Crikey! [required reading]

No, this post has nothing to do with Steve Irwin (RIP).

Since I am on my grown-up-responsibilities kick, I decided that I should subscribe to Crikey, the über-awesome online media service that exists to keep the bastards honest.  Look at me go with all these premium services!

Choosing to sign up for Crikey was a pretty easy decision–its raison d’être is incredibly in sync with my own:

Crikey irritates the powerful by revealing how they operate behind the scenes, and it tackles the stories insiders are talking about but other media can’t or won’t cover.

Ok, sure, I’ve never done it to the extent of Crikey, but, in my own small way, I’ve irritated a couple of small-time power-players by refusing to keep my mouth shut on the basis that talking about <issue> is  in the interest of my teeny-tiny sphere of influence.

It’s just what I do.

Over the years I’ve really enjoyed reading bits of it here and there when various scandals asploded in the blogosphere/Op-Ed community (see, for example: Pandagate) and now that I quit news.com.au (which went out even before Facebook) I needed some fun stuff to read at lunch time anyway.

But wow, what I great time to join up and get all the action!

For those who probably had no idea that this occurred, let me put together a teeny summary…

On Tuesday, Margaret Simons (a journo I’ve been following on Twitter for a little while) revealed quite the fun story.

Keith Windshuttle, the editor of the right-wing journal Quadrant who believes that indigenous Australians have forever-and-always been loved and never-ever hurt in any way by Europeans (I paraphrase), let a hoax article about climate change, get published in the most recent issue:

Keith Windschuttle, the editor of the conservative magazine Quadrant, has been taken in by a hoax intended to show that he will print outrageous propositions.

This month’s edition of Quadrant contains a hoax article purporting to be by “Sharon Gould”, a Brisbane based New York biotechnologist.

But in the tradition of Ern Malley – the famous literary hoax perpetrated by Quadrant’s first editor, James McAuley – the Sharon Gould persona is entirely fictitious and the article is studded with false science, logical leaps, outrageous claims and a mixture of genuine and bogus footnotes. [link]

The hoaxer (who’s since been identified as a lefty-freelancer who goes by the name Katherine Wilson) put together a quite the elaborate ruse in order to expose Windshuttle as, essentially, a pompous hypocrite who’s happy to push any line of argument as long as it fits in with their particular paradigm or ideology.  Simons puts it like this:

The sting of this hoax as I understand it is to establish that despite its attacks on post-modern slackness, and despite Windschuttle’s nitpicking of other people’s research, despite the fulminating against academic slackness from the right, it is possible for Quadrant and Windschuttle to publish pseudo-scientific nonsense, so long as it appears to fit in with their ideological view. In other words, that zealotry of all kinds has the potential to make people blind to evidence that doesn’t fit in with their preconceptions, and more liable to accept and privilege evidence that pleases them.

As Rob points out:

The man who built a huge media profile by scouring the footnotes of his political opponents and accusing them of academic dishonesty and fraud has decided that when it comes to his own magazine, there’s no need to bother.

My favourite bit is the first paragraph of the bogus article, as it appears on news stands around the country this week, which reads:

Quadrant readers will remember America’s “science wars”, spearheaded by the masterful Sokal hoax, a “hodgepodge of unsupported arguments, outright mistakes, and impenetrable jargon” designed to challenge standards of logic, truth and intellectual enquiry in scientific debate. [link]

Crikey’s put up the blog called “Diary of a hoax” where Sharon/Katherine outlines her little plot as it was happening and it’s hilarious:

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.

And it worked! It worked like an awesome, sweet row of dominoes falling down. Katherine Wilson, you are a bloody legend and I salute you!