Adventures in the quotemines of Oz

by John Q on April 30, 2009

The Australian , commonly referred to as the Oz, is Australia’s only national general[1] newspaper. It’s also been, for some time, a national joke, particularly among bloggers, for its continuous War on Science, particularly as related to climate change, and for its propensity to melt down in response to criticism from blogs and media critics.

Last week, I added a bit of fuel to the fire with a column in the Australian Financial Review attacking the delusional thinking behind claims that the science of climate change is a hoax, fraud or conspiracy, which included the following passage:

While most media outlets give at least some space to these conspiracy theorists, the central role has been played by The Australian. Not only its opinion columnists (with a handful of honorable exceptions) and its editorials, but even its news reporting is dominated by the idea that mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs, publishing their findings not in the peer-reviewed literature but through blogs, thinktanks and vanity presses

That looked a bit different when it came out of the quote mine.

Reading their latest installment in the War on Science (from William Kininmonth) I was surprised, to put it mildly, to find myself quoted as an authority for the proposition that

mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs

In the spirit of sceptical inquiry, I’m not jumping to conclusions about the Oz itself on this one. Opinion editors rarely fact check their columnists, and on one memorable occasion back in the Tom Switzer era, reader Terje Peterson managed to elicit a correction from Janet Albrechtsen after a team effort here demonstrated that one of her columns was based on a misreading of statistics.

In the hope of a double, I’ve written to the Oz, asking for a correction in the following terms:

In “Cold facts dispel theories on warming” William Kininmonth attributed to John Quiggin the claim that “mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs” . Quiggin does not hold this view, and the article in question referred to such claims, propagated by Kininmonth and others in the pages of The Australian, as displaying “a large dose of delusion.”

So, we’ll see what they have to say. Either way, anyone who thought Kininmonth deserved to be taken more seriously than, say, Lord Monckton, will have to think again.

fn1. The Australian Financial Review, for which I write, is roughly equivalent to the Financial Times or (except for the totally wingnutty Oped pages, which AFR dispensed with a decade or so ago) the WSJ.



may 04.30.09 at 2:44 am

i saw in the opinions.

dear Mr Quiggin i didn’t know you could palpitate.

at least there was nothing from pj o’rawk(pissed off and all talk ).


Kieran Healy 04.30.09 at 4:40 am

The Australian … is Australia’s only … newspaper … I was … mildly … jumping … In the hope of a double … I[‘m] asking for a .. a large dose … roughly … dispensed.


mcd 04.30.09 at 4:40 am

Next up:

Someone purporting to be John Quiggin has demanded we correct a quote attributed to him by us. Quiggin has assured us (in writing) that “Quiggin does not hold this view”.


stostosto 04.30.09 at 7:33 am

stostosto is wondering why John Quiggin refers to himself in the third person.


dave 04.30.09 at 8:05 am

banned commenter


Stuart 04.30.09 at 8:14 am

Surely that is taking it to such an obvious level they are opening themselves up to legal challenge? It is not really as if your original statement is confusing or nuanced so that some confusion might be had over your opinion, so it would seem to be pretty clear they are doing nothing other than pure misrepresentation of your statement.


Tracy W 04.30.09 at 10:22 am

Gosh, that’s an amazing misquote. I thought I’d been misbitten in the past, but that’s a whopper.


Barry 04.30.09 at 11:47 am

Quote mining was pioneered by creationists; it’s probably heavily used in all junk sciences.


engels 04.30.09 at 12:03 pm

Last week… I was surprised, to put it mildly, to find myself… on the verge of… jumping on… Janet Albrechtsen after… a large dose of… e… which AFR dispensed…


Rich Puchalsky 04.30.09 at 12:15 pm

Kieran and engels are not quite perfect as parody quote-miners: the real denialists don’t use “…” but instead just join sentence fragments together with no indication that anything was cut out.


Bloix 04.30.09 at 4:02 pm

Years ago I used to read Arts and Letters Daily, a NZ production, until the climate denialism got too much for me. (Nature and Science in a conspiracy to suppress the Daily Telegraph!) Can anyone tell me if they’re still at it?


Neil 05.01.09 at 12:58 pm

Bloix, A & L Daily is still at it. Not just climate denialism, but the full range of republican talking points. Dutton links to everything by non entities like Roger Kimball. But it is still a good site to check out: just think before you click.


rea 05.01.09 at 1:27 pm

Surely that is taking it to such an obvious level they are opening themselves up to legal challenge?

I don’t know the Australian law, but in many US jurisdictions, this would be actionable (false light publicity/invasion of privacy).


adroit kernel 05.01.09 at 4:32 pm

The actual quote is even worse than the abused cut’n’paste. Smearing people with “conspiracy theory” is reprehensible in the extreme, on multiple grounds.


John Quiggin 05.02.09 at 6:38 am

If the cap fits, adroit… The political right has been pushing conspiracy theories to explain the scientific consensus on this subject for nearly 20 years – from The Greenhouse Conspiracy back around 1990 to The Great Global Warming Swindle a year or two ago.


Alex Prior 05.03.09 at 2:06 pm

Allied to quote mining is quote theft. As a publisher, I regularly find that the Oz has stolen a story, not acknowledged the original source of the breaking news, and then lifted unique and recognisable individual quotes from our journalists’ interviews with key players and integrated them into their own take on the story. And then there’s sticking bylines on Telstra media releases. A fine, venerable publication indeed.

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