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."
… 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!
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.