Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Guardian Censorship!

An interesting happening occurred today on Comment is Free. There was a blogger uprising against the latest in a series of dire articles by Anne Atkins. Most posters, noting a complete lack of substance to address, merely begged Anne to stop. I suggested that we petition CiF by email to request Anne be banned from CiF. Here is my email:

Dear Editor,

Frequently CiF have provided a platform for Anne Atkins to express her
views. I have no problem with people holding opposing views from me, and
often relish the chance to debate the issues. The problem with Anne Atkins
is that there is no intellectual meat to her arguments to debate. She
merely expresses an opinion with absolutely no substance to back it up.
Looking at the posts on her articles, it is apparent that I am not the
only person who feels this way. I therefore request that you stop
providing this platform for Anne Atkins to air her views, which we are
well aware of anyway. If you are aiming for balance in opinion, there is
an abundance of articulate, informed journalists of a libertarian or
right-wing stance, including CiFs very own Frank Fisher (MrPikeBishop).

Remember, although comment is free, facts are sacred, and by that measure
Anne Atkins is profane.

This email was substantially similar to my original post on the article. I would provide a link, but unfortunately CiF deleted my original postings. Subsequently, people posting messages of support for the petition had their posts removed. We then changed tack, from calling for a petition, to criticising the article. Here is my 3rd post:

So the idea of a petition banning Anne Atkins is a no-go as all the posts which have been removed attest to. Can I then just refer to CiFs talk policy:

--We want Guardian Unlimited to be the place on the net where you will always find lively, entertaining and, above all, intelligent discussions. The last thing the net needs is yet another site where any attempt at conversation is drowned out by a few people hurling mindless abuse at each other.--

If you want CiF to be the place for intelligent discussions, as it often is, then you must have an intelligent basis for discussion. Articles by Anne Atkins, being completely devoid of fact, are not an intelligent basis for discussion and inevitably lead to the mindless abuse you refer to. This is illustrated nicely I think by the fact that hardly any posters have bothered to comment at all, or in any depth to Annes article. It's completely futile, since there is absolutely no substance to attack. Judge for yourself, and please spare us from Anne Atkins in the future.

and here is a post from Hanna80:

I have now had two of my comments removed. I genuinely do not understand why. They were not abusive or irrelevant.
"We will remove posts that contain racist, sexist or offensive/threatening language, personal attacks on the writer or other posters, posts that exceed the maximum length, and posts that are off topic."
My comments were no such thing.

I think it is laudable that the Guardian gives a platform to people from all political standpoints. It is possible to find people that write intelligent and informed as well as opinionated pieces throughout the whole political spectrum. The often heated debates on CiF are testimony to this. However, this article, and many others by the author, do not belong to that category, do not encourage intelligent debate, and should not be published on CiF.

Unfortunately, these were removed as well. As were all subsequent posts criticising the article, and criticising the removal of the posts. Such as this one from me:

Since it seems that any comments regarding the general quality of Annes work on CiF will be removed (when did legitimate criticism start being considered personal abuse?), may I make a SPECIFIC POINT REGARDING THIS ARTICLE, WITH ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING ON THE REST OF ANNE ATKINS FINE BODY OF WORK ON CiF?

On the blog homepage it states
--Comment is free, but facts are sacred--

If this is true, then this article (NOTE: THIS ARTICLE, ABSOLUTELY NOT ANNE ATKINS HERSELF) is profane in its utter disregard for facts.

Who is moderating this discussion, Anne Atkins herself?
and this one:
Really, five of my own comments deleted, numerous others removed, and the tone of the debate is seriously manipulated. I give up. Comment is forbidden, opposition is futile.
and this one from AchillesEel:


Yes mine have had the chop too. It seems Atkins can't quite seem to take the sort of criticism which she is more than happy to splurge, vacuously onto these pages.

Not that my posts were even criticisms. Still, not unexpected on this site.

countdown until removal...5....4....3...2....
Finally, I sent a new email to the CiF desk:
Dear Editor.

I wish to complain about the removal of numerous posts on todays Anne
Atkins article. The posts (by myself, Hanna80 and AchillesEel amongst
others) used no abusive or offensive language, contained no personal
attacks and were legitimate criticism of what we perceive to be poor
journalism. Is it now an offence to criticise the quality of journalism? I
would like to know what reason you had for removing these posts, and who
was responsible. Representative samples of the comments are included

and requested that everybody else do the same:
Exactly what proportion of comments have been deleted from this discussion? I estimate that around 1/3 (at least 12 comments that I know of) have been deleted. Is it normal that there is such a large proportion of unacceptable comments, especially from people who have never had any such problems before? And to those who write articles (MrPikeBishop, DanielDavies, etc.) is it possible to moderate your own article? i.e. could it be Anne Atkins herself who is deleting all critical comments?

I recommend that everyone who has had a post deleted from this discussion write to to ask what is going on.

To see some of the posts which have been removed visit:
So, we'll hopefully see tomorrow what provoked this outbreak of draconian censorship. Could it be as another deleted poster, MrBullFrog, suggested, that CiF is trying to emulate the Daily Mail? I sincerely hope not.

Update: The last post never actually made it to the thread since it has been closed. A message at the bottom states:
Our policy is to close threads after three days. Comments have now been closed on this entry.
The thread had been open for a maximum of 9 hours. The plot thickens....

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Smacking again

Today there was a more measured argument for smacking published in CiF. More measured, but not any heavier on cold hard facts. In the authors defence (Jenni Russell) this is probably because there isn't much in the way or independent research on this subject. However, a quick Google and a couple of reports later, I felt ready to plow into the discussion on the side of the anti-smacking brigade. I even managed to tie it together with EU chemical legislation ;)

If anyone is actually interested in reviewing the evidence for and against a smacking ban, instead of just leaping to instinctive positions, the Scottish Executive produced a report reviewing the evidence both for and against a ban:

The largest body of research has been produced by Joan Durrant for Save the Children, looking at the effects of the ban in Sweden. It should however be noted that she is a pro-ban advocate, and the work has been subject to criticism (listed in the Scottish Executive report).

"Despite the overwrought righteousness of biba2mejico or davetheslave, smacking children is not the same as hitting them".

I think the people who claim this, HowSoonIsNow, MrPikeBishop and Jenni Russell amongst others, really need a lesson in semantics. Look it up in the dictionary:

Main Entry: 1hit
Pronunciation: 'hit
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): hit; hit�ting
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English hyttan, probably from Old Norse hitta to meet with, hit
transitive verb
1 a : to reach with or as if with a blow b : to come in contact with c : to strike (as a ball) with an object (as a bat, club, or racket) so as to impart or redirect motion
2 a : to cause to come into contact b : to deliver (as a blow) by action c : to apply forcefully or suddenly

Under any reasonable definition of hitting, smacking counts, regardless of whether the intention is to cause pain or not.

As for the accusation of "overwrought righteousness" levelled at me, all I have done so for is to point out that it's ridiculous to claim that smacking isn't hitting. I haven't espoused my own view on smacking at all, although it could probably be surmised that i'm against it :)

My opinion, based on the available evidence is that on balance a ban would do more good than harm. It sends a very clear message that violence against children will not be tolerated, it possibly leads to a reduction in child abuse, and it definitely has no negative impact on child behaviour. If properly formulated (admittedly a big IF with the current legislation junkies) a ban need not lead to the foundationless prosecution of parents.

In conclusion, smacking has been shown to be an unnecessary disciplinary tool; it is potentially harmful and even smacking advocates state that they are "delighted if people can bring up their children without smacking them". I see therefore no good reason for allowing it.

Coincidentally, this argument invokes the "precautionary principle" that environmentalists often call for, and which is the basis for the REACH legislation on chemicals going through the European Parliament just now.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

If anyone ever deserved a smack....

The Torygraph columnist Anne Atkins, writing in CiF, argues for the continued use of smacking as a method for disciplining children in the UK. I've found that it's futile trying to argue with people who believe that it's okay to abuse your power over child by hitting them. Instead, I ridicule them (to control my violent urges):

"Smacking, properly used, is a controlled way of persuading your child that undesirable behaviour is not worth repeating."

Your argument reminds me of an article I read concerning a mentally ill (unarmed) man who climbed into a tree in my wifes home village:

Translated from Borås Tidningen:
"We [the policemen] first tried to calm him down using pepper spray and batons, but when that didn't work we shot him."

Violence as a form of gentle persuasion?

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Frank Fields fibbing figures

Frank Field, the former minister for welfare reform in Blairs first government, is a funny fellow. Like many of Tonys cronies he delights in pandering to the basest instincts of our rabid tabloid press. In this CiF article, he suggests that benefits be cut for the long-term unemployed, a la Reinfeld and Co. This, despite the fact that Labour are supposed to be a left-leaning party, and that unemployment in the UK is in fact pretty low compared to the rest of Europe. He of course also manipulates the figures to support his dodgy argument, which I took issue with:

"10 years on, the number of working age claimants has only fallen from 5.6 to 5.4 million. The most dramatic of policy shake-ups is urgently required."

Again, a shameless selection of figures being used to push the daily mail agenda. Total unemployment in the UK fell from 6.8% in 1997 to 4.8% in 2005. The reason for the small drop in absolute numbers is due to an increase in population. This compares with an average unemployment of 8.6% within the Eurozone. Even Denmark and Ireland, widely acknowledged to be the star economic performers in Europe, had unemployment rates of 4.8% and 4.4% respectively in 2005. Regarding long-term unemployment, the UK is again lower than Ireland, Denmark and the Eurozone average.,39140985&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&screen=detailref&language=en&product=Yearlies_new_population&root=Yearlies_new_population/C/C4/C42/em071,39140985&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL&screen=detailref&language=en&product=Yearlies_new_population&root=Yearlies_new_population/C/C4/C42/sc061

Unemployment is a personal tragedy and resources should rightfully be directed to tackling it, but these tactics of punishing those unfortunate enough to be unemployed should be resisted. Restricting immigration doesn't help either, it builds on the fallacy that there is a set amount of work to be performed. The Poles who have came here have plugged holes in the employment market and are to a large extent responsible for the buoyant UK economy (and resulting low unemployment). Frank Field (and Frank Fisher aka MrPikeBishop) are willfully ignoring the facts to pander to a xenophobic poor-bashing Daily Mail agenda.

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Independence and de-evolution

David Cox, writing in CiF, makes a case for Scottish independence based upon the provocative assertion that the UK would be better off without Scotland. I'm a big supporter of independence, but I couldn't let the nationalist slur go unchallenged. At least, not without returning the favour:

"The English would also be freed from the drag on their development caused by backward attitudes north of the border."

Strange, my favourite argument for independence is the exact opposite. I look forward to a revitalised Scottish nation embracing Europe (and hopefully the Euro). Freed from the xenophobic little englander masses who still rue the loss of an empire, Scotland could build a progressive social democratic nation in the image of the scandanavian countries.

It will take independence to see which one of us is right, but think, a Tory majority in England will be all but secured for the foreseeable future (locked in by a first past the post parliament), whereas a centre-left coalition is all but guaranteed by Scotlands PR system. Are you still so sure of who are the regressives?

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Those Were the Gays My Friend..

Peter Tatchell, writing on CiF, makes the point that sexuality is a cultural construct, and that when the battle for HBT rights is won, there will be no need for terms of differentiation such as homo-, hetero-, or bi-sexual (or bio-sexual, but that's a different story), and they will disappear. He makes a convincing argument for this, but he failed to make the obvious analogy with race. So I made it for him. And then threw in a little taunt at the fundamentalist atheists, just for good measures.

Peter, I think you're right in claiming that the rigid definitions of sexuality will fade, but it doesn't necessarily follow that the hostility of some sections of society to homosexual acts will dissappear. As you point out, the church deemed these acts sinful even before the construct of homosexuality existed, and as spaceg0at points out, religion is likely to resist change. It's interesting that two of the most harmful constructs in society today: race and sexuality, are products of the enlightenment. I've yet to see Dawkins and Grayling acknowledge the root of this evil and call for the banning of science. I also doubt this will happen anytime soon.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Opium for the masses (Pt 2)

Here, a philospher, Soumaya Ghannoushi, attacks secularism by pinning it to positivism, simultaneously mounting one of the most eloquent defences of religion I've read and baffling the hell out of the usual gang of knuckle-draggers.

In response to the article: it was inevitable that social constructivism would provided the last refuge for the religious. It's impossible to disprove rationally, since it does not accept the existence of an objective rationality. However, it can be criticised because the relativity it espouses leads to a moral and intellectual morass where right and wrong, true and false, do not exist. Are our so-called --spiritual leaders-- prepared to sell us down that path to save their own hides? Certainly, I know that the pope has spoken against relativism -- -- Therein lies the paradox, that to defend religion by social constructivism, the religious must first accept that there are no absolute truths: that is to say, destroy the very foundation upon which religion is built. Hence, instead, religion is enfeebled and dependent on the goodwill of atheists to defend it.

Opium for the masses (Pt 1)

Faith schools are a hot topic at the moment, especially after Alan Johnsons embarrassing climb-down over non-faith quotas. In this article, a Reform rabbi, Tony Bayfield, argues for the continued existence of faith schools:

Tony, if you knew anything about denominational schools in central Scotland (faith has nothing to do with it), you would appreciate that the segregation of children according to religion has resulted in ceaseless hostilities amongst the areas inhabitants. The day that these divisive schools are closed will be the day that the catholic and protestant communities in Scotland take a great step towards rapproachment. However, this day will be a long time coming, since the bile-filled preachers of both religions have a vested interest in maintaining the status-quo.

Happiness is a hot topic

The Richard Layard Happiness agenda is back in the papers since a number of mental health charities have decided to back his plan. In this article, a psychtherapist, Derek Draper, discusses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and worries about the impact on other forms of therapy.,,1935497,00.html

Re: disrealian,
I assume that when Draper talks about CBT+, he is nor referring to some derivative or advancment of CBT, but instead means that initially patients should be treated with CBT, and if this is unsucessful then they should receive some other form of therapy instead, such as psychodynamic or pure cognitive (the + part). As Draper hints at, CBT is most effective at helping people with easily-defined problems such as phobias or compulsive-obsessive disorders, whereas psychodynamic appears better for delving a bit deeper into the psyche.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Golden Age of Marathon Runners

An article in Comment is Free discusses Teddy Sheringhams continued sporting prowess in awed terms. (He's a footballer, born 1966).

Maybe the author should lok beyond football if in search of new idols. If it is athletic performance at advanced years that he wants, he should take a look at marathon runners: they don't peak until their mid 30's. Look at the current mens elite: Paul Tergat (born 1969), Haile Gebrselassie (1973) and Hendrick Ramaala (1973) to name but a few at the very top of their game.

Is peer-review pure pants?

The former editor of the British Medical Journal, Richard Smith, in an admittedly blatent attempt to plug his new book, has published an article panning the peer-review process. Only a fool would claim that peer-review is perfect, but I felt that the article was overly-critical and made claims for peer-review that not even its most fanatical proponents would espouse.

Here is my reply:

It's easy to criticise peer-review, but what are the credible alternatives? Richard Smith ignores the fact that peer-review was never intended to uncover fraudulence: as he points out, it is a system built on trust, and the goal is to establish if the conclusions reached can be justified by the data presented, not to see if the data is fabricated. However, if the research is of significance, then it is probable that attempts to first duplicate then build upon the work will establish its authenticity, as is presumably the case for the fraudulent sudies Richard refers to. As for publication bias, especially in big-pharma funded clinical trials, Ben Goldacre has suggested the wonderfully simple solution of compulsory registration of trials (

Regarding the finding of errors by peer-review, Richard Smith makes no reference to the severity of these errors, and makes no reference to the original research, so it is difficult to judge his claims, but two points are worth mentioning: peer-review is intended to pick up serious faults in reasoning and misrepresentation of the established facts, not to find trivial faults such as spelling mistakes and suchlike. Secondly, reviewers are not assumed to be foolproof, hence the reason why reputable journals submit each article to at least two reviewers.

Finally, I would like to point out that scepticism is a quality required of all scientists, and that those who take everything published in journals to be gospel have no place in research.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


The intention with this blog is to pull together all the comments I post on other blogs, and hopefully create a coherent body of comment which will reflect my interests/attitudes/prejudices. If I'm lucky, maybe some people will be lured here from some of the comment boards I post on, and if I'm very lucky maybe they'll hang around to start a debate. Who knows?