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Friday, June 24, 2005

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
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