As part of a series of events celebrating what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, President Obama gave a speech in Johannesburg yesterday, in which he made reference to “the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and lie some more”.
While it seems clear that he was making a direct reference to President Trump, his remarks bring to mind broader issues such as the value of truth to democracy, and the difference between lies and liars on the one hand, and bullshitters on the other. Continue reading “On Trump and bullshit”
Earlier this month, Prof. George Claassen of CENSCOM (Stellenbosch University) published a piece on GroundUp, detailing how science journalist Natasha Bolognesi became the subject of disciplinary action after refusing to copy edit a study on the cellphone-attachment WAVEEX, described by the manufacturers as
a composite chip of seven superposed layers, outside of plastic, inside five layers with silver ink printed circuits, which, if they are exposed to the electromagnetic waves, weaken the passing harmful radiation and balance it with the magnetic field of your body.
I won’t spend time focusing on how it’s well-established that low-frequency EMF radiation doesn’t pose a risk to humans, nor on the journalistic ethics of Bolognesi’s choice to refuse to copy edit the piece in question.
Continue reading “A (partial) autopsy of pseudoscience: Natasha Bolognesi and WAVEEX”
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”
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”
An earlier version of me regarded free speech as not only an absolute value, but additionally as one that should be shoved to the front of just about every queue. A value, to put it another way, that trumps most others (but not all – for example, it wouldn’t trump the value of continuing to exist, for most people). Continue reading “Free speech, Virgin Trains and the Daily Mail”
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…”
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”
Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked and hero to the sort of conservative who imagines that words and phrases like “libtard” or “social justice warrior” win arguments, recently posted a Facebook status arguing that “freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences” actually means “Best not say it, eh”. Continue reading “Free speech and freedom from consequence”
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”
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””