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Code and analysis for authorship attribution of the op-ed in nytimes about the resistance in the president's administation
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Resistance Inside Trump's White House - An analysis of authorship

Kanishka Misra September 5, 2018

This document is an analysis of the authorship of the nytimes op-ed that was published today.

# install my version of the widyr package to utilize some helpful functions
# devtools::install_github("kanishkamisra/widyr")

Getting CSPAN Data

Thanks to Mike Kearney and his own version of this analysis, we can get the tweets of all CSPAN member accounts using the rtweet package (also by Dr. Kearney). This data is the best source of textual content that can work for the model, however once I get more ideas, I will potentially turn this into a blog post on my blog.

## This code is not going to be evaluated while producing the document.
cab_twits <- lists_members(owner_user = "CSPAN", slug = "the-cabinet")

cab_tweets <- cab_twits %>%
  filter(screen_name != "realDonaldTrump") %>%
  pull(user_id) %>%
  map(get_timeline, n = 4000) %>%

tweet_text <- cab_tweets %>%
  select(author = screen_name, text)

## Writing it outside my github repo, this can be reproduced by using the code above :)
write_csv(tweet_text, "../tweet_text.csv")

Scraping the NYTimes article text

We use the rvest package to get the text from the op-ed.

## Reading back the tweets from a separate directory
tweet_text <- read_csv("../tweet_text.csv")
## Parsed with column specification:
## cols(
##   author = col_character(),
##   text = col_character()
## )
url <- ""

oped_text <- read_html(url) %>%
  html_nodes("p") %>%
  html_text() %>%
  .[setdiff(3:31, 4)] %>%

oped_tbl <- tibble(
  author = "op-ed",
  text = oped_text


all_texts <- bind_rows(oped_tbl, tweet_text)
## Warning in bind_rows_(x, .id): Vectorizing 'glue' elements may not preserve
## their attributes
# remove some urls, hashtags, mentions, individually numeric elements then tokenize and count global term-frequencies
tokens <- all_texts %>%
    text = str_replace_all(text, "#\\S+|@\\S+|RT\\s?:?", ""),
    text = str_replace_all(text,"https?:\\/\\/(www\\.)?[-a-zA-Z0-9@:%._\\+~#=]{2,256}\\.[a-z]{2,6}\\b([-a-zA-Z0-9@:%_\\+.~#?&//=]*)", "")
  ) %>%
  unnest_tokens(word, text, strip_numeric = TRUE)

# Get the top 2000 tokens
top_tokens <- tokens %>%
  count(word) %>%
## Selecting by n
# compute relative frequencies of the top 2000 tokens for each document
text_tokens <- tokens %>%
  count(author, word) %>%
  group_by(author) %>%
  mutate(rel_freq = n/sum(n)) %>%
  ungroup() %>%
  filter(word %in% top_tokens$word)

text_tokens %>%
author word n rel_freq
BetsyDeVosED 1st 1 0.0000817
BetsyDeVosED 4th 2 0.0001633
BetsyDeVosED a 185 0.0151057
BetsyDeVosED ability 2 0.0001633
BetsyDeVosED able 6 0.0004899
BetsyDeVosED about 32 0.0026129

Analysis - trivial method

This document uses the Burrows' Delta method which is a distance calculation between documents and has stylometric (authorship attribution) benefits. It can be mathematically defined as:


Or, for 2 documents D1 and D2 the average manhattan distance between the z-scores for word frequencies of word i in the documents. The z-scores standardize the frequencies of each word to have 0 mean and 1 standard deviation (normal distribution centered around 0). There has been a little bit of dispute about the mathematical foundations of this method, the explanation and resolution of which can be found in Argamon's paper, but since it has historically worked so well in authorship attribution, it is still used when distance based methods get employed.

I implemented this in David Robinson's widyr package and it can be called by using pairwise_delta(), similar to the other pairwise functions the package offers.

Let's look at the closest (least distant, since delta is a distance measure) documents to the Op-Ed:

deltas <- text_tokens %>%
  pairwise_delta(author, word, rel_freq)

deltas %>%
  filter(item2 == "op-ed") %>%
item1 item2 delta
SecElaineChao op-ed 0.6335436
EPAAWheeler op-ed 0.8870305
OMBPress op-ed 0.9183042
SecretaryRoss op-ed 1.0004179
POTUS op-ed 1.0258861
stevenmnuchin1 op-ed 1.0303278
USTradeRep op-ed 1.0313551
SecPompeo op-ed 1.0568985
SecShulkin op-ed 1.0608937
SecPriceMD op-ed 1.0646571
Cabinet op-ed 1.0666507
SecretaryZinke op-ed 1.0696611
SecNielsen op-ed 1.0727432
USUN op-ed 1.0801643
SBALinda op-ed 1.0817828
VP op-ed 1.0862680
Interior op-ed 1.0865814
BetsyDeVosED op-ed 1.0880467
SecretaryPerry op-ed 1.0895596
nikkihaley op-ed 1.0904755
ENERGY op-ed 1.0905174
SecretaryCarson op-ed 1.0912557
StateDept op-ed 1.0928579
SecAzar op-ed 1.0945733
TheJusticeDept op-ed 1.0947025
USDA op-ed 1.0955371
SecretaryAcosta op-ed 1.0959868
USTreasury op-ed 1.0960925
mike_pence op-ed 1.0988603
SBAgov op-ed 1.0993618
usedgov op-ed 1.0997798
USDOL op-ed 1.1088474
HHSGov op-ed 1.1123982
DeptofDefense op-ed 1.1210607
USDOT op-ed 1.1222278
DeptVetAffairs op-ed 1.1314927
CommerceGov op-ed 1.1336245
SecretarySonny op-ed 1.1386345
CIA op-ed 1.1414124
DHSgov op-ed 1.1443877
EPA op-ed 1.1511474
HUDgov op-ed 1.1556952

To better understand this, we can scale the data to two dimensions using a technique called multidimensional scaling, which can help in plotting. This is only available on my repository of the widyr package as it is yet to be approved in my latest pull request to widyr.

multi_scaled <- deltas %>%
  multi_scale(item1, item2, delta) %>%
    color = ifelse(item == "op-ed", "#EC7357", "#000000"),
    alpha = ifelse(item == "op-ed", 1, 0.6)

## top closest authors
closest <- c(
  deltas %>% 
    filter(item2 == "op-ed") %>% 
    top_n(4, -delta) %>%

# Plot!
multi_scaled %>%
  ggplot(aes(V1, V2, color = color, alpha = alpha)) +
  geom_point(size = 2) +
  scale_color_identity() +
  scale_alpha_identity() +
    data = multi_scaled %>% filter(item %in% closest),
    aes(label = item),
    alpha = 1
  ) +
  theme_minimal() +
    plot.title = element_text(face = "bold", size = rel(1.8), family = "Merriweather"),
    plot.subtitle = element_text(size = rel(1.2), family = "Merriweather Light", margin = margin(0,0,20,0)),
    text = element_text(family = "Noto Sans CJK JP Light"),
    axis.title.x = element_text(margin = margin(20, 0, 0, 0)),
    axis.text = element_text(size = rel(1)),
    panel.grid.minor = element_blank(),
    legend.text = element_text(size = rel(1))
  ) + 
    title = "Authorship Analysis of the NYTimes Op-Ed",
    y = "Dimension 2",
    x = "Dimension 2",
    color = "",
    subtitle = "Model uses Burrows's delta metric on top 2000 words.\nData from CSPAN twitter timelines, thanks to Mike Kearney's rtweet package!",
    caption = "Made by Kanishka Misra"

More content coming soon!

We can use better methods to detect authorship of this op-ed. Some of the improvements on this trivial approach include:

  • Parsing executive/formal documents written by the members of the administration - if this can be obtained, we can get a better estimate of the closest authors to the document's features.
  • Using modern methods that leverage features more robust than just word relative frequencies - word embeddings, tf-idfs, nrgrams!
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