Update on Bad Science row

The Bad Science copyright chill has seemingly reached an impasse. The offending clip is still not available on the blog, but it can be found in countless websites as bloggers all across the country have started infringing copyright in a show of solidarity for Ben Goldacre. The Streisand Effect Strikes Back. LBC’s lawyers would be crazy to sue Dr Goldacre now.

Beyond the legal aspects of the affair, I have been fascinated by how this row has been played out in the blogosphere. The overwhelming reaction has been favourable to Bad Science, perhaps because the geeks consider him as one of our own. On the contrary, look at what has been happening the the blog belonging to one Ms Jeni “surviving in this business we so lovingly call ‘show'” Barnett (I was going to add a snarky remark, but I shall endeavour to restrain myself; it’s not fun when it’s too easy). Ms Barnett opened her blog to comments, she claimed that even those negative ones. However, the blog was flooded with all sorts of attacks to her view, mostly thoughtful and based on science. She has now removed the comments, and has left this jewel:

“To all of you Bad scientists, who are SO angry with me, good luck with your research. Should you fall ill I will attend you as best I can with my motherly love. Should I fall ill, as a non paid up member of your club, will you administer to me? And should I refuse your drugs then what?”

I am loath to use pop psychology here, but there is some serious passive-aggressive behaviour going on with Ms Barnett (finally explaining why she is both vulnerable and strong). Irresponsibly ignorant broadcasters tend to be vocal in their views because they rely on the belief that the public at large is just as ignorant as they are, However, when presented with a large number of intelligent and well-informed people, they easily cave in and resort to playing the victim. It usually takes the form of accusing their detractors of elitism. Ms Barnett just got a taste that there are more well-informed people than she thought.

A peripheral phenomenon that I have been paying attention to is that of the rising power of Stephen Fry’s Twitter stream. In blogger terms, being slash-dotted or being boing-boinged used to be a sure sign that one had finally made it, as well as being the source of a barrage of traffic capable of bringing down servers (however, it is not as cool as being mentioned by Neil Gaiman). Apparently, the item was posted in the stream, bringing the Bad Science blog to its knees, but spreading sympathy for Ben Goldacre across the twittering classes. Stephen Fry has become the Grand Geek, the measure by which all geekdom shall be known. Hopefully, with that multitude of support, the Jeni Barnetts of the world do not stand a chance.

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