PNG failing to meet human rights obligations
The Old Man ponders his lonely life

A note on the integrity of what we write


NOOSA – Last night I received a contribution for publication from a person I respect who is a prodigiously talented Papua New Guinean writer.

The opening paragraph of the piece offered an ostensible quote which provided a foundation for the ensuing polemic.

The quote purported to have originated from the United States’ CNN news network which was claimed to have reported that "there is no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth".

The writer associated this citation as being a belief of people of “the Progressive Religion” who were “a new deity [which] arose in the filth of our own decaying civilisation [which] has reached its period of lunacy.”

Fair enough, I enjoy a bit of passion. But I also seek fair play and integrity of argument.

A ‘straw man’ in writing (or speech) occurs when another person's argument is misrepresented, distorted or exaggerated in an extreme form and the misrepresentation attacked as if it were the original argument.

In short, the ‘straw man’ is a lazy deceit to enable a false argument to be made or conclusion to be reached.

When I read the contributed essay, I sought to track down the CNN quote. I like to check my contributors’ facts because readers are our precious gift.

My search for the quote took some time as “assigning sex at birth” received scores of citations from far right United States media outlets but not CNN. Of course this further aroused my suspicions.

When eventually I did locate the relevant CNN citation (link to it here), I found the straw man.

The original CNN line in a much longer story was: “It's not possible to know a person's gender identity [my emphasis] at birth, and for some people, the sex listed on their original birth certificate is a misleading way of describing the body they have”.

So this original article was referring to gender identity, not gender.

Cynically translated as "no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth", the fix was in and the attacks on so-called ‘Progressive Religion’ could begin.

‘Gender’ and ‘gender identity’ are not the same.

I won’t move further with this distinction as you can explore it for yourself on the internet and this piece is already too long.

I have taken the time to write it because I expect better from contributors.

Writers should be aware that deceit in the presentation of facts may not only diminish their reputation but adversely affect their readers, who may be moved to believe, or be hurt by, such misrepresentations.


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Bernard Corden

The following link provides access to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald published almost eight years ago featuring a speech on political integrity by Senator John Faulkner:

Philip Fitzpatrick

I've got no real comment on the actions of the writer of this apparently misleading article except to note that when the integrity of something written is challenged so too is the integrity of the writer.

Having your integrity questioned is very damaging and colours everything you write afterwards. It is a danger that all writers face and has to be guarded against assiduously. Unless you work for the Murdoch press of course.

Looking at this particular case I can think of several ways of making the argument the writer intended without resorting to misrepresentation. The impetus adopted seems to be about laziness more than anything else.

That said, it's worth noting that the Straw Man fallacy is increasingly a tactic utilised by the political class and is becoming common in the political discourse.

Writers must have integrity but not so politicians apparently.

William Dunlop

Thanks, Keith, Bullshite personified!

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