Friday, 24 August 2007

Software suggests Minns rewrote Akinola’s letter

A BISHOP in the United States has been revealed as the principal author of a seminal letter to the Church of Nigeria from its Archbishop, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, which was published on Sunday.

The letter includes a suggestion that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s status as a focus of unity is “highly questionable”. It also refers to a “moment of decision” for the Anglican Communion, which is on the “brink of destruction”.

The document, “A Most Agonising Journey towards Lambeth 2008”, appears to express to Nigerian synods the personal anguish of Archbishop Akinola over his attendance at the Lambeth Conference.

But computer tracking software suggests that the letter was extensively edited and revised over a four-day period by the Rt Revd Martyn Minns, who was consecrated last year by Archbishop Akinola to lead the secessionist Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) (News, 11 August 2006). Bishop Minns, along with the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, has not been invited to Lambeth (News, 25 May).

Close examination of the document, tracing the authorship, editing history, and timing of changes, reveals about 600 insertions made by Bishop Minns, including whole new sections amounting to two-thirds of the final text. There is also a sprinkling of minor amendments made by Canon Chris Sugden of the conservative group Anglican Mainstream. Read more

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Revd John P Richardson said...

What is remarkable about this story is that it is about a thoroughly unremarkable practice.

Having someone else go over, and even substantially rewrite, original material happens all the time, even when the final release bears the name of one person.

I do it all the time for Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream, indeed I've even 'looked over' things for Chris Sugden who is named in the article.

None of this quite matches the person I met over lunch not long ago who used to write entire speeches for a well-known top bishop!

The reason this happens is twofold. First, some people (like me, for instance) are better with words than others. Secondly, there is a 'conspiracy' - in the sense that people are working together on the issues currently dividing the Communion.

I would be gobsmacked to discover that everything put out by everyone else only ever has one single author and is never commented on, edited, revised or added to by others.

All this story really shows is that people work like this.

Peter Kirk said...

Nevertheless this is embarrassing. People really should learn not to distribute Word documents, which by default include this kind of revision information. I'm not sure that even PDFs are safe from this kind of analysis. It is much safer to distribute electronic documents as HTML, as on blogs, which are easily checked for extraneous information.

While I can see why “Anything else is like going to bed and ignoring a naked flame burning in the house.” was deleted, this is a great metaphor for the situation, and probably a genuinely African one as it seems to reflect African lifestyle.


Revd John P Richardson said...

Thanks Peter. I'm not sure where the 'original' is online - you seem to have access to it.

The only thing is, I'm not sure, on reflection, this is particularly embarrassing. The real embarrassment is in people (apparently) not realizing their Word documents are open to such scrutiny - but my guess is most people don't know that.

It would hardly be controversial if Bishop Akinola - or anyone else - said, "I ran this past so-and-so who made some changes I've incorporated into my final document."

What the comments at Thinking Anglicans reveal is a revelling in the idea this is a 'conspiracy'. I would have thought it was obvious, especially as Bishop Minns is a bishop of the Church of Nigeria.

Does anyone really doubt this sort of thing goes on as a matter of course, or does anyone think that, as one blogger has commented, Gordon Brown writes all his own material? (Maybe he does, but as I mentioned, not everyone has the time or ability even to do so.)

Moreover, if people go through and remove all the 'evidence' of such edits, does this make the whole thing more honest or mean it will no longer happen? I don't think so.

Please don't feel I'm getting at you - it is a general point I'm making.

Peter Kirk said...

No, I don't have access to the original. In fact I am only guessing that it is a Word document. I can only find a number of HTML versions, such as this one, which retain no information about revisions, nor even say that the text was originally a Word document.