Friday, January 09, 2009

Sharon Gould's book of words

Anybody who thought writing is ineffective would have been surprised a couple of days ago when editor of Australian literary magazine Quadrant got publically embarassed - by a couple of footnotes. Said footnotes were appended to an article written by a person claiming the name Sharon Gould, a fake personality invented by Katherine Wilson for the purposes of fooling Quadrant.

Yes, I'm talking about the Quadrant hoax - it's all over the media and the blogs by now, and you can read all about it here, here, here, here, and here. It's provoked a whole range of bizarre ideological positioning and attacks all over the media. Perhaps the strangest responses have probably come from Margaret Simons, who broke the story of the hoax, and commented on the ethics of other journalists as the story she was writing about developed.

I'll say it here and now - I like Quadrant. I've never thought that Keith Windschuttle was a good choice for editor of the magazine, but it's not just Windschuttle that has been cheated here. Wilson has abused the privilege of space that Quadrant gives to writers, and she's effectively lied to everyone who reads the magazine. That's all being debated elsewhere, but for now, there's a couple of things about the whole affair that have left be befused and confuddled. No, wait, make that febuddled and deflused.

Firstly are the headlines people are using to describe this whole thing. LP says that Windschuttle has been sokaled. Sokal is a verb now? At Skeptic Lawyer, SL reckons Wilson has demidenkoed Quadrant, and I guess SL has about as much authority as anyone to verb that particular noun. But if we're going to go down this road every time a hoax occurs, will it be possible to demidenko Sokal, or to sokal a Wilson while she's demidenkoing someone else? Will hoaxers try to out-gould one another? What has more value, goulding a Demidenko, or sokaling a Wilson?

And then there's the weird defence Windschuttle has tried on.

Yet I still insist that this was not a genuine hoax.

A real hoax, like that of Alan Sokal and Ern Malley, is designed to expose editors who are pretentious, ignorant or at least over-enthusiastic about certain subjects.

(Clears throat) What's the difference between a real hoax and this hoax? Was the Gould hoax actually a hoax hoax, expressly designed to hoax the hoaxers who thought they were hoaxing Quadrant? Did Wilson pull the ultimate hoax and hoax herself into believing she was hoaxing Quadrant? Maybe Katherine Wilson goulded herself, or Sharon Gould wilsoned herself, completely unknowingly?

It makes more, which is to say, less sense, when you consider the Gould article itself, which is almost entirely plausible, if you take out the footnotes and the name of the author. The only reason the article was considered a hoax was because some of the footnotes were incorrect. Which makes me wonder, what was really wrong here, the footnotes, or the article? Or perhaps they're just the right footnotes for the wrong article, or it's the wrong author for the right article? Maybe Katherine Wilson really is the hoax, the wrong name for the right person, and it's time for Sharon Gould to step forward and reveal herself...
Dr Sharon Gould holds a PhD in Applied Science (Biotechnology), and works as
a biotechnology informatics consultant. An earlier version of this article was
presented at the 19th International Conference on Genome Informatics in
Honestly folks, I just don't know any more.

I guess this is what's called 'Taking to the media with a blunt hoax'.


Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

I like eponymous verbs. E.g., to burke, to gerrymander, to bowdlerise.

As for "to Windschuttle": it's to fabricate rumours of fabrication.

TimT said...

And to 'Windschuttle one up' is quite wonderful. You wind them up and shut them up at the same time. I myself have seen several impressive examples of Windschuttling-up in my time.

skepticlawyer said...

I must admit I have been revealing my inner Sun-sub-editor with the headlines I've been writing lately, Tim, and this was no exception. And like you, I thought it was one funny I'm entitled to make :)

TimT said...

Work those headlines, I say!

This whole story has fascinated me, for some reason. Bit disappointed to find the Oz didn't do a focus in their paper today, but I suppose that reflects the relative importance of this compared to other world affairs. Time to move on, get one with other things...

Ralph said...

Margaret Cameron?

Caz said...

"A real hoax ... is designed to expose editors who are pretentious, ignorant or at least over-enthusiastic about certain subjects."



Editor suckered and shown to be pretentious, ignorant, and at the very least over-enthusiastic about certain subjects.

TimT said...

Whoops! Thanks Ralph. I've changed it now.

I banged this up in my last half hour at work yesterday - at a time when I would rather have been sleeping. I made a couple of other mistakes that I cleaned up this morning.

Dunno where the 'Cameron' came from though.

Caz said...

The most interesting aspect of this hoax is the extent to which the piece is uninteresting.

Although competently written, it's all rather humdrum, nothing new or compelling, and the very small aspects of the article, the bits intended to make people salivate with alarm, should have alerted any mediocre editor to the whiff of something a bit off.

The first example of GM should have given the game away. If human genes could trigger an immune response to fight pre-cancerous cells, well, gosh darn it, that would be front page news in itself. More important though, if human genes could perform this service, such a therapy would be more efficacious directed immediately into the human body, rather than directed to the growing of wheat, then, secondarily, and less efficacious, to humans via the third or fourth path of processed and cooked outputs of wheat.

In other words, why would you waste such a solution using and modifying one particular food source, instead of going directly for the problem cells in the problem host? Well, that's what occurred to me as soon as I read the example.

Ralph said...

Had me wondering what I'd missed :)

Steve said...

Seems all very Much to do About Nothing Much to me, and I speak as one who is annoyed at Quadrant following the global warming skeptic path without the appropriate degree of scepticism of scepticism. (Not that it really matters that much: I don't think anyone believes that Quadrant is all that influential, do they?)

TimT said...

Presumably Katherine Wilson did, if she thought they deserved the hoax.

TimT said...

You're right. Quadrant is occasionally enjoyable, with a stable of excellent writers, but it's not as if they have made a lasting impact outside the small circle of Quadrant readers.

Caz said...

Which is not nearly as impressive as it would be if they managed to make a lasting impression amongst the non-Quadrant reading masses.

phil said...

I'll see your demidemko and raise you a sokal. Hah! You call THAT a sokal?

Word verification is morpha, seems (as is often the case) weirdly appropriate. In the case of a good hoax it's morpha you, morpha me.

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