So people, today is Ada Lovelace day, eh? This sort of snuck up on me. I say “sort of”… I knew about it, but didn’t go about doing research for it. It’s crap, actually, that I would need to research famous female scientists. Truth be told, I’d have to think pretty hard about it. My mate Maz is a scientist, she is working on developing cures for cancer. When someone thanks god for curing their cancer, what they really mean is “Thank Maz and the team of highly dedicated doctors, scientists and researchers working their quirky socks off to give me a better quality of life”. “God” just rolls off the tongue easier I guess. I’d like to dedicate my Ada Lovelace blog post to the unsung heroines of science. The nurses, doctors, labrats, stargazers, researchers, programmers, and techniciennes who make our lives twice as long, three times as fun, and X times as sedentary. If it wasn’t for you clever gals, young women like me would have Pussy Galore to aspire to instead of women like Maz, who literally improve our lives on a daily basis. Thanks a bunch!
Me in Parliament, that’s Krystal behind me.
Yesterday, I took the day off work to show my support for the libel reform campaign and went to Parliament, it was all the things you’d expect. It smelt of old, like my grandparents loft and the wallpaper in the committee room was hideous. Bottle green? Really? The usual gang was there, Jackofkent, Rebecca Watson, Sile from Sense About Science, Simon Singh, plus AC Grayling, Dave Gorman, and Krystal, who is my biological twin in everything but biology.
John Wittingdale (Tory politician, surprisingly young – aren’t they supposed to be fusty old men with comb-overs?) pointed out that the current government statement was they “will actively be considering” the recommended changes to libel reform. This, to me, smacks of my dad’s classic “I’ll think about it” brush off, but I suppose if it’s in writing, they would have to at least think about it. My dad always meant “No” back when I was a kid, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up to be honest. Jonathan Heawood of English PEN had previously spoken to Jack Straw about the problem of English libel laws and apparently his response a year ago was “Problem? What problem?” – I bet he’s laughing on the other side of his face now. The room was packed, ordinary citizens took annual leave to show how much they care about freedom of speech. Those in power would do well to take us voters seriously.
Next we had Fiona Godlee, editor of the BMJ and Naomi McAuliffe from Amnesty International speaking. For me, they summed up exactly why we need urgent reform now – it’s in the public interest to retain freedom of speech. Medical treatments that don’t work need to be held to account, which is why the British Chiropractic Association is in hot water now with Simon Singh (and not in a good way oh ho ho ho). Large companies that take shortcuts which put lives at risk, or even kill people (remember Trafigura?) get away with it by their ability to sue the accuser in England. If someone accused me of not having a sense of humour, I wouldn’t sue them for libel, I’d request a right of reply, so that the whole world could see how utterly fantastic I am and I’d make the accuser look like a bit of an arse by letting you, the public, decide. That, apparently, is pretty much the scientific method: Publication, criticism, confirmation/refutation.
Me: “This medicine doesn’t work.”
You: “Prove it.”
Me: “Look, here it is, not working.”
You: “Bugger me sideways, you’ve got a point.”
Me: “This medicine doesn’t work.”
You: “Yes it does, here look at it go.”
Me: “Oh yeah, my bad.”
To round us up, we had Tracy Brown, who is short in stature but looked pretty fierce from where I was standing. You would definitely want her to back you up in a fight, I reckon she could hold her ground. She pointed out that the current libel laws in England do a poor job of protecting reputations at a high price. I was thinking about this as she said it, and it’s so true. Financially, it’s cost Simon Singh £100,000 over the last two years to fight this case against the BCA, and could easily go on for another two years. If he loses. He’ll have to pay about £1,000,000. Meanwhile, apparently 1 in 4 chiropractors have allegations of fraud against them for claiming to cure certain ailments for which there is no proof. 1 in 4. Arguably, none of this would have happened if the BCA hadn’t decided to sue Simon Singh for an article printed in the Guardian (which practically nobody reads) over potential damage to their reputation. 1 in 4 potentially discredited? Yikes. Not just a financial cost then.
The moral of the story kids: If you’re gonna beat on a nerd, make sure he doesn’t have a load of nerdier mates to back him up.
To stop legal bullying, please sign the libel reform petition. They’re almost at 50,000 signatures. That’s 50,000 nerds who agree. If you’re not a nerd or haven’t signed it yet, please do the world a favour: http://www.libelreform.org/sign it takes less than one minute.
Hat tips: http://www.libelreform.org/ http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2010/03/jack-straw-to-announce-labour.html http://noodlemaz.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/libel-reform-mass-lobby/ http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/mar/24/libel-reform-jack-straw