Skip to main content

Blog censorship

I want to tell you a story about a science writer called Sid.

Like a lot of writers, Sid had a blog where he mused about all sorts of things, everyday and deep. Back in December he received an interesting piece of mail. It came in a green envelope, hand written with a second class stamp. Inside it was a cutting from a newspaper with a scribbled post-it note from a 'J' saying (s)he thought Sid would be interested.

Sid was a bit suspicious and noticed that the 'handwritten' envelope was actually printed in a handwriting font. Yes, the whole thing was an advert - very clever, if a little sneaky. They had even made the edge of the 'cutting' frayed. Sid wrote this up on his blog, half admiring, half dubious about the approach. Soon the comments started to flow in, and this became by far the most viewed post on Sid's blog.

Lots of other people received the same mailing. Many thanked Sid for pointing out that it was a mailshot. After a while, a commenter noted that there was an ASA ruling against this advert, which Sid linked to. The mailings would have to stop. But no, the comments kept coming in. Those 'cuttings' were still being sent out. It seemed the ASA had no teeth to back up its stop order.

At this point, Sid got a Fed Ex from America. It was a 'cease and desist' order from a US law firm. Sid had a choice. He could do as requested and take down the blog post, or he could stand up to the bullying. Sid would have loved to be another Simon Singh and to have done what was right. There is no doubt he was in the right - but any further legal process could have been very expensive. Sid didn't have Simon's financial clout. So Sid took down the blog post.

Was it a defeat for Sid? I'm not sure. A lot of commenters had been delighted to find his blog post - he had helped these people. And even if this was a cheap and cheerful lawyer, he had cost the company sending out the adverts something. The trouble is, Sid was only ever amused by the ad - he thought it was clever, if naughty. The people who really have an axe to grind are those who have spent money. To mix a metaphor (as Sid would never do), the baton is with them now.

Any resemblance to people and organizations living or dead in this post (with the exception of the ASA) is purely coincidental. This is fiction.


  1. I can't see any possible legal grounds for a cease and desist order, but then I'm not a lawyer.
    Unless Sid was stating something demonstrably untrue in his blog, it would surely come under the heading of fair comment.
    Even so, unless you care passionately about something, it's much easier to back down than stand up and be counted.
    If the ASA did its job, of course, fictional types like Sid wouldn't have to.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope