Thursday, September 25, 2008

Plagarism and Helen D; it was always a beat-up

I think it's so very funny that so much fuss was made (back in the 1990s) of what has been described as plagarism by Helen Darville/Demidenko in which she supposedly borrowed some words for a newspaper column from an item that was published on the internet. You can read the transcript of a story about Helen D. on the Sunday current affairs TV show that was screened in Australia in 1997:
In this media interview the journalist harps on and on at Helen about alleged plagarism, as though it is an extraordinary sin. These days, any viewer of the ABC TV show Media Watch knows that it is a very common practice for journalists (yes, journalists, especially newspaper columnists) to "borrow" text and ideas from articles published on the internet. You don't believe me? Well have a look at this article published this year on the ABC's web site (yes, the web site of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation funded by the government):
Then have a look at this article by a different author, which could possibly have been published earlier than the above article:
I detect a definite similarity between these articles, particularly in one paragraph. It's ironic that one of these articles mentions Helen D. and AS.

In a book that I have recently read the author observes that Helen D. has an extraordinary memory, apparently not a photographic memory, but still a remarkable one. This writer put forward a possible explanation for Helen D's supposed plagarism that it could have been a side-effect of her superior memory. Autistic savants are known to have incredibly accurate memory abilities, as do many less extreme cases of AS or autism. I am certain that Helen D. is on the autistic spectrum. Superior memory as an explanation for Helen's supposed plagarism is something that should be considered seriously.

Copyright Lili Marlene 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

The List grows to 138 names

What do the “Tin Lizzie”, the autobiography An Angel at My Table, the chess “Match of the Century” between Fischer and Spassky, the Helen Demidenko affair, the 1970s TV series Botanic Man, whistleblowing that led to the Wood Royal Commission, the Richter Scale for earthquakes, the La Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Pokemon, the book Subhuman Redneck Poems, the first modern abstract paintings, Newtonian physics, the book Born Free, the song Get Free by the Vines, Microsoft Corporation, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, the BitTorrent downloading computer program, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the transistor, Ireland's Constitution, the Blues Brothers, the Turing Test, the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, Einstein’s special theory of relativity and this silly blog that you are now reading all have in common? Yes, I know they are all works of original genius, but what else do they have in common?

The List now has 138 names in it.

Three very interesting and influential people who are the most recent additions to this list are Henry Ford, Deborah Locke and Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On today's The Book Show on ABC Radio National there is an interview with Pamela Gordon who is the literary executor and niece of the famous NZ writer Janet Frame. Ms Gordon was not at all pleased when a doctor gave Frame a posthumous diagnosis of high-functioning autism last year. I do not think autism is mentioned in this interview, in which Ms Gordon discusses her role, publishing and some of Frame's work. This show is repeated at midnight and audio can be downloaded.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko autistic?

Helen Dale b. 1972, born Helen Darville, changed name to Dale to (reportedly) avoid discrimination in job interviews, literary pseudonym Helen Demidenko, Australian writer, P.E. teacher, winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1993 (at age 22), the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 1995, and the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal in 1995, as Helen Demidenko, all awarded for the novel The Hand that Signed the Paper. This novel, it’s author and the awards ignited a storm of controversy in Australia that inspired the publication of four books about the controversy. Helen clearly misrepresented her ethnicity, her surname and her past in her published writing and also in her public appearances, claiming to have a Ukrainian father (untrue), claiming to be a part of the Australian Ukrainian community (untrue) and claiming to have come from a deprived underclass suburb and high school (also apparently untrue). Helen's deception is a part of a long tradition of Australian writers and film-makers exploiting a cultural preoccupation with ethnicity and gender identity politics and multiculturalism by misrepresenting their own ethnic or gender identities. Helen was also accused of plagiarism in her writing, with some justification.

The enigmatic “Helen Demidenko” became a part of Australian popular culture. A measure of her fame/infamy is the fact that some men dressed up in drag as “Helen Demidenkos: Miss Ukraine” in the 1996 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Her fame has faded considerably, possibly due to the fact that the height of her infamy pre-dated the establishment of the internet and is thus mainly reported by archival scholarly documents online, and the printed texts about the Demidenko controversy are now old.

According to an autobiographical article in Quadrant Dale was given phonics tuition and occupational therapy as a child for dyslexia and went from the bottom of the class to the top within 6 months. A number of writers have referred to a university medal awarded to Helen D. and she has claimed to have a very high IQ. Dale has expressed political views that could be categorized as right-wing. She has been involved with the Australian Skeptics. During the Demidenko affair she was defended by Australian poet Les Murray, literary editor of conservative journal Quadrant who himself has claimed to be autistic and considers himself a pariah from a leftist Australian literary establishment. Dale finds commercial law fascinating and is reported to be currently studying postgraduate law at Oxford.

Some quotes from Helen Dale:
“’Doesn’t play well with others’ was on my report card.”

“I didn't have that tendency to conform and I found it easy not to conform. I didn't scare easily. And it amazed to see that people who I respected, who I liked—would just fit in without ever really thinking about the consequences of what they did.”

“…. I saw the Waffen-SS tattoo in his armpit and I knew what it was. It's the kind of obscure thing I knew, but then I never picked up a Dolly magazine the entire time I was at high school.

“My journey through the upper reaches of the chattering classes as ‘Helen Demidenko’ was surreal.”

“I think that if people need to be told that that sort of thing is wrong, then maybe they don't have as sure a grip on their own moral sense as they might think they do.”

“I can't be responsible for other people's feelings.”

“Australian literature is burdened with a level of ideological conformity that would do East Germany proud.”

“Journalists have a remarkable talent for behaving like kiddy-fiddlers.”

“Thinking in this profession [law] is actually a good thing.”

About Helen Dale/Darville
Dale, Helen (2006) My life as a young Australian novelist. Quadrant. May 2006 p. 14-21.
[article with comments, I found Dale’s explanation of why she chose to enter the world of literature, in comment no. 17, interesting]
[not currently in Quadrant archives]Dale, Helen (2006) The Hand Behind The Hand that Signed. Skeptic. Autumn 2006 Volume 26 No 1. (journal of Australian Skeptics Inc.)
[this is the same article as above, info given about childhood, family, the Demidenko affair, her treatment by journalists, “the chattering classes” and literary people at the time, and her life in recent years. Interestingly, Dale described a childhood in an itinerant family with debt problems which seems incompatible with her private (high) school education at Redeemer Lutheran College, which was not explicitly mentioned. Another thing that strikes me as odd is Dale’s most negative description of her father in this article and in other media stories, compared with p.47 of the 1996 book by Prior listed below, which says that Dale/Darville’s father was reported in the press as being the same “Harry Darville” who was a candidate for the Greens in the 1993 federal election (winning 4.5% of the vote in Fadden), “and that Helen was his election manager.” I find it hard to believe that any political party would choose a person to represent them in an election who is as shady as the description of her father given by Dale/Darville in recent writings. In the All in the Mind radio interview listed below Dale/Darville gives 1996 as the date of her father’s appearance in court on a soliciting charge – running for federal parliament in 1993 and in court for soliciting 3 years later? If it is true it is quite a story. No mention of AS or autism in this article.]

Dalley, Helen (1997) Helen Darville breaks her silence. Sunday. Ninemsn. June 8th 1997.
[feature story/interview on a current affairs TV show, I found the bit where they discussed Demidenko as a persona interesting, no mention of AS or autism]

Jensen, Erik & Harvey, Ellie (2008) The pain that may explain Helen Darville. Sydney Morning Herald. May 9th 2008.
[“Helen Darville … suggests characteristsics of Aspergers syndrome may explain her aloofness.”]
Malcolm, Lynne (2006) Whatever happened to Helen Demidenko? All in the Mind. ABC Radio National. April 29th 2006.
[transcript of a radio interview, discusses her childhood, family, the Demidenko affair and recent life, gives a negative description of her father (discussed above), no mention of autism or AS]

*Prior, Natalie Jane (1996) The Demidenko diary. Mandarin.
[an interesting account of the Demidenko affair from the point of view of a writer “friend” of Dale’s who sheltered her while she was in hiding from hostile journalists, “What immediately caught my attention on this first meeting – apart from her striking appearance – was the way she totally failed to be absorbed into the group.” (p. 15), some unusual autistic behaviour (of Dale’s) described on p. 79, after reading this book I became convinced that Helen D. is/was autistic]Wheatley, Jane (2008) Reinventing Helen. Sydney Morning Herald. Good Weekend. May 10th 2008.
West Australian. WestWeekend Magazine. September 6th 2008 p.24-28.
[feature article, Wheatley claims she was considering whether Dale has AS before Dale brought up the subject, Wheatley appears to have summarized and accepted Dale’s description of her childhood in an itinerant family with debt problems from the Skeptic/Quadrant article, which seems incompatible with her private (high) school education at Redeemer Lutheran College, which I could find no mention of in this article, gives a negative description of her father (discussed above),]
Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2008) Helen Darville. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2008) Redeemer Lutheran College. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
[the college gives it’s side of some stories, and this seems to be confirmation that Helen Dale/Darville did attend this school]Wilson, Katherine (2006) The blogger formerly known as Demidenko. Crikey. September 11th 2006.

Works by Helen Demidenko
Demidenko, Helen (1994) The hand that signed the paper. Allen and Unwin.
[the novel that started it all]RePublica: issue 3: Scarred for life. (1995) editor: George Papaellinas. Angus and Robertson.
[Other Places by Helen Demidenko is on p. 93-97, about a blonde Ukrainian girl who has won an award and fame, and is invited to make a speech at the outer-suburban Australian public high school that she graduated from. There nothing to indicate whether this is presented as an autobiographical essay or a fictional short story. This volume includes a diverse mixture of genres. There have been accusations that this story contains some content plagiarized from a work by Brain Matthews. I tried to check this out for myself but found that if his work had ever been stocked in our state public library system, it now appears to no longer be in stock.]

About the Demidenko Affair
Cultures of forgery: making nations, making selves. (2003) editors: Judith Ryan & Alfred Thomas. Routledge.
[includes a chapter about the Demidenko affair]
The Demidenko file. (1996) editors: John Jost, Gianna Totaro & Christine Tyshing. Penguin.

Manne, Robert (1996) The culture of forgetting : Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust. Text Publishing.

Manne, Robert (2005) Left right left: political essays 1977-2005. Black Inc.
[includes material from his book about the Demidenko affair]
*Prior, Natalie Jane (1996) The Demidenko diary. Mandarin.
[an account of the Demidenko affair from the point of view of a writer friend of Dale’s who sheltered her while she was in hiding from hostile journalists]*Riemer, Andrew (1996) The Demidenko debate. Allen and Unwin.
[described as sympathetic to Helen D, but even-handed, there is a lot of stuff in the afterword of this book that I believe supports the proposition that Helen D. is/was autistic, including her explanation on p. 263-264 of why was so fascinated with the Ukraine. Some quotes from this book; “She has always had a strongly visual imagination …” “She was the school freak: bookish, brainy, the loner …” “…the thought strikes me not for the first time that she might well be an intensely committed and obsessive writer…” ]Warren, Agnes (1995) Why it took the media so long to write a story about the life of prize-winning author Helen Demidenko. Media Report. ABC Radio National. August 24th 1995.
[“a language therapist” associated with Dale’s high school is mentioned as one of the people who identified “Helen Demidenko” as Helen Darville]
Who's who?: hoaxes, imposture and identity crises in Australian literature. (2004) editors: Maggie Nolan & Carrie Dawson. University of Queensland Press.

Link to a photo from the 1996 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Helen Demidenkos: Miss Ukraine

Monday, September 08, 2008

I knew it!

I always thought there was something very odd about that Helen Demidenko lass. I found her presence in pretence oddly cold and, with the benefit of hindsight, unconvincing. Apparently others also sensed some interesting difference, and some still do. I saw a recent interview on TV with Helen D, and she seemed a lot more confident and much less lost, but once again I thought there seemed to be an unsusal disconnection between the way she viewed her own public persona and the way she actually came across. She seemed to think a quite terrible attempt at a foreign accent was convincing. It wasn't, well, not to my pedantic ear it wasn't. I was also struck by her apparent aloneness. Still an outsider after all these years? Was she born an outsider? And now today I read an article about this still-enigmatic martyr to the Australian literary establishment in which she describes an aspect of her personality as "aspy". And which Australian literary giant defended her during the height of the controversy? Les Murray, who has claimed in many media interviews to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum himself. Does it take a person who doesn't know or doesn't respect the unwritten rules, who transgresses the unwritten rules, to show us how stupid or powerful the unwritten rules are? Is that what happened during the Demidenko controversy?
It just isn’t good enough to call this problem Asperger syndrome and forget about it

I was alarmed at what I heard on this week’s edition of the ABC Radio National show All in the Mind. I have already read in an Australian social science journal that cases of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) are being misdiagnosed as Asperger syndrome (AS) in Australia, and this was amply confirmed by today’s show. It appears that clinicians are deliberately incorrectly diagnosing children who have FAS with autism or AS to give these kids better access to the services that they need (and access to some services that they apparently don’t need as well). This is how I interpreted what I heard on this programme. The written transcript is not yet available to read. I find claims of autism misdiagnosis to be most believable in light of what I saw on the ABC TV show Q & A the other night. A mother of a disabled child was complaining that her child, who I gather has some very rare condition, is excluded from the new government programme of services for autistic children because the child is not autistic, even though the parent thought such services could be beneficial to this child. It is easy to imagine that other parents in a similar position might go doctor-shopping for an autism spectrum diagnosis. Quite a while ago I watched a documentary on TV about a boy with FAS who was adopted from Africa by a UK couple. I recall he was given FAS as a formal diagnosis, but I think his adoptive mother said in the documentary that she advised his teachers to treat him as though he had AS. There was a section of the doco which was supposed to show the boy having an autistic-type sensory overload episode in a train station. I thought the boy just looked lost, nothing particularly autistic about his behaviour.

It’s high time someone raised a strong objection to anything and everything being diagnostically lumped together with AS purely for pragmatic reasons, or by mistake, or stuffed inappropriately into the autistic spectrum. This betrayal of basic scientific principles by people who call themselves professionals must end. While it is a doctor’s duty to do the best thing for patients who have FAS, and she may believe the best way to give such patients access to services is to misdiagnose them as autistic, but these clinical lies must surely have many bad consequences for the general community, and for all of the individuals involved. There are many reasons why sloppy or incorrect diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions is a harmful practice, and must stop:

1. Serious problems shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. If FAS is being underdiagnosed in white populations, bums need to be kicked and people need to be warned. If FAS is being overdiagnosed in indigenous populations that is racism. Social workers must no longer be allowed to turn a blind eye to women who booze their way through pregnancy after pregnancy, creating new families of impaired people. We all know it happens, and we all know it is a disgrace that Australian society does nothing to stop it from happening. The autistic spectrum shouldn’t be abused as a conveniently mysterious set of diagnostic categories that can be applied to the children of parents who wish to avoid facing up to the causes of their child’s condition, be it alcohol or inherited factors.

2. The misdiagnosis of FAS or other conditions as autism, AS or ADD throws a shadow of disrepute over paediatics, paediatricians, other health professionals who make misdiagnosis, the autistic spectrum and ADD. How the heck can an articulate child who has significant difficulty with maintaining a focus of attention as the result of FAS, ever be given a diagnosis of autism, which is a condition characterized by speech and/or communication difficulties and relative cognitive strength in the ability to focus attention and maintain attention? Such a diagnosis invites scorn and ridicule.

3. Misdiagnosis must surely foul up research into autism and AS and skew the clinical profile of the autism spectrum. I am sure most autism experts by now are aware that there is so much heterogeneity among their “patients” that this presents many different problems in their clinical practices and research. I’m sure this is one reason why they are so keen to identify the “genes for autism”.

4. Misdiagnosis could confuse and mislead professionals and ordinary people who come into contact with people incorrectly given autism spectrum diagnoses. I could imagine a teacher might have a bad experience trying to teach a class that includes a student with FAS or some type of brain damage incorrectly diagnosed with AS, who displays behaviour issues but no trace of the cognitive strengths in systemizing or specialized talents that are thought to be associated with AS. She might find that everything that she has read about autism has failed to help her to help her student. She might feel very frustrated. There might be confusion and conflict in her dealings with the parents of this student. She might conclude that it is a waste of time learning about things such as ADD or AS, and gain a bad attitude toward these conditions, and the people who are supposed to have them.

5. Everyone deserves and needs a correct diagnosis, even if that means being told they have brain malformation because of something that their mother did, or have such a rare and unknown genetic syndrome that the world of medical science can offer them little information. I am sure this must be better than being offered incorrect information, a place within a community in which one doesn’t really belong, bad advice or false hope.

6. Some people attach a great amount of emotional significance to knowledge of the origins of medical and developmental conditions. Some people might be devastated to know that they, or their child, has a condition that is the result of drinking during pregnancy. Some people might be devastated to know that they, or their child, has an inherited condition. Some might be comforted or relieved to know such things. If it matters a lot to people they deserve to know the truth.

7. I consider it to be something akin to an insult to be told that I have the same condition as people who have had their brains damaged or malformed by events such as encephalitis in infancy, hypoxia during birth or prenatal exposure to toxic substances such as alcohol. It’s not that I think badly of people with these conditions, it’s just that I do have a negative attitude towards brain damage, especially in cases in which it’s most obvious manifestation is aggression or impaired cognition.

Link to the radio show All in the Mind:

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I guess the latest bit of fun in pop psychology must be the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI)

Is it really much more than a measure of the personality psychology dimension of "conscientiousness", mixed up with attitudes resulting from life experiences? I guess I'll have to read the book.

Every time I see a photo of Professor Zimbardo I can't help wondering whether he should be pulling a rabbit out of a shiny black top hat rather than writing psychology books. Does he lead a double life as Zimbardo the Magician? I'd have trouble keeping a straight face if I had to sit through one of his lectures. I'm so immature and I'm so old.