Monday, October 8, 2012

Not my style

Most of my posts on platform yanking are cases of someone sharing their personal views, such as through a radio show or using their celebrity status, and other people trying to silence them. The response to speech one disagrees with should be more speech, not attempting to gag them.

And sadly, that brings me to the skeptical community.

In this case the message is an alternative medicine magazine that skeptical activists are asking newsstands not to carry. As I've said before, this is not censorship, but it's not in the spirit of free speech.

Ken from Popehat had some good words of caution for skeptics on this issue. See his original post for the links:

Mind the rhetoric, please. Freedom of expression is threatened not only by specifically censorious methods, but by flexible and insipid memes and mottoes. When I see Keir Liddle employing the "fire in a crowded theater" image — the unprincipled nature and repulsive origins of which I discussed recently — I roll my eyes. Andy Lewis' headline "This is not an Issue of Free Speech, but of Responsible Speech" is a cringe-inducing appeal to the categorical dodge. I guarantee you that Mr. Lewis will see some future attack against his writing spun as "this isn't an issue of free speech, but of harassment/bullying/defamation/abuse." Ladies and gentlemen, using sloppy rhetoric in discussions of freedom of expression hands weapons to censors... 
Boycotts and complaints are an acceptable more-speech remedy, whatever the junk scientists might complain. These stores are private actors; informing them of the nature of a magazine they stock, advocating that they make a different private decision, or even threatening to boycott is part of the marketplace of ideas. Of course, if woo merchants organize some boycott that the skeptics don't like, and the skeptics argue that it is censorious, they should be called out for hypocrisy.

The magazine in question, titled "What Doctors Don't Tell You," is an irresponsible pamphlet of misinformation that tries to get innocent people to reject proper medical attention. This is a battle we need to fight, but I don't like this tactic one bit.

I did not join in a year ago when skeptics pressed Delta Airlines into rejecting a paid advertisement that discouraged vaccination use. They weren't alone, the American Academy of Pediatrics also pressed and Delta ended up dropping the ad.

I know we're on the side of the angels here and it's perfectly legal to pressure companies into ending arrangements that the customers do not like, but I personally don't want to use that tactic. I want to defeat my opponents with facts and sound arguments, not by making it harder for them to get their message across.

We're living in a new world with the Internet, where any idiotic idea has the potential to reach a large audience. I want to advance efforts that make facts available for those who care to listen.

Legitimizing these tactics sets a legal precedent that others can follow, and some of them won't have good motives. Just as Muslim fundamentalists are justifying blasphemy laws with the criminalization of holocaust denial, creationists could use this framework to push secular magazines off shelves. Any gag you make for speech can be turned on you one day.

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