A Prototype for Authorship Attribution Software

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Patrick Juola

    Duquesne University

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The task of computationally inferring the author of a
document based on its internal statistics — sometimes
called sylometrics, authorship attribution, or (for the
completists) non-traditional authorship attribution is an active
and vibrant research area, but at present largely without use.
For example, unearthing the author of the anonymously- written
Primary Colors became a substantial issue in 1996. In 2004,
anonymous published Imperial Hubris, a followup to his (her?)
earlier work Through Our Enemies' Eyes. Who wrote these
books? Does the author actually have the expertise claimed on
the dust cover ('a senior U.S. intelligence official with nearly
two decades of experience')? And, why haven't our computers
already given us the answer?
Part of this lack of use can be attributed to simple unfamiliarity
on the part of the relevant communities, combined with a
perceived history of inaccuracy 1. Since 1996, however, the
popularity of corpus linguistics as a field of study and vast
increase in the amount of data available on the Web (Nerbonne)
have made it practical to use much larger sets of data for
inference. During the same period, new and increasingly
sophisticated techniques have improved the quality (and
accuracy) of judgements the computers make.
As a recent example, in June 2004, ALLC/ACH hosted an
Ad-hoc Authorship Attribution Competition (Juola 2004b).
Specifically, by providing a standardized test corpus for
authorship attribution, not only could the mere ability of
statistical methods to determine authors be demonstrated, but
methods could further be distinguished between the merely
'successful' and 'very successful', and analyzed in particular
into possible areas of individual success.
The contest (and results) were surprising at many levels; some
researchers initially refused to participate given the admittedly
difficult tasks included among the corpora. For example,
Problem F consisted of a set of letters extracted from the Paston
letters. Aside from the very real issue of applying methods
designed/tested for the most part for modern English on
documents in Middle English, the size of these documents (very
few letters, today or in centuries past, exceed 1000 words)
makes statistical inference difficult. Similarly, problem A was
a realistic exercise in the analysis of student essays (gathered in a freshman writing class during the fall of 2003) — as is
typical, no essay exceeded 1200 words. Despite this extreme
paucity of data, results could be stunningly accurate. The
highest scoring participant was the research group of Vlado
Keselj, with an average success rate of approximately 69%.
(Juola's solutions, in the interests of fairness, averaged 65%
correct.) In particular, Keselj's methods achieved 85% accuracy
on problem A and 90% accuracy on problem F, both
acknowledged to be difficult and considered by many to be
unsolvably so.
However, the increased accuracy has come at the price of
decreased clarity; the statistics used 2 can be hard to understand,
and perhaps more importantly, difficult to implement or to use
by a non-technical scholar. At the same time, the sheer number
of techniques proposed (and therefore, the number of
possibilities available to confuse) has exploded. This limits the
pool of available users, making it less likely that a casual scholar
— let alone a journalist, lawyer, or interested layman — would
be able to apply these new methods to a problem of real interest.
I present here a prototype and framework for a user-friendly
software system (Juola & Sofko) allowing the casual user to
apply authorship attribution technologies to her own purposes.
It combines a generalized theoretical model (Juola, 2004b) built
on an inference task over event sequences with an extensible,
object-oriented inference engine that makes the system easily
updatable to incorporate new technologies or to mix-and- match
combinations of existing ones. The model treats linguistic (or
paralinguistic) data as a sequence of separable user-defined
events, for instance, as a sequence of letters, phonemes,
morphemes, or words. These sequences are treated to a
three-phase process:
• Canonicization — No two physical realizations of events
will ever be exactly identical. We choose to treat similar
realizations as identical to restrict the event space to a finite
• Determination of the event set — The input stream is
partitioned into individual non-overlapping events. At the
same time, uninformative events can be eliminated from
the event stream.
• Statistical inference — The remaining events can be
subjected to a variety of inferential statistics, ranging from
simple analysis of event distributions through complex
pattern-based analysis. The results of this inference
determine the results (and confidence) in the final report.
As an illustration, the implementation of these phases for the
Burrows method would involve, first, canonicization by
norming the documents of interest. For example, words with
variant capitalization (the, The, THE) would be treated as a
single type. More sophisticated canonicization procedures could
regularize spelling, eliminate extraneous material such as
chapter headings, or even "de-edit" (Rudman) the invisible
hand of the editor. During the second phase, the appropriate
set of function words would be determined and presented as a
sequence of events, eliminating words not in the set of interest.
Finally, the appropriate function words are tabulated (without
regard to ordering) and the appropriate inferential statistics
(principle component analysis) performed. However,
replacement of the third stage (and only the third stage) by a
linear discriminant analysis would produce a different technique
(Baayen et al.).
This framework fits well into the now-standard modular
software design paradigm. In particular, the software to be
demonstrated uses the Java programming language and
object-oriented design to separate the generic functions of the
three phases as individual classes, to be implemented as
individual subclasses.
The user can select from a variety of options at each phase, and
the system as a whole is easily extensible to allow for new
developments. For example, the result of event processing is
simply a Vector (Java class) of events. Similarly, similarity
judgement is a function of the Processor class, which can be
instantiated in a variety of different ways. At present, the
Processor class is defined with a number of different methods3.
A planned improvement is to simply define a
calculateDistance() function as part of the Processor class. The
Processor class, in turn, can be subclassed into various types,
each of which calculates distance in a slightly different way.
Similarly, preprocessing can be handled by separate
instantiations and subclasses. Even data input and output can
be modularized and separated. As written, the program only
reads files from a local disk, but a relatively easy modification
would allow files to be read from a local disk or from the
network (for instance, Web pages from a site such as Project
Gutenberg or literature.org). Users can therefore select
functionality as needed on a module-by-module basis both in
terms of feature as well as inference method; the current system
incorporates four different approaches (Burrows; Juola 1997;
Kukushkina et al.; Juola 2003).
From a broader perspective, this program provides a uniform
framework under which competing theories of authorship
attribution can both be compared and combined (to their
hopefully mutual benefit). It also form the basis of a simple
user-friendly tool to allow users without special training to
apply technologies for authorship attribution and to take
advantage of new developments and methods as they become
available. From a standpoint of practical epistemology, the
existence of this tool should provide a starting point for
improving the quality of authorship attribution as a forensic
examination — by allowing the widespread use of the
technology, and at the same time providing an easy method for testing and evaluating different approaches to determine the
necessary empirical valididation and limitations.
On the other hand, this tool is also clearly a research-quality
prototype, and additional work will be needed to implement a
wide variety of methods, to determine and implement additional
features, to establish a sufficiently user-friendly interface. Even
questions such as the preferred method of output —
dendrograms? MDS subspace projections? Fixed attribution
assignments as in the present system? — are in theory open to
discussion and revision. It is hoped that the input of research
and user such as the present meeting will help guide this
1. See, for example, the discussion of the cusum technique
(Farrington) in (Holmes 1998).
2. E.g. linear discriminant analysis of common function words
(Burrows, Baayen et al; Juola & Baayen), orthographic
cross-entropy (Juola, 1996), common byte N-grams (Keselj, 2004).
3. For example, crossEntDistance() and LZWDistance().
Baayen, R. H., H. Van Halteren, and F. Tweedie. "Outside the
cave of shadows: Using syntactic annotation to enhance
authorship attribution." Literary and Linguistic Computing
11 (1996): 121-131.
Baayen, R. H., H. Van Halteren, A. Neijt, and F. Tweedie. "An
experiment in authorship attribution." Proceedings of JADT
2002. St. Malo, 2002. 29-37.
Burrows, J. "'An Ocean where each Kind. . . ': Statistical
analysis and some major determinants of literary style."
Computers and the Humanities 23.4-5 (1989): 309-21.
Burrows, J. "Questions of authorship : Attribution and beyond."
Computers and the Humanities 37.1 (2003): 5-32.
Farringdon, J.M. Analyzing for Authorship: A Guide to the
Cusum Technique. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996.
Holmes, D. I. "Authorship attribution." Computers and the
Humanities 28.2 (1994): 87-106.
Holmes, D. I. "The evolution of stylometry in humanities
computing." Literary and Linguistic Computing 13.3 (1998):
Juola, P. "What can we do with small corpora? Document
categorization via cross-entropy." Proceedings of an
Interdisciplinary Workshop on Similarity and Categorization.
Edinburgh, UK: Department of Artificial Intelligence,
University of Edinburgh, 1997. n. pag.
Juola, P. "The time course of language change." Computers
and the Humanities 37.1 (2003): 77-96.
Juola, P. "Ad-hoc authorship attribution competition."
Proceedings of the 2004 Joint International Conference of the
Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing and the
Association for Computers and the Humanities (ALLC/ACH
2004). Goteborg, Sweden, 2004a. 175-176.
Juola, P. "On composership attribution." Proceedings of the
2004 Joint International Conference of the Association for
Literary and Linguistic Computing and the Association for
Computers and the Humanities (ALLC/ACH 2004). Goteborg,
Sweden, 2004b. 79-80.
Juola, P., and H. Baayen. "A controlled-corpus experiment in
authorship attribution by cross-entropy." Proceedings of
ACH/ALLC-2003. Athens, GA, 2003. n. pag.
Juola, P., and J. Sofko. "Proving and Improving Authorship
Attribution Technologies." Proceedings of CaSTA-2004.
Hamilton, ON, 2004. n. pag.
Keselj, V., and N. Cercone. "CNG Method with Weighted
Voting." Ad-hoc Authorship Attribution Contest Technical
Kucera, H., and W.N. Francis. Computational Analysis of
Present-day American English. Providence: Brown University
Press, 1967.
Kukushkina, O.V., A.A. Polikarpov, and D.V. Khmelev. "Using
literal and grammatical statistics for authorship attribution."
Problemy Peredachi Informatii 37.2 (2000): 172-184.
Translated in Problems of Information Transmission.
Nerbonne, J. "The data deluge." Literary and Linguistic
Computing (Forthcoming). [In Proceedings of the 2004 Joint
International Conference of the Association for Literary and
Linguistic Computing and he Association for Computers and
the Humanities (ALLC/ACH 2004).]

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double checked.

Conference website: http://web.archive.org/web/20071215042001/http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/achallc2005/

Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None