Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Referenciness

Here's a word that I wanted to catch whilst it's in my mind: referenciness. It was first coined by Ben Goldacre of The Guardian to describe Gillian McKeith's work.

"And the scholarliness of her work is a thing to behold: she produces lengthy documents that have an air of "referenciness", with nice little superscript numbers, which talk about trials, and studies, and research, and papers ... but when you follow the numbers, and check the references, it's shocking how often they aren't what she claimed them to be in the main body of the text. Or they refer to funny little magazines and books, such as Delicious, Creative Living, Healthy Eating, and my favourite, Spiritual Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet, rather than proper academic journals."

This approach is more than a little reminiscent of my bete noire, Naomi Klein, who flies around the world lecturing on the evils of being wealthy enough to fly around the world. She annoys me not because of her personal hypocrisy but because she leads the McCarthyite wing of the global left - charging those that disagree with her as guilty of genocidal thought crime. An odious approach to debate if I ever heard one.

One day I'll probably have a proper rant about that but in this post I wish to only accuse Klein of McKeith-ite referenciness. Her latest book has no less than 60 pages of footnotes. "I expect the release of the book to be a battle. And the endnotes are my body armour," she said on its publication. But an argument is more than about footnotes, it's about sense, logic and fairness.

A read of the very sensible Paul Seabright gives you an idea of how Klein veers off the track of reality.

"Sixty pages of footnotes do not add up to rigorous and careful research. Klein appears to believe that "Chile in the seventies, China in the late eighties, Russia in the nineties and the US after September 11, 2001" all had essentially the same economic policy. She writes that the Southern Cone of Latin America is the place "where contemporary capitalism was born". She thinks that Gorbachev's reforms of the Soviet Union were going swimmingly until he caved in to IMF pressure in 1991, which makes it inexplicable why he should have been vulnerable to IMF pressure in the first place. She ignores the contribution of economic liberalization to China's astonishing growth in the past three decades, contenting herself with a sneer about China's becoming "the sweatshop of the world". The recent experiences of India, a democracy that has moved towards liberalization of its economy without massive crises, are not mentioned. More people have escaped malnutrition through the economic reforms of these two countries in the past couple of decades than through any previous economic programmes in history, which makes the omission a large one.

Cherry-picking the evidence is particularly important for Klein's favoured strategy of guilt by association, when she implies, for instance, that since many torturers have been keen on free markets, free-market ideology leads intrinsically to the use of torture. It is not clear what, on this theory, explains the use of torture by Communist or otherwise anti-capitalist governments. Since she never mentions it, she may not be aware that it has ever happened."

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