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Another failure of the memory hole, thanks to the Internet

Poor Jeni Barnett.

You remember Jeni Barnett, don’t you? She’s the U.K. radio host whose ill-informed rants against vaccines Ben Goldacre exposed so gloriously last week. Unfortunately, the price Ben paid consisted of threats of legal action for “copyright infringement” in the form of his having posted audio of the relevant segment of Barnett’s show. Yes, LBC, the radio station on which Barnett’s show runs, threatened to sue, forcing Ben to take down the audio. However, as almost always happens when a blogger is threatened in such a manner, the specter of legal action led to the audio files metastasizing to many blogs and websites and screwed up Barnett’s Google juice to the point where the first page of search results on her name is made up mostly of posts about what an antivaccination moron she is.

That was the first failure of the memory hole.

The second failure came after Jeni apparently didn’t like all the negative comments that her defense of what she said on the air brought to her blog. Most of the comments were unrelentingly negative, taking Barnett to task for her ignorance.

Fortunately, ever-vigilant, Le Canard Noir has preserved Barnett’s original post and all of its comments as of February 8. Once again, as it did for HIV/AIDS denialists the memory hole fails in the age of the Internet, and efforts to suppress criticism have massively backfired.

When will the cranks ever learn?

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

17 replies on “Another failure of the memory hole, thanks to the Internet”

Of course the cranks will never learn. If they were capable of learning or critical thinking, they wouldn’t be cranks.

Streisand effect

The Streisand effect is a phenomenon on the Internet where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be widely publicized.

I know you’re a breast cancer surgeon, Orac, but I just have to say that using the word ‘metastasizing’ to describe this particular phenomenon is absolutely poetic.

For millions of years, one’s public reputation was recorded only in fallible human memories. Mere hundreds of years ago (or thousands for a select few), human memory was supplemented by difficult to search written records. Much more recently, still more difficult to search audio and video records became widespread. Relatively suddenly, hundreds of millions of people make use of the internet, which keeps relatively easy to search records. Suddenly, many of the assumptions we subconsciously rely on when thinking about reputations are wrong. I believe it will take all of us – not just cranks – a long time to grow accustomed to the much more reliable public memory that is resulting from widespread internet use. (If you think it affects only cranks, recall the scandal when the John Edwards for president campaign hired Amanda Marcotte. )

What makes you wonder, will we be able to elect anyone president in 20 years, when all he or she has ever said will be instantly available, back to the writings as a 16 year old for the school yearbook. Not to mention that cell phone picture from that party after the Cubs won the world series…

I love this quote from her MMR post:

“Should anybody from BAD SCIENCE read this I urge you to continue the debate, and if it gets too heated there is always the option of turning me off.”

And then she kills all the blog comments and and wipes the articles from her achives.

It’s as if she’s gone and turned herself off.

Live online streaming, and the ability to easily digitize non-streamed media and upload the result, will be the death (metaphorically, we hope) of those who would seek to deny their own stupidity.

What makes you wonder, will we be able to elect anyone president in 20 years, when all he or she has ever said will be instantly available, back to the writings as a 16 year old for the school yearbook. Not to mention that cell phone picture from that party after the Cubs won the world series…

I cannot wait for a confirmation hearing (Supreme Court, cabinet, whatever) to be affected by this. “We have some questions about this Livejournal post you made in 2007…” Though, it may not happen; I doubt that someone who is going to be in such a position in the future is wasting their time decorating their MySpace page in the present.

At least if I’m wrong about that later point, I’ll be entertained.

she’s now removed the MMR posts from the index page of here blog, seemingly unaware that if you want to destroy all evidence of the whole sorry affair, you really should delete the blog posts off your server too LOLZ.

She is indeed ill informed and seems quite wedded to various types of woo. Quotes from her blog include:

• Had reflexology

• buy two bottles of Gammel Dansk – A Danish herbal digestive

• you’ll be able to dowse and think your self slim

• I went to visit a top hypno-therapist

Weedism, reflexology, dowsing, hypnotherapy. Nothing seems beyond her capacity for irrational thought.

And she referred to her dread of “allopathic” medicine, not least in that rubbish broadcast. (I think by “allopathic” she means medicine that has been proven to work).

Yet if there is actually something wrong with her then it is:

“”””have to take anti-biotics and then decide whether to have an implant costing £2,000, root canal work”””.

Presumably these are herbal antibiotics and psychic dentistry or do I detect the dread hand of “allopathy ” creeping in with its RCT based drugs and dental surgery. A difficult one.

A pro pos of nothing, the MMR scare still has more legs than a millipede on PCP thanks to the morons over at JABS.

This thread really really bothers me:

http://jabs.org.uk/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=3664

It may be worth registering and commenting; your posts may be removed quickly, but at least they will be there for a while, which should allow some sort of permanent pro-vaccination presence to be established.

If you register with the JABS morons and post anything even anti-jabbophobic they will ban you immediately and delete your postings. I have been slung off three times now.

Even a non-contentious statement such as “Wakefield is a lying, fraudulent, conniving huckster who manipulated children for money” is enough to get you thrown off.

It is called a forum but they do not know the meaning of the word.

If you want to dip your toes into the waters of the murky pool of jabbophobe insanity you are better off checking out the condensed and highly critical version at the following site:

http://jabsloonies.blogspot.com/

The reference from colmcq does give a good example of how they terrorise parents (usually mothers) into not vaccinating their children.

The problem is that every registration and website hit is regarded by them as an endorsement of their lunacy.

(It is good for a laugh though).

What makes you wonder, will we be able to elect anyone president in 20 years, when all he or she has ever said will be instantly available, back to the writings as a 16 year old for the school yearbook. Not to mention that cell phone picture from that party after the Cubs won the world series…

I suspect that once they find out that nearly everyone has at some point posted a silly party picture, written a really dumb Live-Journal-or-equivalent post, or forgotten to pay a speeding ticket or ten, these things won’t be met with gasps and ineligibility for office.

‘Even a non-contentious statement such as “Wakefield is a lying, fraudulent, conniving huckster who manipulated children for money” is enough to get you thrown off.’

Shame on you, John H — that statement is terribly misleading. It should read “Wakefield is a lying, fraudulent conniving huckster who endangered children for money.”

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