Saturday, July 16, 2005

John Ray pollutes the Internet with his "People Are Pollution" phrase

John Ray is an Australian conservative fond of needling the left by saying the Zero Population Growth movement's slogan was "People Are Pollution". Ray used this slogan to justify the claim that a faked quote about an environmental leader supporting population control through disease was "fake but accurate".

Now if you google "people are pollution" and "zero population" you get about 30 hits from a variety of sources, which seems reasonably impressive. The problem is that virtually all of them trace back to one person, John Ray, and I've found no actual documentation from him linking the slogan to the Zero Population Growth movement.

Mr. Ray and I have been corresponding over this issue. He asserts that the Internet doesn't back him up because the slogan is from the 60s and 70s, pre-Internet. Apparently almost no one other than Ray has remembered and reproduced the slogan on the Internet, though. He has no hard-copy documentation from that time, saying it wasn't "his scene", although he sure likes writing about the scene. He said I would have to do "dead-tree" research in libraries to find the slogan.

So off I go the library to attempt to document Ray's assertion that he fails to document himself. Yes, I know I'm an idiot for doing his work for him - let's move on. I leafed through several old books about the population explosion, reviewed headlines in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature from 1969-1974 and in the NY Times Digest, and read the April 17 1970 Life Magazine cover story on ZPG. I found no slogan asserting "people are pollution". Hardly a comprehensive search, but this slogan sure isn't jumping out anywhere besides from John Ray.

The closest I've gotten so far is an search turning up an e-document titled "People Pollution." Still being an idiot, I bought it and read it - the document is unclear over whether it referred to people as pollution or just the pollution they generate. Anyway, it's from 1995 and by a single person, so it doesn't support Ray's repeated assertion about the ZPG "slogan."

Ray's last argument is that he used the unattributed slogan several times in academic articles and no one challenged him before, so it must be true. That argument speaks only to the quality of the editing of his work.

I don't think Ray is intentionally dishonest (unlike Benny Peiser) but I suspect the quality of his work on this slogan, given how often he repeats it, indicates how much one should trust anything from him that does not come with independent documentation. As with Peiser, I'll give Mr. Ray a chance to rebut me here.

UPDATE: Tim Lambert also writes about this issue, and links here (under July 2005).

John Ray emailed that he'll look up the issue the next time he can get to a university library. I look forward to hearing what he finds out. Mr. Ray also posted a short rebuttal in the comments to this post, FWIW.

science, population, debunking

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.