Note [9-Jul-2021]: I’ve added new information to the bottom of this post.

I received an email earlier tonight. General spam that I got from signing up to some author or another’s mailing list. Who was it from? I’m not sure I want to say yet, tho I will say it’s a she… you’ll figure out why. The subject line was a key to critical thinking.

I’ll admit, I’m always interested in reading more about critical thinking, so that’s probably why I happened to open it.


Well, I mean, I’m pretty good at critical thinking skills already I think, but I can always be more I’m sure.

I skipped the body of the message until I landed on this…

Haven’t seen this many analogies in a row since the SATs

I mostly ignored it all until that last one. That’s… backwards? I mean, unless the answer is “lack of pain” or “unbloodied pants,” those being the only two things that a knee scrape would fix off the top of my head. But then Patricia and I dug into the other lines.

Not all roads are made out of bricks. One would presume the answer is glass, but even then, not all bottles are made out of glass. Short is the light as long is to…. what? Not all things short are light. Personally, I’m fine with white : black :: up : down, although Patricia isn’t sold on that, thinking that white and black aren’t exactly opposites.

She asked “Are you going to reply with corrections?”

Me: “Yeah, I think I’ll buy what she’s selling first.”

But first, I read more of the email.

This is… instrumental… to our story

Patricia and I puzzled over this. It doesn’t sound right. Most sources will put pianos in a percussion family (as opposed to a harpsichord which is plucked), but, this can become a very precise space and this analogy just isn’t great. It requires a lot of context. Piano : Keyboard instrument :: Drum : Percussion instrument, for instance, is much more accurate. The OED does list keyboard as a historic term for the set of keys on a piano, so Piano : Keyboard :: Drum : Sticks could work, although it ignores hand drums and more. Overall, it’s a sloppy construct. It would work best in an SAT environment where you have multiple choices. I mean:

Piano : Keyboard :: Drum : ________

  1. Sticks
  2. Snare
  3. Drummer
  4. Cymbal

If you gave me that list, sticks would be the obvious answer. Drummer is the obvious incorrect one. You could come up with arguments for snare and cymbal, but they’d be difficult to prove correct. But anyways, let’s go check out the book.

Would you be surprised to find out that book wasn’t hers? I was.

So, I bought the book. while being very surprised about who the author was (ie, it not being the person who wrote the email). I head to the table of contents.

Well, that’s a probably a good place to start. I page through and none of the examples are there. As a lark, I search for piano.

Uh. This is odd.

Can you guess which is the email and which is the book?

So, not only does her email include some really bad analogy examples, her entire email is copied out of the book (that isn’t hers) that’s she’s linking to?

Now I’m at a loss of what to do.

Mail the author of the book? Mail her with corrections to her analogies? Both? Do I call her out on the blatant plagiarism? To be honest, I hesitate to say plagiarism. She may have permission to do this but the fact she doesn’t disclose that the email text isn’t hers, but is instead a quote from the book, that’s sketchy as hell, innit?

New Information!

So, I mailed the author of the book being published.

I got this email from [redacted] and as I was looking at the book to take a look at her … not quite so good example analogies, I noticed that almost her entire email is lifted from your book (admittedly the one she was directing people to buy) without any indication that she wasn’t the author. Needless to say, that comes across as plagiarism to most people and I felt it would be a good idea to let you know that a) she did this and b) that she’s advertising your book with subpar analogy examples. 
I mean:short : light :: long : ?.
Things that are short are not necessarily light. You could argue that it isn’t that A and B are related so much as B and D must be related in this case, but, that means the analogy is vague. Light could mean weight, it could mean lumens.
bricks : road :: ? : bottle.
Not all bottles are made of the same material, and not many roads are made out of bricks.

tape : paper tear :: knee scrape : ?.
A is to B as B is to A?
Unless the answer is ‘Lack of pain’ or ‘Unbloodied pants’, this is just bad?
Anyways, as a tech writer and husband of a non-fiction author, whenever I see a hint of plagiarism, I think it’s a good idea to report it to the author.

I was very interested to see what the reply was. I mean, she might have had permission to use that text in her email. She should have indicated it as such, but, regardless. The reply:

I really appreciate your message. It’s good to know that someone still cares about honesty. Thank you for taking the time to notify me. [Redacted] is gracious enough to help me out with my book promotion so I want to make her job as easy as possible, thus I provide her my own promotional email to use for her audience. I realize that there may be overlaps in subscribers so I apologize for the confusion. I can assure you, she did not use my words without my permission. 
About the little analogies, you are right. The word “light” has two meanings, thus the solution could be either “heavy” or “dark”.
The tape: paper tear :: knee scrape : ? – would work with the solution Bandaid. It is a problem-solution analogy, and yes, A is to B as B is to A. You are right, it may not be the most obvious one.
You have a keen eye on details, indeed not all bottles are made of the same material. But the world is your oyster, so you can choose your preferred bottle material, glass, metal, BPA-free plastic… 
I like how you used your critical thinking skills to solve this exercise and to deconstruct its shortcomings. Good job!
I hope you have a wonderful afternoon and weekend!

I was floored. I mean, those example analogies are bad. I would not use them in an article where I was trying to suggest you should read this book about critical thinking unless it was “Can you tell which of these are good analogies and which aren’t?”

And it’s great that you gave her the promotional email to use. But you seem to neglect a key point as I pointed out in my reply:

Using your words as the many body of her email without any indication that she was not the author of the words is not exactly a good look. But, that’s your business and your choice as to how to handle it. I do not think it was very ethical on her part.

Yes, I typo’d main into many. I was flabbergasted. So, if you are looking for two writers not to buy from, the original email was from Zoe McKey and the other author is Albert Rutherford. I wouldn’t buy any of their books because seriously, this was sketch as hell AND just plain old bad analogies.

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1 Comment

Jonathan Kay · July 9, 2021 at 2:39 pm

That was quite a fun read, I had no idea where this was going to go.

If it were me, I can’t say I’d bother doing anything about it, but I am curious if the link was direct or clearly to a referral program of some kind, as that might reveal the spammers intentions.

Purely anecdotally, having observed several of these non-fiction self-published “authors” before, the idea they’re stealing (or selling) each others mailing lists, and trying to take credit for others work (work that isn’t fully correct), doesn’t shock me at all. Although as with anything, I’m sure there’s some good gems hidden in the rough.

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