Jonah Lehrer Resigns From The New Yorker Over Fabricated Quotes

Science journalist Jonah Lehrer, whose articles I have linked to from Technoccult in the past, stepped down from the New Yorker today after admitting to fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in his book Imagine. Here’s Lehrer’s statement, as quoted by Julie Bosman for The New York Times:

“Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine,’ ” Mr. Lehrer said in a statement. “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.”
“The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers. I also owe a sincere apology to Mr. Moynihan. I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed. I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker.”

Full Story: The New York Times: Jonah Lehrer Resigns From The New Yorker After Making Up Dylan Quotes for His Book
(via Coe Douglas)
See also:
The Curse of Knowledge (a critique of inaccuracies in Imagine)
Why Did Jonah Lehrer Plagiarize Himself?
Disclosure: I write for Conde Nast’s Wired Enterprise property. Conde Nast is the publisher of The New Yorker

Before James Bond There Was Duckworth Drew

Duckworth Drew
Above: Derek Jacobi as Duckworth Drew on The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.
The latest issue of Wired has a small write-up by Marco Calavita on British novelist, propagandist and “paranoid xenophobe” William Le Queux and his creation Duckworth Drew, a char,acter who may have influenced Ian Fleming’s creation of James Bond. The article isn’t on Wired’s website yet, is online here now, but there’s surprisingly little about the Duckworth Drew character on the web.
From a Telegraph article on espionage:

What a strange bunch those early fictional spies seem now. One might expect that spy stories would feed on reality, but surely no reality can ever have touched Duckworth Drew of the Secret Service, the 1903 creation of William Le Queux. This was a man “upon whom rested the onerous and most perilous task of obtaining the well-guarded secrets of other nations and combating the machinations of England’s enemies”.
Duckworth Drew carried drugged cigars and poisoned pins to knock out the enemies of state long enough to read the secret treaty lying on the desk. England’s enemies reciprocated. Otto Kremplestein, chief of the German Secret Service, used to pop over the Channel to fox hunt in the shires as a cover.

From the Wikipedia entry on invasion literature:

William Le Queux was the most prolific author of the genre; his first novel was The Great War in England in 1897 (1894) and he went on to publish from one to twelve novels a year until his death in 1927. His work was regularly serialised in newspapers, particularly the Daily Mail, and attracted many readers. It is believed Ian Fleming’s James Bond character was inspired by Le Queux’s agent “Duckworth Drew”.

Calavita notes that Drew’s boss is named “MM,” and this knowledge base of fictional crime fighters lists Drew’s boss as “Marquis of Macclesfield.”
Duckworth Drew isn’t mentioned on the Wikipedia entry on Le Queux nor the entry on spy fiction.
You can buy Secrets of the Foreign Office from Surely this is in the public domain – can anyone find the text online?
You can read more about Le Queux here.

Journalism and Right Speech

Books like The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel and The Information Diet by Clay Johnson examine the responsibilities of journalists and other information producers and what the public should expect, and demand, of its news and information outlets.
I just came across, via the Wikipedia entry on the Noble Eight Fold Path of Buddhism, a quote from The Abhaya Sutta on “Right Speech.” I think it has a lot to say about what we as journalists should write and what you as the public should demand:

In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, but unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others, he does not say them.
In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing and agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.

Wikipedia puts it: “In every case, if it is not true, beneficial nor timely, one is not to say it.”
Or, for modern times: Write, and/or read, things that are true, timely and informative. Don’t troll. Don’t spread rumors. Don’t read gossip. Don’t create or click on linkbait. Don’t read substanceless content just because it affirms what you already believe.
This fits nicely with “The Essence of Journalism is Verification” (from the Principles of Journalism) and Clay Johnson’s summary of his thinking: “Consume deliberately. Take in information over affirmation.”
See also: The “Elements of Journalism” issue of the Nieman Report.

Technoccult Interview: Open Source Buddhism with Al Jigong Billings

Al Billings
Many Technoccult readers have probably seen Maybe you even got your first taste of Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare or Hakim Bey there. What you might not know is that the site’s founder, Al Jigong Billings has given up the site to focus on what he calls “Open Source Buddhism.” I recently talked with Al about what Open Source Buddhism is, how it differs from other contemporary the Pragmatic Dharma movement and the secular mindfulness movement, and how he gravitated from Neopaganism to Buddhism.
Continue reading “Technoccult Interview: Open Source Buddhism with Al Jigong Billings”

My Hypothetical Batman Reboot

I saw Dark Knight Rises yesterday. I liked it, but the politics don’t sit well with me. As Grant Morrison has pointed out, Batman is a very odd sort of fantasy – a billionaire who wears a rubber suit and goes around beating up poor people.
I’m not going to spend time over analyzing the newest film, and the Batman mythos in general. Instead, inspired by Aaron Diez’s Hypothetical X-Men Reboot and China Miéville’s Rejected Iron Man Pitch, I decided to think about what I would do if I were to give Batman a complete reboot. Here’s what I came up with. This is, of course, not authorized by DC Comics or Warner Bros or anyone else.
Continue reading “My Hypothetical Batman Reboot”

More on Technology Critic Jacques Ellul

Doug Hill explains Ellul’s work on technique and its influence on Ted Kaczynski and (indirectly) Kevin Kelly:

So, what are Ellul’s ideas on technology? His most central point was that technology has to be seen systemically, as a unified entity, rather than as a disconnected series of individual machines. He also argued that technology is as much a state of mind as a material phenomenon, in part because human beings have been absorbed into the technological complex he called “technique.”
Ellul defined technique as “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.” While technique isn’t limited to machines, machines are “deeply symptomatic” of technique. They represent “the ideal toward which technique strives.”
These quotes hint at Ellul’s conviction that technique has become almost a living entity, a form of being that drives inexorably to overtake everything that isn’t technique, humans included. The belief that humans can no longer control the technologies they’ve unleashed – that technique has become autonomous – is also central to his thought. “Wherever a technical factor exists,” he said, “it results, almost inevitably, in mechanization: technique transforms everything it touches into a machine.”

Full Story: The Society Pages: The Unabomber’s Favorite Philosopher (and Mine)
Previously: Jacques Ellul, Technology Doomsdayer Before his Time
Compare and contrast with: The Discipline Of Do Easy

The Number of Armed Conflicts Increased Strongly in 2011

From PhysOrg:

Last year, the number of armed conflicts in the world increased markedly, with the strongest increase taking place in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is the conclusion in a new report by researchers at the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), published in the Journal of Peace Research. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has presented the statistics to the UN General Assembly in his report on international mediation. […]
Following a year (2010) that signaled hope for a more peaceful development, the number of conflicts increased by nearly 20 percent, from 31 to 37. Last year’s jump in conflicts deviates from the long-term trend line, which shows that the world is gradually becoming more peaceful.

Full Story: PhysOrg: The Number of Armed Conflicts Increased Strongly in 2011
(via Social Physicist)

Jacques Ellul, Technology Doomsdayer Before his Time

Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul has been on my mind lately, so this Boston Globe story on the man is well timed:

An admirer of Karl Marx’s sociological theories, Ellul came to believe that by the 20th century, the central issue facing industrialized societies had shifted from class struggle to technology—or, as he called it, “technique.” Ellul used this term to underscore his conviction that technology must be seen as a way of thinking as well as an ensemble of machines and machine systems. Technique includes the methods and strategies that drive the mechanical system, as well as the quantitative mentality that drives those methods.
The character of technique is ruthless, Ellul believed. It relentlessly and aggressively expands its range of influence. Its single overriding value is efficiency. Because human beings are hopelessly inefficient by technique’s exacting standards, they must be forced or seduced into conforming more precisely to its demands. This amounts to a fundamental degradation of the human spirit. “The combination of man and technique is a happy one only if man has no responsibility,” Ellul wrote. “Otherwise, he is ceaselessly tempted to make unpredictable choices and is susceptible to emotional motivations which invalidate the mathematical precision of the machinery.”

Full Story: Boston Globe: Jacques Ellul, technology doomsdayer before his time
Ellul also wrote on propaganda.
See also: Abe Burmeister on being a hypocritical luddite (a position I’ve come to embrace myself).

Don't Blame Cats for Toxoplasmosis

The Oregonian reports:

“Our concern is that because it has been sensationalized and interpreted as, ‘Your cat can make you sick,’ that really is missing the most dangerous part of toxoplasmosis and human infestation,” says Dr. Theresa Cornwell of Cat Care Professionals in Lake Oswego. “You’re much less likely to get toxoplasmosis from your cat as you are from fruits and vegetables or meat that is contaminated.”
“People tend to forget that the consumption of uncooked or partly cooked meat can be perhaps a more significant source of infection for toxoplasmosis,” agrees state public health veterinarian Dr. Emilio DeBess.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite toxoplasmosis as the third-leading cause of food-borne illness and death. Half of the 750 deaths attributed to toxoplasmosis each year are believed to be caused by eating contaminated meat, according to the CDC.

Full Story: Oregon Live: The truth about toxoplasmosis: the kitchen more likely source than your cat