Nerds at the parliamentary committee on the Draft Defamation Bill

June 14th, 2011 by Ben Goldacre in libel, onanism, podcast | 33 Comments »

Here’s me, Simon Singh, Phil Campbell from Nature, and Fiona Godlee from the BMJ giving evidence on libel reform in parliament yesterday. It’s all interesting, if you like that kind of thing, our session starts at 17:30 and I do a bit more shouting in the second half of it. I’m afraid that for some reason the UK parliament website uses some ridiculous proprietary Microsoft plugin called “Silverlight” for their video rather than standard pre-installed or open source options.

Now, off topic, but related to this genre of post: I’ve got to decide what to do with my blogs. You might not have noticed, but I’ve been posting lots of stuff (in spurts of procrastination) at:

It’s a mixture of interesting EBM nuggets, “told you so” follow-ups, scribbled thoughts on media stories, silly pictures of daytrips, interesting papers I’ve just read with a three sentence thought on them, and so on. Normally I’d post this video over there, but now I’m not so sure about the split.

The stuff over there is often very low threshold, genuinely scribbled, and I had a plan that should remain just the columns (which I’ve been slack about updating the last few weeks) and polished work, to avoid drowning those out in other posts, but maybe you’d prefer it all in one place? Or weekly pointers? Some of it is blogging in the way that some other people do it, as in, a paragraph from someone else’s post, a paragraph on what I think about it, and a link to their post. Anyway, do let me know what I should post here, and what elsewhere, and if you’re happier with it all being a mush in one place.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

33 Responses

  1. philheslop said,

    June 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I created a login just to say how hideous that carpet is. How can any rational decision be made in that room?

  2. lepop said,

    June 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    “Install Microsoft Silverlight”

    So not cool.

  3. Waider said,

    June 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    I had noticed the decline in postings of columns here, and was wondering if it was dictated by those who pay the bills or something. Good to know it’s just a bit of procrastination!

    I think the prevalence of RSS readers (despite clamouring in certain quarters to the effect that RSS is dead) means that keeping things separate or munging them together is kinda moot. I suspect some people might even like that the separate sites allow separation of the longer articles from the short.

  4. pauldwaite said,

    June 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I’m cool with separate sites. Gives a good signal regarding what sort (and, for want of a better word, *meatiness*) of content to expect.

  5. phayes said,

    June 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm


    Not cool at all. I complained to the Parliamentary Recording Unit about this tiresome incompetence two years ago but they didn’t even understand my request that they at least include plain links to the WMV streams which they also ‘helpfully’ provide.

  6. iliff said,

    June 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    “rather than standard pre-installed or open source options”

    Yeah, take a leaf out of Apple’s book and respect the Adobe Flash standard.


  7. Ian said,

    June 14, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Amused to find the BMJ’s apology to Rath is behind a paywall so I can’t read it.

  8. joshurtree said,

    June 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    It is also available on the BBC website (except using flash).

  9. Reinis said,

    June 14, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I can’t see the video, because I use Linux. There is an official Silverlight alternative for Linux called Moonlight, but it just crashes when I visit this page.

  10. Tim said,

    June 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    I’d rather have it all here.

  11. GeorgeMc said,

    June 14, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    As echoed here, many politicians want to ban or impose “Orange Traffic Lights” on website pages.

    Despite Simon’s recognition of Welsh involvement in English law, or Ben’s worthy explanation of the technical detail (which I am resigned to guess went over most heads), I wonder why neither of you brought up the most compelling reason why this won’t happen; i.e. that websites are easily hosted in foreign jurisdictions such as Australia, Native American states, or even Scotland, where the Publishers/ISPs/Editors can warmly enjoy receipts from publishing; Spycatcher, online poker, and a disguised Ryan Giggs.

    The interesting bit will be to see if the politicians try to break the web, and how that goes…..

  12. BadPerdix said,

    June 15, 2011 at 12:06 am

    Sorry Ben,

    “Install Microsoft Silverlight”

    Definitely not.


  13. Nickynockynoonoo said,

    June 15, 2011 at 1:07 am

    I’d rather have it all here. Bring back your thoughts and the mini blog. Even Riderless Bike, must a sore arse by now.

    The forum is missing your blogs too.


  14. Jonni said,

    June 15, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Regarding the blog merging conundrum:

    John Gruber solves the issue his blog containing snippets and scribbles alongside considered articles by prefixing the title of each ‘proper’ article with a ‘★’.

    It works quite well – if you don’t want to take in all the bits and pieces, you can just zoom past them in your RSS reader and stop and read the ★ ones that stand out.

    Shilverlight more like.

  15. outeast said,

    June 15, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Blog merging: I’d rather see the two combined (though perhaps with some kind of partitioning to distinguish the two kinds of material). I’ve been reading this blog for years and years, have read the Bad Science book a couple of times… and yet only learned of the secondary blog’s existence from this post.

    (I don’t use an RSS reader: I tried it out once, but while a couple of my fave bloggers post infrequently enough that it’d be handy, others are so prolific that it got bloated and unhelpful very quickly (plus there are times when I have loads of blog-reading time, and periods when I can’t read blog posts for ages). I just use bookmarks.)

  16. hughcharlesparker said,

    June 15, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I use RSS. The current arrangement suits me well – I can follow the columns, which I want to see as soon as they appear, and I can go to posterous whenever I’ve got some time and want to have a look.

    The big change I’d request from the current arrangement is that you should reconfigure the blogging software to provide the whole article, rather than just the first 3 lines, in the RSS feed.

  17. David Mingay said,

    June 15, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    I’d like them all in one place, please.

  18. bt42 said,

    June 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    All in one place please!

  19. abalofsky said,

    June 16, 2011 at 12:17 am

    I just watched the session. Well spoken, and good points made.

  20. stuartmarshall said,

    June 17, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Yes please in on place

  21. Ilze said,

    June 17, 2011 at 10:56 am

    In one place please but try to keep it a little bit separate/logical

  22. MattWPBS said,

    June 17, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I prefer everything here, but categorised. Oh, and I’ve been missing the random mini-blog bits.

  23. skyesteve said,

    June 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Yep – all in one place for me too.

  24. IMC said,

    June 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Wait, why does the televised session cut off halfway through what Simon was saying? It was just getting interesting!

  25. pgn674 said,

    June 18, 2011 at 12:51 am

    @Reinis: It worked for me, using the Novell Moonlight plugin in Google Chrome 12.0.742.91 on Ubuntu 11.04. It asked to automatically download a codec from Microsoft when this page first loaded, which went smoothly.

  26. ACH said,

    June 18, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Good points made in the evidence and not at all shouty.

    Re the blog(s): All in one place please. Trust your readers to understand which pieces are “serious” and which are musings/ramblings.

  27. DaveHolter said,

    June 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    you can see the last few minutes via the link phayes gave above.

  28. Guy Chapman said,

    June 18, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Some very good points. An equal prominence clause would make sense, I think, so that an apology for an error is not buried at the bottom of page nine.

  29. Jo Brodie said,

    June 20, 2011 at 12:15 am

    I like the separate blogs but I shan’t start a campaign if you choose to combine them. They seem to do very different things – I think of this as the ‘serious’ one and the Posterous one for random thoughts.

    I’ve not logged in for such a long time that I think I’ve ended up creating a new account here too…

  30. skyesteve said,

    June 20, 2011 at 8:49 am

    I hope that Fiona Godlee won’t object to me cutting and copying the following news article from last week’s BMJ as it is clearly relevant:

    “The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration’s complaints resolution panel has received a number of complaints about the product, including some from Dr Harvey, but under the Therapeutic Goods Regulations these cannot be considered while legal action is under way.

    Dr Harvey said the case highlighted several regulatory failures by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

    Documentation seen by the BMJ shows that on 10 March the administration’s complaints resolution panel upheld an anonymous complaint against the marketing of SensaSlim, but this determination was withdrawn after the company said that its response to the complaint had not been taken into account.

    A spokeswoman for the administration said that it had not failed to take appropriate regulatory action in relation to SensaSlim. She said that SensaSlim is a listed low risk medicine, meaning that it has been evaluated for quality and safety but that, unlike in the case of high risk prescription drugs, the administration provides no assurance that the product is effective.

    The spokeswoman said that it was the first time that the complaints resolution panel had postponed consideration of a complaint because of separate legal action. “The regulations that mandate this course reflect the well recognised principle that an administrative body such as the panel should not normally be making determinations on issues that are the subject of judicial consideration,” she said.

    “It is an important component of our legal and regulatory system that TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] and the CRP [complaints resolution panel] observe procedural fairness.”

    An in-house legal counsel for SensaSlim Australia, Terry Harrison, denied that the company was trying to stop Dr Harvey or other critics speaking out. “It’s not an action to stop the complaints process. It’s nothing to do with gagging him, as he’s trying to spin it,” he told the BMJ.

    He said that the product was sold “all around the world” and was “going into 17 countries in the northern hemisphere.”

    The case against Dr Harvey is due for mention in the New South Wales Supreme Court on Tuesday 14 June, as the BMJ went to press”

  31. latsot said,

    July 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Put everything here and trust your readers to filter.

  32. AndyJ said,

    September 23, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Good points, well made and as a young acedemic I cannot agree more.

    I am a bit concerned however by your, admittedly brief, ‘ARGH Micro$oft’ rant:

    “I’m afraid that for some reason the UK parliament website uses some ridiculous proprietary Microsoft plugin called “Silverlight” for their video rather than standard pre-installed or open source options.”

    You should correct that statement. There is no major web-video player that is open source and nothing that comes pre-installed across the board of different platforms.

    ‘Standard’ video players are: Adobe Flash Player, Apple Quicktime, Microsoft Silverlight, and RealPlayer (a recent alternative is HTML5 video). None are open source, none come pre-installed on Windows (which the majority of people use[1]) all are free-to-download and have varying cross browser/platform support.

    basically, c’mon Ben, you can do better.


    p.s. I am not defending their use of Silvelight, there are a number of options but none of them are ‘obvious’. From an open-source point of view HTML5 would be the best choice but the vast majority of web users simply don’t have a HTML5 capable browser…

  33. clairethebear said,

    June 17, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    I dunno if you read these, as most of them are complaining about silverlight…
    In your book you spoke about how massive repositories of data are stored in rubbish PDFs of images. I don’t know if this will help, and you’ve probably heard about it by now, but there’s a software called Optical Character Recognition. It processes images and outputs text. Example of free one is here:

    Who knows, maybe someday there’ll be a data centre somewhere that can process massive amounts of images. Hope it works for those crappy docs.