Fact-checking in the blogosphere
One of the benefits that ought to arise from the existence of the blogosphere is that of fact-checking. False claims can be refuted quickly, and, we might hope, not repeated thereafter. Sadly it doesn’t seem to work out that way, as the following examples show.
Tim Blair points to yet another repetition of the “plastic turkey” story, this time in Pravda. Not surprisingly he’s frustrated by this.
So in the interests of accuracy and bipartisanship, let’s get the facts straight
* In his visit to Iraq in November 2003, Bush did not pose with a plastic turkey, as has been often claimed, but with a decorative, real “show turkey” not intended for eating. The â€œshow turkeyâ€? is a routine part of the presentation for the soldiers eating in the mess hall, so there’s nothing surprising about the fact that Bush posed with one.
* DDT has never been banned in antimalarial use. The main reason for declining use of DDT as an antimalarial has been the development of resistance. Antimalarial uses have received specific exemptions from proposals to phase out DDT, until alternatives are developed. Bans on the use of DDT as an agricultural insecticide, promoted by Rachel Carson and others, have helped to slow the development of resistance, and therefore increased the effectiveness of DDT in antimalarial use ( links on this here
If Tim is willing to make the same points, maybe we’ll get somewhere on this (begins holding breath).
OK, I’m not really holding my breath, and I don’t suppose the SMH is going to apply the Google rule to lazy, sloppy and inaccurate work like Devine’s.
Devine scores just about all the points possible on this one, citing fiction writer Michael Crichton as a scientific authority, misrepresenting the easily checkable position of the WHO, and citing the ludicrous bookburners of Human Events.
More seriously, she recycles an unsourced and obviously fabricated quote imputed to Rachel Carson, that ”
We should seek not to eliminate malarial mosquitoes with pesticides,” wrote Carson, “but to find instead a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves
. It’s easy to find more unsourced versions of this quote at sites like Frontpage
However, a bit more searching reveals this quote (link is to a PDF file) from the end of Silent Spring
Through all these new, imaginative, and creative approaches to the problem of sharing our earth with other creatures there runs a constant theme, the awareness that we are dealing with life – with living populations and all their pressures and counter pressures, their surges and recessions. Only by taking account of such life forces and by cautiously seeking to guide them into channels favorable to ourselves can we hope to achieve a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves
Clearly we’re seeing the usual game of quote fabrication here, with the line about malarial mosquitos inserted into an unobjectionable statement of the desirability of what’s generally called integrated pest management as opposed to indiscriminate use of pesticides. Devine has been too lazy to check her third-hand or fourth-hand sources, and no doubt her editors won’t bother pulling her up.
No surprises here. But I’m a bit disappointed that Rafe Champion hasn’t bothered to correct his erroneous post, or to respond to comments pointing out his errors. Catallaxy generally holds to higher standards than this.
Update As Tim Lambert points out in comments, Devine has actually taken the critical step in the fabrication herself. Her apparent source, Keith Lockitch, doesnâ€™t have quote marks around the first part of the statement, so he is passing it off as a paraphrase (though Carson never said anything about malarial mosquitoes in the relevant passage). Devine seems to be the one who added the quote marks.
Further update Miranda Devine has written to me, indicating that she will correct the spurious Carson quote, and saying that she took the quote from a republication of the Lockitch article in The Age, where it appeared as she quoted it. It’s therefore clear that she was not responsible for fabricating the quote, but merely reproduced it without checking.
Yet further update It was a mistake on my part to draw the conclusion that Miranda Devine was responsible for adding the quote marks, since I should have considered the possibility of an intermediate republication or reproduction of the quote. I apologise for this.
Final update (26/6) Devine’s column in today’s SMH includes the following:
Last week I inadvertently misquoted Rachel Carson by repeating a mistake from The Age of January 29. In an article by Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute, Carson was quoted: “We should seek not to eliminate malarial mosquitoes with pesticides, but to find instead a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves.”
But in Lockitch’s original, published in FrontPage Magazine, the quote was part paraphrase: “We should seek, Carson wrote, not to eliminate malarial mosquitoes with pesticides, but to find instead, ‘a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves’. ” Apologies.
Absolutely final update (27/6) Tim Lambert points out that Lockitch’s article did not, as claimed by Devine, appear in The Age on January 29 or, as far as can be determined from the public archive, any other date in any Fairfax paper. The Factiva database reveals that the piece was in fact published, with the incorrect quotation marks, in a Murdoch paper, the Melbourne Herald-Sun, on January 13, 2005 (access restricted to subscribers). This further error on Devine’s part isn’t particularly important compared to the others noted in the main post above, but it does make this post by Tim Blair look a bit silly.
fn1. I don’t have access to the internal Fairfax library, but it seems unlikely that a piece already reprinted by the Murdoch press would be recycled by a Fairfax paper.