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What would de Tocqueville think ?

May 30th, 2004

Tim Lambert has more details on yet another Astroturf operation, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, recently in the news for attacking open source software and also a shill for the tobacco industry.

A point of interest for me is that I don’t think you really need detailed evidence in cases like this (though of course, its handy to have the kind of chapter and verse Tim provides). Unless it’s devoted to the life and works of de Tocqueville, an outfit with a name like the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution is bound to be bogus.

Australia has a string of such setups, all run apparently created by Ray Evans of the Western Mining Corporation[1]. The most egregious is the Lavoisier Group, an organisation for climate change contrarians (about as plausible as creationists calling themselves the Mendel society) . If you move along to the (anti-Aboriginal rights) Bennelong Society you’ll find an almost identical website with the same postal address, shared with the (anti-union) HR Nicholls Society . The (monarchist) Samuel Griffiths society is from the same production line, though not quite as brazenly so.

So what is it about names like these that screams “Astroturf”? Most named institutes are either named in honour of the founder, or are explicitly partisan institutions whose name indicates their affiliation, as with the Evatt (Labor) and Menzies (Liberal) foundations. It’s not clear that those named would always agree with what is published in their names, but there’s some reasonable basis for presuming that this might be the case.

By contrast, to choose a long-dead person with whom almost everyone has positive associations, then putting forward controversial positions in the name of that person is to be dishonest from the outset.

Update A visit to Astroturf website suppliers Fergco reveals a new operation under construction at Nationbuild Although the frontpage is devoted to such challenging statements as “To be strong socially, a nation must have strong public institutions—parliaments, courts, universities, churches, the media”, a look through the (so far scanty) statements on particular issues reveals our old friend NR Evans along with other regulars from the WMC Club. It will be interesting to see when and if this grassroots initiative surfaces.

fn1. As a commenter points out, Ray Evans hasn’t been with WMC for some time [since 2001, I think], but he was there when these organisations were set up.

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  1. snuh
    May 31st, 2004 at 09:24 | #1

    there’s something wrong with your ADtI link.

  2. John Quiggin
    May 31st, 2004 at 09:33 | #2

    Thanks. Fixed now.

  3. Andrew
    May 31st, 2004 at 10:30 | #3

    Given Gregor Mendel was a monk, there is probably no real problem with creationists calling themselves that. Calling themselves the Huxley Club might be different.

  4. Bill
    May 31st, 2004 at 11:41 | #4

    Ray Evans is long gone from WMC.

  5. Julian Russell
    May 31st, 2004 at 16:17 | #5

    The lavoisier and benelong websites are being served from the same machine (IP address

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