The other day, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was outed as the real writer behind “Robert Gailbraith” and his debut novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. After receiving an anonymous tip, an editor at the Sunday Times teamed up with two computer scientists to compare the two authors’ writing and connected Rowling to her pen name.
Virginia Hughes talked to both those scientists got learned what they looked for in their writing analyses.
[Duquesne University computer scientist Patrick Juola’s] final test completely separates a word from its meaning, by sorting words simply by their length. What fraction of a book is made of three-letter words, or eight-letter words? These distributions are fairly similar from book to book, but statistical analyses can dig into the subtle differences. And this particular test “was very characteristically Rowling,” Juola says. “Word lengths was one of the strongest pieces of evidence that [Cuckoo] was Rowling.”
It took Juola about an hour and a half to do all of these word-crunchings, and all four tests suggested that Cuckoo was more similar to Rowling’sCasual Vacancy than the other books. And that’s what he relayed back to Flyn. Still, though, he wasn’t totally confident in the result. After all, he had no way of knowing whether the real author was somebody who wasn’t in the comparison set of books who happened to write like Rowling does. “It could have been somebody who looked like her. That’s the risk with any police line-up, too,” he says.