September 22, 2005 | Graham

Fraser defines a copy and paste system.

I’ve been following the Andrew Fraser issue with some interest, and amusement. We published a defence of his right to publish today. Actually, more precisely it was a condemnation of Deakin for refusing to publish him because they received a legal threat. We would have published an edited extract as well, but received the original too late to do so. The original has, however, been published by John Ray on his blog (I owe this information to Andrew Norton at Catallaxy).
Having read Fraser’s piece there’re a few points that stand out. First, it is a transparently slight piece that doesn’t stand much scrutiny. In terms of public debate, that doesn’t matter. Better to point this out in public than to have it go underground. Fortunately, Deakin’s refusal to publish has given it more publicity than if it had been published, so there is in a way less, not more, censorship.
Second, many of those commenting on Fraser’s piece, like say Rob Corr at Redrag argue against his polemic not on the basis of what it says, but because he is a racist and quotes from racists. On the first, Fraser would probably say, “Well, yes, I am a racist, so what?” On the second, I’d say that this is a species of the same mistake that Fraser makes – to say that your type dictates your behaviour and individual acts. This is no more respectable as an academic approach than Fraser’s.
Third, the work was passed by two referees, but no-one seems to think that this matters. Well, in terms of its merit it doesn’t. But in another argument that runs on the web – the Anthropogenic Global Warming hypothesis – some of these same people meet the criticisms of shonky predictions and modelling with the rejoinder – “They must be correct, because they’ve passed peer review.”
Could the Fraser controversy be making us a little more intellectually rigorous, or is it just a demonstration of how tribal and non-intellectual much “intellectual” debate is? That our universities are more successful at teaching footnoting, bibliography construction, and copy and paste, than they are logical thought?
Not that all of the discussion falls into that category, and you can read some insightful criticism at Cattallaxy and some links to other criticism at Larvatus Prodeo

Posted by Graham at 10:30 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Education


  1. White Australia policy:philosophically underpinnings

    I notice that OnLine Opinion has published “a defence of Andrew Frasers right to publish his article and a condemnation of Deakin University for refusing to publish the article in the Deakin Law Review because they received a legal threat. It is good t…

    Comment by — September 23, 2005 @ 5:05 pm

  2. I don’t follow Online Opinion’s decision.
    Fraser’s arguments are on their face odious. That doesn’t mean that they should be ignored if Fraser can come up with some good evidence. But as you say, his stuff is ‘slight’.
    But if its both odious and ‘slight’ why would you have been happy to publish it. The guy can publish to his heart’s content on a blog.
    I might argue that Jews are racially greedier or meaner than others. Perhaps they are. Perhaps the opposite is the case. Who knows. But will you publish me if I just whip it into a nice little op ed and scream ‘censorship’ if no-one publishes me?
    Will you give op ed space to the theory that the Spaghetti Monster created the universe?

    Comment by Nicholas Gruen — September 24, 2005 @ 12:07 am

  3. The parallel with global warming goes in the opposite direction to the one I think you intend.
    Global warming denialists have managed to get a handful of publications in bottom-tier “peer-reviewed” journals with very doubtful refereeing processes. This is exactly what happened with Fraser at Deakin Law Review.
    The real science (which I think you want to criticise) has been the product of thousands of scientists working independently in many different fields.
    You should ask yourself whether you are objecting to the findings of climate science because you have strong methodological views on climatology, or whether you just dislike the policy implications.

    Comment by John Quiggin — September 24, 2005 @ 7:12 am

  4. John, I don’t think you are following what I am saying. If I was going to criticise the anthropogenic warming hypothesis per se, I would have criticised it on its merits, not on whether it has a peer review process. But what I have seen on your blog and others is proponents of the hypothesis arguing with others on the basis that, essentially, their peer review is better than their oponents’ peer review. I hope you’re not suggesting that this is an intellectually respectable form of rebuttal.
    I think you also make a mistake if you suggest that the anthropogenic hypothesis is some monolithic theory because it isn’t. I don’t know any rational participant in the debate on either side who doesn’t believe that CO2, CH4 etc are all greenhouse gases. The argument is about the magnitude and significance of any warming and what countervailing factors there might be.
    I’m using the term “anthropogenic warming hypothesis” to distinguish those who say glogal warming as a result of CO2 emissions will be significant as against those who say other factors are more significant in determing temperature.

    Comment by Graham Young — September 25, 2005 @ 6:45 pm

  5. Nicholas, the function of OLO is to be a forum for the community, so if there was a significant body of opinion that said the Spaghetti Monster created the universe, we’d let them have their say.
    There is a significant body of the population who would either agree with Fraser in whole or in part, but I doubt whether the percentage would be as high after a full debate.
    One of the reasons that I started OLO was my perception that the Pauline Hanson phenomenon occurred as a result of a large percentage of the population feeling shut-out from debate. I thought that if they hadn’t had that feeling then Hanson’s effect would have been much less. So, if she had sent me an article on “Easy Tax” for example, we would have put it up. It also was slight.
    Yes, Fraser could have, and I guess did, publish on a blog, but what is important about OLO is context. It’s a frame of mind that I might disagree with you, but I will respect you and your right to voice an opinion. I don’t think blogs are conducive to forming that frame of mind – most of them appear to be very tribal – but I think it’s a frame of mind essential to a functioning civil society.

    Comment by Graham Young — September 25, 2005 @ 6:55 pm

  6. Graham,
    I’m sympathetic to your argument on Pauline Hanson. I was also sympathetic to Pauline Hanson herself. (Without necessarily agreeing with her or thining the rise of her party was a good thing).
    Part of the reason for my sympathy is that, though PH’s views were if you like ‘technically’ racist, I never thought she had any malice towards those of a different colour to herself but rather towards a policy of special assistance for them. Her own private conduct bears this out both before and after politics.
    Without agreeing with it, I thought her basic message was a perfectly reasonable one – about disadvantage in her own community, pride in her own culture and the racism involved in special assistance for aboriginals, and as time wore on, the shouting down of her views.
    From what I’ve seen Fraser is much more odious than this. PH’s views were not dressed up as informed academic debate. They were community views and this is her strongest claim to be heard. I don’t think there are many people in our community that think that people of dark skin are stupider and more prone to criminality than whites. I would be very surprised if Pauline Hanson thinks this and her own conduct does not suggest it.
    Combine this with the pretension of science and I think you’ve got something that shouldn’t be published if it is ‘slight’.

    Comment by Nicholas Gruen — September 25, 2005 @ 11:02 pm

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