Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Ma "errors": Please Stop

Social Force, the wonderful Chinese language forum for all things Taiwan, has the "Ma has 1000 Errors in his thesis" story in its news area. Above is an image from the thesis posted at Social Force. That is the only image I know of this analysis.

Note how the "retired schoolteacher" who alleged these errors appears to have made a double error. First s/he writes that there is "no such document." That appears to be incorrect. The "Shelf Convention" refers to the 1958 Convention on the Continental Shelf which anyone can find using Google, as I did (PDF of the 1958 Convention). The article for which s/he asks "what is the source of these articles?" are Articles 1 & 6 of the convention, just as Ma notes; the source is referred to in the text and in the references, and further sourcing is probably optional, especially if Ma has defined the text of the Convention earlier in the document (saying, for example, "UN Convention on _____, Vol XXX, 19XX, hereafter referred to as the Shelf Convention...."). Abbreviated references are the norm in academic work -- for instance, it is uncommon to refer to Porter's Five Forces model using a more complete reference, since everyone in the field knows what you are talking about. Further, the document above should be properly cited to say "International Law Commission, Convention on the Continental Shelf, UN Treaty series....." The would-be editor has left out "International Law Commission....."

Feedback?

What are this person's qualifications to perform this analysis? Is this person competent to do what s/he is doing? Who is it and why does the story not give the identity of the accuser? One might also add that the retired schoolteacher's own English is awkward: "It was mistakenly stated as Vol 449..." is just plain ugly and should be present tense ("..is mistakenly"), while an "a" was left out before the word "document" in the topmost correction. These errors look suspiciously like Chinglish -- I wonder if our retired schoolteacher isn't retired from a school where they speak Native Speaker. Since none of us are perfect, anyone can play this game of finding sloppiness. If you find plagiarism -- which would hardly be surprising -- let us know, otherwise....

Ma has responded here. It says a lot about how sensitive Ma is to foreign criticism that they even bothered to respond.

This is a tempest in a teacup, a sideshow of a sideshow. It is just plain petty. Who cares if the references in his paper contain errors or if there are typos? In an age before word processors, such errors would be easier to create, and harder to find and more troublesome to correct (like the line margin error). In any case, we already knew that Ma was not as bright and as hardworking as his rivals like Chen Shui-bian and Frank Hsieh. We already knew that he, like some twisted Romulus, had achieved greatness by suckling at the teats of the security state. It is more important that Ma spent a life serving and defending authoritarianism, and aiding the people who put his Harvard classmates in jail. That's the story that needs telling...again and again and again.

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20 comments:

Taiwan Echo said...

Sine it came out days ago I have been worrying if this issue is gonna backfire, or distract the attentions from more important issues.

Like you stated in the blog, several puzzles came into my mind right away: why did the accuser remain anonymous ? I was even told that the teacher s in fact a "he."

And why not just put Ma's thesis online ? That would make any argument more convincing.

I can't stop thinking when pan-blue was asked to show evidence of something, they simply waved some piece of paper, saying that they got it, and denied any request by the media to exam it or make copy. And it is considered case closed.

Things like this worries me a lot: Many people still dwell deeply in a thought that "making Ma look bad" is equivalent to a "victory". Other than a temporary sensation of "feeling good," what will that contribute to the good of Taiwan ?

If Taiwanese really want to chase this issue, at least make the focus of critics on Ma's credibility, but not on the lousiness of errors itself. That would help to establish a pattern of Ma's lip service.

That's the direction I would go if there's no more important issue in Taiwan. But even so, I can't make any comment before I see the whole thesis myself.

Anonymous said...

Well, that and the story about teabagging "Chocolate" in a love hotel.

Scott Sommers said...

If it real, it would be meaningful. The image I had when I first heard about this was that the thesis was so error-ridden, it should not have been defended. the mistakes you point to are trivial or actually correct, casting serious doubt on the whole claim.

While you and I agree that CSB is smarter and worked harder at school, this is not the opinion expressed by working-class Taiwanese that I have spoken with. The impression they convey to me is that Ma has a PhD from an internationally famous school; his intellectual achievement is more significant and he is much more 'international'.

If it were true, this claim would be meaningful.

Taiwan Echo said...

"that and the story about teabagging "Chocolate" in a love hotel."

Indeed. But check out what I think CSB's intention of mentioning Ma's teabagging story:

Sidetracked Critics on Ma Ying-jeou's Alleged Extramarital Gay Affair

Still, DPP doesn't seem to be able to aim right.

David said...

The analysis would only be useful if it compared Ma's work to other theses written at the same time. In the end, who cares about what Ma wrote about 30 years ago. We should be paying far more attention to what he is doing in the present.

Michael Turton said...

Right on David.

Echo, I think Chen was simply hiding behind the claim that he was criticizing prosecutorial integrity in order to make the sensational claim that Ma had gay sex. There are plenty of cases that show bias, but none as interesting as that one.

The main point is that it hasn't been established that Ma has even made errors. Can we see all the work before we judge?

Anonymous said...

I think there is a certain element in the Green Camp that keeps looking for something "killer" that will bring down Ma. It's certainly possible that something will come out, but like Michael and David have said, there already is plenty of evidence of Ma supporting an authoritarian government and helping put his classmates in the democratic movement in jail.

The DPP, though having no real power right now, needs to go beyond pointing out the idioicies in Ma's policies and
advertise its own positions.

Taiwan Echo said...

Yes, Michael, we need to read the whole thesis before we judge.

Btw, there seems to be a mis-reference in this post:

"Social Force, the wonderful Chinese language forum for all things Taiwan, has the "Ma has 1000 Errors in his thesis" story in its news area. Above is an image from the thesis posted at Social Force."

I couldn't find any article in SocialForce talking about Ma's thesis error. The link you provided actually points to Taipei Times.

To my knowledge the news was first reported by Michael Richardson in Boston examiner.com. He had a couple of follow-up articles.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Echo, I added the link.

TicoExpat said...

Well, at least he did not plagiarized it -and there are normal, non-Native speaker errors to prove it.

Readin said...

I think there is a certain element in the Green Camp that keeps looking for something "killer" that will bring down Ma.

In the U.S. we certainly saw that kind of attitude toward in the Clinton administration. It can be frustrating when the other side has a charismatic leader who seems to get all the breaks from the media while your own side get pounded for lesser stuff.

Bush II also created a lot of resentment on the other side, but at least the other side had the media in their corner which can help vent the frustrations.

From what I'm hearing though, the Taiwan media is pretty much pro-Ma.

Anonymous said...

Readin are you in Taiwan or do you read the Chinese news? The thing is, Ma is no longer a charismatic leader. His ratings are horrible and except for the handing out money voucher's bounce, are 20% or below.

The Ministers with the public hates the most are the Economics Minister and the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister. Isn't that... Ma's whole platform? The economy?

All the Blue papers have excoriated him. Economic Daily News and Industrial Times have both lucidly opposed many policies of the Ma government including urging that he get rid of the current cabinet, especially the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, in local politics, the Mayor of Taipei County is hugely unpopular with the news suggesting the KMT won't support him for re-election. Everyone still remembers the Taitung County mayor brazenly going on a junket to Europe.

The ball is in the DPP's court. The problem isn't that the KMT has an unassailable image. The problem is that the DPP is currently seen as merely the other rotten apple (and it remains to be seen which is less rotten). Until the public perception is changed, I'm not sure the DPP is going to make any significant gains.

Anonymous said...

This is a tempest in a teacup, a sideshow of a sideshow. It is just plain petty. Who cares if the references in his paper contain errors or if there are typos. In an age before word processors, such errors would be easier to create, and harder to find and more troublesome to correct (like the line margin error).

I think you're missing the point, Michael. Exposing these typos, formatting errors, and grammatical errors do not detract from the strength of his dissertation. That's for the Harvard Law faculty to decide. They detract from the media-enhanced image of the scholar in shining armor that his handlers have constructed.

Ma has been the recipient of enormous privilege throughout his career, much of it unearned. On the basis of his academic performance, he would not have qualified for scholarships to NYU Law School over more academically gifted students, nor would he have gotten into Harvard Law School without his highly placed connections greasing the skids. Throughout most of his life, he has been the beneficiary of tremendous amounts of sway and influence. Among the gifts that have been bestowed are the carefully crafted reputation and esteem that are his trademarks, the English-speaking cosmopolitan flair and the JFK style.
Most of that image is a hollow shell, but his Teflon-coated celebrity deflects any criticism to the contrary.

On substance, the errors in his dissertation or typical of anyone for whom English is not a familiar language. They could have been made by any number of Taiwanese PhD students, including pro-independence ones. But most Taiwanese PhDs don't have public relations functionaries enhancing their credentials and promoting their English-speaking skills far beyond their capabilities. Publicizing his error-strewn dissertation acts as truth-in-advertising campaign to pierce through the layers of obfuscation and misdirection.


In any case, we already knew that Ma was not as bright and as hardworking as his rivals like Chen Shui-bian and Frank Hsieh. We already knew that he, like some twisted Romulus, had achieved greatness by suckling at the teats of the security state.


You give the Taiwanese public too much credit Michael. The 'we already knew' does not include most of the public. One of the characteristics of Confucianism is: the higher the pedigree of the university degree the higher the status the man. It matters not a jot that Chen and Hsieh have higher IQs and were much harder workers. They do not have Harvard degrees.

The fact that Ma was able to attain his Harvard admission through an unlevel playing field, as the scion of a KMT family, over many other harder working and more eligible students further illuminates the issue of KMT privilege paving the way for Ma. In a way, exposing his dissertation exposes the social inequalities that have been in place.


It is more important that Ma spent a life serving and defending authoritarianism, and aiding the people who put his Harvard classmates in jail. That's the story that needs telling...again and again and again.


But what if the Taiwanese public are not interested in that story? What if, deep down, the Taiwanese are more status-conscious and image-conscious than ethics-conscious, so that minor details like being a student-spy for an apologist for a totalitarian regime do not register.

Is tarnishing that image by focusing attention on his dissertation acceptable? What if this is a way to finally show that the emperor has no clothes, and to get Taiwanese to examine their assumptions and conditioning? Would it then be acceptable? These are honest questions.

Michael Turton said...

Those are good points. Let me point out a few things in turn:

First, there are no "1,000 errors." Until these are established as a fact by public display of the evidence, we have an unsubstantiated anonymous accusation. That is the very anatomy of a smear.

This is exactly the kind of thing that backfires -- finding of error is inherently subjective. Worse, the story is presented as if a native speaker with no ax to grind was shocked. The way things are phrased suggests that the writer is not a native speaker of English -- the misused "as" is like a fingerprint -- but a native speaker of Chinese, and thus probably deep Green and thus, the story has less effect because it can be dismissed as just another deep Green smear.

I don't think any gives a shit about Ma's thesis. They all know he is privileged. They didn't give a shit that he lies constantly about his birthplace, which is China, not Hong Kong. They don't care whether he has a Green card. It means nothing to them that he downloaded thousands in government funds. The public ignores his threats, childishness, and weakness. His pro-China views and faux Taiwanese identification have no effect.

There is no silver bullet that will kill Ma. The only thing that will disillusion the public is sustained incompetence on the economy. Focus on that.

Michael

Taiwan Echo said...

"There is no silver bullet that will kill Ma. The only thing that will disillusion the public is sustained incompetence on the economy. Focus on that."

Well said, Michael. I have been thinking that the bad economy is once-in-a-life-time chance for green side to pin Ma down and win some pro-blue over.

It's also a very good chance for both sides to realize that they are all in the same boat, and Ma is sinking it.

Unfortunately the green camp seems to enjoy Ma's personal stuff more, which will only force the blue camp to defend their leader and thus ignore Ma's failure.

Anonymous said...

That is the very anatomy of a smear.

This is exactly the kind of thing that backfires -- finding of error is inherently subjective. Worse, the story is presented as if a native speaker with no ax to grind was shocked... the story has less effect because it can be dismissed as just another deep Green smear.


Your point is well-taken, but let me ask: Is it possible to publicize the errors and poor preparation without it being a smear?


I don't think any gives a shit about Ma's thesis.


I disagree. The thesis is part of the Harvard medallion which adorns him and elevates him. It is more than a simple homework assignment; it is supposed to be the culmination of his intellectual and academic achievement.

You have already noted that Ma is very sensitive about criticism of his thesis. Why is that? Is it because he banks so much on his Harvard degree as part of his appeal that any imperfection in the degree is viewed as an imperfection in the man?



They all know he is privileged. They didn't give a shit that he lies constantly about his birthplace, which is China, not Hong Kong. They don't care whether he has a Green card. It means nothing to them that he downloaded thousands in government funds. The public ignores his threats, childishness, and weakness. His pro-China views and faux Taiwanese identification have no effect.


What you're saying then is that Taiwanese society is so base and benighted, so jaded and corrupted that lies and deceit don't matter as long as the final product is wrapped in a pretty package. If that's the case then there is nothing left to lose. So let the "smearing" begin.


There is no silver bullet that will kill Ma. The only thing that will disillusion the public is sustained incompetence on the economy. Focus on that.


Unfortunately, Ma and the KMT are already focused on it. They point to EFCA and closer economic integration as the solution. And since Ma is a Harvard graduate, his words must carry some weight, after all.

Michael Turton said...

We'll talk when you and your friends put the whole "analysis" on the internet.

Michael

Anonymous said...

We'll talk when you and your friends put the whole "analysis" on the internet.

Why would you assume I had anything to do with the publicizing of the thesis? I thought the original article should have provided a link to download the entire thesis.

Michael Turton said...

Your point is well-taken, but let me ask: Is it possible to publicize the errors and poor preparation without it being a smear?

Why yes -- when the Corrector's identity is public, and when the "errors" are online where anyone can see them.

Until that time, an unsubstantiated accusation from an anonymous accuser is a smear, period.

I think you should focus your energies on Richardson. Get him to reveal the name and put it all online.

Michael

Anonymous said...


Why yes -- when the Corrector's identity is public, and when the "errors" are online where anyone can see them.

Until that time, an unsubstantiated accusation from an anonymous accuser is a smear, period.


Fair enough. I did not think the role of 'Retired School Teacher' and the fact that the entire document was not made available were good ideas. It could have been much better reported than this.