Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fake quotes: Ruth Thone and the Lincoln Journal Star

Ruth Thone is the wife of former Nebraska governor Charlie Thone. She has no particular distinction, except being a cranky old lady with a history of self-destructive habits. She's jumped on various feminist bandwagons, co-authoring books about women, weight, and aging. Oh yes, and she hates Israel.

Her latest effusion is a 'local view' column in the Lincoln Journal Star, a rabidly one sided castigation of Israel for its conduct in Gaza. Here, however, I'll just note that to attack the very existence and foundation of Israel, she used a nasty fabricated quote. This she attributes to David Ben Gurion, whom she calls 'an early prime minister of Israel' (He was first Prime Minister of Israel. Was that so hard to look up?). She attributes this to him:

We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of the Arab population.
Now, if you Google this, you'll find it attributed to two sources; Ben Gurion is one, and the notorious Koenig memorandum is the second. That's the first big clue it's false; made up quotes are frequently attributed to multiple authors. Now the Koenig memorandum has been translated into English, and you can read it; it doesn't contain the quoted text. Go look. And the only source given when attributing it to Ben Gurion is the 1978 biography by Michael Bar-Zohar; wherein it doesn't appear. It's also completely out of character for Ben Gurion, who, while he was by no means a pacifist, would not have held these views and certainly would have never acknowledged them publicly. It is therefore almost certainly false. Not only did Ben Gurion never say it; most likely it's completely fabricated.

The Internet is awash in false quotations and false attributions. Often they're innocent. Anything said about intelligence or pantheistic deism is usually attributed to Einstein; anything wryly humorous to Twain; anything upliftingly patriotic to Churchill, etc.. But often, as in the present instance, they are downright malicious. My advice is the following; believe a quotation if it

  1. Appears in a primary source: i.e. a book by the author
  2. Appears in a contemporaneous secondary account from a reputable reporter: e.g. a New York Times account of a speech by Fiorello LaGuardia
  3. Appears in a reputable, careful compliation of quotations, like Bartlett. In my experience, Wikiquote is pretty reliable; note that the above quote does not appears in its list of attributed Ben Gurion quotes. But always, if the quote denigrates the person to which it's attributed, check a primary source!
  4. Appears in a reputable biography; a good biographer will almost certainly provide you with the primary source
Anything else is junk. Be especially careful if you find yourself chasing quotes from one web page to another, or if the quote's attributed to more than one person.

The second quote given by Thone

Why should the Arabs make peace? If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country
...can actually be properly sourced, to Nahum Goldmann, in The Jewish Paradox : A Personal Memoir of Historic Encounters that Shaped the Drama of Modern Jewry (1978). It's a 22 year old recollection of a conversation Goldmann said he had with Ben Gurion in 1956, and it supposedly is part of a pessimistic reflection by Ben Gurion on the future fate of Israel. Of course, Ben Gurion here is reporting the Palestinian point of view, not his own. And it's not really a quote from Ben Gurion, but an old recollection of a conversation with Ben Gurion, reported by a third party.

Lies, by my definition, do not just include deliberate falsehoods; they also include falsehoods repeated negligently, without due diligence as to their veracity. Thone, by this metric, is a liar, and the Lincoln Journal Star reproduced the lie. Their acknowledgment of this

The quotes at the bottom of this column by David Ben-Gurion are fake, some sources say. Their authenticitiy is in question.
is inadequate; the first quote is certainly falsified, and the second is a paraphrase of dubious reliability. Moreover, instead of owning up to an apologizing for publishing this trash, the LJS has tried to bury the evidence, by omitting Thone's piece from their opinion index.

What a pitiful excuse for a fishwrap.


(8/20/2014) The newspaper finally took the quotes down.
The original version of this column contained quotes from David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, that the Journal Star has concluded he never said. While the quotes have appeared in various publications, scholars have found no evidence that they can be attributed to Ben-Gurion. As a result, the Journal Star has removed them from this column.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Krugman wrong again

I know, I know, dog bites man. But he's wrong in an amusing way. To try to bolster his case that true scientists are Leftists (and not merely science fanbois) he shows the following.
Trouble is, the poll in question was not a random sampling of scientists, but was conducted among members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The vast majority of scientists are not AAAS members, and conversely AAAS members tend to be unrepresentative of scientists as a whole. You don't even have to be a scientist to be a member of AAAS. They don't ask if you have a science degree or work in a scientific field. AAAS also has a reputation for liberal advocacy and, now that Science magazine is available online to most working scientists, so you don't have to be a member to have easy access, it's increasingly an organization for people interested in 'Science policy'. The poll data were presented in a format that mentions the skewed sampling method only in an appendix, and Pew should be ashamed of themselves.

In any case, Krugman, an economist, probably claims to be a 'social scientist', but he's forgotten one of the most important principles of quoting other people's data: learn how they gathered it, before you cite it.