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Donald Foster: Tracking Down the Unabomber

[ photo: Donald Foster ]

Tracking Down the Unabomber

According to Amanda Beeler, writing for the Chicago Tribune, "[u]ncommon word usage, unusual punctuation and repeated misspellings might be the sign of a bad writer to some, but in Donald Foster's eyes they are dead giveaways that help solve linguistic puzzles....No two people have the same vocabulary or writing style, Foster said. 'As a result, when given an anonymous document, and comprehensive text samples with which to compare it, I can usually locate the nameless author--not because I'm so clever but because a writer's use of language is as distinctive, as inimitable, as unique, as one's DNA,' he said."

The Vassar English professor developed his computer-aided system for textual analysis for scholarly purposes, but it has also been extraordinarily useful as a forensic tool. Regularly consulted by the FBI, Foster has assisted in several high-profile cases, most notably the Unabomber case. Foster's analysis helped to identify and convict Theodore Kaczynski.

"An Authority on Authorship," by Amanda Beeler, Chicago Tribune, 4/24/99
Photo credit: Al Novak