Archive for category Journalism
It is oftentimes the case that a poll appears on the Internet. Something like “Is the Earth flat?”, or “Should the government fund a state astrologer?” or whatever.
What happens next? Someone skeptical notices, and puts a link to the poll on twitter or Facebook. Other skeptics forward the link (it usually gets back to PZ at some stage) and we all go and vote to make sure the poll ends with the right answer*. At the same time, other skeptics pipe up (not unreasonably) saying, well, it’s only an Internet poll. The truth is not a democracy, it’s not really important, who cares if someone on the Internet is wrong, etc.
And the poll closes. Sometimes with the right answer, sometimes not.
A few weeks ago I gave a BadNews talk at Ignite Liverpool, a cool evening where people from all manner of backgrounds give 5-minute talks on something that interests them. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure.
The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.
You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.
The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at
Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.
If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.
We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at
Back in February, I wrote this blogpost in response to a Simon Jenkins opinion piece in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section, in which he accused scientists of scaremongering over the swine flu pandemic. My particular issue with the article (I had many) was Jenkins’ suggestion that because things didn’t turn out as badly as they could have, then we should have ignored ‘scientists’ and played it safe (that was the benefit of hindsight unironically extolled by Jenkins there). To me, Jenkins’ suggestion completely missed the point. The precautions taken to deal with the pandemic were for ‘potential’ danger – no-one could know for sure exactly what would happen, it was what ‘could’ happen that mattered. It was a weighing up of risk. The whole of Jenkins’ piece seemed motivated more by an irrational hatred of scientists than out of any reasonable or rational concern. It was not the first time Jenkins had done this either (see here, here and here) – the piece was just one in a long line of anti-science rants which Jenkins seems to randomly publish in the otherwise science-friendly Guardian, like taking a shit in the middle of a gateau.
Since the beginning of our 10:23 Campaign, it’s become increasingly clear that there are an awful lot of parties out there waging a war on reason with regards to homeopathy – from Homeopathic Dana (so-called because he’s smaller and weaker than Dana International, the transsexual Israeli winner of the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest), spambot and drive-by troll ‘Dr’ Nancy Malik, idiot and BBC favourite Gemma Hoefkens, bowel-botherer Greg ‘Kaizen Clinic’ Wimbourne and all manner of ‘health’ activists peddling Big Pharma paranoia, while also peddling magic. The actions of these people I can actually understand (thought not condone): they sell homeopathy for a living, they have a very vested interest in keeping people in the dark as to what it is and why it’s bullshit. Homeopathy is how they make their name, how they feed their family, and how they milk their loyal and vulnerable supporters. It’s what they do.
However, alongside the honest, up-front, god-fearing quacks and charlatans, we’ve had to fight the homeo-forces on another front: the media. Almost universally, when homeopathy is discussed in the media, they ask a homeopath. At best, they also ask a healthcare professional, or (failing that) me, to represent the other side, while leaning the conversation in the favour of the water-wizard. The homeopath gets the first and last word, and the balance of the debate is very firmly on terra homeo. That’s when they’re not just outright selling homeopathic treatments, or allowing homeopaths to wax lyrical about how ‘it worked for me’ and ‘it can’t be placebo as it works on my baby/animal/etc’. This is the battle ground, and it’s this fight we choose to fight – so be it.
But it still pisses me off when it’s the BBC drinking the homeopathic Kool-Aid.
I mean, I love the BBC – they’re meant to be fair, unbiased by commercial concerns, free to investigate and report, educate and entertain, and all that good stuff. Sure, they may spend a little too much money giving Graham Norton a career, or padding out Saturday night’s with Dr Who and fancy dancing (neither of which I particularly care for), but they’re still ace. Except, when they do this:
The view of the regulatory body for pharmacists, who are consulting their members about how the products are currently marketed, is that people who buy homeopathic products should be advised that they do not work and only have a placebo effect.
But according to homeopaths, the real issue behind the consultation is the threat complementary medicine is posing to the highly lucrative relationship between the drug companies and the Health Service.
Face – meet palm. Read the rest of this entry »
As you may all have noticed, the Catholic Church has recently been creaking under the weight of its own paedophiles. That’s what happens when you keep hiding them. The glare of the media must have spooked the Church, because in the tradition of all large amoral institutions they’ve been trying to distract us with a story about virtually nothing. Well, I think they have… maybe I’ve just assumed it was down to them because it was so perfectly timed. It could just be coincidence that one moment everyone was shaking their heads in disgust at the sexual abuse of children and the next they were shaking their heads in disgust at a civil servant making a condom joke. I don’t know. There’s been a lot of Catholic-originated disgust and anger about in the papers, denouncing this affront… a few weeks ago every prominent Catholic was quiet for fear that the righteous fire of popular anger would burn their face off.
I really can’t get to grips with the psychology at work here. Read the rest of this entry »