I am trying to decide which part of the 24 hours since Crikey published news of the “Sharon Gould” hoax has been the most bizarre.

Was it when Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko emerged to give “Sharon Gould” some advice, and threatened to write more on the affair for, wait for it, Quadrant?

“I will make only one suggestion: hoaxer, if you’re reading this, out yourself. I failed to out myself back in the day and the reaction was much worse as a result. People think you’re pulling their chain and unwilling to take responsibility for pulling their chain. I speak from experience.”

Was it when a journo rang me to ask if it really was Mark Latham commenting on my blog, The Content Makers? (it isn’t, so far as I know).

Is it Keith Windschuttle’s continued suggestions, in the face of my frequent and flat denials, that I am the hoaxer? Or his protestations in the Sydney Morning Herald, that he has not really been hoaxed, because the article was “only 10 to 15 per cent invented”.

Or was it the claims that Quadrant has actually published “science” far more dubious than the “Sharon Gould” article, without it being a hoax?

Hard to say, and take your pick.

The nation’s mainstream media did the story big this morning. Readers can find the links easily enough by themselves. But the fiercer and more interesting debate is taking place on the blogosphere, including, but not only, on my blog.

The commentary seems to me evenly divided between those who are delighted at Windschuttle’s discomfit, and those who are horrified by the deception, whether or not they like Windschuttle and his public record. Some people feel both ways.

Andrew Norton, editor of the Centre for Independent Studies Policy magazine is highly critical of Crikey in general, and of the publication of the hoax in particular. He also makes the claim that the standards for magazines such as Quadrant and Policy are lower than those for academic journals, and (here’s the extraordinary bit) lower than for daily newspapers! (and lower than for Crikey, I wonder??)

He also has some interesting reflections on what Quadrant publishes:

As an editor myself, I would not publish quite a bit of what appears in Quadrant. Indeed, some articles I have rejected Quadrant has subsequently published. But the standards for an opinion magazine are lower than for a journal like Policy or indeed even a daily newspaper, which has some role in trying to establish facts in its news pages. Readers should take this into account.

The left-wing Overland magazine, on the other hand, has this to say:

In normal circumstances, you’d feel a certain sympathy for an editor thus taken in. Most small journals (like, say, Overland) can’t afford fact checkers, and the refereeing process depends on academics freely giving of their time to study a manuscript. It’s all too easy to publish bogus material. But this is Keith Windschuttle, a man who made his reputation scouring footnotes and then accusing their authors of overt fraudulence. If, say, this had been an article documenting Aboriginal massacres, he’d have been all over the references like a rash. Clearly, he let this one go through because he agreed with its politics — precisely the accusation he made of others during the History Wars. In this case, if you live by the footnote, you die by the footnote.

Meanwhile the editor of The Monthly, Sally Warhaft, spoke to me this morning to say (bravely) that they fact check rigorously. “It takes a lot of time and resources, but you just have to do it. I am astonished and gobsmacked that Windschuttle thinks otherwise. There is no excuse.”

And Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko made this shrewd comment on her blog, in addition to her advice for the hoaxer:

I note that people on all sides are trying to mitigate the effectiveness of the hoax against their ’side’, so the Social Text aficionados are trying to draw a distinction between this and Sokal, while KW is trying to make something of the fact that only ‘Dr Gould’ is fake, not his/her article. Take it from someone who knows and give up. You’re all covered in egg. In fact, you’re all wrapped in a giant omelette. That’s what a good hoax should do. Now go wash the egg off and get on with the rest of your life.

The liveliest debate is happening at the left-wing blog Larvatus Prodeo, including contributors asking (in a referral to the infamous Manning Clark controversy) whether Sharon Gould has yet been awarded the Order of Lenin. This Larvatus Prodeo thread also contains other evidence of sloppy sub-editing at Quadrant, including spelling mistakes such as “Memories of Catholic Schoolday’s” and “A Solider’s View of the Iraq War.”

Also on this theme — Quadrant’s editing — is Barry Saunders on the international site Counterknowledge:

Windschuttle’s tenure at Quadrant has been marked by two tendencies. The first is to critique his opponents for insufficient footnoting and ideological bias, and to rail against postmodernism and cultural studies in all their forms. The second has been to publish climate change scepticism and HIV denialism. This odd combination of insisting that academics stick to the objective facts while publishing this kind of garbage has set Quadrant up for a solid fisking. Today, that fisking happened.

And Tim Lambert:

Keith Windschuttle has just published a hoax article full of pseudo-science in Quadrant. And it wasn’t this article by Tim Curtin which contains such gems as the claim that Arrhenius borrowed his formulation of the enhanced greenhouse effect from Malthus (he didn’t), that the water vapour from burning fossil fuels is a more important greenhouse gas that CO2 (ignoring the fact that the CO2 stays in the atmosphere 10,000 times as long) and attributing all of the increase in food production in the last thirty years to the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (I swear that I am not making this up).

And would-be Quadrant contributor Harry Clarke, who had an article rebutting climate change denialists rejected by Windschuttle, now says: “My paper on climate change correcting the climate change denialist drivel Quadrant has been publishing over recent months may not have been rejected as much for its content than because of the lack of judgement of its editor Keith Windschuttle.”

Predictably, Greenpeace gets in to the act on the theme of Genetic Modification of food:

The article touches on an important point. For too long the biotechnology debate in Australia has been framed as an issue for ‘experts’ — with ‘expert’ invariably meaning someone with a vested interest in the technology. The New South Wales and Victorian GE food crop moratoria were both lifted on the basis of advice from ‘expert panels’ – predominantly comprised of individuals with a vested interest in GE crops.

Meanwhile I understand that the ABC Board, of which Windschuttle is a member, meets on 19 February. Of course, everyone will have forgotten about all this by then. Won’t they?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey