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FACTS IN ON FACT-CHECKER

Miranda Devine’s Sun-Herald column last week featured a quote from Silent Spring author Rachel Carson:

“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.”

This excited Professor John Quiggin, who had issues with the whole piece. His main concern, however, was that quote:

More seriously, she recycles an unsourced and obviously fabricated quote imputed to Rachel Carson ...

As Quiggin himself notes—while maintaining that the entire quote is “unsourced and obviously fabricated”—the second half of the quote is accurately taken from Silent Spring. But the first line, about eliminating malarial mosquitoes ... where did that come from? Quiggin’s view:

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.

Tim Lambert then joined the fray, noting that the apparent source for the quote was a piece by Keith Lockitch at FrontPage. Wrote Lambert:

It looks like Devine is the one that fabricated the quote. The version at Front Page doesn’t have quote marks around the first part of the statement, so the author is passing it off as a paraphrase. Devine seems to be the one who added the quote marks.

Quiggin agreed:

Devine has actually taken the critical step in the fabrication herself.

And the Professor didn’t stop there. “This obviously bogus quote,” he declared, “is worse than anything I can recall seeing.” (Quiggin wasn’t nearly as outraged when lefty Phillip Adams was caught fabricating several quotes in a single column: “My guess is that this is sloppiness rather than deliberate distortion.”) Commenters at Quiggin’s piled on. Here’s Katz:

Miranda Devine was caught red-handed falsifying a quote. Let’s be clear about this: Devine’s falsification wasn’t the product of laziness. Neither was it the product of recklessness. No, it arose from a deliberate design to traduce and to assassinate the reputation of a Rachel Carson, a person who can no longer defend herself or her own reputation. If Miranda Devine had any respect for her putative profession as an opinion shaper, she’d resign. But we all know that Miranda Devine will not resign, because the truth means nothing to Miranda Devine. Miranda Devine has no shame.

And Katz again:

The fact is that Miranda Devine moved those quotation marks deliberately, knowingly and with malice aforethought.

Katz, Quiggin, and Lambert are wrong. Devine didn’t fabricate the quote. Her source was a Melbourne Age piece by Lockitch, published on January 29 and not available online, in which a sub-editor appears to have made the crucial alteration:

Carson wrote: “We should seek not to eliminate malarial mosquitoes with pesticides, but to find instead a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves.”

Devine’s crime? Trusting the Melbourne Age. Quiggin has since posted a climb-down, in the form of an over-the-fold update:

Miranda Devine has written, 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. So it looks as though this bogus quote evolved, rather than being consciously fabricated.

And that’s it, at least so far. No apology. No direct withdrawal of his knee-jerk assumption that “Devine has actually taken the critical step in the fabrication herself.” No revision of his view that the quote was “worse than anything I can recall.”  As Quiggin fan Katz might say: No shame.

UPDATE. It’s interesting that Quiggin attacks Devine for being “too lazy to check her third-hand or fourth-hand sources”, seeing as he didn’t check many sources himself before rushing to an unequivocal condemnation (“Devine has actually taken the critical step in the fabrication herself”). Quiggin is a Fairfax columnist (with the Australian Financial Review) and, one assumes, can gain access to the internal Fairfax library. Or he could simply have emailed Devine and asked about the quote. Instead, he’s relied on some shabby Googling and Tim Lambert—a combination that will always land you in trouble. J.F. Beck has more on the DDT dispute, plus alarming eyeball news. Best wishes to your boy, J.F.

UPDATE II. Quiggin adds:

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.

UPDATE III. And Miranda Devine writes:

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.

Posted by Tim B. on 06/24/2005 at 11:19 PM
  1. Oh god, looks like another case of triple idiocy..

    Posted by Quentin George on 2005 06 25 at 12:45 AM • permalink

  2. There’s no shame because Quiggin (and Lambert as well) has no conscious.

    Posted by The_Real_JeffS on 2005 06 25 at 12:57 AM • permalink

  3. No conscience either.

    Posted by Pixy Misa on 2005 06 25 at 01:02 AM • permalink

  4. Being Left means never having to say you’re sorry.

    Posted by Spiny Norman on 2005 06 25 at 01:14 AM • permalink

  5. I have seen a Lancet study which proves that there are 100,000 uncorrected errors in John Quiggin’s blog.

    Posted by Evil Pundit on 2005 06 25 at 01:36 AM • permalink

  6. Oh, darn.

    I thought we were gonna get to see Miranda burned at the stake by these spittle flecked, red faced holy men.

    Well, I’ll continue to enjoy Miranda’s work so it’s cool.

    BTW, I did read a devastating piece some years ago on Ms Carson. Not all she seemed, apparently, but they still teach her text as sacred and divinely inspired at the school house.

    Posted by JDB on 2005 06 25 at 01:39 AM • permalink

  7. Gee whiz don’t call me Al pulls down a quote from a person’s website and you blokes want to whip up a frenzy.

    now you are saying hey it actually came from an article.

    This is where it gets confusing.
    you criticise don’t call me al. They are criticising the lovely miranda.
    I would say the whole lot is pointless.

    Posted by Homer Paxton on 2005 06 25 at 01:45 AM • permalink

  8. I thought Lambert and Quiggin were some sort of midly amusing comedy duo. Oh, right….

    Posted by Hanyu on 2005 06 25 at 01:46 AM • permalink

  9. No conscience either.

    That’s what I get for blogging before my morning coffee.  Thanks, Pixy!

    Posted by The_Real_JeffS on 2005 06 25 at 01:55 AM • permalink

  10. This is where it gets confusing./quote]

    I was able to follow everything as it was presented in Tim’s post.  Yet your post, oddly, was even more non-sensical than your usual fare.  Do you have an explanation for your fantastic non-grasp of the written word, Homer? 

    I mean, I seriously have a hard time understanding what it is you’re bitching about now.  If the whole lot is pointless, aren’t you guilty of criticising Quiggin’s Crew as well?  I mean, the entire complaint is pretty pointless, hence the amusement at their expense.

    Posted by Sortelli on 2005 06 25 at 02:04 AM • permalink

  11. I didn’t think I was being obtuse.
    Yes I was criticising JQ as well.

    Posted by Homer Paxton on 2005 06 25 at 02:12 AM • permalink

  12. Sortelli - I thought someone astutely summed up Homer’s debating style perfectly on Steve Edwards’s blog. In fact, I think it was Gary Gravett himself.

    “Homers in-penetrable obtuseness is his debate tactic that he’s hid behind for a long time.”

    http://www.gravett.org/steve/?p=539#comment-2495

    Posted by James Waterton on 2005 06 25 at 02:21 AM • permalink

  13. Homer P…seriously… WHAT THE??

    Posted by Quentin George on 2005 06 25 at 02:46 AM • permalink

  14. Completely off topic, but I must brag (I must, I must!).

    I am typing this on a brand new imac with a 20 inch screen.  Tonnes of real estate and Mac OS X goodness.

    I am a happy boy!
    (and Mrs Entropy is very understanding).

    What’s that Dear? Time for a new bedroom suite?
    Sorry, don’t have the money.

    Posted by entropy on 2005 06 25 at 02:47 AM • permalink

  15. Hey Homer, how’s ‘Iron Mark Latham’ looking for the 2007 election?

    Posted by Lucky Nutsacks on 2005 06 25 at 03:02 AM • permalink

  16. Believe it or not, I was actually thinking about Mark Latham this morning.  Wondering what is was up to, and if he has come to terms with things yet.

    In my view, back when he was a mere backbencher, he had some pretty good policy ideas.  He just junked them all once he became opposition leader in order to buy off the left. 

    Of course, I would never vote for him, though.  The Maxine Mckew inerview cooked his goose for me (when he professed to being a hater).  What is it with Maxine and ALP people anyway.  How does she always get them to say what they are really thinking?

    Posted by entropy on 2005 06 25 at 03:18 AM • permalink

  17. Of course, it is easy to wish him well now that he is harmless

    Posted by entropy on 2005 06 25 at 03:21 AM • permalink

  18. I’m thinking that entropy was sitting on ‘The Throne’ when ‘Iron Mark Latent’ came to mind - mmm?

    Posted by Lucky Nutsacks on 2005 06 25 at 04:03 AM • permalink

  19. Having often been “Quiggined and Lambertised”, and just arrived home from a jolly run in my new (pre-owned) Landrover Defender 110 waggon mit TD5 und proper Wolf rims and Bridgestone 235/85R16 10 ply radials (standard mining company kit - tyres that is, not the 4WD), from a full day jaunt from Fremantle to Broomehill and back, I am very amused.

    At least when Lambert stuffs up he has the grace to admit it.

    What I can’t understand is how Miranda assumed that anything published in the AGE is accurate.

    Tsk tsk.

    Oh and lately I am being “Enderised” if any read Jenny Marohasy’s blog.

    Posted by Louis on 2005 06 25 at 06:25 AM • permalink

  20. The 20” screen is sweet entropy but a Mac is the red-headed stepchild/beta video player of the internet age. Get with the plan! :)

    Posted by Lucky Nutsacks on 2005 06 25 at 06:51 AM • permalink

  21. Yeah.  All the cool kids are running NetBSD!

    Posted by Pixy Misa on 2005 06 25 at 07:03 AM • permalink

  22. The Real Jeffs

    Man, take the Malaysian morning coffee solution.

    Normal coffee mug, 4 heaped teaspoons of instant, add your usual amount of milk but use sweetened condensed milk instead. Stir. Drink. ‘Kopi-o’ Bagan Ajam style - for use if you cannot get ‘Teh Tarik’ (lit: Pulled Tea)! Best served in a plastic bag with a straw in it (again, Malaysian style)

    You will never make a spelling mistake in the morning again. And your staff can usually coax you down from the ceiling with roti canai by about 10:00.

    MarkL
    Canberra

    Posted by MarkL on 2005 06 25 at 07:11 AM • permalink

  23. The Quiggan/Lambert/Katz line didn’t make any sense to start with. They think that attributing the words “We should seek not to eliminate malarial mosquitoes with pesticides” to Carson would cause her standing to be significantly diminished. But although she didn’t use these exact words, they follow from what she did say. That is, she did believe something like this. But I don’t suppose that they will acknowledge that her standing has therefore been significantly diminished. But if not, then their original claims were—right from the start—exaggerations.

    Posted by Blithering Bunny on 2005 06 25 at 07:24 AM • permalink

  24. Gasp- Miranda Devine has no shame -there’s a book in that title.
    O.T.
    Peter Cundall(tempting),was in fine fettle tonight gushing and fondling lovingly the spade that Bill Clinton had handled before him. So in transports was he that he pronounced exultantly “I can SMELL the love coming from this tree”.Maybe it was just the shovel Pete.

    Posted by crash on 2005 06 25 at 07:40 AM • permalink

  25. MarkL, the “Malaysian morning coffee solution” sounds like using ether in the carburetor on a very cold morning.  I’m not sure my heart could take that!  ;-P

    Posted by The_Real_JeffS on 2005 06 25 at 08:02 AM • permalink

  26. Deo said:

    I’m thinking that entropy was sitting on ‘The Throne’ when ‘Iron Mark Latent’ came to mind - mmm?

    Actually, I was :)

    And as for the snide comment on my choice of OS, I have only one word for you

    “Virii”

    Posted by entropy on 2005 06 25 at 08:39 AM • permalink


  27. Light of the world,
    shine on me,
    re-education camp is the answer.
    ~ todd rundgren ~

    Posted by guinsPen on 2005 06 25 at 10:20 AM • permalink

  28. Katz has committed a defamation at law. Devine ought to sue - it’s a good way to deal with letists in general.

    Posted by Susan Norton on 2005 06 25 at 10:31 AM • permalink

  29. What?  Sorry, I’m busy making accommodations with the insect hordes, and they’re not being very reasonable about it.

    Posted by RebeccaH on 2005 06 25 at 10:32 AM • permalink

  30. It just occurred to me…..mosquitoes are pests.  DDT eliminates mosquitoes.  Since Quiggin is a pest, can we use DDT on him?

    Posted by The_Real_JeffS on 2005 06 25 at 10:45 AM • permalink

  31. Tim,

    Thanks. Brad’s doing Okay but it will be interesting to see how his recovery goes. The latest is that a piece from the back of his skull will be used to repair his eye-socket.

    He’s taking it better than I am. Will keep you posted.

    Posted by J F Beck on 2005 06 25 at 12:24 PM • permalink

  32. Ok, I’m confused.  I understand Quiggins’ complaint about Rachel Carson’s quote.  She did not actually say mosquitos.  But that’s certainly what she’s saying from the context of her statement.

    This is far different from Maureen Dowd’s editing of a quote by President Bush in which she left out certain words, completely changing the meaning of his statement.

    So is Quiggins saying that Rachel Carson did not mean that?  Or that her quote did not actually say “mosquitos” even though it implied it?

    I got to tell you, I know very little about Quiggins, but based on this little tempest in a teapot, he sounds like a person that is probably best to ignore.

    Posted by wronwright on 2005 06 25 at 12:44 PM • permalink

  33. entropy: enjoy it while you can.  What with Apple moving to Intel processors, word is that the MAC OS XI will actually be . . .ta-da!! Microsoft Longhorn.  Just goes to show how hard it is for a 2% tail to wag the dog.

    Posted by JorgXMcKie on 2005 06 25 at 03:41 PM • permalink

  34. RebeccaH—I like the accomodation Charlton Heston made with the insect Hordes in The Naked Jungle (Clive James’ favorite movie!)

    Entropy—what the hell kind of soapbox bedroom suite can you buy for the price of an iMac?

    Posted by richard mcenroe on 2005 06 25 at 04:46 PM • permalink

  35. Seen one Insect Horde, you’ve seen em all. Describes those who are trying their hardest to cut down the most incisive commenters in the media.
    The Insect Hordes should try to reach an accommodation with them instead.
    The Left can take pleasure, if they like, in the continuing spread through various third world sovereign states of AIDS, Malaria, and the resurgence of Polio - all being helped along by lack of proper measures to combat them, in turn down to misinformation about those measures.
    Arguing about Miranda’s quote while the leaders of those countries are committing crimes of error or omission on a grand scale is so revealing of the mentalities involved.
    That reminds me ... Andrea! You left the door open and that no-good hound Homer has come in and pissed on the carpet again.

    Posted by blogstrop on 2005 06 25 at 07:24 PM • permalink

  36. Sometimes I think the French and others are right to use those much bigger, more visible marks as quotation marks. Occasionally, for important quotations, I go even farther, for instance:

    66~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    There once was a girl named Alice
    ....
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~99

    Posted by ForNow on 2005 06 26 at 12:03 AM • permalink

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