Criticism is not censorship
If you follow Vaccine news you’ve probably heard about the new Anti-Vaccine PhD thesis by Judy Wilyman that was recently accepted by the University of Willongong in Australia. It’s entitled A critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy. It isn’t. In the backlash the PhD candidate’s sponsor, Brian Martin, has begun claiming that he’s being oppressed and that his student is being censored for daring to promote an opinion contrary to the mainstream belief.
Let me be clear: they are being ridiculed. They are being criticised. They are NOT being censored or silenced.
First let me give a bit of backstory for those who may not have heard of this.
On January 10 the thesis was published online on the University of Willongong’s website. Sometime between January 10 and January 13th a handful of news outlets began running stories based on the thesis and the medical industry’s response to it.
By January 13 the bloggers, including Orac at Science Blogs, PZ Myers, Helen Harris and Alison Campbell to name a few. What followed was a good deal of ridicule among the science and skeptic community and a handful of cries of oppression and censorship from the anti-vaccine community.
And then the response from Brian Martin, Judy Wilyman’s thesis advisor, came in. Orac did a great breakdown of his response, so I’m not going to mirror it. Rather, I want to talk about something else; the persecution complex and the idea that criticism is persecution.
Criticism is not Censorship
Censorship and silencing does happen, and it’s deplorable. For clarification Censorship is when an institution or individual in power (typically a government, although you could expand this to include universities, institutions and organizations) edit or block publication of a piece of work against the author’s will. Silencing is similar, and it is when individuals or organizations (and governments) block efforts by individuals to share their work and ideas; in essence when you make it impossible for someone to spread their message that’s censorship or silencing, or both.
Ridicule is not censorship. Criticism is not suppression. Calls for a retraction are not silencing.
This is commonly the last refuge of the individual with the poor argument. When a person’s work is criticised they have a few options: they can respond to the criticism with evidence or arguments, they can evaluate the criticism and make changes, or they can throw a temper tantrum and claim they are being oppressed. It’s essentially covering your head with sand so you don’t have to hear the ridicule.
This is a typical anti science tactic. If your natural response to being criticised is to yell that you’re being censored, you vastly misunderstand the nature of censorship. Just for reference, here are some examples of censorship:
What IS censorship:
- If the government collects and burns your books, that’s censorship.
- If the government won’t allow you to publish your work
- The government rewrites or edits a text without your consent
- If you are fired from a university for publishing valid, but controversial, work, that’s censorship.1)Keep in mind, your work has to be VALID i.e. not faked or lacking any evidence
- If members of a community attempt to put pressure on news or other media outlets to prevent you from sharing your data, that’s censorship.
- If members of a community attempt to put pressure on an agency to fire you because of what you’ve written (and you didn’t fake your data or lie about it) that’s censorship
Keep in mind, none of this is happening to Brian Martin, and it almost always is not what’s happening when Anti-Vaxxers, Anti-GMO advocates, Climate Change deniers, etc. claim they are being silenced.
What is not censorship:
- You publish work with serious flaws and are called out on it
- You publish a paper but it is later found out you faked your data and it is retracted
- You post something on the internet and are called stupid
- You post something on the internet and are asked for evidence
- You post a comment on a facebook page or forum or private webpage and it is deleted2)No, this isn’t censorship. You’re posting on a private website or facebook page is not protected by free speed. What it is, is intellectually dishonest but it’s not censorship
- People boycott your product because of a position you hold
- You publish publish a flawed thesis (Brian Martin) and the rest of the scientific community ridicules you (Brian Martin) and then you publish an Op Ed in a large paper claiming that you’re being silenced (Brian Martin)
Vani Hari is a good example of someone who doesn’t practice censorship per se (since her website is privately owned by her, and her Facebook page is hers) but rather intellectual dishonesty. There’s a very large page called Banned by Food Babe that tells stories of people who are banned for actions ranging from offensive trolling to asking for citations. This isn’t censorship, it’s intellectual dishonesty and it is an equally reprehensible action, but not the same thing.
Some members of the scientific community are calling for Judy Wilyman to have her PhD revoked and for Brian Martin to be fired. This isn’t censorship. From a cursory reading of Wilyman’s thesis’ abstract there are several major flaws that may warrant rejection of her thesis. I haven’t read any of Martin’s work; it may be that he is a fine academic who simply failed his duties as a thesis advisor. I doubt this, I’ve visited his website. He has a persecution complex, is himself an antivaxxer and a bit of a conspiracy theorist, based on what I’ve seen on his website.
But there’s a deeper issue here. When people claim they are being silenced what’s really happening is they’re trying to shut down the conversation. They’re trying to halt the free expression of speech that they claim is being prohibited. (As an aside, this is only the case with individuals like Martin who claim they are being silenced while simultaneously being given a platform to promote their ridiculous beliefs. Of course real censorship still does happen in the world and it must be stopped)
So please, Brian Martin. Stop. You’re not being repressed. You’re not being silenced. You’re being criticised and ridiculed because your behavior is laughable.
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|1.||↑||Keep in mind, your work has to be VALID i.e. not faked or lacking any evidence|
|2.||↑||No, this isn’t censorship. You’re posting on a private website or facebook page is not protected by free speed. What it is, is intellectually dishonest but it’s not censorship|