YCC investigates plagiarism accusation

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

Two days after the YaleStation Degrees dating Web site was accused on March 30 of plagiarizing questionnaires and the programming code from Wesleyan University’s WesMatch dating service, members of the Yale College Council removed the site’s questionnaire without comment. But a message posted on YaleStation Degrees on Saturday detailed the YCC’s account of the site’s creation and offered preliminary results of the council’s own investigation into the alleged plagiarism.

According to the message, YCC members had not been informed of the allegations prior to receiving an e-mail from a Yale Herald reporter on the night of March 31. They said they were advised by the Office of General Counsel on April 1 not to comment to the press, since they had not received communications with specific allegations at the time.

The council has since received a formal letter of complaint from WesMatch co-founders Dan Stillman and Matt Eaton, now seniors at Wesleyan, who created the dating service in April 2002. The YCC’s investigation of the creation of YaleStation Dating’s survey questions and other inter-site similarities is operating in concert with the Office of General Counsel’s independent personnel, YCC President Elliott Mogul ’05 said.

“We’re checking on all of the questions,” Mogul said. “But no one on the YCC Council of Representatives or the Executive Board had anything to do with the creation of the questions. The people who created the questions were the people at YaleStation and YSAC, the student activities committee.”

The message posted on YaleStation Degrees also stated that the site had already been largely completed by the time the YCC contacted WesMatch, citing features like the matchmaking engine originally developed in fall 2001, and said no source code was borrowed or copied from the WesMatch site.

But Stillman said the YCC misrepresented WesMatch’s claims.

“The copying of the questions is, in our minds, the most serious offense, and one that has been understandably downplayed by the YCC,” Stillman said. “While I could provide an example of, say, a JavaScript function that I wrote that showed up on Degrees, and while the screenshot of the questionnaires speaks for itself, I think getting lost in all the technical details is the fact that they copied significant portions of our original writing, which everyone understands is unacceptable.”

Stillman said YaleStation Chairman Chaitanya Mehra ’06 contacted him shortly after the initial WesMatch news release detailing the allegations against YaleStation Dating to say that some “shortcuts” had been taken in the system’s creation and that the people responsible would no longer be working for YaleStation. According to Stillman, Mehra told him YaleStation “would like to reach some sort of quick agreement, compensating [Wesmatch creators] for their previous use of the site, so that this would, in effect, go away quietly,” but WesMatch creators had already sent the cease and desist letter.

Mehra declined to comment.

Sixteen questions on the two services’ respective surveys were identical or only slightly changed to accommodate Yale-related names, while an additional 10 YaleStation questionnaire categories — including common categories like “alcohol” and “drug use” as well as more obscure ones like “activism” and “public displays of affection” — were identical or nearly identical to those found on WesMatch. The introductions to the questionnaires are also similar, according to Stillman’s report.

Mogul said the YCC’s investigation had found similarities in 38 percent of the questions, but while the investigation is continuing, he said the YaleStation staff has assured him the copying was unintentional.

But Stillman said the extent of the duplication eliminated the possibility of coincidence. He urged further investigation.

“Given the fact that the entire YSAC was supposedly involved in the development of the questions, I would imagine it would be fairly easy to ascertain how our questions ended up on their site,” Stillman said.

YCC Vice President Nirupam Sinha ’05 said he and many YCC members are waiting to hear the details themselves.

“It’s great that we’re getting some sort of response to the investigation,” he said. “I think we have to keep investigating and get the whole story out.”

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