Tag Archives: Ben Goldacre

Personal comments detract from original MMR / LBC debate

Jeni Barnett, the LBC radio presenter at the centre of the Goldacre/LBC case, has received ‘hundreds of extremely personal and abusive comments,’ her agent, Robert Common, confirmed to Journalism.co.uk today.

“[The comments] do not address the debate about the use of MMR and that is the reason for taking the comments off Jeni’s website,” Common said.

As Journalism.co.uk reported yesterday, support for Goldacre’s complaint against LBC had gathered fast, with high-profile figures such as Stephen Fry lending support to Goldacre. However, as Ben Goldacre has now made clear in a new blog post he does not want people to direct abuse at Jeni Barnett in such a personal manner.

“Do not send Jeni abusive emails, it’s not nice or helpful,” Goldacre wrote on his site, after being contacted by the programme director at LBC.

“I am sorry if people have sent unpleasant emails. I would want no part in that (…),” Goldacre said in a reply to the programme director.

The incident comes after a timely piece published by MediaGuardian on Monday, which looks at what happens when journalists face personal online attack.

Barnett’s agent, Robert Common, told Journalism.co.uk that he has “personally been very shocked at the hurtful level of criticism and and its very personal and threatening nature. LBC have aired the MMR debate several times in the last four weeks on other presenters’ shows where the debate has been continued.

“Jeni would never wish to restrict discussion on this topic or indeed any other, however, when that debate encourages threats and abuse it is impossible to do so and I have advised [her] not to continue to make any further comments,” Common said.

Update to post #1, 12/02/2009: In response to questions and issues raised in comments below this post Journalism.co.uk asked Robert Common what he meant by ‘comments’, since it has been suggested that the original comments on Barnett’s blog were not personal or abusive (e.g Andy / John ED’s comments below). Robert Common, Jeni Barnett’s agent, told Journalism.co.uk: “The comments/emails [to which he previously referred] are the ones that have been unpublished.”

Update #2, 12/02/2009: Journalism.co.uk took the additional questions raised in the comments below this post to Robert Common:

  • Why was it decided to delete inoffensive comments (as re-published by various blogs)? Will there be a way in which people can raise (inoffensive/non-personal) complaints and comments with Barnett, or will she maintain this silence, which could be said to fuelling the outrage further? It has been alleged that you have deleted blog posts as well as comments: is this true? People feel that ‘primary sources’ (such as the originally published comments and blog posts) shouldn’t just be deleted. If they are (legal reasons etc.), it should be explained why. Do you have a comment policy [for Barnett’s blog]?

Robert Common told Journalism.co.uk that he would not be making any further comment. However, he said that if commenters have specific, non-personal and non-abusive, questions or points to raise with Jeni Barnett they could email him via talent at rcmgmt.co.uk.

Update in response to comments, 12/02/2009:

[Judith Townend, comment] Thanks for all your input. I’m extremely disappointed that many commenters think Journalism.co.uk has been unbalanced in its reporting. Perhaps I should have made it clearer in the original post (though content was linked) that since Friday I have run three articles based mainly on two lengthy interviews with Ben Goldacre, which I will provide links for at the bottom of this update, including a 30 minute audio interview, in which Goldacre explains the background of the case, as well as broader issues in science journalism.

Given that Barnett had removed the comment facility on her blog I thought it was important to put the many questions being raised around the web to LBC and Barnett’s agent – for example in the posts and comments at Holford Watch and Quackometer. LBC did not want to make an on-the-record comment. Robert Common eventually agreed to make this statement on the record although said that Jeni Barnett will not make further comment herself. All I have done is report what Common said to me – and that by no means endorses or tries to prove his claim. When I do occasionally provide my own opinion on issues via this blog, or our main site, I try to make that clear. This piece was simply reporting a quote given to me.

I can do my best as a reporter to put questions to the relevant parties but it will be very difficult to find out and clarify how many or what kind of comments were submitted as we don’t have access to any unapproved comments or the emails sent to Barnett. I have contacted Common with your questions about the comments: the challenge that the original comments (now deleted) were not personal and abusive, and to clarify the distinction between emails and blog comments. I will report back here with further information, if received. Any further suggestions please don’t hesitate to leave them below. Also, if you don’t see your comments immediately appear it’s because we have a pre-moderation system, but the majority of comments will be approved as long as they don’t present any legal issues. Also, you can subscribe to new comments on this post by checking the tick box.

10/02/09 – Goldacre’s law: the Bad Science ‘nerd’ talks to Journalism.co.uk (with audio) http://www.journalism.co.uk/5/articles/533461.php

10/02/09 -Online support for Goldacre gathers pace http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2009/02/10/online-support-for-goldacre-gathers-pace/

06/02/09 – Goldacre on the ‘intellectual property absolutists’ – LBC’s legal warning http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/editors/2009/02/06/goldacre-on-the-intellectual-property/

Online support for Goldacre gathers pace

Ben Goldacre has recorded this interview with Journalism.co.uk, following initial coverage of the LBC/Jeni Barnett row last week.

Read extracts or listen to the full interview at this link for ‘Goldacre’s Law’ explained; the doctor’s view on television (it’s too rude to transcribe); how he thinks newspapers should employ more bloggers as writers; and a bit of background on the MMR debate.

Since last Thursday’s post he has picked up a wide array of support across the web as people share their views on whether Global Radio, owner of LBC, is within its rights to ask Goldacre to remove the LBC clip from his Bad Science blog.

Goldacre has the mainstream media support of David Aaronovitch over at TimesOnline while bloggers have rushed to collect information relating to the ‘story’ and republish the audio elsewhere. Comments express opinion on both the original subject – the anti-MMR campaign – and LBC legal team’s actions. A Facebook group has also been set up.

Stephen Fry has expressed his support via Twitter too and left this comment on Goldacre’s blog:

stephenfry said, February 10, 2009 at 1:29 am

“The fatuity of the Jeni Barnett woman’s manner – her blend of self-righteousness and stupidity, her simply quite staggering inability to grasp, pursue or appreciate a sequence of logical steps – all these are signature characteristics of Britain these days. The lamentable truth is that most of the population wouldn’t really understand why we get so angry at this assault on reason, logic and sense. But we have to keep hammering away at these people and their superstitious inanities. We have to. Well done you and well done all you supporting. I’ve tweeted this site to my followers. I hope they all do their best to support you. Publish and be damned. We’ll fight them and fight them and fight them in the name of empricism, reason, double blind random testing and all that matter


Stephen xxx

Additionally, it is alleged by several blogs, including Quackometer.net that Barnett has removed comments from her own blog.

Journalism.co.uk will now follow up again with Global Radio and Jeni Barnett.

Goldacre on the ‘intellectual property absolutists’ – LBC’s legal warning

Ben Goldacre found time for a chat with Journalism.co.uk today in regards to LBC radio legal team’s request that Goldacre remove audio from a radio show concerning MMR vaccinations. Three days ago, Goldacre – Guardian columnist, BadScience.net blogger, Bad Science author, doctor etc. – had posted the extract of a radio broadcast by LBC’s Jeni Barnett on his blog – a piece Goldacre believes ‘exemplifies every single canard ever uttered by the anti vaccination movement.’ He has now removed the offending audio after Global Radio lawyers contacted him to say it was an infringement of copyright. However, bloggers have been quick to upload the audio elsewhere.

Later on, we’ll post back here with a podcast. In the meantime, some of the things Ben Goldacre said during the interview (of which the forthcoming audio is an edited selection – hope to upload by end of afternoon, or Monday if not): Journalism.co.uk has now recorded some new audio, updated since the weekend: listen here at this link.

  • “It genuinely never occurred to me – for even half a second – that what I was posting was any kind of infringement of any kind of law at all.”
  • “To me I heard a very, very irresponsible piece of broadcasting, but more importantly a very instructive piece of broadcasting (…) particularly in the case of MMR – the media’s irresponsible and misleading reporting has led to quite serious public health outcomes.”

Goldacre said it was important to have the piece available for public access, and that replication was commonplace on the web; people often use his own blog posts and ideas, for example, he said. ‘Journalists often routinely steal my ideas,’ he said. “I want people to have my ideas. I want my ideas to get around.”

  • “I suspect they [LBC] are intellectual property absolutists. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt because the alternative is that they wanted to silence discussion”.
  • “This has had massively paradoxical effects (…) “It’s gone from being a little one-off blog post that I wouldn’t even write about in the column to this enormous cause-celebre.”
  • He just wanted to use this as an example to highlight his concerns with the representation of the MMR debate in the media: “To catch one of these slippery animals from the stream as they all fly past, to hook it out and hold it up … to have a look at it – is massively informative and instructive …”

“This episode today, this ‘debate’ if you want to frame it in mawkish terms, is not about the dangers of MMR, it is about the dangers of the media,” Goldacre added.

Global Radio, LBC 97.3 owner, has confirmed that they have been in contact with Goldacre. The official statement says: “LBC 97.3 invites debate and encourages people to share their views as part of London’s Biggest Conversation – which is what Jeni Barnett’s discussion about the MMR injection did.  We can confirm that the Global Radio legal team have been in contact with the writer of this blog, as he did not have the necessary permission to post the LBC 97.3 audio on the website.”

Monkey puzzled: Bizarre Express URL actually Goldacre’s handiwork

So, Guardian’s Media Monkey reports a funny URL on an Express story entitled ‘Danger from just 7 cups of coffee a day’:

“(…) mention this after catching sight of the URL at the top of the story, which ends with the immortal phrase ‘utter-cock-as-usual'”

But – the plot thickens – actually it was the work of the Monkey’s colleague, as Monkey updates below the original post. Yes, Dr Ben Goldacre, Guardian columnist among other occupations, lays claim to the mischievous URL. He writes on the Bad Science blog:

“Heh, er, so obviously I’m delighted that my grown up humour slipped unnoticed into the Guardian’s Media Monkey today, but ‘Utter Cock As Usual‘ was not the web address of the Express’s recent storyDanger from just 7 cups of coffee a day‘.

“It’s just the web address I cheekily gave it on my blog post two weeks ago. I thought this was fairly well known, but for those who haven’t joined in the lolz, the websites of Express and the Telegraph, at least, let you substitute whatever text you want at the end of their web addresses.”

Ben Goldacre on how blogs can be ‘more reliable’ than mainstream media

Courtesy of Conrad Quilty-Harper, of the Spalpeen blog, here’s Dr Ben Goldacre on video talking about Bad Science… in a toilet (Goldacre’s choice, apparently). With little fear of the germs, Goldacre puts the loo seat down (about halfway through) and summarizes his thoughts on sensationalised science reporting.

Perhaps most interestingly for online journalists he airs his thought on media reliability: around the seven minute mark Goldacre says:

“…blogs are potentially more reliable than mainstream media ever was – mainly because you can check for each individual blog author, how credible they are, because bloggers link to primary resources…”

His thoughts on journalists and their deliberate disguising of sources (for example, not making it clear they’re quoting a press release) are worth a listen.

The doc’s getting about in the mainstream media too: he was on BBC Radio 4 (again) yesterday, featuring on ‘Start the Week‘.

Here’s the original Spalpeen video:

Ben Goldacre of Bad Science talks about Sensationalised Science Reporting from Conrad on Vimeo.

BadScience.net: Goldacre has the last word on Today programme argument

Ben Goldacre sets the record straight on a claim by Nas Amir Ahmadi that he had misquoted a detox website on this morning’s Radio 4 Today programme. After the show, he checked the detoxinabox.com site and found the original quote… which has now been removed.

Bad titles? Ben Goldacre surprised at new idea for the Times

Dr Ben Goldacre reports that the Times has launched a new feature called… ‘Bad Statistics’. It asks readers: ‘Send your bad statistics to badstats@thetimes.co.uk’.

Déjà vu?

‘Rip off’ one commenter writes below the first piece. Ben Goldacre of the Guardian’s ‘Bad Science’ column, despite heading his blog post ‘Rather brilliantly I have been plagiarised by the Times’, seems philosophical:

“Good for the cause though. And the bloke who writes it used to comment here.  I hope it, er, gets better.”

Random journalising: another case of journalists misrepresenting stats

Ben Goldacre highlighted another case of statistics used badly in the Guardian on Saturday: the claim that Britain’s happiest places have been mapped by scientists, according to the BBC and many newspapers.

Erm, says Ben Goldacre, there’s a slight problem with that. He shows how sampling has yet again been misused by journalists. “This entire news story was based on nothing more than random variation,” he reports.

“This is called sampling error, and it quietly undermines almost every piece of survey data ever covered in any newspaper.”

When Goldacre talked to the scientist behind the research, Dr Dimitris Ballas, he said: “I tried to explain issues of significance to the journalists who interviewed me. Most did not want to know.”

‘Ithika’, originally flagged this up, posting in the Bad Science forum and has written about it at dougalstanton.netAPGaylard and Gimpy have also blogged about it on their sites.