Matthias Rath fails to censor Bad Science

Ben Goldacre of the Bad Science blog has, for the past year, been fighting a libel case brought by “alternative medicine” quack Matthias Rath who made a fortune by lying to AIDS sufferers in order to sell his pointless vitamin supplements. The case has now been settled in Goldacres favour.

This is great news for Goldacre, of course, but its also an important victory for medical journalism, as this article from The Quackometer points out:

Ben Goldacre had been documenting the horrors in South Africa in the Guardian. Rath decided to sue. The result has been that the Guardian has been unable to discuss the calamities in South Africa for about a year now. Rath had managed to effectively silence one of his chief critics. One can speculate that Rath thought that the Guardian would not defend one of their non-staff minor columnists, but to their credit, they did. Rath has failed and he now faces a mammoth legal bill. The Guardians bill was £500,000. His own must have been similar.

Using the law to silence critics is a typical cowardly quacks trick.

Freedom of speech matters, more so in medicine than many other areas, and when some peddler of pills is accused of not having the evidence to support their claims then they should either produce the evidence or admit that their claims are untrue. If said peddler reaches for a libel writ, it is generally safe to assume not only that their claims are untrue, but they are also fully aware that their claims are untrue.

Fear of fatwas

The Bookseller (via) is reporting that a feature-length documentary marking the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Satanic Verses and the fatwa on author Sir Salman Rushdie is struggling to persuade some of those involved in the original publication to take part.

The Guardian quotes a publishing source as saying: “Most of the core people involved feel very strongly even today that they should keep quiet on any matters relating to The Satanic Verses and that it was enough that the hardcover [of the book] was kept in print throughout.”

Pulped poetry

Ever alert to the dangers of, erm, poetry, the AQA exam board is removing (via) a poem about a knife-carrying violent loner from its anthology for GCSE English and is advising schools to destroy the copies of the anthology.

The poem can be found online here. Read it at your own risk.

Aisha update

Following the decision by Random House to pull The Jewel of Medina, a historical novel by Sherry Jones about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad after an American academic took exception to it, US literary prize the Langum Charitable Trust has said that it will refuse to consider titles (via) from the publisher until the book is published.

Random House has exhibited a degree of cowardly self-censorship that seriously threatens the American public’s access to the free marketplace of ideas, the trust said: We cannot pretend that this type of cowardice will disappear without serious remonstrance. Until The Jewel of Medina is actually published, The Langum Charitable Trust will not consider submissions of any books, for any of our prizes, from Random House or any of its affiliates.

In the UK, the book is set to be published. Independent UK firm Gibson Square will publish the book next month saying its release is imperative.

Martin Rynja, of Gibson Square, said there must be open access to literary works, regardless of fear.

He added: If a novel of quality and skill that casts light on a beautiful subject we know too little of in the West, but have a genuine interest in, cannot be published here, it would truly mean that the clock has been turned back to the dark ages.

Alarming art

Back in February I mentioned that Stephen Green was demanding that art collector Anita Zabludowicz “destroy her blasphemous, pornographic statue of Jesus Christ with a phallus attached.” The statue by Terence Koh had been loaned by Zabludowicz to Gateshead’s Baltic art gallery and displayed from as part of an exhibition which ran from September 2007 to January 2008 .

Obviously Zabludowicz completely ignored Green but now the Baltic centre is facing (via) a private prosecution, brought by Christian group member Emily Mapfuwa, on the grounds the statue outraged public decency.

Mrs Mapfuwa, of Brentwood, instructed her lawyers to seek a private prosecution against the gallery for outraging public decency and causing harassment alarm and distress to the public.

The gallery elected to have the case sent to a higher court from Gateshead Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

Museum censors Darwin exhibition

Following a single complaint from a single Christian fundamentalist, an information sign - which is part of Abington Park Museums display about Charles Darwin and fossils – has been covered up.

Two parts of the sign, concerning Changing Attitudes to Evolution, are obscured with black paper, but only four lines of text are actually covered over.

It details how Charles Darwin used the study of fossils to help formulate his theory of evolution, set out in On the Origin of Species, which angered fundamental Christians and Creationists.

But following a complaint, part of the sign was covered over to avoid giving offence. The offending text reads:

He used the same layers of fossils that had supported the Genesis view of evolution to show the slow changes that are taking place over the millennia of earth history, each small change enabling a species to the rigours of its environment – the struggle for survival through natural selection leading to the survival of the fittest.

Local resident, Andy Chapman contacted the Chronicle Echo after noticing the text had been obscured with no explanation as to why during a bank holiday visit to the museum, which is run by Northampton Borough Council. “By this action the council would appear to be endorsing the views of a religious minority, and denying the right of the rest of us to see the results of rational and scientific thought,” Chapman said.

I will resist the temptation, here, to make a remark about Christians being offended by reality.

Updated: 1/9/08

Northampton City Council says that it has now removed the paper strips obscuring the information board.

UCU activist shuts down Harrys Place

Veteran political blog, Harrys Place has been shut down after a complaint from an academic whom it claimed had posted links to neo-Nazi articles in an online debate.

Sheffield-based UCU activist Jenna Delich posted a comment in an online discussion of a potential boycott of Israel by the union, in which she linked to, and appeared to endorse, an article posted on the website of American far-right politician David Duke. The sites host subsequently received a complaint that the post was ’slanderous’, and informed Harry’s Place that it would not continue to host the blog’s domain name, saying the bloggers had breached terms of use.

Harry’s Place blogger David T told Index: ‘We have done nothing wrong. We did not breach Daily’s terms and conditions. They have put us out of business, without warning and without an opportunity to make alternative provision.’

Currently in the UK Internet service providers are liable for material posted on websites they host. ‘There should be statutory and blanket immunity for ISPs, as exists in the US,’ said David T. declined to speak to Index, claiming that discussing the issue would breach data protection laws.

Simplifying libel

Salman Rusdie has set a new – and very positive – precedent for libel actions today by accepting an apology and not seeking damages.

Ronald Evans helped to protect Rushdie after he received death threats for writing The Satanic Verses in 1989. In his book, On Her Majestys Service, Evans made a number of claims which he has now admitted are false.

Mr Evans, ghost writer Douglas Thompson and publishers John Blake Publishing apologised in Londons High Court for the hurt and damage they had caused. Mr Justice Teare made a Declaration of Falsity against the two authors and the publisher.

According to Rushdie: It was never my desire to seek any financial reward from this but simply to have it established that the truth is the truth and lies are lies - Im happy to have nailed that.

Sir Salman praised the use of the Declaration of Falsity in this case and urged others in the same situation to follow the same route.

I hope that maybe this device of the Declaration of Falsity is another way of pursuing these matters, he said.

Instead of going for the megabucks you simply go to court for the important thing which is to establish whats true and whats not.

I think its a clearer and simpler way of dealing with this and Im very pleased weve been able to use it in this way.

The relevant parts of Evans book have now been rewritten and the false allegations removed.

Moral Panic 2.0

A committee of MPs has set out to start a moral panic over sites such as YouTube and Flickr that allow users to upload their own content.

A Culture, Media and Sport select committee believes a new industry body - likely to be known as the child internet safety council - should be set up to monitor the internet and attempt to protect children from harmful content.

More controversially – and less realistically – the committee also said it should be standard practice for sites hosting user-generated content to review material proactively.

This would mean that every one of the hundreds of thousands of videos, pictures and even blog comments and forum posts put up on UK sites on a daily basis would have to be checked before publication, rather than the current passive system where only videos that attract complaints are monitored.

The committee acknowledged that the volume of content on sites such as YouTube - which has 10 hours of videos uploaded every minute - made it unrealistic to watch every video before it went online.

But Something Must Be Done!

The committee stopped short of demanding mandatory regulation, but does expect providers of all Internet services based upon user participation to move towards these standards without delay.

Inventing offence

Mars has pulled a UK TV ad for Snickers featuring Mr T harassing a speed walker for being a disgrace to the man race after an American gay rights group called the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) complained that it was “offensive to gay people”.

The advert makes no reference to the speed walkers sexual orientation. So its a little presumptuous – to say the least – for the HRC to assume that all speed walkers are gay. Its utterly ridiculous, of course, for them to then take offence at their own imaginations.