Free speech and the problem of binary responses

Nazi free speech pug

Leaving character judgments aside, videos such the one made by Mark Meechan, of his dog responding to the phrase ‘gas the Jews’ with a Nazi salute, should be legally permissible.

Legal questions don’t answer ethical questions. I think that this joke’s concept is grossly insensitive, and I do think that people need to spend more time worrying about what they find funny, and why. Continue reading “Free speech and the problem of binary responses”

Social media, and productive discourse on Twitter

xkcd emotion comic social media

A friend of mine once remarked that we can either have democracy or the Internet, but not both. Even if the point is perhaps overstated, interactions on social media, and omnipresent clickbait, certainly contribute to the perception that there’s far more noise than signal on the Internet.

While it’s certainly possible to have productive conversations on social media, those seem – in my experience at least – to have become increasingly rare. Charlie Brooker once listed Twitter as his top pick in the category of video games (in the 2013 show How Videogames Changed the World), and it’s easy to see his point – the platform should perhaps simply be thought of as entertainment rather than as an opportunity for an exchange of ideas. Continue reading “Social media, and productive discourse on Twitter”

Noakes and vaccination: if it quacks like a duck…

herd immunity

On November 29, Professor Tim Noakes was interviewed on the Gareth Cliff Show. Much of the interview focused on his new book, and his reasons for co-writing it (with Marika Sboros). I’ve previously described some of this book’s inaccuracies and falsehoods in respect of its mentions of me, including the assertion that I’m part of some conspiracy against him.

Today, I’d like to briefly focus on a more worrisome theme – vaccine scepticism – that Noakes has tweeted about in the past, and one that he returns to in this interview with Gareth Cliff. The relevant segment’s audio is transcribed below, and embedded at the end of the post. It takes place between 44m07s and 45m37s of the full interview.

Continue reading “Noakes and vaccination: if it quacks like a duck…”

Weinstein and the evolution of sexual abuse accusations

It’s rare to see social norms change as quickly as they currently are, as we seem to be seeing with respect to exposing alleged sexual predators. It appears to me that there’s at present a fairly widespread acceptance of the idea that not only do powerful men abuse that power in order to abuse women (typically), but also that this unspoken reality should become a spoken-of concern.

Woody Allen didn’t break the dam wall, Cosby didn’t, and neither did Trump. Going further back, folk like Polanski didn’t either, but something about the Weinstein revelations seems to have precipitated a  sea-change in the willingness of victims to come forward with their stories, and in a more general sense, the willingness of the public to recognise that this is a systemic and serious problem. Continue reading “Weinstein and the evolution of sexual abuse accusations”

Cyril Ramaphosa and the irrelevance of adultery

Those who think that politicians should be held to a higher moral standard than other influential people seem guilty of an inconsistency. The primary clue as to what should be expected of you is in your job title or description – if you’re a teacher, you should be judged on your teaching, and if you’re a President, you should be judged on how well you preside.

I realise that this is a simplification, in that it is sometimes the case that other factors should influence our assessment of your suitability for a role. But we would typically require some clear link between your “crime” and the job you are employed to perform. Continue reading “Cyril Ramaphosa and the irrelevance of adultery”

#Charlottesville – “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here”

There is something to be said for the idea that anti-fascist protesters can resort to violence too quickly. But this idea can be debated without endorsing or excusing fascism, which you do when you describe these acts of violence as morally equivalent. Continue reading “#Charlottesville – “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here””

Anecdotes versus data in public discourse

“The plural of anecdote is not data” is a phrase well-loved by scientific sceptics. Often attributed to Dr Ben Goldacre, but probably originating with Raymond WoIfinger, the phrase cautions us against the mistake of thinking that what you experience – or what you and your granny or friends experience – might not actually be representative of any significant trend, or give you valuable evidence regarding the causal efficacy or role of something you might regard as significant. Continue reading “Anecdotes versus data in public discourse”

#BlueWhale: a greater threat to journalistic reputations than to teens

Any suicide that isn’t preceded by careful deliberation, in full knowledge of its consequences, is undoubtedly a sad thing. Other suicides would often be tragic also, as much as I respect the freedom to make that choice, outside of the moralistic prescriptions of societal norms.

Teen suicide would often not be preceded by that deliberation. We’re more vulnerable then, and might be inclined to overestimate our misery, and underestimate our prospects for the future. Continue reading “#BlueWhale: a greater threat to journalistic reputations than to teens”