Master of Sockpuppets

by Henry Farrell on April 10, 2013

Via “The Browser”: a “rather wonderful unravelling”: of the various identities associated with independent scholar A.D. Harvey, who apparently leaves posers like John Lott spluttering in the dirt. The piece is long but worthwhile: at its best, it reads like a combination of A.J. Symon’s _Quest for Corvo_ and what _At-Swim-Two-Birds_ might have been if Flann O’Brien were a tenured professor of history:

bq. Even for holders of tenured university positions, scholarship can make for a lonely life. One spends years on a monograph and then waits a few more years for someone to write about it. How much lonelier the life of an independent scholar, who does not have regular contact, aggravating as that can sometimes be, with colleagues. Attacking one’s own book can be seen as an understandable response to an at times intolerable isolation. How comforting to construct a community of scholars who can analyse, supplement and occasionally even ruthlessly criticize each other’s work. I’ve traced the connections between A. D. Harvey, Stephanie Harvey, Graham Headley, Trevor McGovern, John Schellenberger, Leo Bellingham, Michael Lindsay and Ludovico Parra, but they may be part of a much wider circle of friends. … some of Harvey’s own mystifications leave an unpleasant taste. It is not only that the apparent practice of submitting articles under fictitious names to scholarly journals might well have a chilling effect on the ability of really existing independent scholars to place their work. Nor is it just the embarrassment caused to editors who might in an ideal world have taken more pains to check the contributions of Stephanie Harvey or Trevor McGovern, but who accepted them in good faith, partly out of a wish to make their publications as inclusive as possible.



Steve 04.10.13 at 7:40 pm

Oh my god, this is sublime. I hereby pledge myself forever to A.D Harvey and the cult of the Pink Nipple.


FredR 04.10.13 at 7:48 pm

By the end, you’re wondering if the author, Eric Naiman, is himself an invention of Harvey’s.


LFC 04.10.13 at 7:54 pm

Why leave out the rest of the quoted paragraph?

The worst thing here, if they are fictitious, is a violation of the trust that remains a constitutive element of the humanities. There is, it seems to me, a fundamental difference between posting partisan, anonymous reviews on Amazon, where there is no assumption of proper evaluative standards or impartiality, and placing similar reviews or hoaxing articles in academic journals, which are still the most hallowed sites for the development and transmission of humanistic ideas. The former is a cheap act of virtual graffiti; the latter may be the closest a secular scholar can come to desecration.

One need not perhaps endorse the precise language of this passage (“hallowed,” “desecration”) to find the practice, apparently engaged in by Harvey, of publishing articles in scholarly journals under fictitious names (and of reviewing his own books under fictitious names) disgusting. The OP, by contrast, seems to view this as something of a joke or an entertainment:

at its best, it reads like a combination of A.J. Symon’s Quest for Corvo and what At-Swim-Two-Birds might have been if Flann O’Brien were a tenured professor of history

I’m not as well read as Henry F. and these allusions mean rather little to me, though I’ve certainly heard of Flann O’Brien. But after reading parts of the linked article, I find it considerably less entertaining and considerably more nauseating than Henry appears to.


Anderson 04.10.13 at 8:17 pm

Slightly irrelevantly, I read “rather wonderful unraveling” and went “this is a Henry post,” which when I looked up it indeed was.

So beware of sockpuppeting, Henry! You have a distinctive style!


Henry 04.10.13 at 8:31 pm

LFC – partly because of space, partly because I do not agree with the author’s sniffiness about Amazon reviews and the like, but didn’t want to have this become a post about how I did not agree with aforementioned sniffiness. I do have a weakness for stories about furious and badly behaved eccentrics, though no particular desire to live anywhere near them. The Symons book mentioned above is a lovely account of one such.

And indeed as Anderson gently implies, there’s a tendency towards self-plagiarism and even self-parody that sets in after a while. I’m just about well established enough on the Internet that when I do a Google search on something semi-obscure I’m interested in, I’ll find one of my old, forgotten posts as one of the highly ranked search results. Which of course leads me to read my old posts and, often enough, agree with them, to the detriment of seeking and being changed by more original opinions. The Internet can be both a mirror of your own prejudices and a mapping of the outside world that is unencompassed by those prejudices. But it’s very important to be able to distinguish the two.


Anderson 04.10.13 at 8:45 pm

Now that I’ve read the article, I’m amazed at Naiman’s skill and persistence, awestruck at the web of deceit that Harvey spun, and genuinely concerned whether Harvey is now a suicide risk. I couldn’t even get halfway through before forwarding the link to my onetime research & bibliography prof.


Sandwichman 04.10.13 at 9:08 pm

…concerned whether Harvey is now a suicide risk…

I suspect Harvey is basking in the glory.


Phil 04.10.13 at 9:18 pm

“Seventeen copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries beyond the seas. Getting known. (Pause.) One pound six and something, eight I have little doubt.”
Krapp’s Last Tape


Sprezzatura 04.10.13 at 9:37 pm

Harvey is the best professor I ever had.


Mary Rosh 04.10.13 at 11:06 pm

I don’t see what all the fuss is about. He seems like a fine old gentleman. I only wish he had found a job — he might have been the best professor I ever had.


John Quiggin 04.11.13 at 12:22 am

In Australia, this kind of thing is a national pastime. The Tichborne claimant was a butcher from Wagga Wagga. Our greatest PM in the years after Federation, Alfred Deakin was also a pseudonymous correspondent for the London Morning Post. And we’ve had a string of classic literary hoaxes, from Ern Malley to Helen Demidenko (whose creator is now a respectable blogger – we share the same hosting service). There are enough to fill a book, quite literally


pedant 04.11.13 at 12:27 am

That record of the conversation between Dostoyevsky and Dickens reminds me of a meeting that took place once between A.D. Harvey and Lee Siegel….


garymar 04.11.13 at 12:30 am

With a few more baroque twists added it might have been a short story by Borges.

Hey! Maybe it is!


J-- 04.11.13 at 12:33 am

a short story by Borges

Or Pierre Menard.


Jeffrey Davis 04.11.13 at 1:23 am

I don’t understand the concern. Either the work stands on its own or it doesn’t. People objecting to artificial controversies? Really?


LFC 04.11.13 at 1:50 am

Henry @5
Thks for that, esp the second paragraph. My comment came across as a bit more dour than I meant.


Neil 04.11.13 at 1:53 am

Jeffrey Davis: did you read the piece? AD Harvey fabricated articles in academic journals, in ways designed to be hard to check. This is fraud, pure and simple. The work can’t stand on its own: rather, it is designed to look like it stands on primary sources that don’t exist.


LFC 04.11.13 at 1:57 am

And then a remark like Jeffrey Davis’s appears and makes me want to write another harsh comment, but I’ll refrain.


Marcus Pivato 04.11.13 at 2:57 am

Garymar @13: My thoughts exactly. Borges or Stanislaw Lem.

Actually, I suspect that this long, detailed story about a grand literary hoax is itself a grand literary hoax. (Or perhaps, a clever piece of postmodern fiction.) It’s just to surreal and Borgesian (or Lemian) to be true. Has anyone yet checked the references to all these articles by A. D. Harvey, Stephanie Harvey, Graham Headley, Trevor McGovern, John Schellenberger, Leo Bellingham, Michael Lindsay and Ludovico Parra, which supposedly appeared in various obscure “monthly, bimonthly, and quarterly publications”? Do these articles exist? Do some of these publications even exist?

Also, do any of Harvey’s “ten monographs” even exist? None of the ones mentioned show up in a search on That might not be surprising, since they sound like pretty obscure scholarly works. But his SF novel Warriors of the Rainbow (supposedly published in 2000) also draws a blank. So do the novels Mind-Sprung and Oxford: the novel. Amazon is usually pretty good about fiction, even relatively obscure stuff. Also, the A.D. Harvey described in the article seems just way too prolific to be human.

I think this whole thing is a brilliantly imaginative stunt. Eric Naiman should win a prize for this.


LFC 04.11.13 at 3:06 am

@Marcus Pivato

A.D. Harvey shows up immediately in the university library catalog that I have occasion to check most frequently. First item: Britain in the Early Nineteenth Century (St Martin’s Press, 1978). Link

Anyway, why use Amazon as the check when anyone can go to WorldCat or the Library of Congress catalogs, just to name two?

The piece is not a “stunt.”


Neil 04.11.13 at 3:12 am

I suspect Marcus Pivato is in fact pseudonymously attempt to pull the very same kind of stunt which he accuses Naiman of. At very least, in claiming that no one has bothered to check whether the books and articles cited actually exist, he makes a verifiably false claim: that *Oxford: The Novel* is not listed on amazon.


Neil 04.11.13 at 3:14 am

Here is *Warriors of the Rainbow*, which thanks to Amazon’s ‘look inside’ feature the reader can, well, look inside of.


Neil 04.11.13 at 3:16 am

Okay, last one, I promise: Here is Amazon’s AD Harvey page, listing 12 books. Not bad for someone whose work is not listed on Amazon *at all*.


LFC 04.11.13 at 3:18 am

Oxford, the Novel (1981) by Leo Bellingham (i.e. Harvey) is also in the Library of Congress catalog:



Marcus Pivato 04.11.13 at 3:28 am

Strange that I couldn’t find it when I searched. Obviously I was not thorough enough. But fine, you have convinced me.


Henry (not the famous one) 04.11.13 at 6:00 am

And while we’re talking about Flann, we should mention Myles as well. The WAAMA offered ventriloquists who not only would supply intelligent conversation for people with nothing to say but who could supply both sides of the conversation–and, if you could afford it, misunderstand and argue with each other/themselves. As Casey Stengel said, you could look it up.


John Quiggin 04.11.13 at 6:27 am

I’m just about well established enough on the Internet that when I do a Google search on something semi-obscure I’m interested in, I’ll find one of my old, forgotten posts as one of the highly ranked search results. Which of course leads me to read my old posts and, often enough, agree with them, to the detriment of seeking and being changed by more original opinions

Or even of experiencing random mutation of opinions on topics you didn’t think about so much in the past.

Not quite the same thing, but I’m arguing at the moment about whether the Australian economy is near full capacity (at 5 per cent unemployment) and my commenters can instantly Google the fact (forgotten by me) that, 20 years ago and in a different context, I estimated full capacity at 3 per cent .


Alex K. 04.11.13 at 6:31 am

I am subscribed to SEELANGS although I don’t read it very often, and I vaguely remember the suspicious D-D encounter being discussed. If I were an American or British Dostoyevsky expert, I’d probably have called a Russian colleague in Moscow, St. Petersburg or Tartu to clear things up at once. It’s hard to imagine such a major finding to remain buried for 20 years.

Eric Naiman is perfectly real, of course – he teaches Russian Lit at Berkeley. The titles of his articles can be amusing: “A Filthy Look at Shakespeare’s Lolita,” “Perversion in Pnin (Reading Nabokov Preposterously),” “Historectomies: The Metaphysics of Reproduction in a Utopian Age,” and so on (the funniest one is in Russian, unfortunately).

What would be really interesting to take out of this mess is a full map of citations linking “good-faith” scholarship to the work of Stephanie Harvey, Graham Headley, Trevor McGovern, John Schellenberger, Leo Bellingham, Michael Lindsay and Ludovico Parra (exempting A D H for the time being).


Sebastian H 04.11.13 at 7:43 am

I suspect Krugman will have that problem re deficits. So far as I can tell he is really worried about deficits when republicans are in power and stridently for them when Democrats are. This week he is saying things like “So back to Matthews: this whole deficit fever has been based on bad logic and weak evidence. I could have told you that from the beginning, and actually I did. But it’s good to see the word getting out more widely.”

Only eight years ago he was saying things like this:
Especially cute is. ”
TONY JONES: Your detractors – and there are quite a few of them on the Republican side of the equation – they’re accusing you of scare mongering?

PROFESSOR PAUL KRUGMAN: The first thing to say is to look at what some of those same people were saying in the middle of the Clinton years when the deficit was substantially smaller as a proportion of GDP and they were carrying on about what a bad thing it was.”

Deficit in 2004 3.6 percent of GDP
Deficit in 2012 just under 7 percent of GDP.

I don’t mind that he has some reasons for changing his mind. But it is amazing how sneering he can be from both sides of a complete U-turn when his views are out there in black and white.


Chris Armstrong 04.11.13 at 7:45 am

Naiman’s article was fantastic, but it left me wondering what Harvey was in it for. I mean, he went to such lengths! He wasn’t getting fame or money out of it, clearly. I wonder, does that leave any more than two serious possibilities: the satisfaction gained from beating a system which has excluded you; or the approval of one’s friends (a kind of grand joke, for their entertainment?)? If the former: really? Was it worth all the effort? And if the latter, someone else knew. But who?

What with the being / nothingness issue, it’s all about hoaxes this week, isn’t it? I mean, do I even know I am who I say I am?


reason 04.11.13 at 8:27 am

Sebastian H @28
Circumstances other than who is in power matter. 2007 was significant year.


Alex K. 04.11.13 at 8:37 am

“…but it left me wondering what Harvey was in it for.” Naiman is a Russian literature specialist. One day he spotted a highly suspicious claim that Dickens not only met Dostoevsky but revealed the workings of his imagination and his soul to the Russian novelist. Naiman absolutely had to check this – he is teaching a class on Dostoevsky after all – and found the claim unsupported by evidence. But the D&D tale had by then seeped through to the MSM as if it were a well-established fact – and how many other falsities are now considered common knowledge? It’s only natural that Naiman started unraveling the web of deceit and conceit.


Phil 04.11.13 at 8:40 am

As for the motivation, see my Beckett quote above – “getting known”. I’ve published a book which has sold about 200 copies, and released (well, uploaded) some music which has done rather worse than that – and it’s a real effort of will not to include any links in this comment, let me tell you. If your stuff basically isn’t selling – or even being noticed – it can feel as if every mention on a public forum could be the one that changes everything, changes units to tens and tens to hundreds – and even if it doesn’t change everything, let’s face it, one more sale would be worth having. And if that mention came from somebody else, well… I’ve only sockpuppeted seriously a handful of times*, for reasons not associated with personal gain, but I can certainly see the temptation.

Other cases – the really Myles na gCopaleen-esque papers with the references to foreign journals – are perhaps more about sneaking one past the academy, but even with those there seems to have been a bit of logrolling going on.

*A few times I’ve donned an obvious “Look at this pseudonym” pseudonym to express myself with more frankness than would usually be convenient – and yes, on occasion I have succumbed to the temptation to reply to the pseudonym (“You’ve got a point, but I don’t think it’s that bad…”) Then there was the time when, arguing with a particularly obtuse poster on alt.folklore.urban, I decided my usual style of patient pedantry wasn’t getting me anywhere and started arguing in a chirpy, upbeat tone instead, under the name of Wallace Stevens. We made our own entertainment in those days.


SusanC 04.11.13 at 9:11 am

I don’t see any problem with pseudononymous publication (she says, blogging under a somewhat obscured version of her real name). There’s something of a tradition of it, both for controversial academic works and for erotica.

And I’m not going to criticize Kierkegaard for writing as Johannes de Silentio etc.
Pseudononymously denouncing your own work can be an acceptable rhetorical device.

Inventing ficitious sources (e.g. the Dickens/Dostoyevsky incident), on the other hand, is generally not academically acceptable. Referees do sometimes check that cited sources actually exist, and probably ought to do so more often. (And also: oftentimes, if you trace back through the secondary literature to the primary source, you often find it doesn’t say what everyone who hasn’t actually read it thinks it says. And this happens witout delibrate fraud, just the Chinese Whipers effect).

There’s also something a bit suspect about using a pseudonym to praise your own work in a review .. it has something of the flavour of failing to declare a conflict of interest.

Still, I laughed at the article.
Borges’s Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius came to mind…


John Quiggin 04.11.13 at 10:49 am

Sebastian: Umm, no. The standard Keynesian position is to support deficits in slumps and surpluses in booms. From that viewpoint it makes sense to condemn Bush’s deficits* and Obama’s unwillingness to run larger deficits, as Krugman has done. The obvious test for your claim is the Clinton Presidency when Krugman supported the policies that returned the budget to surplus.

* Of course, the recovery after 2001 wasn’t much of a boom for most Americans, but that wasn’t a problem that could be solved through macro policy.


Jeffrey Davis 04.11.13 at 12:47 pm

After Brian Nolan got out of school, he and his friends would manufacture controversies in the Letter to the Editor section of the Irish Times. High silliness. And, of course, there are the quotes from imaginary philosophers which litter his fiction The Third Policeman.

And, then there’s the marvelous boy Thomas Chatterton. And, of course, Swift’s solution to the Irish problem. And on and on.

Shortly before I got to this thread yesterday I read comments on Sayre’s Law so I was more or less primed to laugh at the issue, but then, knock wood, my livelihood doesn’t depend upon publishing.


Henry 04.11.13 at 2:05 pm

And while we’re talking about Flann, we should mention Myles as well. The WAAMA offered ventriloquists who not only would supply intelligent conversation for people with nothing to say but who could supply both sides of the conversation–and, if you could afford it, misunderstand and argue with each other/themselves.

Interesting. Do you suppose that O’Brien was plagiarizing from na gCopaleen? Or maybe vice versa?


ajay 04.11.13 at 2:13 pm

37: that might be the cause of their long-running and bitter feud. It’s well known in Irish literary circles that Flann O’Brien would flatly refuse even to be in the same room as Myles na gCopaleen. I think that George Orwell tried for many years to reconcile the two, but he was persuaded to give it up as a hopeless effort by his friend Eric Blair.


Henry 04.11.13 at 2:17 pm

My understanding is that it was Brother Barnabas’s failure to reconcile the quarreling pair which drove that religious gentleman to depart both University College Dublin and the literary life.


Sebastian H 04.11.13 at 2:46 pm

I understand the Keynesian prescriptions. Krugman goes quite a bit further than that. Yesterday he was mocking the idea that deficits could have dangers. In 2004 he was saying that deficits half the size were likely to cause enormous problems. Arguing that deficits are worth the risk because high unemployment is much worse and already here is fine (and hopefully he has done that somewhere). Arguing that deficits aren’t a problem is different.

Furthermore his U turn wasn’t in 2012. It was in late 2006 when Democrats swept the House and gained the Senate. In 2004 he wasn’t arguing that he didn’t like Republican choices about the deficit. He was arguing that maintaining it was dramatically unsafe to the economy. In 2006, he argued that Democrats could spend at then current levels safely.

I’m in agreement with his political arguments that Democrats shouldn’t get sucked into deficit worries when other choices are more important if the deficit us at safe levels. My problem is with his characterizations of what counts as safe levels. He wasn’t just saying that Bush was running essentially tolerable deficits but making bad choices about where the money goes. He was actively doomsaying in 2004 about it threatening the economy (see the link I provided, it is very stark) and then immediately reversing himself about the level of danger within in weeks of Democrats winning the legislature in 2006.

This week he appears to be mocking the idea that current deficits could be problematic at all instead of making the more nuanced point that getting unemployment under control is more important.


Anderson 04.11.13 at 4:31 pm

“Yesterday he was mocking the idea that deficits could have dangers”

April 10, 2013? Not on his blog, evidently. Where was this mockery?


Robert Peers 04.11.13 at 4:35 pm

@ Sebastian H

I had an econ professor who once told me, “Ask any Economist any question and if he is good he will always reply with the same answer , It depends”

You would have to be working backwards from the prejudice “I hate Krugman” to not conceed that most of his conclusions surrounding current economic affairs and prescribed prophylaxis is conditional


nnyhav 04.11.13 at 4:57 pm

Also apposite is the Samuel Johnson chestnut: “Sir, your wife, under pretence of keeping a bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods.”

But it seems to me just the right note is struck in the coda to the TLS article: “Eric Naiman is the … author, most recently of Nabokov, Perversely”


Fu Ko 04.11.13 at 9:25 pm


For the lulz, my friend. For the lulz.


Fu Ko 04.11.13 at 9:26 pm

This blog has a problem that comments receiving moderator approval renumber subsequent comments.


Colin Danby 04.11.13 at 9:37 pm

Part of its ineffable charm, Fu. Nobody knows what anyone is talking about.


dave heasman 04.11.13 at 11:33 pm

Arnold Harvey. I went to school with him. Clever eccentric spotty (unbelievably spotty) boy with an odd croaking/braying voice.


parsimon 04.12.13 at 12:43 am

19: Amazon is usually pretty good about fiction, even relatively obscure stuff.

I’m glad to see that LFC called this out in comment 20. Amazon is not a bibliographic resource. Really. Their information on publication dates, publishing house, and various other details (edition, number of pages if you care about that) is ridiculously unreliable. Seriously. They are not remotely complete even when they do have a listing. I say this as a book dealer. Use WorldCat.



dsquared 04.12.13 at 12:19 pm

Interesting that the starting point of this story involves Clare Tomalin, as her husband Michael Frayn has also been the victim of a similar practical joke


pedant 04.12.13 at 12:36 pm

dave heasman @47

Is that what you remember about him?

Odd–when he reminisced about you, what he mostly described were your nipples.


MikeM 04.12.13 at 1:30 pm

Of course, the true answer is found here:


Chris Bertram 04.12.13 at 5:46 pm

When I went to my copy of Tomalin’s Charles Dickens, I was disappointed to find that the passage isn’t there, but has been excised from the paperback edition. Tomalin writes in the acknowledgements that she is grateful to readers who have pointed out errors, but nowhere, afaics, is the change explicitly referred to.


Simon 04.13.13 at 8:45 am

@Fu Ko 9:26pm:

There’s a simple solution: just don’t refer to comment numbers.


dave heasman 04.15.13 at 9:27 pm

“what he mostly described were your nipples”

Nice one Arn. Last time we met was at a North London book sale about 30 years ago. Do you still live in Leytonstone?

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