I don’t think so, Christopher

geezers

For pity’s sake, Quadrant fell for my ham-fisted ruse! At least with the Sokal hoax, Alan Sokal was a bona fide physics professor. So it’s understandable that a journal editor might unquestioningly publish his nonsense. But so neatly did my essay conform with reactionary ideology that Quadrant, it seems, didn’t even check the putative author’s credentials. Nor it seems did they get the piece peer-reviewed. Nor did they check the “facts”; nor the footnotes. Nor were they alerted by the clues.

The symbols were evident…

But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others.

Still, now my experiment has worked, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Do I feel schadenfreude? Not really. I feel ambivalent. I’m almost embarrassed for you, Windschuttle. Just look at you above, a pea in a pod alongside those other culture warriors.

Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dream

In the email you sent me (or rather Sharon) this morning, you wrote: “Many of our readers would be aware of the Sokal hoax and its implications, and I think your introduction would lull them into thinking the whole article is another analysis of the follies of constructivism, whereas it is really much more interesting than that.” You suggested the first 12 pars about culture studies and journalism education be cut. Which I’ll happily do, even though I so like the way I fashioned them, and I do like how they parody the things you write about journalism and constructivist critiques of science. But no matter; you then write:

I really like the article. You bring together some very important considerations about scientific method, the media, politics and morality that I know our readers would find illuminating… if you could re-work the intro along these lines, we would be very pleased to publish the article in our January edition. I would need to hear back from you as early as possible next week.

Best regards,

Keith

Keith Windschuttle
Editor, Quadrant
PO Box 477
Paddington NSW 2021 Australia
Phone: 61 2 9818 1155
Mobile 0419 219 314
www.quadrant.org.au
www.sydneyline.com

I almost feel like apologising, because, as hokey as it sounds, as much as I love a good piece of culture-jamming, I also hold Lauren Slater’s position on “the critical role of kindness in writing and in life”. I didn’t do this to be unkind to you personally. This experiment wasn’t designed with ill-intent, but to uncover hypocrisy in knowledge-claims, and also spark public debate about standards of truth when anything is claimed in the name of ’science’. You failed my test spectacularly, Windschuttle. You Closed [your] inanimate lids to find it real. You have been hoisted by your own petard.

Published in: on November 22, 2008 at 8:40 am Comments (0)

Fabrication of Australian Science

Dear Quadrant,

I sent the essay off a few days ago. It’s a fine feat of ham-fisted sophistry. Actually, it’s ludicrous, and not even particularly well argued. In silly arguments reeking of cane toad, it reckons human genes should be engineered into all manner of crops and organisms.

The swung torch scatters seeds
In the umbelliferous dark
And a frog makes guttural comment

It conflates food crops with pharming. And it’s laden with bogus “facts”, like CSIRO’s plans to engineer human genes into cows and wheat to prevent cancer, and mosquitoes to help stop malaria. (I nearly wrote how important that this was with climate change, and the consequent rise in  mosquito populations, but then I remembered, Quadrant, that you’ve long been a refuge for climate-change deniers.) None of the CSIRO ‘plans’ mentioned in the essay are, as far as I know, bona fide.

The essay is rife with outrageously stupid arguments. For example, it accurately reports that GM Golden Rice is bound in 70 patents and it’s natural for those companies to expect returns — yet it also argues (parroting biotech industry spin) that Golden Rice was developed for altruistic reasons, to solve third world malnutrition problems. Leaving aside the reductionist nutritionism and blinkered agronomics, and leaving aside the health, social and environmental hazard potential of Golden Rice (not to mention other traditional non-GM crops that could do the trick), if Quadrant fails to see the absurdity of this argument, if it fails to scrutinise utopian claims of biotechnical ’solutions’ to social, political and environmental problems, it’s not alone. Much science reporting tends to see anything labelled ’science’ as apolitical and unproblematic, existing outside the social.

This, dear Quadrant, is why the essay is so wrong; it is precisely why we need the fourth estate principles to scrutinise the way these products and utopian claims are promoted in the name of ’science’. It is precisely why my arguments might seem plausible to an uninquiring editor, journalist or reader.

And Quadrant, the very constructivist arguments Windschuttle and this essay deride are used in your own climate-change denial articles! Have you never thought about that? To really get a handle on this (and other issues surrounding this hoax), have a read of this wonderful essay by David Demeritt.

I’m hoping you’ll agree with essay’s argument that Rudd ministers, journalists and the public aren’t scientists and therefore shouldn’t have a say in regulating how ’science’ is applied. This thinking, Quadrant, fails (to quote Professor Demeritt) to make a “distinction between the scientific work of discovering new facts and the political work of the values to regulate them.”

My essay sets up strawman objections to GM and then bludgeons them with nonsense. It also argues that the forces shaping ’science’ are somehow beyond public and media scrutiny, because, well, science is empirical. Always. Full stop. And just too complicated for us pundits (including journalists). And beyond our moral comprehension. Much evidence contradicts this:  many studies suggest that the more educated people are about science and technology, the less likely they are to uncritically accept new products peddled in the name of ’science’. When it comes to these products, people tend to be good at sniffing out a daft notion when they see one.

Considering Windschuttle’s fixation with academics’ footnotes (and the 98 media articles this fixation reportedly spawned), I thought I’d include some bogus ones of my own, and see if he bothers scrutinising those. Some of the footnotes are completely fabricated. Others are genuine references to science articles, but have nought to do with what’s asserted in the essay.

Lastly, I make some claims which are laughable. For example, the made-up stuff about epigenes.  I’m no scientist (didn’t even do Year 11 science), but I don’t imagine epigenes do the stuff I said they do. Even if they did, the essay totally ignores hazards like horizontal gene transfer, unpredictable novel proteins, etc. But hey, if you say you’re a scientist, you can get away with saying anything. Scientists, see, are a one-size-fits-all authority.

How did that wonderful intellectual adventure that is science become so abused in your pages, Quadrant? Here’s what Windschuttle wrote of the Sokal hoax:

Anyone with a familiarity with high school science should have seen the article was a spoof and the assertions so nonsensical that they were self-evidently untrue. The fact that the editors of Social Text failed to recognise it for what it was, and published it in all faith as a serious academic article, demonstrated the paucity of their understanding of the very field of which they had long been critics.

Here’s what Tim Lambert said about Quadrant:

Quadrant, Australia’s other pseudo-science magazine (besides Nexus), has published an HIV/AIDS denial piece by Bauer. And they also published an extremely positive review of Bauer’s HIV/AIDS denial book. The author of the review, one Sev Sternhell, also has an AGW denial piece in the latest issue of Quadrant. (It’s not online, but it’s the usual stuff, falsely claiming that the IPCC have dropped the hockey stick down the memory hole, and recommending junkscience.com as the place to go to learn about the science.)

Anyhoo, Quadrant, that’s just a short summary of what a stinking pile of fraudulent nonsense the essay I sent you is, and of the issues surrounding many truth claims made in the name of ’science’.

Sharon

Published in: on July 9, 2008 at 11:49 pm Comments (0)

Scrubbing my few dingy words to brightness

Dear Quadrant,

Just finished the essay, and I’ve just created the author’s web identity. Here is Sharon Gould’s website (which I’ll include in correspondence with you). I think you’ll like her, cos she’s originally from New York, not Australia. Which reminds me of something funny. For years you alternately denied and confirmed documented evidence of CIA funding, and now I see this extraordinary half-admission on your website:

It is alleged by its critics that Quadrant enjoyed some kind of funding through the CCF from the US Central Intelligence Agency; if so none of its editors ever knew of or were influenced in any way by such funding. It is hardly however shameful to have been indirectly in receipt of funds from the agency of a democratic government rather than the Communist dictatorships which subsidised the Leftist publications.

That last claim’s a larf, innit? And the rest rather reeks of the insufferable “we didn’t know” nonsense coming out of the Howard years, dunnit Quadrant?

Anyhoo, as you can see from her family links, Sharon Gould is from a largely Republican family. She’s related to prominent musicians, and she’s even related to the late Stephen J Gould! Cripes, what a pedigree. You will be impressed.

Well, Quadrant, I shall send it off in July, from Brisbane. Given the loopy clunkers you’ve been publishing of late, I do hope you publish it.

Sharon

Published in: on May 4, 2008 at 2:39 am Comments (0)

Black swans of a feather?

Dear Quadrant,

— told me today that you’d published work by known neo-Nazi Michael Brander. Weird that the Oz never covered this one. — sent me the following extract from Hansard:

But this month Quadrant magazine, edited by Mr McGuinness, who made the criticism, ran an article by Michael Brander, a former chairman of the neo-Nazi group National Alliance who has been convicted in an Australian court of assaulting a protester with a flagpole. When a constituent of mine and a former contributor to Quadrant contacted Mr McGuinness about this he said that he had never heard of Brander. What kind of a magazine or magazine editor publishes an article by someone without checking his background or sources—something, to quote Mr McGuinness, which only takes one minute on Google?

Cripes. Let’s hope you’re as expert a Googler with me, Quadrant.

Sincerely,

Sharon Gould

Published in: on March 9, 2008 at 10:45 am Comments (0)

Started it

Dear Quadrant,

Oh special day. Special, special day. I heard a rumour that you watched the Apology, Keith.

A very special day to start writing.

By the way, Quadrant, did you know The Big Issue’s readership towers over yours? That’s right. With an audited fortnightly readership readership of 150,000, its reader numbers eclipse yours many, many times over. But it isn’t subsidised with public money like you are. Geez, you freemarket warriors must practise a fair deal of cognitive dissonance.

And in the magazines I have read
The Popular Front-to-Back.
But where I have lived
Spain weeps in the gutters of Footscray

And get this. Even though The Big Issue breaks stories, The Oz (or Quadrant Lite, as we call it) doesn’t see fit to write regular little puff-pieces about The Big Issue. But there have been quite a few very curious articles about you of late. I guess they’re softening up the pundits.

Sincerely,

Sharon Gould

Published in: on February 13, 2008 at 2:07 am Comments (0)

The name of the author

Dear Quadrant,

I think I’ll attempt a pseudoscience article: kind of the Sokal hoax in reverse. Don’t get me wrong: I liked the Sokal prank as much as Windschuttle did. Showing up hogwash from any ideological stand is a valuable exercise. But I think Australia needs the opposite experiment.

I don’t think I can be arsed being as masterful as Professor Sokal, but still, I’ll devise an experiment to see if you will publish (to quote Sokal himself)

“an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”

Just to be a bit pomo about it, I think I’ll put the word ‘hoax’ in the opening sentence: one of many clues, including bogus references. I think I’ll employ some of Quadrant’s sleight-of-hand reasoning devices to argue something ludicrous — something like the importance of putting human genes into food crops to save civilisation from its own ills, and how this sort of science shouldn’t be scrutinised by the media, because, you know, it’s empirical.

The trick would be to argue something both ludicrous and perfectly plausible (at least to the uninquiring mind); using dodgy logic, unsupported arguments and untruthful assertions.

I was planning to submit it under my own name, but —— thought not. Better to write it, he advised, under another name; one that’s pretty common. A name that, when Googled, provides some plausible possibilities.

So you’ll be pleased to learn I’m going to submit pseudonymously. It’s the Quadrant tradition, after all. Your first editor published under a host of silly names. Aside from ‘Ern Malley’, there was ‘Dulcie Renshaw’, ‘Glaucon’ and ‘Proteus’. Eew.

What’s something as good and Aussie as Ern Malley? Bruce? Sharon? (I once travelled the Bruce Highway to a town called Sharon! True.)

I’ve settled on ‘Sharon Gould’. As good a name as Proteus, don’t you reckon? Think of it as Sharon Burrows’ and Bob Gould’s love child. When you Google it, lots of plausible folk come up.

I’m not going to claim to be any one of these Sharon Goulds: you can draw your own assumptions. We can all draw assumptions from thin evidence, can’t we Quadrant? I know there are times I’ve done so. Let’s see how you go.

Sincerely,

Sharon

Published in: on November 7, 2007 at 2:35 am Comments (0)

The new black swan of tresspass

Dear Quadrant,

Did you know the Cold War is over? Anyhoo, when I heard Keith had taken your mast, I looked up an article by KP, who wrote:

If Windschuttle publishes a book, we get widespread media coverage of Windschuttle and his book. If Robert Manne or Stuart MacIntyre publishes a book, we get widespread media coverage of Windschuttle and his book… The sum total of academic response to his work has comprehensively destroyed the empirical foundations on which it is predicated [...yet this response is...] neutralised by its own lack of currency in the public sphere.

I could loftily state all reasons for this hoax, (purely personally, they amount to this:
And having despaired of ever
Making my obsessions intelligible
I am content at last to be
The sole clerk of my metamorphoses )

but they boil down to fairness, as well as larks in the Quadrant tradition. Your first editor, after all, was a tremendous hoaxer. Sadly I’m not as poetic as he, but in other ways, I’m hoping this prank might have trickle-down effects. You’ve always held faith in trickle-down culture, haven’t you, Quadrant?

Sincerely, xxxxxxxx

Published in: on November 4, 2007 at 9:19 am Comments (0)