Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Seven Pillars of Bullshit

The aspect of Harigate II - the allegations of sock-puppetry and serial Wikipedia mischief by Johann Hari rather than his now-proven serial plagiarism - that has been most harshly criticised by his apologists is the "cheap", "unfair" and "vindictive" use that has been made of the porn connection. (To cut an improbably long story short, the online trail left by Johann Hari’s mystery Wikipedia champion leads to one other place only: a hardcore story about pimping out a 15-year-old boy that was posted on a gay website.)

I don’t know why bringing this matter up is supposed to be unfair. After all, Hari himself has written at length and in non-condemnatory terms about not only pornography but also incest and gay sex with teens.

In his introduction to a 2006 piece on his website about "bareback" gay porn, Hari downplays (I’m trying hard to be even-handed here and not say "condones") the sexual abuse of male teenagers in these terms:

[G]ay men are right to suspect that while making porn can fuck up the women who are spat out (or swallowed) in its production, it is less likely to have a psychologically dangerous effect on the men who take part. In 1998 the distinguished social scientist Bruce Ring published a thorough study into the difference between the way girls and boys react to sexually abusive or exposing situations. He found that teenage boys who had been abused "reacted much less negatively than women." While girls were usually dreadfully disturbed, most boys suffered "negative effects that were neither pervasive nor typically intense." So the girl your straight mates watch being gang-banged on camera for cash will probably be deeply disturbed by it for years; the boy you watch probably won’t be psychologically damaged for long.

I’m not going to discuss that argument's worth or even its potential for eyebrow-raising, because I’d rather focus on the one part of it that is, at least at first sight, not contentious: the seven words "the distinguished social scientist Bruce Ring published", because five of them are demonstrably bollocks.

Bruce L. Rind (not, perhaps fortunately for him, "Ring") is a psychologist (not a social scientist) who co-authored a certain paper (not, as suggested, wrote and published it alone) in 1998.

So what about the "distinguished" bit, then?

At the age of 59, Rind is still a non-tenured "adjunct instructor", which is roughly equivalent to an assistant lecturer, hired to teach a specific course for a specific period of time. He teaches at Temple University in Philadelphia, which is ranked 132nd in the U.S. News rankings of American universities (although, to be fair, its Psychology graduate programme streaks home in 50th place). And he’s not exactly a wow with his students either. They’ve graded his classes with an average score of 2.5 (“poor”).

The 1998 Rind et. al. paper wasn’t just dismissed by at least four peer reviewers as "scientifically invalid" and roundly disowned by the American Psychological Association; it's the only paper in the history of U.S. scientific literature to have been condemned by Congress. No, not railed against by some school board in Knuckledrag, Kansas – actually condemned by the House of Representatives. To call its main conclusion, that the sexual abuse of adolescent boys is not necessarily harmful, off the mark would be to do it a big favour. What Johann Hari neglects to tell us is that males who were sexually abused as adolescents have been found by subsequent – and presumably equally distinguished – researchers to be three times more likely to turn to therapy for emotional problems and five times more likely to commit suicide than their non-abused peers.

Both Rind and his long-term colleague Robert Bauserman (one of the co-authors on that 1998 paper) have published extensively on what is sometimes whitewashed as "man-boy love", although some researchers refer to it as "intergenerational intimacy", while Rind and Bauserman go one better and oh-so-scientifically call it "age-discrepant sexual relations (ADSR)" instead. One of the journals that they chose to publish their findings in was the now-defunct Netherlands-based Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia. Here's an extract from that publication’s statement of purpose, to give an idea of where these people were, er, coming from:

[T]o speak today of paedophilia, which we understand to be consensual intergenerational sexual relationships, is to speak of the politics of oppression. This is the milieu in which we are enmeshed, the fabric of our daily life and struggle. [...] It is our contention that the oppression of paedophilia is part of the larger repression of sexuality, and that this repression in general represents an irrational expression of authority in government. The oppression of paedophilia is therefore dangerous in a wider sense than simply to paedophiles.

The same year that they published the paper that Hari so confidently cites, Rind and Bauserman participated as keynote speakers, alongside two members of the editorial board of Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia, at a pro-paedophilia conference held in Amsterdam. Rind’s address was later published in the International Pedophile and Child Emancipation Newsletter, which must have been nice for him.

But let’s get back to more familiar and probably more comfortable ground for Johann Hari: Wikipedia. It turns out that such a distinguished titan of the social sciences as Dr Bruce L. Rind has a Wikipedia entry of his own that is...oops, he hasn't got one. (I mean, come on, even my distinguished mate the self-published short-story writer has got his own Wikipedia entry). Rind does, however, feature heavily in the entry titled "Rind et al. controversy" about the huge stink that was raised by the very paper that Johann Hari saw fit to cite to bolster his curious beliefs.

So that’s the "distinguished" bit dealt with. (Maybe we should be charitable and assume that Hari’s autocorrect must have been playing tricks the day he tried to write "discredited".)

And there we have it. Of the seven words "the distinguished social scientist Bruce Ring published", only two actually hold up to any scrutiny at all: "the" and "Bruce".

What conclusions might we reasonably draw about the accuracy and fair representation to be found throughout Johann Hari’s journalism based on this analysis of one teeny-weeny fragment of it? I’m not sure, but I’m confident Andreas Whittam-Smith will let us know before too long.

POSTSCRIPT (14 July 2011)
I was under the impression that Hari's bareback-porn piece, which I quote from, had not appeared in The Independent, as I could find no trace of it anywhere other than on Hari's website. (The length of the piece and the amount of "worked-up" detail suggest it was written for publication rather than as a blog entry, so it might be reasonable to assume that it was spiked.) However, I have now learned that the part of the text that I specifically deal with here (from "the distinguished..." to "'...less negatively than women'", i.e. the Rind et al. citation and quoted material) had already been used by Hari with the exact same wording - yes, the misspelled surname and all - in a completely different article, published by The Independent nearly three months before the bareback-porn post appeared on his blog.

Still with me? This may seem like only a minor detail but it's actually crucial. I used those seven words as an example of the sort of thing that Andreas Whittam Smith might consider looking for when he reviews Hari's writings for the newspaper. I now realise that since the seven words did appear in the newspaper, albeit in a completely different context, they fall slap-bang in the middle of the remit of Whittam Smith's investigation.

Perhaps someone reading this might wish to draw his attention to those seven words, because, besides further demonstrating Hari's penchant for distortion and dissembling, they don't say a fat lot in favour of the paper's editorial filtering processes, do they?

I get the feeling it's going to be a long, hot summer for one genuinely distinguished old gentleman of the press.

(Thanks to Damian Thompson of the Daily Telegraph for pointing this out.)


Anonymous said...

Re: his 2006 article on gay porn, the documentary is actually called Body Without Soul. To misquote the title of something you reference probably means you haven't watched it.

Bob said...

Um, Anon, you realise Archie didn't so much as *mention* a documentary of any kind, right?

What a weird comment.

Bob said...

Or did you mean Hari misquoted the title of a documentary?

*confused face*

Ed said...

Unfortunately, a lot of heterosexual journalists are clearly scared of pursuing this line for fear of being labelled homophobic. As a gay man myself, I wish they would pursue it. Were it not for the fact that The Independent is read by fewer people than produce it, and that Hari made a career out of telling left-liberals what they like to hear, this creepy fraud would have been fired within six months of his hiring.

Still, Hari's hardly the first person with a media profile to say disturbing things about sex with children. Peter Tatchell's 1997 letter to the Guardian, and his contribution to the 1986 book edited by a Paedophile Information Exchange bigwig, spring to mind.

Anonymous said...

He managed to tell some left-liberals what they found annoying.