Three weeks ago my friend Stephen Pollard wrote on his blog: "If you were told of an investment which would give you a 200% return in a matter of days, you'd invest as much as you could, wouldn't you?"
It turned out he was recommending a horse. Which lost.
I can do a lot better. If you were told of a method of obtaining a guaranteed minimum of $50 immediately, with no risk, no outlay and no effort other than sending a brief email, you'd do it, wouldn't you? Actually you wouldn't, because you'd assume the invitation came from a huckster and that the effort required would in reality far outweigh the modest reward, which in any case would never materialise. But I've looked at this one closely, and I can see no catch. A reader drew it to my attention, and rather than keep the spoils to myself, I offer it to you.
Someone called Aaron Swartz is surprised at the charges made against Noam Chomsky:
I've read a bunch of Chomsky's work and checked some of his most surprising claims and he invariably comes across as a very scholarly (sometimes to the point of absurdity) academic who simply presents some facts and then suggests the obvious conclusions they lead to. Since the things I learn from Chomsky are drawn from his collection of the facts, the proper way to convince me that he's wrong is to find a factual error in what he's said.
So Swartz has issued The Chomsky Challenge (emphasis in original): "I hereby offer $50 to anyone who can find an uncorrected material factual error in one of Chomsky's published political works."
Sensibly, Swartz makes certain stipulations. The error must be: material to Chomsky's argument (not a trivial error such as a misspelling); a point of fact and not interpretation; a published assertion and not an off-the cuff comment in an unapproved transcript; and political, rather than something from his work in linguistics. In addition it must be an error that stands uncorrected by Chomsky.
These are fair conditions, but they hardly make the challenge arduous. All you need do is send Swartz (at email@example.com) the documented whopper that Chomsky came out with to me.
1. In the November 2005 issue of Prospect, I wrote: "Chomsky's first book on politics, American Power and the New Mandarins (1969) grew from protest against the Vietnam war. But Chomsky went beyond the standard left critique of US imperialism to the belief that 'what is needed [in the US] is a kind of denazification.' This diagnosis is central to Chomsky's political output." I went on to criticise Chomsky's dishonest handling of source material.
2. In the January 2006 issue of Prospect (behind a subscription barrier, so see it also on the hagiographic Chomsky info site), Chomsky responded to the charge of dishonesty. He wrote: "Proceeding further to demonstrate my "central" doctrine, Kamm misquotes my statement that 'We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent - or denazification.'"
3. The full quotation from American Power and the New Mandarins (page 17) reads (emphasis added): "We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent - or denazification. The question is a debatable one. Reasonable people may differ. The fact that the question is even debatable is a terrifying thing. To me it seems that what is needed is a kind of denazification." As I pointed out in a letter in the February issue of the magazine, Chomsky quotes only the first sentence, suggesting agnosticism on whether the US needed "denazification", and omits the fifth, where he says exactly that. He then withholds this information from Prospect's readers to complain baselessly of misquotation.
It is clear that this was not a transcription error. Unless we assume he has perfect recollection of the wording and punctuation of a sentence written 40 years ago, Chomsky clearly checked the quotation against the original, and then flatly denied what was there. But you don't, for the purpose of claiming the $50 that now belongs to you, need to make any judgements about Chomsky's veracity, as Swartz requires only "an uncorrected material factual error" to pay out. The error I have pointed to is certainly uncorrected (except by me), material (Chomsky's dishonest handling of sources is precisely the issue he's supposed to be responding to), factual (the words are there on the page), published (it is in a signed article over which Chomsky had complete control) and political (Chomsky is taking issue with claims about his political writings, not his linguistics).
If you want to top up the $50, there may be a way of doing it with reference to another of Swartz's stipulations:
No cheating. If Chomsky says "I made a mistake in X, it should have said Y", you can't just copy this and count it as an error. However, I don't even know of any instances where Chomsky has done this (although I'm sure there are some), so I would appreciate it if you could send me some (although I will not pay the full $50).
Admittedly, Swartz doesn't say he'll definitely pay in these circumstances, but there is a clear implication that he will pay something, if not the full whack. In that case you should quote Chomsky's Chronicles of Dissent, 1992, pp. 350:
In the first book that I wrote, American Power and the New Mandarins, in the first edition there’s a slight error, namely that I attributed a quote to Truman which was in fact a very close paraphrase, almost verbatim paraphrase of what he said in a secondary source. I got a note mixed up and instead of citing the secondary source I cited Truman. It was corrected within about two months, in the second printing.
This is a typically slanted account, but again the interpretation doesn't matter for this purpose. All you need do is point Swartz to this passage, and he may be willing to add a nominal $10 or so.
Swartz doesn't appear to confine his offer of $50 to the first person who writes in, but extends it to anyone. It would be unkind to hold him to this, especially if I turn his challenge into a series of posts detailing Chomsky's multiple distortions. I therefore suggest - there was a catch after all, you see - requesting Swartz to make, in lieu of the money he owes you, a non-trivial donation to a charity of my choice. I recommend the Unicef appeal for the Democratic Republic of Congo (which you might wish to consider donating to even without Swartz's help).
UPDATE: Swartz has now added to his 'Chomsky Challenge' an acknowledgement of Chomsky's failures of quotation as stated in Chronicles of Dissent. Yet despite having read this post, he has also added the following paragraph, which I am certain was not there before:
I have offered this challenge to many people. So far, nobody has provided a claim that even meets these minimal requirements, let alone is actually correct. This sort of surprises me because anyone who has published as much as Chomsky has on such a variety of subjects is almost certain to make numerous errors. And yet Chomsky's work appears to be of sufficiently high quality that nobody can find his.
I referred earlier to the likelihood that promised rewards as easy to obtain as this one generally fail to materialise. I have a dispiriting premonition that Swartz's aggressively defiant ignorance will, in the manner of True Believers everywhere, withstand any amount of evidence. I hope I am wrong, but in the meantime I strongly advise Swartz not to renege on his pledge.