According to the Oxford English Dictionary:
Doctor: to treat so as to alter the appearance, flavour, or character of; to disguise, falsify, tamper with, adulterate, sophisticate, 'cook'.
As applied to quotations, to "doctor" is to manipulate so as to alter meaning or message.
Over the past few days computer scientist Tim Lambert has casually accused a number of his ideological opponents of quote doctoring. Is he right or is this just more loose talk from ScienceBlogs.com's attack dog? Let's take a look.
On April 14th Lambert accused John Berlau of "quote doctoring"
in a post titled "John Berlau, quote doctor". Despite quoting Berlau at length, Lambert fails to provide a single quote doctoring gotcha -- selective quotes isolated from context are the best Lambert can come up with. This is not quote doctoring.
Oddly, Lambert himself engages in selective out-of-context quoting in attempting to refute Berlau's assertion that Paul Ehrlich advocated the forced sterilization of all Indian men who had fathered three or more children. Lambert reckons this is what Ehrlich wrote:
A few years ago, there was talk in India of compulsory sterilization for all males who were fathers of three or more children.
Hell, for all I know Ehrlich's next sentence says, "I agree". Regardless, if Berlau is guilty of quote doctoring, so is Lambert, at least according to the criteria established by Lambert.
Anyway, commenter crust has asked my opinion on Lambert's treatment of Berlau's take on supposed quotes from environmentalists Jeff Hoffman and Charles Wurster so I'm going to digress here for a moment -- see my original post for background, here
. Here's Berlau on Hoffman:
Jeff Hoffman, poster on popular environmental news site Grist.org: Arguing against efforts to resume DDT use to combat malaria in Africa, Hoffman explained, "Malaria was actually a natural population control, and DDT has caused a massive population explosion in some places where it has eradicated malaria."
I think Hoffman was a troll parodying environmentalists. In any event, nobody agreed with him, so it is wrong for Berlau to present him as being somehow representative of environmentalists.
Now, I've left out some of what Lambert said but the gist of it is above. In quoting Hoffman Berlau is guilty of nothing.
The Wurster quote is not nearly so straightforward but Berlau does a pretty good job of describing the iffy circumstances:
Charles Wurster, co-founder and former chief scientist of Environmental Defense Fund (now Environmental Defense): When asked about human deaths that would result from the banning of DDT, due to exposure to more acutely toxic DDT subsitutes, Wurster allegedly said, "It doesn't really make a lot of difference because the organophosphate acts locally and only kills farm workers, and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes." Wurster was accused of saying this by EDF co-founder Victor Yannacone, and the accusation was reported at a Congressional hearing. Wurster denied making the statement, but Yannacone -- a prominent environmental attorney -- has never taken back his accusation against Wurster.
Yannacone says Wurster said it, but Wurster denies it. According to Lambert, Yannacone lied about Wurster because he wanted to get back at him after losing his job:
Does that quote sound like Dr Wurster or Dr Evil? How gullible do you have to be to find that quote plausible? Jim Norton has tracked down the source of the quote. It seems that after Yannacone was fired by the EDF, he came up with the claim that Wurster made the statement above at a press conference. At a press conference. You would think that an outrageous statement like that would have been reported by at least one reporter, but no, there is no contemporary record of him saying it, just the unsupported statement of a man with an axe to grind. Berlau knows all this but keeps it from his readers.
Lambert is wrong. According to the source he links to (directly above), Yannacone does not accuse Wurster of making that comment at a press conference, he accuses him of making the comment but does not elaborate on the circumstances.
Despite condemning Yannacone as unreliable, Lambert embraces the sentiments of axe-grinder Allan Schapira
I resigned my post as coordinator, vector control and prevention, of the Global Malaria Programme, WHO, on Sept 6, 2006, because of disagreements with the director of the programme about policy issues.
Schapira, like Lambert, says DDT has never been banned. But considering the circumstances, everything Schapira has to say about DDT must be taken with a grain of salt.
Having veered off on the DDT tangent let's get things back on track by looking at some real quote doctoring. Lambert frequently links to a line from a WHO DDT FAQ brochure as proof that the World Health Organization supports the use of DDT in the fight against malaria:
WHO recommends indoor residual spraying of DDT for malaria vector control.
This clearly misrepresents the situation by isolating that one line from the broadly anti-DDT context of the brochure. Not only that, Lambert removes
the source note -- note 3 -- from the end of the line. (Note 3 reads as follows: WHO (2000). WHO Expert Committee on Malaria. Twentieth Report. Geneva, WHO Technical Report Series, No. 892
.) He removes note 3 because the linked report is inconveniently anti-DDT, with this the gist of it:
DDT is being phased out because of its previous widespread use in the environment, and the resulting political and economic pressure.
Altering quotes is all in a day's work for scientist Tim Lambert. He's also big on accusing others of impropriety
So Alex and Sinclair resorted to quote doctoring to make it look like that they did.
Economist Sinclair Davidson has asked Lambert to elaborate
Tim, quote doctoring is a serious allegation. Can you make an argument for how our quoting changes the meaning of the original texts, or have you just found that we quoted the important aspects of the text? Afterall I quoted nothing from the previous 305 pages of Judge etal.
How stupid would Davidson and Robson have to be to "doctor" quotes from textbooks fellow academic Lambert can access? I predict Lambert will come up with some nonsense whereby selective quoting is really quote doctoring. Regardless, Lambert's as slimy as they come.
That brings us to the word of the week: Lambert
, to attempt to refute an opposing argument or proposition through counter-argument or proposition based on subtly misrepresented facts; one who so argues (see liar).
If anyone's deserving of a word in his honour, it's Lambert.
Update: According to Lambert, Davidson is guilty of quote-doctoring misconduct
. Well, if Davidson's guilty of misconduct, so is Lambert.
Update II: In case you're wondering why I'm blogging this instead of commenting at Dulltard, it's because Lambert moderates my comments -- some make it through; many don't. Anyway, here's a classic example of Lambert misconduct.
Posting under an assumed name to get around Lambert's black hole moderation I posted a comment
(May 2006) pointing out to Lambert that he had erroneously claimed in a January 2005 post that malathion was a good choice for mosquito control in Sri Lanka -- it isn't due to well developed resistance. Here's Lambert's response:
This comment was actually writtten by JF Beck and posted using a sock puppet. Beck does make one substantive point: because mosquitoes in Sri Lankahave now developed resistance to malathion as well as DDT, that's not a good choice either. I've corrected my post. Tim Lambert
Notice how he makes it sound like he's just become aware of the resistance problem and that he will, of course, correct the earlier post now that he is aware. He also makes it sound like the resistance problem has only just emerged. Bullshit. Lambert was aware of
the already well established resistance problem at least as early as 11 February 2005 (see http://timlambert.org/2005/02/ddt2/) when he noted:
DDT and Malathion are no longer recommended since An. culicifacies and An. subpictus has been found resistant.
Even though he was aware Sri Lankan mosquitoes are malathion resistant he chose
to wait over a year before correcting and then only under pressure from me. Also, instead of offering a prominent correction admitting error, he simply embedded the correction within the now over a year old original post (my highlight):
Yes, the mosquitoes in Sri Lanka have evolved resistance to DDT. It doesn’t work any more. In fact, that is the reason why they stopped using DDT in Sri Lanka. It wasn’t because of any ban—it was because it stopped being effective. Steve Milloy, Mr Junkscience, has only a half-hearted belief in evolution. This may explain why he and other right-wing authors have trouble grasping the idea that mosquitoes evolve resistance to DDT. Fortunately, the World Health Organization is not taking advice from JTFCSS and sending DDT to Sri Lanka. They are sending malathion, which will actually be able to kill the mosquitoes there. Correction: Malathion is not a good idea either, since mosquitoes in Sri Lanka have developed resistance to that as well.
The mosquitoes have not developed resistance, they were already resistant. And strangely enough, the correction has mysteriously disappeared
Yes, the mosquitoes in Sri Lanka have evolved resistance to DDT. It doesn’t work any more. In fact, that is the reason why they stopped using DDT in Sri Lanka. It wasn’t because of any ban—it was because it stopped being effective. Steve Milloy, Mr Junkscience, has only a half-hearted belief in evolution. This may explain why he and other right-wing authors have trouble grasping the idea that mosquitoes evolve resistance to DDT. Fortunately, the World Health Organization is not taking advice from JTFCSS and sending DDT to Sri Lanka. They are sending malathion, which will actually be able to kill the mosquitoes there.
Considering the calculated misrepresentations Lambert has posted -- there are plenty of other examples I could cite -- it's amazing he's accusing Sinclair Davidson of misconduct. Lambert is damn good with numbers, however.
Note: Because Lambert is shit scared of me he continues to bounce my links to his old blog. Copy and paste the addresses to access the older posts.
Update III: In the course of a discussion on sea level rise, Lambert disputes a predicted 80 meter rise as attributed to Tim Flannery. To make his point he posts
what appears to be a Flannery quote:
some of the best climatologists say we may have triggered - or could soon trigger - global warming to effect a sea level rise of maybe 25 metres, which is the height of an eight story building.
But that's not Flannery, it's the ABC's Richard Glover -- Lambert edited the excerpt to suit his needs. Here's the original
(omitted text in bold):
[Flannery] told 702 ABC Sydney's Richard Glover the best example he can give is the melting of ice around the world, which if it all melted, could raise sea levels by as much as 80 metres, adding that some of the best climatologists say we may have triggered - or could soon trigger - global warming to effect a sea level rise of maybe 25 metres, which is the height of an eight story building.
This is a classic example of Lamberting -- making the facts suit the need -- from the master himself. Now in the cosmic scheme of things this is no deal deal; it's just Lambert doing what Lambert does. His writing is not to be taken seriously. He is very good with numbers, however.
Note: Thanks to Currency Lad
for providing the link to Lambert's quote doctoring.
Update IV: Thanks to Tim Blair and Glenn Reynolds for linking; it's important that as many people as possible understand how scientist Tim Lambert operates -- nothing the guy writes should be accepted as accurate.
Lambert's unable to defend his many misrepresentations -- this post just scratches the surface -- so he responds
by trying to divert attention away from himself and onto the situation in Iraq. Kinda sad, really.