Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Keith Windschuttle, hypocrite historian

Keith Windschuttle is the Australian equivalent of a holocaust denier. His publications on history (especially 2002's The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One) claimed there were no massacres (let alone genocidal) by white settlers of aboriginal Australians. He has claimed that oppositional historians have fabricated evidence, misrepresented facts, and insufficiently researched the sources.

Since that book's publication, Windschuttle has repeated promised imminent publication of a Volume Two, which has never emerged, no doubt due at least in part to the extensive rebuttals that have been published of Volume One.

Of course, Windschuttle's heyday was in the era of Australia's arch-conservative Prime Minister John Howard (1996 - 2007). Howard warmly embraced Windschuttle's views (both railed against a purported 'black armband' view of history), to the extent of appointing him - a contemporary at Canterbury Boys High School - to the board of the ABC, Australia's national broadcaster (previously mentioned here).

Windschuttle was also appointed editor of the conservative journal Quadrant. And he has now fallen victim to his own vituperations. Without checking sources - or the author's bona fides - he published an article on genetic engineering that turned out to be a deliberate hoax. This was more Sokal than Ern Malley - the writer followed Alan Sokal's temptation to an editor: does it sound good, and does it reinforce the editor's ideological preconceptions?

Enthusiasm for such an article is not a hanging offence. But the bait was too good for Windschuttle, and he published on sympathy rather than rigour.

So what does he do now? Hang on in case the Quadrant board doesn't boot him out? It'll be hard for him to fall back on Volume Two: his work would be subject to fine scrutiny. Shame he remains festering like a carbuncle on the ABC. But it can't last forever.

A footnote on bad science: both climate change sceptics and creationists are these days clutching at straws, rather than engaging in rigorous analysis (SMH Columnist Michael Duffy is a case in point, often arguing with incomplete understanding of the presentation of facts of climate change). It can't take much to tempt such people to hang their hat to anything that sounds to them plausible. They would be more deserving of this treatment than scientists, since they do not foster debate by constant analysis and refinement through exchange and testing of ideas - more by grabbing at plausibility that suits a perspective.

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