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Home  >  The social experiment  >  Griffithgate: mirror of decay

Griffithgate: mirror of decay

- why it matters to You

Let's look at the entire context. Not just the university, but beyond.

1. Spies

During the honours year at Griffith University I worked on an algorithm that allowed an artificial neural network to set itself up automatically by analysing the type of intended input. It required test runs on the computer that sometimes stretched for many hours. Post-graduate students had a small room set aside for them, with work stations for each of us and their separate log-ins.

On those occasions I used to set up the program before leaving the campus in the evening, left a note on the machine to indicate it was in use, and returned in the mornings to collect the data.

One day I discovered my account had been hacked into. The program was stopped prematurely and when opening MS Word I realised someone had switched the keyboard Menus to the Chinese alphabet. What's more, my password was rendered useless. When it happened again I informed the network administrator, but was told not to worry about it.

Then it happened a third time - program stopped, keyboard in Chinese, no password. By this time I began to be concerned about meeting my deadline (this was for a one-semester subject), and so I sent an email to the admin in order to be covered in case of any problem. The response was there's nothing much they could do unless I am able to name the person/s responsible. If I wanted to lock the work station they could give me some advice [1] but no more.

In 2005 the Courier Mail ran an article about a Chinese diplomat asylum seeker who claimed that students were targeted by Chinese officials to spy on other students in Brisbane and a similar attempt was made to recruit him [2]. Not walking the corridors of counter-intelligence I am unable to say whether Australia had or had not been aware of this problem all along. Fact is, the first and only time this issue was brought to the public's attention was after that asylum seeker decided to speak out. Fact is also I had reported a case that certainly looked suspicious. Why were those concerns effectively dismissed? Networks run under Unix have a host of tools to identify what is happening on any given node.

22 Feb 2013: Mandiant, a US cyber security firm, has just released a report on Chinese hackers systematically attacking major Western targets. To quote from the Executive Summary:

"Since 2004, Mandiant has investigated computer security breaches at hundreds of organizations around the world. The majority of these security breaches are attributed to advanced threat actors referred to as the 'Advanced Persistent Threat' (APT). We first published details about the APT in our January 2010 M-Trends report. As we stated in the report, our position was that 'The Chinese government may authorize this activity, but there's no way to determine the extent of its involvement.' Now, three years later, we have the evidence required to change our assessment. The details we have analyzed during hundreds of investigations convince us that the groups conducting these activities are based primarily in China and that the Chinese Government is aware of them."


1. Email-out 16 September 1999; email-in 5 October 1999.

2. Courier Mail, 10 June 2005, "They wanted spies like us, says Chinese immigrant".

2. Behind the scenes

About a month before the end of the honours year Terry Dartnall, one of my lecturers in artificial intelligence, and I were sitting at a table in front of the students' common room. We talked about AI - what else - when along came Grigoris Antoniou, my supervisor for the dissertation. He stopped and said, "Terry, you're about the only one who could mark Martin's thesis, would you do it?" Terry agreed, and with that Grigoris left. We continued our conversation were we had left off and that was that.

Fast forward to the end of the year and a few days before the deadline I went up to the counter to hand in my thesis, freshly printed and bound. Marie Gehde was in the office and she told me to come back next day as she was just about to close. "Not a problem," I said, "but why don't I just drop it into Terry Dartnall's office, I noticed he's still in and he's marking it anyway."

Big mistake. "You're not supposed to know that!!" and with a stern face she grabbed the paper and dropped it on her desk. Oh boy.

As it turned out, both examiners' reports read as if written by someone who had no idea. The point is, if Terry Dartnall was not shunted aside then at least the other person would have been incompetent, according to my supervisor. And if the lecturer had been by-passed, then both examiners were clearly unsuited to mark a paper of this kind. What decisions then had been made behind my back?

Given that preamble it is worth remarking that at no stage during my complaints that followed was there any mention of this episode. Surely, if the secrecy surrounding the identity of the examiners was so important, it could have been a pretty good reason to stall my efforts at correction from the very beginning. If, on the other hand, the qualifications of the examiners had indeed been questionable, then those few words at the table would pale into insignificance from the perspective of the university.

All anyone would have to do is to take just one of my complaints, compare it to the 'real thing' in the thesis and show me, once and for all, how deluded I really am - perhaps even in front of witnesses for good measure. This never happened. Not a single item I raised was ever entered into. Which brings me to the next point.

3. Incompetence

The full detail I have outlined in my appeal. Here are just some of the 'highlights'.

It was wrong to apply the interdisciplinary approach - so the examiners said. Someone in AI should not engage with other fields, never mind that the fundamental purpose of AI is to find out how the mind works and researchers in various areas have grappled with the problem. Neuroscience, psychology, social science, etc etc, they all have something to say on the subject and looking a bit further than one's own relatively narrow corridor may just prevent the ongoing emergence of hypothesis after hypothesis, each more abstract than the one before (some of those arguments are still going on after all these years with no end in sight).

By now artificial intelligence and all the other disciplines are at least over half a century old. Nobody in their right mind would claim their particular area had all the answers. For historical reasons alone there are bound to be overlaps and this goes for other fields as well, such as biology, medicine, geology, and so on. Entire conferences are held with the express proviso the contributions must be of an interdisciplinary nature. The same goes for journal articles.

In a very real sense this intellectual parochialism prevents further exploration. In this case to know how the mind works is invaluable when it comes to understanding how human affairs are played on this planet of ours.

To actually claim, for the sake of criticism, I wrote something which does not even exist, and furthermore put this into an official report, is quite incomprehensible.

There is one sure way to deal with such matters. Engage a psychiatrist to test our respective capacity for engaging with reality. How about it folks?

I am supposed to have made up "a priori rules" regarding human behaviour. Those "a priori rules" were one of the foundations to articles appearing in the book "Logic and Order in Society" (ISBN 0 7316 7059 0) which, by the way, used to be on the required reading list for the political science course at the University of New South Wales. But more importantly, they have been established by observing human behaviour in all its shapes and forms across the continents. (The rules appeared word for word in my book "Manifesto on the Third Millennium", ISBN 0 7316 9966 1, reviewed by Joszef Bognar, who used to be General Director of the Institute and member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences)

That's the problem with mature-age students: they have a life. In the course of the evaluation forty countries have been visited, which in itself has been dismissed as an "eclectic attitude" of mine.

Here are the countries: Algeria, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, China, Djibouti, Egypt, France, Gambia, Germany, Greece, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Liberia, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Surinam, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA, Yugoslavia.

I am not asking for a medal. However, the epithet "eclectic" does hint at a certain arrogance born out of ignorance. Let's cut to the chase. The closed minds, particularly those of some of our decision makers, who fear anything that takes them out of their comfort zones, have ramifications far beyond a little thesis here or there. Entire policies are shaped out of such blindness, and they inform the attitudes at the highest level of government.

Observe the beauty, the elegance, shining forth from a classical sculpture, a European cathedral, a text of a great philosopher. Observe the general effect it has on the citizens; their musings, their courage, and sometimes their pain. Compare this, if you will, with the brutishness, the violence, the carelessness exhibited in so many regions of this world. The blood-dripping mutilations carried out in the name of some phantasy, the brutal submission of children, of women, of anyone who dares to question. Such is the absolute mental prison of the victims, many of them don't even know what it all means and so they come running for more.

No society is immune, now or in the past. But considering the present, surely there is the matter of degree. This clique who despises "eclectic attitudes" does not want to know about female circumcision for example when it happens in their midst. They do not know nor care about the disdain some migrants have towards their host culture, so much so that it takes someone from those very newcomers to point out what is really going on [1].

Decisions are made in the highest circles that disregard the obvious intent of hostile regimes, raising the very real possibility of a global catastrophe [2].

The atrocities committed under the West's nose go virtually unnoticed until a writer from such a background decides to put them into a book. Then it is lauded as "panoramic and yet achingly personal", evidently the perfect companion to curl up with on a rainy day [3].

Not even within our own borders is evidence of mental crudity allowed to be discussed. At the time of writing the town of Alice Springs is in crisis due to an epidemic of thigh stabbings as a result of Aboriginal customs. Such information is buried as soon as it appears.

Behaviour, be that noble or primitive, can be ascertained by observing people in their habitat. To attack the observer for his efforts marks the critic as disingenuous at best, criminal at worst.

To mention evolution was a mistake. What is this - 1899??

No, it's Queensland. Now we're into religion, to paraphrase one of the examiners. It is significant, given the West's rictus in such matters, that any criticism of Islam for instance and its influence on our culture should come from Muslims who demonstrate a clarity of thought so absent from our own.

An Islamic scholar such as Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid (who cannot return to Egypt because his life would be in danger there) speaks of the need for rational principles; Halima Krausen, a Muslim community leader in Hamburg, argues religion and the state should be kept separate; Burhan Ghalioun, a Syrian political sociologist now living in Paris, speaks of the ideological intransigence in the West and in the Middle East. Who effectively matches their insights on our side?

It would be nice if every now and then a Western thinker would remind their audience that it was the European Enlightenment that brought forth the concepts our parliamentary democracies and institutions generally rely upon. As interesting and courageous as the calls from certain Muslims are, our own culture allows us to adopt an even higher view. Standing on the shoulders of a Descartes, Spinoza, a Locke or a Kant, we do not need to tortuously wrangle ourselves out of the clutches of some scripture. Faithful of any kind may glance slyly at reason, but true rationalists can be much bolder. If even somebody in a university doesn't grasp that (a university of all places!), what can you expect from wider society?

I correct myself: Mark Danner's stock take on the Iraq war for example is one of those pieces that ought to be discussed - but in cabinet, not only in coffee houses. And should a politician raise the topic of cultural sycophancy towards primitivism they are immediately decried as "far right".

Once again, much of what can be gleaned from access to insider sources can also be had from walking through a side street around a bazaar (ever followed the social dynamics among those market stalls?), or engaging the locals on a tourist beach (you think the smile offered a bikini-clad tourist handing out a fat tip is really a smile?), or taking a stroll through Tiger Bay (do you know what Tiger Bay is, examiners?) "A priori rules" - my foot!

And so to Queensland itself. Part of the thesis' appendix contained observations from events in Queensland to show how a general ambience can mould a society. As so much else it was dismissed as irrelevant and unconnected to the main work (never mind its explicit mention in the text).

The parochialism, the tendency to clam up in the face of criticism and the presentation of supportive facts, the defensive use of power to sack some individual from their job and even going so far as subjecting them to public ridicule, all these are signs of a demographic that has every reason to fear exposure to the light. Only when general pressure is eventually applied are official inquiries launched.

We've had investigations into the systemic nature of our health system, of transport, of governance in general. Sometimes the comments can be quite scathing, as an article by health inquiry commissioner Tony Morris, QC, demonstrates [4]. The sheer appearance of such investigations on a continual basis indicates how incapable Queensland's institutions are when it comes to regulating themselves.

As far as the technical aspects of the thesis are concerned, much of it would have to be discussed within the context of specific AI themes; they are outside the present scope. Enough to touch upon the ignorance displayed when placing a particular word inside a sentence in a manner that is quite unsuitable in terms of its actual meaning.

"The program seems to be a re-implementation or perhaps an extension of an existing program called "SOM" (or perhaps "KSOM") ...", one examiner wrote. If you know that 'SOM' stands for 'self-organising map' (a hypothetical description of transmissions among neurons and/or nodes), and 'KSOM' is a 'Kohonen self-organising map' (named after Teuvo Kohonen) then that sentence doesn't make sense. By the way, the meaning is explained in the thesis, so even a newcomer would have some idea what I am talking about; but they do have to read it.

Self-induced blindness when presented with something that does not belong to one's familiar room is not unheard of in academia. Some of the debates in AI fluttering around various approaches to the fundamental issue can go on for literally decades, and no-one in that fraternity is willing to step outside for a moment just in case there is life beyond the circular.

The critical article by Stevan Harnad about the Chinese Room Argument for instance makes that point. Since I do not know the respective backgrounds of the examiners I cannot comment upon their qualifications, but they certainly do not cover the context of this thesis.

Further references:

1. A. H. Ali, Infidel, Free Press, New York, 2007.

2. A. Levy & C. Scott-Clark, Deception - Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, Atlantic Books, London, 2007.

3. J. Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Faber and Faber, London, 2008.

4. Courier Mail, 14 May 2005, "Health inquiry exposes cover-up".

4. Conclusion

When faced with a potentially ambiguous value of some work, an examiner would have to posit a list of the positives versus the negatives. The resultant balance should reflect the marks given. Nothing like this happened here.

Whether it is the circumstances leading up to the evaluation or the evaluation itself, there are questions that should and can be asked. You do not wrap yourself in absolute silence, as Terry Dartnall chose to do, or come up with spurious comments unsustainable against reality as Peter Bernus, the deputy head of the School of Information & Communication Technology, has done. You do not refer to the same people responsible for the mess in the first place, or have me taken away by the police because you don't want to face me, the responses by the present vice chancellor, Ian O'Connor. To resort to such tactics says a lot about their moral fibre.

Yet they reflect a general ambience in the West that lies down before the brutishness of our culture's enemies while at the same time denouncing their own. A civilisation does not shine by pandering to intolerance and sheer stupidity; it relies on insight, on critical self-evaluation and an appreciation of intellectual beauty and elegance.

Even in traditional and intransigent Queensland, the actions by certain people at Griffith University are no guarantee for protection. Who knows, one day the police may come for them.

© Martin Wurzinger - see Terms of Use