Some time back I commented on how Mark Steyn included a seemingly fabricated quote in his book he wrote about Michael Mann:
Phil Jones to Michael Mann on February 3rd, 2005:
The two MMs [McKitrick and McIntyre] have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the U.K., I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone.6
And, indeed, the CRU subsequently announced that they had "inadvertently deleted" the requested data.
The e-mail Steyn quoted was genuine, but the claim "the CRU subsequently announced that they had 'inadvertently deleted' the requested data" baffled me. I was following the events being discussed at the time, and I had seen the CRU's responses on the issue. The phrase "inadvertently deleted" was never uttered by the CRU.
Given this mystery, I spent some time trying to track down the origin of the quotation. In doing so, I found Steyn had self-plagiarized an article he wrote for his website, but that article didn't include a source for the quotation either. I did find a Google Groups discussion which had the same claim, but it didn't offer a source either. I eventually gave up.
But recently, I started taking stock of some things I've done over the years, wondering if they were a waste of time. One of those things was the work I did examining Steyn's book, finding over a hundred minor misquotations, dozens of quotations whose context was changed to significantly distort their meaning, multiple quotations which were misattributed and numerous untrue factual claims. I put quite a bit of time into it, and I only publicly "published" a fraction of that work.
Was that a waste of time? I don't know. Nobody seems to care Steyn's book is a horrendous piece of trash, a lazy, dishonest smear campaign of the sort we expect from politicians. Maybe I'm wrong though. Maybe I could find some interest if I collected the notes I took and published them in the right way. That's something I was pondering when I decided to revisit that quotation I could never find a source for. And it seems today, I've found the answer.
I won't bore you with all the details of how I found this. The way things spread across the internet, especially when people don't provide links to things they reference/quote, is murky at best. But after tracking things back a bit, I found this article which says:
Email 1107454306 is particularly interesting. In it, Dr Jones writes:
The two MMs [McKittrick and McIntyre] have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I'll delete the file rather than send to anyone.
What makes this interesting is that the CRU, in later years, announced that they had "inadvertently deleted" their raw data when they responded to an FOIA request from ... McIntyre.
What makes this interesting is the link provided in this article goes to a blog post which does not contain the phrase "inadvertently deleted." It appears what happened is this article, written by one Charlie Martin, used the phrase "inadvertently deleted" with scare quotes to indicate he was being facetious, that he felt the deletion was not truly inadvertent. People saw this, failed to understand his meaning and thought this was a real quotation. The result is for years people have been saying it was announced data had been "inadvertently deleted," as though that were an actual quotation.
I think that's fascinating. We have a fake quotation which has been around for years and years, all because a person used scare quotes to indicate facetiousness and people didn't notice. People have been using the phrase "inadvertently deleted" in quotation marks for years in reference to this issue, while changing everything else about the commentary they post, and... there's no reason for it.