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Pundit parody

Australia doesn’t have lunatics of the calibre of the white supremacist Glenn Beck, at least, not on the media, but we have sufficient punditry to fuel a small nation all right. Idiots like Alan Jones, who incited a racial riot, and the entire news teams of the commercial TV stations. But for my money, the biggest right wing moron in Australian media is Andrew Bolt, although I am sure that this is a typo, and that his real name is Andrew Dolt.

About ten years ago, as I started on my PhD on species concepts, I happened to note that Bolt Dolt attacked David Suzuki, the zoologist conservation campaigner, for saying that GMO food plants might spread modified genes to wild plants (a risk I think is overblown out of all proportion, actually, for other reasons), by saying (and I quote from my thesis):

A while ago, an Australian journalist objecting to the views of geneticist David T. Suzuki on the perils of genetically modified (G.M.) food, castigated him for saying there was a danger that modified genes in G.M. canola might escape into wild plants. Suzuki, declared the worthy scribe, had his facts wrong. Everybody knows that could not happen – and why? Because the wild plants and canola are different species and do not interbreed. Suzuki, he declared, must be a very poor scientist if he could make that simple mistake. Of course, like most of his profession when it comes to assessing scientific judgements the journalist was ignorant of the facts…*

This was when I first noticed Dolt’s idiocy and he has never, to my knowledge, managed to get a thing right since.

But given the ubiquity of punditry in the media, I shrugged and ignored him, only to find that he had found his way onto political talk shows on no less than (*gasp*) the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the publicly funded network that is supposedly objective (or as much as one can be) and factual. Why? Probably some idiot manager decided that they had better “show balance” by allowing stupid false claims to be made in the name of right wingery.

Still, I ignored him. But someone didn’t, and in a lovely piece of satire, set up a Twitter account under the name @andrewbolt. Fine, acceptable use and all that, right? Not according to the Dolthead himself. It’s “identity theft”, “a crime”, and the act of “barbarians”. has the story. Naturally, several dozen Twitterers began to Tweet under similar names, which you can follow here or here . To say he’s being mercilessly mocked is litotes of the lowest order. It’s caused a Streisand Effect, of course.

We don’t have a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert here, so this is the best we can do…

* Botanists have known for generations that organisms are not constrained by definitions, as many species of plants have hybrid origins, either directly or in their ancestry. But it is a problem in all organisms; last year I attended a conference about what hybridisation does for species concepts in primates; yes, that’s our group.


  1. Sir, just passing through to thank you for the link. I always approve when my blog posts are attached to the term ‘mercilessly mocked’!

  2. Neil Neil

    I saw the dolt on TV the other day, pundtificating on the election. He was talking about Gillard’s citizen’s group on the ETS (which has come in for unwarranted criticism, in my view. The criticism should focus on the fact that it is a delaying tactic, and not on the nature of the process, which has some merit). Dolt was arguing that the group would be informed by climate scientists. He said that this would bias it, because climate scientists have vested interests. So they should only receive information from people without any expertise on climate. Unfortunately, this is a widespread view in Australia: academic expertise is ‘ivory tower’ and automatically disqualifies one from talking in one’s area of expertise.

  3. Allen Hazen Allen Hazen

    My impression– derived from a casual conversation with a plant-science grad student most of thirty years ago– is that cross-species (and shock horror cross genus) hybridization is more common in plants than in animals. Seemed to make sense: after all, if your hope of progeny relies on waiting for the wind to bring some pollen grains to you, maybe it’s better not to be too fussy.
    (Neil: There’s a name for this– “epistemic egalitarianism,” the idea that “experts” are no more worthy of being heeded than the rest of us. Brian Leiter mentioned it in a recent “Leiter Reports” post about Wikipedia… Though in Dolt’s case reinforced by a particularly paranoid addition: experts are by virtue of their job untrustworthy!)

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      Gamete broadcasters, including angiosperms, gymnosperms, corals, and certain fishes, have a tendency to hybridise via polyploidy, and it looks to my impressionistic eye that around 15-40% of all taxa in those clades are of hybrid origin either directly or mediately. A coral specialist, John Veron, told me that what makes coral species are the prevailing currents at sporulation. Verne Grant, the famous evolutionary botanist, used to argue with the zoophiles that evolution was way more reticulate than they allowed; it now turns out that it is also way more reticulate among animals.

  4. Neil Neil

    Allen, Dolt is not an epistemic egalitarian. The ‘ivory tower’ view – that is, the view espoused by people who use that phrase – is that academic qualification on X makes one less trustworthy on it, either because one has biases or because of the well-known phenomenon whereby university education makes you stupid. Dolt is not opposed to expertise: anyone who has experience in the ‘real world’ – ie, the corporate world – is a genuine expert on more or less anything. Big business = ivy league; school of life = red bricks (to change my countries).

    Johnno, your notification of follow up comments is not working again for me.

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