Who is Sharon Gould?

Keith Windschuttle has been hoaxed. In a post for Quadrant Online he writes: "An author calling herself ‘Sharon Gould’ has tricked Quadrant into publishing in its January-February edition an article about popular scares on biotechnology issues." As Crikey’s Margaret Simons puts it:

…in the tradition of Ern Malley– the famous literary hoax perpetrated by Quadrant’s first editor, James McAuley – the Sharon Gould persona is entirely fictitious and the article is studded with false science, logical leaps, outrageous claims and a mixture of genuine and bogus footnotes.

Windschuttle is busy digging himself a bigger hole. Rather than simply admit that he failed to fact-check the article properly and apologise to readers, he denies that the article was a hoax and remarks that "public apologies these days are largely worthless gestures" (although he does say he’s willing to apologise). Windschuttle insists that he’s the victim of "fraudulent journalism" rather than a hoax. But unlike fraudsters Jason Blair and Stephen Glass, Gould was obviously attempting to make a point about Quadrant and its editor.

Not everyone thinks that the hoax was well aimed. Andrew Norton, for example, is puzzled by Gould’s choice of issue — genetically modified crops. He’s puzzled because the issue doesn’t seem to fit with Quadrant’s worldview. He suggests that many of Quadrant’s conservative readers would be appalled at the idea of introducing human DNA into food crops. "For the hoax idea to work", he writes, "it needed to be a climate change denialist piece."

Meanwhile everyone is asking: Who is Sharon Gould? It seems likely that it’s someone with a particular interest in genetically modified crops. In November 2007 Sharon Gould surfaced briefly on the Age’s Your Say web site with a link to this article by Katherine Wilson. Wilson argues that the media have been captured by the GM lobby and that — despite concern by some scientists — activists struggle to get coverage of studies which show negative impacts of GM products. Interestingly, she links this to the debate over climate change:

Mine isn’t a balanced and disinterested account of this issue. But to the best of my knowledge, it’s a fair and truthful one. As Robert Manne wrote last year in The Monthly, one side has gained ‘an altogether undeserved importance.’ He was speaking about climate change skeptic (carbon lobby) scientists, not pro-GM scientists, but the GM debate is even more distorted.

Whoever wrote the Sharon Gould article probably assumes (as some Overland readers do) that Quadrant is just another arm of the vast corporate-funded octopus that controls the Institute of Public Affairs, the Centre for Independent Studies and — quite likely — the editorial line of the the Australian. As Norton writes, the hoaxer probably doesn’t "distinguish between conservative culture warriors like Windschuttle and free-marketeers who object to anti-scientific views on GM foods or government subsidies for the arts."

Strangely enough, people used joke about Windschuttle hoaxing Quadrant. In 2000, Sydney bookseller Bob Gould wrote this about Windschuttle’s 1999 essay on John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath:

… my first instinct was that Keith was perpetrating on Quadrant the sort of brilliant spoof that the American physicist, Alan Sokal, played on the postmodernist magazine Social Text, and also not unlike the much earlier, extremely effective Angry Penguins deception here in Australia. Attractive though this notion of Keith in spoof mode is to me, I’ve had to reluctantly conclude that he is serious. Which is a great worry!

So who is Sharon Gould? I don’t know. Nexus 6 thinks it might be Katherine Wilson. Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo is posting regular updates on the affair.

Update 1: Jason Soon also suspects Katherine Wilson (via Skepticlawyer).

Update 2: Katherine Wilson is the hoaxer. Here’s Margaret Simons in Crikey:

This morning I was released from my obligations of confidentiality. I can now report for the first time that the speculation has it right. Katherine Wilson is Sharon Gould.

Who figured it out first? In her blog Content Makers, Simons reports that "mainstream media journalists Bernard Lane and Justine Ferrari of The Australian made the connection as early as Tuesday afternoon – within hours of Crikey publishing the “Sharon Gould” material.

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39 Responses to Who is Sharon Gould?

  1. Nexus 6 says:

    I’ll stop drinking beer for up to a week if it isn’t Katherine Wilson. However, credit goes to Tom McLoughlin in comments at Crikey with coming up with the name first and Jason Soon for doing the detective work which lead to, in my view, the clincher. Later links in the comments thread at Catallaxy strengthen the case.

  2. melaleuca says:

    It’s Kath Wilson alright. When I took on some of her more extreme anti-GMO rantings at Larvatus Prodeo a couple of years back she got in contact with fellow Greens members behind my back (I’m no longer a Greens member) and even obtained a copy of the Greens membership list so she could suss out who I was. How’s that for an unhealthy obsession. In spite of my numerous complaints Mark Bahnisch, ever the amoral hypocrite, failed to admonish Wilson for her clearly unethical, if not illegal, behaviour.

    I wonder if Wilson tipped Mark Bahnisch off about the hoax …..? AFAIK he was the first blogger to flag the issue.

  3. I’ve told both Mark and Keith, Don and Mel. Although they disagree on most things, I’m in the slightly awkward position of being friends with both of them, and I do think it’s only fair to point out that Katherine Wilson didn’t exactly do the right thing by LP, either.

    Interestingly (as Nexus points out as his place), this is starting to look like a manufactured story by Crikey. Curioser and curioser, said Alice.

  4. JC says:

    Don

    You suggest this is a hoax and W fell for it. You link to Margaret Simons who suggests this is a hoax of outrageous proportions in the same vein as one of the well known ones. Shes exaggerating like a kid says he caught a fish THIS big when it could be barely seen by the naked eye.

    The piece is not actually strewn with outrageous propositions and if you think it is please point to us which ones.

    W says:

    In the Gould article, all the principal subjects, personnel and publications actually exist. The biotechnology controversies she discusses genuinely occurred. The authors she quotes do hold the positions she says and they did write the works she cites. The institutions she says were involved in the biotechnology products she discusses are real institutions and are well known for funding projects of this kind. In particular:

    * There was an MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine scare in Britain.
    * Ben Goldacre is the author of Bad Science.
    * Andrew Wakefield did publish a paper about the MMR scare.
    * Richard Hindmarsh did write a book called Edging Towards BioUtopia.
    * The chief plant scientist of the CSIRO until 2003 was Jim Peacock.
    * The July 2003 edition of Plant Biotechnology Journal and the study cited there are authentic. Only the footnote is an invention.
    * There is a genetically-modified product called Golden Rice.
    * The following institutions she cites are all real: the Rockefeller Foundation, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the European Community Biotech Program and the Swiss Federal Office for Education and Science.

    Moreover, Margaret Simons confirmed to me yesterday that only one of the 18 footnotes in the article was completely bogus and in another six cases the articles, books and footnotes cited all exist but do not contain some or all of the information Gould claims. Eleven of the footnotes are genuine.
    In The Australian (January 7) reporters Justine Ferrari and Samantha Maiden allege the Gould article contained scientific nonsense and pseudoscience. This is untrue. The critical issue on which I was allegedly hoaxed, the claims about inserting human genes into animal stock and crops to give immunity to human consumers of those products, is anything but nonsense. As Kelly Burke and Julie Robotham reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (January 7):

    the projects cited by Gould as having been dumped by the organisation [CSIRO] are not in themselves implausible, and similar technologies are in active development. Human vaccines against diseases including hepatitis B, respiratory syncytial virus and Norwalk virus have been genetically engineered into crops as diverse as lettuce, potato and corn, and shown to provoke an immune response in humans.

    Gould also suggests the CSIRO abandoned research into the creation of dairy cattle capable of producing non-allergenic milk for lactose-intolerant infants and a genetically engineered mosquito that could stimulate antibodies against malaria in humans who were bitten, mitigating against the spread of the disease. Both ideas are under serious scientific study by research groups around the world.

    At most, all that Gould has done is misrepresent her own identity and the direct involvement of the CSIRO in some of the research projects she cites. She has done no more than demonstrate that, through the subterfuge of a bogus email address, an invented identity and CV, plus a series of deceitful email conversations with an editor, a writer can get an article published that contains a small amount of information that was not true, but which is otherwise entirely plausible. Rather than a hoax, her article is simply a piece of fraudulent journalism submitted to Quadrant under false pretences. It is no more a hoax than a dud cheque.

    Thats what W says in the rebuttal. If hes accurate there was no hoax and it resembles a fraud more then anything else.

  5. Jacques, if you’re reading, the password reset feature is majorly stuffed. I’ve got a new computer which hasn’t remembered my old settings, and it’s taken me yonks to get in here to comment. Having said all that, all I wanted to say was that mel is completely wrong – I haven’t heard from Kath Wilson for over 2 years, and my post on the matter was the first one because I happened to be online when I received the Crikey email. I knew nothing about the Quadrant hoax before then, and quite frankly I don’t care all that much about it now.

    I explained this here, before I finally was able to get into this thread to comment:

    http://larvatusprodeo.net/2009/01/08/who-is-sharon-gould/

  6. C.L. says:

    People should know that “Mel” is Steve Munn. A woman once consulted a solicitor regarding his online stalking and Mark Bahnisch also admonished him for it. “Mel” has been on the war-path against Mark ever since. He was banned (and still is) from Catallaxy for sickening racism, personal abuse, gutter language and an obsessive interest in child molestation (to which he made references on a nightly basis). He has also been banned from other blogs.

    I respectfully suggest to Ken Parish that “Mel” be monitored if his right to post at Club Troppo is to continue. Crazed by a reference of mine to James Hansen in the Benedict thread, he has written there that I am a “defrocked priest.” As anyone familiar with his pre-banned behaviour at Catallaxy will testify, this familiar invention – one of his favourites – was customorily associated with references to the sexual abuse of children. (This, in relation to a Catholic apologist, is “Mel’s” standard operating procedure).

    I should really ask that “Mel” be banned from this site for bringing his infamously disturbed conduct to it. But I won’t hold my breath.

  7. C.L., I won’t comment directly on that except to say that I note that Mel is indulging in his usual conspiracy theory thinking on this one, and his case isn’t strengthened by complaining about moderation decisions on LP. As I said in the post, I think it’s well known that LP and Kath Wilson didn’t part on the best of terms, and although we were opposed to her request to delete all her posts, we complied reluctantly. I really don’t want to say any more about it.

  8. C.L. says:

    Fair enough, Mark. I don’t agree with LP’s take on the “hoax” (and I could say something about Club Troppo falling for the laughable ‘Benedict said gays are destroying the planet’ whopper – of which it was my melancholy and laborious duty to disabuse several interlocutors here recently) but I have no hesitation in accepting your dismissal of any collaboration with the alleged trickster, Wilson. Not that such a joint exercise in mischievousness would amount to some kind of ethical crime anyway.

  9. You’ll forgive me for not scrolling through the LP thread at this hour, but I distinctly recall saying – in response to another commenter – that I think there was an element of bad faith in this hoax, as well as in the Sokal one, C.L. I don’t know that there is an “LP position” on it. My post really only set out what had occurred and linked to Simons’ story. As far as I can see, there’s a fair bit of disagreement about both the ethics and the significance of the hoax on the thread. It probably would be fair to say, though, that a lot of people aren’t crying too many tears for the target of the hoax.

  10. melaleuca says:

    CL, your obsession with me and constant lies are rather disturbing. You’re unhappy because I lampoon your antics on threads that concern the Catholic Church. Sorry champ, but I feel it is my duty as an Ozzie to lampoon pompous God-botherers. That is all.

    Of course I accept Mark Bahnisch’s statement re forewarning of the hoax. I wasn’t aware that he had a falling out with Kath Wilson.

  11. C.L. says:

    CL, your obsession with me and constant lies are rather disturbing.

    LOL. The switcheroo strategy doesn’t work for you, Steve, because you’re notorious throughout the blogosphere as an emotionally deranged lunatic – and nobody needs me to convince them of that. Other people have commented on your tendency to slip into a disturbed episode and then act like nothing ever happened days or even hours later. There is no more liberal blog master or less censorious person on the Australian internet than Jason Soon. He banned you because of your endless racial attacks and, frankly, weird abuse. You were banned once before that and in the relevant thread relating to your chastisement several bone fide left-wing commenters (and no allies of mine) denounced you as a foul-minded oddball. You were advised in a friendly tone by a few different people to seek professional assistance during your infamous child sex abuse rants at Catallaxy (which everyone knows I’m not making up). To no avail, evidently.

    You haven’t, of course, “lampooned” anything. Essentially, a quasi-hoax was perpetrated via-a-vis Pope Benedict’s Christmas address to the curia and I successfully as much until you – frustrated and humiliated – reverted to type by running your strange distractions and hilarious historical concoctions.

  12. Rafe Champion says:

    This so-called hoax is a storm in a teacup, a damp squib.
    Keith Windschuttle’s reply is ok and so is the comment by Andrew Norton.
    The people who emerge with the most egg on their faces are those who have tried to beat up the incident as a big black mark against Quadrant and KW.

  13. Pappinbarra Fox says:

    Well well boys and girls settle down. The whole episode is not worth the trouble, Winschuttle isnt, Kath Gould isn’t, and the article itself isn’t. Dont waste any more time or space on this. You are consuming good oxygen and replacing it with genetically modified CO2

  14. Peter Wood says:

    Who is Sharon Gould? Maybe s/he is Tim Curtin? I hear that Tim has also hoaxed Quadrant magazine.

  15. Jacques Chester says:

    Calm down the lot of you, or I’ll start waving the delete hammer.

  16. Nexus 6 says:

    As expected, Katherine Wilson has been revealed as the hoaxer.

    Of course, nothing has been learnt from the whole exercise with both Windschuttle and weathergirl doing what comes naturally to inflexible ideologues.

    Sadly, science reporting in the media is the loser, as always.

  17. Pingback: Who Killed “Sharon Gould”? - The Content Makers

  18. Jacques Chester says:

    As promised, I have deleted any off-topic comments which appeared after my warning. If you have personal issues to raise and argue about, this is not the forum. Take it to your own blogs.

    Love,

    the Local Friendly Oppressor.

  19. This whole saga has all the longevity and relevance as who bonked so-and-so in the stationary cupboard at the office Christmas party.

  20. Anthony says:

    Rex @19, if someone was genuinely bonking someone else in that cupboard, it probably wouldn’t remain stationary.

    BTW, this is my first time having to register to comment on this hitherto free-to-comment blog and the phrase jump-thru-hoops comes to mind, in a way that I did expect Pierce Brosnan to emerge from said submarine to give me my new secret password. Come on guys, what’s it all about? If I’m captured will I have to eat my password in case The Enemy logs on and – shock horror – posts a comment?

  21. Jacques Chester says:

    Anthony;

    It was a policy decision by the duumvirate to make it easier to manage trolls.

  22. Anthony. I’m pleased you went to all that trouble to point out a spelling error on my part. It’s an honorable and worthwhile thing and I thank you. It’s no wonder I got found out at the office Christmas party.

  23. whyisitso says:

    Well at least this blog accepts my login, unlike Catallaxy, where I appear to have lost it. Both sites are WordPress. Interesting.

  24. Niall says:

    I thought the entire episode, while somewhat childish as all such hoaxes are, made interesting revelations about Windshuttle’s tenuous grip on reality when forced to face up to his own laxness as an editor. The increasing depth of the hole he’s digging for himself and the protectionist protestations of his fellow travellers, claiming fraud rather than hoax, is possibly the best giggle in these ongoing ideological wars I’ve seen in a long time.

  25. C.L. says:

    I think what’s amusing is that the left has essentially surrendered the historiographical field to Windschuttle and now content themselves with third rate schadenfreude regarding a “hoax” perpetrated by a woman who once sought to argue that the Port Arthur massacre never happened. It’s probable that this latter gambit was a trial-run hoax – though Wilson’s strange worldview leaves open the slight possibility she was actually serious – but it was one she didn’t have the talent to pull off. She took an easier option, writing an article passably veracious under a false name. As literary hoaxes go, this one doesn’t really rate. I do think, however, that criticisms of Windschuttle’s ability as a magazine editor (if not as an excellent historian) are reasonable.

  26. Michael Kalecki says:

    who cares who she is/was.

    CL is wrong about Windschuttle. Ron Brunton is the person who has showed up the falsities about the ‘Stolen Generations’. He wrote some very good papers when the IPA had credibility.

    Windschuttle is hard to take seriously. Whilst I have sympathy for his take on history anyone who shows up people with poor or even false use of footnotes should not threaten legal action when someone takes aim at his footnotes.

    He is though a poor editor

  27. C.L. says:

    They weren’t his footnotes. They were pumpkin girl’s.

    A real hoax would have been some rightist conspiratorial expose of Port Arthur. Wilson was too untalented to pull that off so she wrote a fraud piece instead. Windschuttle’s demolition of leftist Aboriginal “history” stands, untouched.

  28. Don Arthur says:

    Here’s Peter Coleman on reactions to the Ern Malley hoax:

    when James McAuley and Harold Stewart succeeded in their grand Ern Malley hoax of the avant-garde. (The avant-garde will not call it a hoax. That would be to admit they made fools of themselves. So they must find a new word for it. Michael Heyward called it “an affair”. Bennie calls it a “con”.)

  29. C.L. says:

    Conflation of phenomena there, Don. Windschuttle the editor has been duped. The Windschuttle historiographical oeuvre hasn’t received a scratch. Wilson confirms that leftists are adept at false bibliography. Own goal.

  30. melaleuca says:

    Chuckle. It was only ever going to be a matter of time before a liver-spotted finger was raised in indignation against the amorphous spectre known as “teh left”. As to Windschuttle’s version of history, those who find it credible are about as credible themselves as those who believe in “complimentarity”.

    But on a more serious note, I’m beginning to feel sympathy for Kath Wilson. I fear she has damaged herself far more than Windschuttle, especially if she wants further gigs as a journo.

    Her motives were pure but her judgement was askew.

  31. Michael Kalecki says:

    CL,

    you obviously do not know of what has happened with Windschuttle.

    some people found HIS footnotes were faulty and he threatened legal action.

  32. C.L. says:

    Historical analysis from someone who believes Pius IX caused the American Civil War would probably appeal to Wilson – an urban pumpkin rancher who linked the UN to the Port Arthur massacre (facetiously or not we don’t know). Her gigs may indeed dry up faster than the widely banned Mel’s registrations within the Australian blogosphere. Chrome Dome and Pumkin Gal: separated at birth.

  33. C.L. says:

    “…you obviously do not know of what has happened with Windschuttle.”

    Um, yes I do. Weathergirl submitted a nominally veracious article for publication under a false name and was successful in the fraud. Windschuttle should have checked her out more carefully. But a literary hoax is meant to have oomph as iconoclasm vis-a-vis the target’s oeuvre or Weltanschuung. Wilson’s effort doesn’t lay a glove on Windshuttle’s work – which remains one of the most definitive smack-downs against the Turtleneck Left in the history of Australian letters. She isn’t Ern Malley’s toenail.

  34. Michael Kalecki says:

    No you do not.

    I really do not give a stuff about this.

    way back when Windschuttle accused several historians of dubious reputation of falsifying evidence through their footnotes.

    When someone noticed that several of his footnotes were a bit sus he threatened legal action.

    He has a glass jaw.

    As I said people would do a lot lot better reading Brunton

  35. C.L. says:

    Yes, I do. Weathergirl submitted a nominally veracious article for publication under a false name and was successful in the fraud. What Windy may or may not have done in the past bears no relevance to the fact that as a literary “hoax”, Wilson’s trick fails miserably. It was the equivalent of Bart Simpson scamming Mo as Seymour Butz.

  36. Michael Kalecki says:

    My comments about windschuttle did not realte to his poor editorship ar all

  37. C.L. says:

    For obvious reasons.

  38. As one person who does not seem to be hewing to any sort of ‘party line’ on this, I think it’s better to accept when one has been hoaxed, without bandying legal terms about.’Fraud’ has a very specific meaning at law, and does not cover any of the various hoaxy incidents that people are discussing. Hoaxing works when there is a pretension to expose, and seems to be part of a general Australian distaste for pretension.

    Of course, in this latest incident, the fact that Wilson has perpetrated a successful hoax still allows her to be attacked. She is a hypocrite who wrote poisonously about me… because I perpetrated a hoax. She somehow thought that she wouldn’t be outed, despite knowing my history. She is a conspiracist of the first water, as Andrew Norton has exposed (he dug up one of her nutty pieces at LP using the National Library’s ‘Pandora’ archive). She has also placed Margaret Simons in a very awkward position.

    These things, however, are separate from the hoax, which although not as funny as Ern Malley or as well-constructed as Sokal, was nonetheless successful.

  39. melaleuca says:

    Oh yes, the National Library’s “Pandora” archive is a ripper. Adding to SL’s point about Kath Wilson’s practices I dug up this from one of her old Larvatus Prodeo posts:

    “… Hey, speaking of mistakes, Steve, did you know that youre registered in the Greens with a ph in your name, but on the electoral roll you have a v? Just sayin… ”

    http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/56373/20070222-0000/larvatusprodeo.net/2006/07/13/australias-new-chief-scientist-a-conflict-of-interest/index.html

    That had me spooked at the time although I endeavoured to indicate otherwise subsequently on that thread.

    Anyway, I’d like to think Kath is a overly exuberant hothead who occasionally exercises poor judgment than a wantonly malicious individual. Given my own occasional failure to self-regulate I can empathize with her :)

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