Academic hoaxes, academic feuding – an article in the Oldie

The Oldie magazine is probably read by few of us, being mainly for people who are, well, old.  A correspondent has sent me a copy of an article in this week’s issue, written by the editor, Richard Ingrams.

Harvey’s revenge

We love a spot of academic intrigue and so were delighted to receive an email from one Dr A D Harvey. Harvey, who describes himself as a ‘failed academic’, won notoriety after publishing academic articles under various pseudonyms and inventing a meeting between Dickens and Dostoevsky that fellow academics accepted as fact for years. American scholars finally uncovered the hoax and Harvey became the subject of a six page take-down in the Times Literary Supplement.

Not content to let sleeping feuds lie, Dr Harvey’s email to The Oldie is a copy of a letter he has sent to the TLS accusing it of running a hoax story in its own pages.  The piece in question, by Janetta Goldstein, is about an alternative ending to the Hans Christian Andersen Story, ‘The Invisible Robe’. But, Harvey writes, ‘The manuscript in Hackney Archives on which it is purportedly based seems to have no more physical existence than the new clothes the emperor was so proud of. I checked. Hackney Archives have a negative of a portrait of Mary Howitt but none of her papers, let alone a manuscript of a Hans Christian Andersen story with a previously unpublished variant ending.’ With some relish, Harvey adds, ‘It makes you wonder how many more bogus contributions have appeared in the TLS in recent months.’

Most would suspect that Harvey himself had a hand in the Hans Christian Andersen hoax, if indeed the alternative ending proves to be fake at all. But Harvey claims it bears none of his modus operandi — not that we can really take his word for that.

One thing we can be sure of: the TLS fact-checkers will be frantically searching for evidence of the Hackney manuscript and hoping that Dr Harvey has not been able to spectacularly settle his score with their scholarly journal.

The urge to twist the tail of the spectacularly aloof and patronisingly self-important is one that is probably common to most of us.  In this sense the activities of Dr Harvey are something that most of us will feel sympathy with.

Until we find that our own research has been compromised by such pranks, at any rate.

Verifying the raw data is never time wasted.