Friday, December 7, 2012

Other Dubious Quotations

The 7 December 2012 Wall Street Journal has a page 1 story on a fake quotation by Thomas Jefferson that has been used by, among others, President Obama. There is a page on debunking several dozen falsely attributed Jefferson quotations. The article also discusses other scholars who attempt the Sisyphusian task of debunking fabricated quotations by Churchill, Lincoln, and others.  The article cites Churchill expert Richard Langworth:
It’s a hopeless task, he says, complaining the Internet is like an electronic “Hyde Park Corner” where anybody can say anything, whether it is true or not. “You would need an army of secretaries to reply to all these tweets. Twitter and Facebook have made it worse, because people glom onto these things and pass it on and there it goes.”
It’s good to have company in opposing dubious quotations.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sighting Report #8

We're at high season in the election cycle and the quotation continues to spread: 179 new pages in the past week. Most associate Romney or Obama with Goebbels.

Another quotation site has popped up, too.  Crossquotes provides quotations “from a Christian Perspective.” It includes the quotation.  As a Christian myself I like to see people take the trouble to be accurate.

Meanwhile, a Google search for the phrase “truth is the greatest enemy of the State” provides only 166,000 hits, a significant decline.  We find, though, that Google results vary widely so we will wait to see if this represents a long-term decline.  There are still 32,000 pages that attribute the quotation to ‘Joseph M. Goebbels,” although “M” was not his middle initial.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Success Report #1: Michael C. Moynihan in “Tablet”

One of our hopes for this blog is that it will spread the knowledge that the Goebbels quotation is a forgery.  We’re beginning to have occasional successes.  Just recently Michael C. Moynihan wrote an interesting piece titled “Hitler on the Campaign Trail” that looks at the spread of Nazi comparisons in American politics.  He writes:

While fascism is a major political force almost nowhere, it is inaccurately referenced everywhere. The “Big Lie” myth is bipartisan, popular with excitable representatives of both political parties and all ideologies: Sen. Chuck Grassley, Rush Limbaugh, Joe Scarborough, and Chris Matthews have all accused their enemies of planning to lie loud and lie often—just like the Nazis. And the fear of impending American fascism, a charge made most recently by Rep. Ron Paul during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, are distressingly common. Even the recent kerfuffle over an anti-Obama cover story in Newsweek led one Huffington Post blogger to dismiss the author, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, as a “British fascist.”
If an American politician playing fast-and-loose with the facts is indistinguishable from an editorialist for Der Stürmer, than how does one distinguish between Paul Ryan and Heinrich Himmler? If Niall Ferguson is a “British fascist,” what would one call Lord Haw-Haw, Oswald Mosley, or the bald-headed street brawlers of the British National Party? “Rather severe British fascists”?
That’s exactly the point we’re hoping to get across in this blog and it’s satisfying to see it used in ways that make the point to a broader audience.

There is one point at which Moynihan is a tad unclear.  He writes in his penultimate paragraph:
The “big lie” wasn’t a Nazi propaganda “technique.” It wasn’t “invented” or “pioneered” by either Hitler or Goebbels. Nor was it the backbone of an anti-Semitic media strategy that precipitated the Holocaust.
I initially misread the first sentence as suggesting that the Nazis were not major users of falsehood, which seemed odd in the context of the essay — I think the quotation marks around “technique” threw me off.  Mr. Moynihan dropped me a note explaining that his point was the the technique was hardly unique to the Nazis.  That makes excellent sense, and is much more consistent with the flow of the essay than my original reading.

It’s also probably worth noting that leading Nazis believed their own propaganda. Much of what the Nazis said about Jews was false, but the only credible explanation for the enormous effort Hitler put into killing Europe’s Jews is that he really did believe that they were Germany’s great enemy in the world.

A central claim of Nazi propaganda was was that “world Jewry” intended to wipe out Germany both as a nation and as a people.  This was a false claim (or else the alleged powerful forces of “World Jewry” were remarkably weak, since within ten years of total defeat West Germany was in the midst of the “economic miracle” that continues today). However, the common definition of “lie” assumes intent to deceive. A first-grader who writes on a test that “2 + 2 = 5” is wrong, but not a liar.  I don’t mean to suggest that the falsehoods in Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda were equivalent to a first-grader’s addition error — there is moral culpability in spreading false information.  One might argue, however, that although Nazi propaganda was often false, its makers did not always think that they were lying. In that sense, perhaps some Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda is less an example of the “big lie” than of the human tendency to see what one wants to see.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sighting Report #7

With the political season raging, people continue to use the fabricated quotation against their political foes.  Supporters of the Democratic Party are using it more than the Republicans at the moment.  For an example, see a post on the Washington Monthly site.

There are 190 new pages for the past week.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Google’s Ngram Viewer Finds No Citations

Google’s Ngram Viewer allows one to search for words and phrases in the millions of books digitized by Google.  It covers the years until 2000.  It finds not a single citation of the dubious Goebbels quotation.  Proving a negative is impossible, but this is still further evidence of the unlikelihood of the quotation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Our Article on the Alleged Goebbels Quotation

Our article titled “Plausible Quotations and Reverse Credibility in Online Vernacular Communities” was recently published issue of ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, 69 (April 2012), 216-234. Here is the abstract:

Cyberspace includes information that lacks vetting by traditional gatekeepers such as editors and librarians. One growing type of online information is unsourced quotations attributed to well-known individuals. After summarizing the history of textual fabrication as semantic misinformation, this article traces the origin and rapid spread of a quotation misattributed to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. The quotation spread from online sources to print and even at least one peer-reviewed academic journal — all without ever being sourced. The same quotation was widely used by both the political Right and Left to support opposing ideologies. Cyberspace provides an arena for creating seemingly credible but unverified persuasive messages that confirm the existing assumptions of online communities of discourse. The essay concludes with suggestions for verifying unsourced online quotations attributed to otherwise ‘credible’ people.”
You can find the journal at larger libraries, but if you have want to read it and cannot find a copy, e-mail either of us.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Another Dubious Internet Dictionary of Quotations

A month back we noted Thinkexist, an Internet quotation site that provides no sources for its quotations.

Another such site including the Goebbels quotation is Searchquotes. It claims: “Our goal is to help you by delivering amazing quotes to bring inspiration, personal growth, love and happiness to your everyday life.”  Like Thinkexist, it provides no information on who is behind it, nor does it give sources for its quotations.  It gets about 4,000,000 visitors a month, and probably provides a lot of advertising revenue to its owner, whomever that anonymous person or persons may be.

As always, do not trust anonymous sites of quotations.  Use a good print dictionary of quotations instead.

Tracking Report #4

Google remains puzzling.  Today (22 June 2012) a search for “truth is the greatest enemy of the State” gets 243,000 hits.  However, if one searches for the phrase plus “Goebbels,” the result is 943,000.  These results are similar to Tracking Report #3.

With the first search, the lead hit is our false Nazi quotations page, followed by the unreliable Thinkexist dictionary of quotations.  With the second search, Thinkexist gets the first two hits, followed by our site.    

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dubious Internet Quotation Sites

Books and magazines used to have editors — and good ones still do.  The Internet allows anyone to be his own publisher.  On the one hand that can be good.  The financial barriers to reaching an audience have been eliminated.  However it also means that a great deal of nonsense gets distributed.

This site attempts to combat a small corner of nonsense.  However, other sites promote it.  For example, the popular quotation site has the fake Goebbels quotation, and is probably the source for many who cite it.  It apparently gets over a million visitors a year.

What is interesting to us is that the site provides no information at all as to who is behind it.  Nor does it give any sources for the quotations it provides.  It allows visitors to provide feedback — but although we have twice reported that the quotation is a fake it remains on the site.

Compare that with a real print dictionary of quotations.  An excellent example is the Yale Book of Quotations.  The editor assiduously sources quotations, and finds lots of them that are falsely attributed. If you want to be sure the quotation you are using is real, do not depend on anonymous Internet sites

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sighting Report #6

There are 31 new hits for the past 24 hours.  The top one is for Regainyourbrain,  subtitled “the war on independent thought.”  It has the dubious Goebbels quotation at the top of each post — and attributes it to “Joseph M. Goebbels.”  “M” was not his middle initial, but 35,000 Internet pages think it was — and indeed, the first two quotations we can find (dating back to 2002) use that wrong middle initial.  This post is concerned about the effects of cell phone radiation on the brain.  The site as a whole is filled with claims of sinister conspiracies to use technology to turn humans into helpless puppets of the Pentagon, the New World Order, etc.  Digital television, cell phones, and other technologies are all part of the plot.

The second site, The Logical Sceptic, also has the quotation at the head of each post, although at least is does not provide “M” as a middle initial.  It is a Ron Paul fan site.

Tracking Report #3

Google is at times mysterious.  Last week a Google search for “truth is the greatest enemy of the State" got over a million hits.  Today it gets 242,000.  However, a search for the phrase with “Goebbels” as an additional term results in 999,000 hits.  We’ll have to try both searches in the future.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

German Tracking Report #1

The quotation has spread dramatically in English-language web pages and has even infected Germany, where various web sites have translated it into the language it supposedly originated in.  When we first started tracking it in 2009, there were about 400 pages in German that included the phrase "da die Wahrheit der tödliche Feind der Lüge ist, und somit wird die Wahrheit durch die Ausbreitung der größte Feind des Staates," the phrase we are tracking in English.  As of May 5 the number of page has dropped to 265 in a Google search.  However, more than one site may have translated it, which might produce different phrasing.  We’ll look into that as time permits.

Tracking Report #2: Citations double ?!

The first tracking report was on April 12.  It found 521,000 hits for the phrase "truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” A search on May 5 gets 1,050,000 hits.  It’s unlikely that the total doubled in three weeks — perhaps Google’s search engine is finding more pages?

In any event, the trend is clearly going the wrong way from our point of view.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Sighting Report #5

A letter to the editor published online in the Jacksonville Daily News (North Carolina) uses the fabricated Goebbels quote to make a point about local politics, particularly a proposal for the Sturgeon City Civic and Environmental Education Center and refinancing existing loans.

In addition to using the quote, the letter says, "Those well versed in history will readily agree that Goebbels was both a master of propaganda as well as an infamous historical figure. He was very adept at not only convincing people that outright lies were the truth, but he was capable of bending the truth with far more curves than a pretzel! The taxpaying public has been sold a sow’s ear and some are trying to make it into a silk purse."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sighting Report #4

Goebbel's famous non-quote about telling a lie big enough and often enough to get people to believe it is finding a home in quite a few titles on Google Books.
  • One interesting sighting is in David Rankin's book, The Things I Wish They'd Told Me: ... as I Was Growing Up. The false quote appears on page 378 in a list of quotations about "Truth."
  • R. Thomas Risk and colleagues used it on pages 228 and 229 in their book, Where We Find Ourselves: Portrait of a Modern Infidel. The book includes footnotes, but does not give a source for the Goebbel's quote.
  • William Campbell Hunter, Jr., used the quote on page 138 of his 2008 Drew University doctoral dissertation on "The Value of the Filmic Encounter as a Pedagogical Tool for Empathy Promotion in Allied Health Undergraduates." He sources the quote in a footnote as follows: "Reference is being made to Joseph Goebbels the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda."

Sighting Report #3

A search of Google for postings during the last 24 hours indicates that the false Goebbels quote is flying around cyberspace.

It was used, and then apparently removed, on the right-leaning White House Dossier website.

It appeared on Digg in response to an article titled, "Drug Czar Claims Hemp Fiber Contains THC."

Harry Hopkins used the quote in his letter to the editor of the Bloomington, Indiana Herald Times. That paper's website makes it difficult to tell what Mr. Hopkins was responding to! Maybe that's not even important since Goebbel's non-quote seems to work for any situation of someone not agreeing with what someone else has said--especially the media.

Bruno Korschek used the quote in an article on ArticleSnatch titled, "Orwell, Goebbels, And Obama -- The Triumvirate Of Language Control." Mr. Korschek is the author of the book Love My Country, Loathe My Government.

Finally, the website "Evolution--No Intelligence Allowed" used it in an article titled "Evolution: Fact, theory, Hypothesis" to discuss scientific theory, models, and facts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sighting Report #2

There are 31 new hits for the phrase in the last 24 hours.  The most interesting is Fraudonomics, which looks at “the interaction between government, the media, and Wall Street.” It looks to be on the political right. It has the quotation at the top of the page.  Rather amusing that a blog with the name “Fraudonomics” is the victim of a fraudulent quotation.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sighting Report #1

Along with tracking reports on the number of citations, we will also post new Internet pages that use the fabricated quotation. 

A Google search on 12 April 2012 finds 171 new search results for the last week.  Here are two of them.
  • Sago, a conservative blog that claims to be “handcrafted opinion served fresh daily” has a post dated 8 April 2012 that criticizes President Obama: “By his remarks, he is making it clear that objective reporting is neighter necessary nor desired.  This thinking is reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels when he said, ‘If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it....’
  • My Common Sense Politics  is a blog to the left of Barack Obama. It has a long list of quotations to the bottom left of its pages.  One of those quotations is the fabricated quotation by Joseph Goebbels.
We will post interesting sighting reports as we come across them.

Tracking Report #1

We will regularly update the number of times the phrase “truth is the greatest enemy of the State” appears in a Google search.  There will be exceptions, but nearly all of the hits will be pages that use the quotation, or parts of it.

For 12 April 2012, Google provides 521,000 results. This is up from 500,000 in December 2011.

An Outline of the Problem

Some years ago I (Randall Bytwerk) got an e-mail from someone trying to track down the Goebbels quotation at the top of the page.  Since I’ve read a great detail of material by Goebbels, it did not sound right.  After considerable effort I could find no source for the quotation, even though at the time tens of thousands of web pages cited it.

I talked with my colleague Quentin Schultze and we decided there was something interesting going on.  We’ve now been following the spread of the quotation for three years and will soon publish the article mentioned in the previous post.  We’ve decided to keep up on the interesting spread of a fabricated quotation on this blog.

Here’s the situation as discussed on my German Propaganda Archive:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Last I checked (December 2011), this shows up on 500,000 web pages and twenty published books (most of which are vanity press productions, evidence for the value of publishers who still believe in editors). It is attributed to Joseph Goebbels. No one ever gives a citation to the source. A fair number of web citations are to “Joseph M. Goebbels.” That wasn't his middle initial. One book credits it to “Joseph Goebbel.”
There are several hundred pages in German that cite the statement, but none give a source, and one site (perhaps the earliest) notes that is “retranslated from English.”

Goebbels wouldn’t have said that in public. He always maintained that propaganda had to be truthful. That doesn't mean he didn’t lie, but it would be a pretty poor propagandist who publicly proclaimed that he was going to lie. I know of no evidence that he actually said it. I haven’t read everything Goebbels wrote, but I have been through a lot of it.
Goebbels actually accused others of using the technique. In a 1941 article titled “ Churchill’s Lie Factory,” he wrote:
“One should not as a rule reveal one’s secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”
He accuses the English of the “big lie,” and suggests that, were he to use such a technique, he would not publicly announce it.

The quotation usually seems to be used by those on the political left and right, who find it helpful in to associating those they don't like with the Nazis.

What has happened since then?  That is the subject of future posts.

On Don Quixote and the Internet

Like Don Quixote, are we engaged in a hopeless quest in tilting at Internet windmills?

First, who are “we”?  We’re Quentin Schultze and Randall Bytwerk, both professors in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College with a long interest in the Internet (we co-taught an early course in web design in 1996).

Second, we have a forthcoming article in Etc.: A Review of General Semantics that studies the spread of the quotation at the head of this blog — an alleged quotation by Joseph Goebbels that as best we can determine is fabricated.  Nonetheless, it is currently on nearly 500,000 web sites.

Our goal, which will be reported in this blog, is to reduce the number of citations.  That is a challenging task and we are not at all confident of success. The next post outlines the challenge.