dari 5

How Did Computers Uncover J.K. Rowlings Pseudonym?

Forensic linguistics can use powerful programs to track written text back to its author
A famous British writer is revealed to be the author of an obscure mystery novel. An immigrant is granted asylum when authorities verify he wrote anonymous articles critical of his home country. And a man is convicted of murder when hes connected to messages painted at the crime scene. The common element in these seemingly disparate cases is forensic linguistics an investigative technique that helps experts determine authorship by identifying quirks in a writers style. Advances in computer technology can now parse text with ever-finer accuracy. Consider the recent outing of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling as the writer of The Cuckoos Calling, a crime novel she published under the pen name Robert Galbraith. Englands Sunday Times, responding to an anonymous tip that Rowling was the books real author, hired Duquesne Universitys Patrick Juola to analyze the text of Cuckoo, using software that he had spent over a decade refining. One of Juolas tests examined sequences of adjacent words, while another zoomed in on sequences of characters; a third test tallied the most common words, while a fourth examined the authors preference for long or short words. Juola wound up with a linguistic fingerprinthard data on the authors stylistic quirks. He then ran the same tests on four other books: The Casual Vacancy, Rowlings first post-Harry Potter novel, plus three stylistically similar crime novels by other female writers. Juola concluded that Rowling was the most likely author of The Cuckoos Calling, since she was the only one whose writing style showed up as the closest or second-closest match in each of the tests. After consulting an Oxford linguist and receiving a concurring opinion, the newspaper confronted Rowling, who confessed.

Juola completed his analysis in about half an hour. By contrast, in the early 1960s, it had taken a team of two statisticiansusing what was then a state-of-the-art, high-speed computer at MITthree years to complete a project to reveal who wrote 12 unsigned Federalist Papers. Robert Leonard, who heads the forensic linguistics program at Hofstra University, has also made a career out of determining authorship. Certified to serve as an expert witness in 13 states, he has presented evidence in cases such as that of Christopher Coleman, who was arrested in 2009 for murdering his family in Waterloo, Illinois. Leonard testified that Colemans writing style matched threats spray-painted at his familys home (photo, left). Coleman was convicted and is serving a life sentence. Since forensic linguists deal in probabilities, not certainties, it is all the more essential to further refine this field of study, experts say. There have been cases where it was my impression that the evidence on which people were freed or convicted was iffy in one way or another, says Edward Finegan, president of the International Association of Forensic Linguists. Vanderbilt law professor Edward Cheng, an expert on the reliability of forensic evidence, says that linguistic analysis is best used when only a handful of people could have written a given text. As forensic linguistics continues to make headlines, criminals may realize the importance of choosing their words carefully. And some worry that software also can be used to obscure distinctive written styles. Anything that you can identify to analyze, says Juola, I can identify and try to hide.

How Merv Griffin Came Up With That Weird Question/Answer Format for Jeopardy! Champion Ken Jennings delves into what gives the virtually unchanged game show its lasting power

n 1963, television host and erstwhile actor Merv Griffin was flying back to New York City with his wife Julann, after a weekend visiting her parents in Michigan. Merv was looking at notes for a new game show, and Julann asked if it was one of the knowledge-based games she liked.

Since The $64,000 Question, the network wont let you do those anymore, replied Merv. The rigging scandals of the 1950s had killed off American quiz shows, seemingly for good. They suspect you of giving them the answers. Well, why dont you give them the answers? And make people come up with the questions? Merv didnt know what she meant. OK, the answer is 5,280. He thought a moment. The question is, How many feet in a mile? The answer is 79 Wistful Vista. Where did Fibber McGee and Molly live? Those two simple questions changed TV history. We kept going, Julann Griffin remembers today, and I kept throwing him answers and he kept coming up with questions. By the time we landed, we had an idea for a show. Julann is now 85, and Ive tracked her down at her home, a 200 -year-old plantation in Palmyra, Virginia. Charmingly, shes a little distracted because she had just put a loaf of pumpkin bread in the oven when I called. Over the following months, she tells me, she and Merv play-tested their new game, which they called Whats the Question? around their dining room table. NBC executives thought the show was too hard, but bought it anyway. It made its debut, renamed Jeopardy! and hosted by the congenial Art Fleming, on Mar ch 30, 1964. It quickly became the biggest hit ever in its daytime slot. Fifty years later, remarkably, the Griffins simple answer-and-question game airs in syndication every single weeknight. There are a handful of other TV properties from the era that are still around, of course: Meet the Press, The Tonight Show. But Jeopardy! is different: Miraculously, its survived Americas tumultuous half century almost entirely unchanged. Tonights game will be of the exact same format, practically down to the second, as an episode from 1970 or 1990. Among the categories will probably be slightly square Jeopardy! staples like Opera, World Geography or Science. The hostsince the shows 1984 revival, dapper Canadian transplant Alex Trebekwill preside in metronomic, almost military manner. This is not the convivial cocktail-hour ambiance of most game shows. This

is serious business. Lets go to work, Trebek sometimes says at the top of the show. Work! In short, Jeopardy! is an oddity, beamed into your home every night from an eggheaded, alternate-reality America where television never dumbed down. Its a reassuring sign, I think, that ten million people, according to Nielsen figures, watch the show every weekmost of whom, I can say anecdotally, seem to plan their evenings around it. The shows timelessness is its secret, Alex Trebek tells me. Its a quality program, the kind that you never have to apologize for admitting that you watch. Its a good show, Ken. You know that. I do, Alex. I grew up on Jeopardy!, running home every day after school to test my brainpower against the sweater-wearing librarian types behind the three lecterns. These people learned stuff, the show seemed to say, and look how theyre succeeding! The things they put in their heads actually came in useful! It was exactly what I needed to hear at that age. Of course, Jeopardy! changed my life again in 2004, when I passed a contestant audition and somehow ended up winning 74 games and spending six months behind the leftmost lectern. Some things, I learned, are different from the other side of the screen: The game seems to move faster, the host is looser and funnier when the cameras are off, the signaling device is a fickle mistress. (If you ring in before Alex is done reading the clue, you get locked out for a fraction of a second. The contestants you see flailing wildly with the buzzers are actually pressing the button too soon, not too late.) But for the most part it was exac tly as Id always imagined it, a childhood dream come true. Last year, Jeopardy! was asked to donate some of its history to the Smithsonian. Trebek personally chose a few props (left), including a buzzer and a Fleming-era contestant screen that had been sitting in his garage since he was first hired in 1983. And why not? The game-play items represent a cherished American tradition. Jeopardy! is the ultimate game show, says National Museum of American History curator Dwight Blocker Bowers. If Jeopardy! is the ultimate American game show, though, its because its an aspirational one. Jeopardy! shows us not as we are but as we wish we were, as we could be. Holding a buzzer, confidently pleasing Alex Trebek the closest thing our culture now has to an infallible pope or an authoritative Cronkitewith our correct responses on the Battle of Yorktown, Troilus and Cressida, amino acids what could be better? Its no coincidence that when IBM wanted a sequel to its Deep Blue-Kasparov chess bout (see p. 21), the company chose Jeopardy! as the next arena. The show has become shorthand for smart. Even Julann Griffin is still a regular viewer, after all these years. But I feel like its my baby that went to school and graduated and then went overseas. Its no t even

connected to me anymore. Theres no question: Jeopardy! belongs to all of us now.