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Educators, Politicians, Security Investigators, Could Benefit from Authenticating Software

A National Science Foundation (NSF) grant will help Duquesne University’s Dr. Patrick Juola to develop a computer program to detect the authenticity of documents, whether from famed authors and historical figures or from students accused of plagiarism.

According to Juola, an associate professor of computer science, the three-year, $212,000 NSF grant will help him develop a program that would authenticate documents based on the language used. Some existing programs check characteristic patterns, such as whether a writer uses big or small words, which could indicate educational level or a personal quirk. Others assess phrasing and the frequency of specific words, such as ”large” versus “big,” as indicators of writing patterns. “This project,” he said, “would put the old techniques together in new and better ways.”

In the classroom setting, an authentication program could determine copied papers from ones created by students. A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that nearly half of high-school students surveyed and nearly 40 percent of undergraduate students admitted to copying online sources. “Every teacher has to deal with the problem, ‘Did Johnny write this term paper or did he buy it off the Internet?’” Juola said.

Juola said his program would help not only educators, but also other professionals including policy makers, politicians, historical scientists, national security investigators and members of the legal community. Regardless of the program’s usage, Juola said, the essential question remains, “What can we learn about people and their thought from their language? Is there some way computers can help us get the information?”

Tens of hundreds of thousands of programs have attempted to answer these questions, Juola said, but no single program has combined the methods that are being used as he proposes to do.

Besides advancing the field of authentication, Juola’s work also will help to establish software review standards and processes. Because authentication could become a court matter, his program will strive to meet the criteria for expert evidence.

“There is no way we’re going to be able to test every possible combination; there are only so many hours in three years,” Juola said. But with the help of graduate and undergraduate students, the software program is expected to be available next year.

In addition, Juola also received a two-year grant of $131,465 from the National Endowment for the Humanities that will support a project through which he will work on creating a less labor-intensive way to index books.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.