Free Speech: No Lines Drawn

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund runs article based on my blog post re: WordPress censorship of Turkish political blog featuring satirical cartoons following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Last month, I blogged about WordPress, the San Francisco-based blogging platform which earlier this year said that, without a U.S. court order, it refuses to honour requests to censor content, but recently censored a Turkish blog featuring satirical cartoons at the request of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Earlier this month, the Erdoğan story was picked up by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), a New York-based advocacy non-profit that actively defends the First Amendment (ie. free speech) rights of comics creators and publishers, including paying their legal costs.

Via “Satirical Cartoon Blog Post Blocked in Turkey” by Maren Williams, CBLDF.com, December 9, 2016.

Satirical Cartoon Blog Post Blocked in Turkey
December 9, 2016
By

A blog post featuring satirical cartoons of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is currently blocked by court order inside Turkey but freely available elsewhere, highlighting the delicate balance between intellectual freedom and local laws that online hosting platforms must maintain if they wish to operate internationally.

The post on a Turkish blog hosted by U.S.-based company (and CBLDF.org host) WordPress was originally made in November 2013, but only blocked this October after an Istanbul lawyer representing Erdoğan filed a court order alleging that the cartoons were libellous and untrue. According to independent U.K. journalist Dean Sterling Jones on his own blog, WordPress had announced earlier this year that it would ignore any potential takedown requests from the Turkish government. The reality of an actual court order may have forced it to reconsider, however: as a representative told Jones via email, the company was “forced to geo-block the specific sites mentioned in the Turkish court orders or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country,” meaning that all blogs and other sites hosted on the platform would be unavailable there.

Faced with no ideal options, WordPress chose to geo-block the specific site requested within Turkey but direct users to a multilingual site with directions for circumventing online censorship via services such as VPNs and Tor. It also reported the takedown to the Lumen database, and the WordPress rep identified as Janet J told Jones that the company is brainstorming ways to maximize intellectual freedom and transparency for its users:

“There is no good solution to the issue of political censorship, and we are constantly reviewing the processes to find ways to combat it, including taking legal action in Turkey where appropriate. Going forward, we’ll look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.”

Jones also spoke with Spanish cartoonist Jaume Capdevila, whose work was among the panels featured on the blocked page and also reproduced above. He expressed pride that a Turkish blogger found his cartoon “useful for his struggle for freedom,” and highlighted the importance of laughing at authoritarian leaders through satire:

“To laugh means to lose fear, and fear is what keeps the totalitarians in power. It is therefore natural to react against cartoons, against journalists, and against the Internet, which is a means by which the population can inform and organise to recover lost democracy.”

The takedown order also comes at a time when Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart has been imprisoned for over a month along with several journalist colleagues from Cumhuriyet newspaper. Erdoğan has used a failed coup attempt in July as an excuse to crack down on journalists, academics, judges, and government workers who do not toe the line. Kart and his colleagues are now facing charges of colluding with the Gulenist movement which Erdoğan blames for the coup, as well as with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

See also: “Erdoğan Strikes Again,” my November 27, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of Turkish political blog following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Alt-Med Death in India

India’s leading Meta-Medicine practitioner Anu Mehta says her patient committed suicide after she treated him for depression

Earlier this year, I blogged a series of investigative reports about the International Meta-Medicine Association (IMMA), a popular LA-based integrative medicine organisation founded in 2004 by Johannes Fisslinger, inventor of the “Aura Video Station.

For the uninitiated, IMMA – via its online university, Meta-Health University (MHU) – claims to have trained over 1,000 practitioners in the “art and science of self-healing,” an elaborate philosophy of preventive health based on the discredited theories of Ryke Geerd Hamer, a ghoulish German doctor who lost his medical licence in 1986 after a number of patients in his care died.

Notorious former doctor Ryke Geerd Hamer (source)

IMMA teaches that specific physical symptoms correspond with specific, sudden or prolonged traumatic experiences, and that the body can naturally heal itself of illness and disease, claims originating in Hamer’s highly speculative model of disease, the “Germanic New Medicine” (GNM).

According to a series of 2009 reports by Norwegian television station TV 2, at least three people died after they were advised by members of IMMA’s Advisory Council to abandon conventional cancer treatments – conduct Fisslinger later called “absolutely unacceptable.”

Now comes a report of another IMMA-related death.

According to Anu Mehta, India’s leading IMMA practitioner whose work has featured in The Bombay Times (owned by the Times Group), a 58-year-old man who was in the late stages of cancer has committed suicide after she treated him for depression.

IMMA practitioner Anu Mehta (source)

In her December 7, 2016 article, “How META Health can use artwork and colours to identify a person’s state of mind and suicidal tendencies” (via The Health Site), Mehta chronicles her patient’s mental deterioration in lurid detail through crayon drawings he made over the four month period leading up to his death.

An excerpt from Mehta’s article:

This is a case of a 58-year-old man, suffering from stomach, umbilical and rectal cancer with severe ascites. As per the medical fraternity, he did not have many days to live. He was married, with two sons. During his counselling, he confessed about his infidelity, obsession for watching porn and chatting on dating sites. He had huge difficulty in keeping his jobs. He had undergone chemotherapy after which he started feeling unattractive due to his bald head and pregnant looking belly.  I used crayon drawing analysis to get an insight of his suffering, stresses, attitude, beliefs, needs, desires, values, conflicts and healing ability at the subconscious level.

Mehta goes on to give her “Meta-Health” analysis of the patient’s drawings, including his last before committing suicide – the word “cancer,” with each of the letters scored out:

9th-drawing

This was the last crayon drawing sent by him before his death.

The colours show that he wanted magic to happen, in the absence of which he was feeling self – disparagement, unstable, needing peace and tranquility, wanting to abandon everything.

According to Mehta’s article, the patient threatened to kill himself less than a week before jumping in front of a train:

He sent me a message on 25 August, that he had a weird feeling in the middle of the night. He felt he had become absolutely normal and was feeling ‘Over positive’. He kept saying this positive feeling is too difficult to deal with, and continued saying, “Do something or I will die.”

…On 1 September 2016, I woke to the news that he had committed suicide by jumping in front of a running train at 9.00 AM, 7 minutes. This shocked me beyond words because his previous drawing had showed the time of his death.

Signing-off, Mehta states that the patient’s “unresolved fears” led him to commit suicide:

His death has prompted me to write this article and tell you all to take drawing more seriously. By understanding these drawings I got an insight into the cause of his death, which was not cancer but his unresolved fears, which made him take painful and tragic action.

Via my August 12, 2016 blog post re: IMMA’s treatment methods, practitioners guide patients through the so-called “self-healing process using techniques derived from other popular complementary and alternative therapies, including: Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Time Line Therapy (TLT), Matrix Reimprinting (MP), Advanced Clearing Energetics (ACE), Dianetics (Scientology) and, of course, Hamer’s GNM.

Despite GNM having been thoroughly discredited and denounced by experts, IMMA has attracted several world-famous American doctors and Hollywood celebrities, including Dr. Dean Ornish, best-selling author and White House policy/public health advisor during the Clinton and Obama administrations, and A-list actor Ben Stiller.

You can read more about IMMA by clicking here, here and here.

Hoax-ception

Busted: Purported Guardian hoax by prankster Godfrey Elfwick was itself a hoax [Updated: Guardian editor has denied my request for more info about the paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors – more after the jump]

Last month, the Guardian published an anonymous article about how its author was nearly turned into a racist after being exposed to right-wing views online.

Shortly after the article was published, online social justice parodist Godfrey Elfwick, who last year duped the BBC World Service into allowing him to denounce Star Wars as “racist and homophobic” during a live radio broadcast, claimed authorship of the article.

In support of his claim, Elfwick shared an image of a Microsoft Word document on his computer with a similar title, but dated weeks before the Guardian article.

godfrey-elfwick-wordpress-file-screenshot

He also shared a print out of the article with his name on the byline.

godfrey-elfwick-guardian-article-print-out

Perhaps owing to his success at hoodwinking the BBC, many on Twitter – including award-winning American writer and leading New Atheist Sam Harris, whose views on Islam are cited in the article as having helped lead the author to nearly becoming a racist – seemed to accept Elfwick’s claim of authorship at face value.

The episode proved to be a lesson in confirmation bias.

For Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist whose work on Edward Snowden won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014, the article confirmed his long-standing belief that the New Atheism movement is little more than “a cover for Islamophobia,” and on Twitter accused Harris of engaging in “hatermongering against Muslims.”

glenn-greenwald-guardian-sam-harris

Meanwhile, Harris used Elfwick’s unverified claim to question Greenwald’s credibility.

sam-harris-glenn-greenwald-guardian

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Guardian to comment on whether Elfwick authored the article, as claimed.

On Tuesday, I received the following response from Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick, stating he is “confident about the authorship of the article” and that the version shared by Elfwick on Twitter is “markedly different in several ways” to the draft originally submitted to the Guardian for publication.

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: sterlingjones1989 <sterlingjones1989@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 15:45

Dear Dean Jones,

Thank you for your email.

The Guardian has stated in response to specific media enquiries that it is confident about the authorship of the article.

I have separately looked into the matter and can assure you that the claim of authorship made on Twitter is not supported by the evidence offered on Twitter by the person claiming authorship.

In its original format the material submitted to the Guardian for the article is markedly different in several ways from what was claimed on Twitter to be a print out of the article as submitted by its author.

I can understand why the Guardian has taken the approach that it has taken to this matter. You would agree, I’m sure, that there is no point encouraging trolls by paying them attention.

Thanks again for making contact.

Paul Chadwick
Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

While he didn’t quite manage to pull the wool over our eyes, Elfwick’s claim raises an interesting question: without being able to verify the identity of the author, how do we know the article isn’t a hoax?¹ Maybe that was the point all along.

Updated, 12/01/17: Last month, I asked Guardian Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick about his paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors, stating my concern that “without being able to provide demonstrable evidence that an article is genuine, you open the doors to false claims of authorship.”

Here is his January 3, 2017 response:

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: sterlingjones1989 <sterlingjones1989@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:20

Dear Dean Jones,

Yes, there are processes for vetting contributors, but I am sure you will understand that if they are to maintain their effectiveness it is counterproductive to detail them.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Chadwick

Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

¹Prior to Elfwick throwing his hat into the ring, Twitter users were already questioning the article’s authenticity.

Hates Speech

Former BBC Wales Head of Public Affairs Leighton Andrews calls for European regulation of Facebook and Google

Leighton Andrews, the former Head of Public Affairs for BBC Wales, has called for European law makers to regulate U.S. Internet giants Facebook and Google.

Former Head of Public Affairs for BBC Wales, Leighton Andrews (source)

In two similarly worded articles on Open Democracy UK and Medium, Andrews argued that Facebook and Google are media companies, and should therefore be subject to stringent rules regarding antitrust issues, content, branding and “hate speech.”

Via “Europe should regulate Facebook and Google” by Leighton Andrews, Medium, December 9, 2016.

As well as their dominance of advertising, the two ‘titans’…have become the dominant news distributors as well. 44% of US adults get their news via Facebook according to the Pew Research Centre having taken over as the top news referrer from Google in 2015 according to the traffic analytics site parse.ly. At least originating news organisations get to keep their branding in the Google News app: in the Facebook News Feed, as Alex Hern pointed out in the Guardian, there’s no branding difference between fake news sites and established and respected news outlets…meaning that fake news can vie with real news for top spots.

Via “We need European regulation of Facebook and Google” by Leighton Andrews, Open Democracy UK, December 12, 2016.

What is needed is the necessary strategic alliance between other media companies, civil society organisations and academic specialists to drive an agenda forward to address the powers of internet intermediaries, in terms of content rules, competition issues and their dominance of the advertising markets which as we have seen has had the effect of undermining the newspaper industry in particular…

…Moving forward, there needs to be a coordinated and sustainable lobby at a European level, involving media organisations, advertisers, civic society organisations, and academic specialists interested in media policy to create the space for legislative action

– In defence of facts on digital advertising metrics
– In defence of facts in news reporting and/or attribution
– In defence of the rule of law (for example German hate speech laws)

Assuming Brexit goes ahead, and the UK does want a relationship akin to the EEA, then it’s likely it will have to adhere in practice to EU Media laws. EU legislation may be our last, best hope for effective action. There’s a thing.

I’ll leave it to the experts to debate the merits of antitrust regulation, but I can’t sit still for Andrews’ arguments in favour of controlling content, branding and “hate speech.”

Unlike the U.S., the EU famously doesn’t have a strong constitutional guarantee regarding freedom of speech or of the press. Consequently, countries within Europe have implemented a number of vague laws targeting political speech under the pretext of national security, racial and religious tolerance, and even women’s rights.

“Hate speech” is an especially meaningless term which has nevertheless been adopted by many European countries to punish unpopular speech. Just this month, Dutch politician and prominent Eurosceptic Geert Wilders was found guilty of hate speech by a Dutch court after he called for “fewer Moroccans” in the country.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders (source)

While you might not agree with Wilders’ comments or sympathise with his worldview, the point is that the legal concept of “hate speech” is sufficiently vague to encompass all kinds of political speech, not just unpopular words and ideas.

The arbitrary nature of hate speech laws and other, equally vague speech laws have proven controversial in some EU member states.

There was outrage earlier this year when – at the whim of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – Germany agreed to prosecute prominent German satirist Jan Böhmermann, who had ridiculed the Turkish despot on national televisionAfter all, what kind of democracy prosecutes its satirists?

Yet the decision should not have come as a surprise. Germany has long placed limits on “insulting” speech, in agreement with the various rulings handed down by the European Court of Human Rights.

As Hamburg international media law expert Dr. Ralph Oliver Graef told The Intercept in April: “If you agree that hate speech at a certain level is punishable, then you have to be open to the idea that some things are not allowed to be said, even about a dictator.”

German satirist Jan Böhmermann on the cover of Der Spiegel (source)

Not wishing to succumb to the logical fallacy of the slippery slope, it’s easy to see where regulation of the media – and of speech in general – might lead. Just look to Turkey, where journalists are routinely prosecuted for reporting unfavourably about the government, and satirists are no longer free to openly ridicule those in power.

Is this what we want for our media or for our own hard-won freedoms? Personally, I’m with Welsh YouTuber Bill Hilton, who tweeted this response to Andrews’ Medium article:

leighton-andrews-bill-hilton-exchange

Error 451

WordPress censors critical blog post about Armenian Olympic Committee President and rumoured Sochi crime lord Ruben “Robson” Tatulyan following complaint from Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor

This is part three of a series of posts about WordPress, the San Francisco-based blogging platform which earlier this year said that – absent a U.S. court order – it chooses to ignore outside requests to censor content, but now complies with takedown demands from Russian and Turkish authorities.

In October, Russia’s state media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, sent a complaint to WordPress demanding that it censor a critical blog post about Ruben “Robson” Tatulyan, President of the National Olympic Committee of Armenia and rumoured Sochi crime lord.

roskomnadzors-october-31-2016-complaint-to-wordpress-about-ruben-tatulyan

Roskomnadzor’s October 31, 2016 complaint to WordPress (source)

The offending blog post, which Roskomnadzor claims violates Tatulyan’s privacy “rights and freedoms,” describes an incident at Sochi International Airport earlier this year, when Tatulyan and his entourage – driving vehicles carrying Armenian embassy number plates – brazenly violated numerous traffic regulations.

According to Russian news reports, Tatulyan boasted to security staff about supposedly having acquired ambassadorship in Armenia, before speeding away in the wrong lane through the airport’s car park and ramming an automatic barrier.

A video of the incident, as captured on CCTV:

Tatulyan is not listed as holding office at the Armenian embassy in Russia, although several Russian news reports – including the targeted WordPress post – have alluded to his possible involvement in Russia’s criminal underworld.

One popular online publication, Crime Russia (itself the target of multiple takedown requests from Roskomnadzor), even alleges that Tatulyan is “shadow ruler” of all crime syndicates in Sochi, succeeding the notorious Russian mafia boss Aslan Usoyan aka Grandpa Hassan, who was assassinated in 2013.

Roskomnadzor’s complaint to WordPress does not try to refute these claims, instead citing a dubious Russian law restricting the publication of “personal data” in an effort to censor the offending blog post.

roskomnadzors-october-31-2016-complaint-to-wordpress-via-the-lumen-database

According to the Lumen Database, WordPress has partially enforced Roskomnadzor’s complaint (source)

Via my blog last month, WordPress recently changed its policy about how it responds to takedown requests.

Although the blogging platform has built a strong reputation on its principled support for free speech, it now says it complies with censorship demands in order to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users within authoritarian countries, who would otherwise face more severe punishment from their Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The change in policy goes back to March of last year, when a ban on a single blog post led Turkish ISPs to censor all of WordPress in Turkey.

Via this March 20, 2015 tweet, WordPress initially seemed intent on fighting the block…

wordpress-2015-response-to-turkey-censorship

…reaffirming its free speech bonafides via this January 28, 2016 Automattic entry, in which a spokesperson for WordPress stated that, without a U.S. court order, the company “refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey.”

Under our legal guidelines, we require a U.S. court order before proceeding with the removal of content from WordPress.com. To this point, we have refused to take action in response to the takedown demands from Turkey. After we receive notice of an order, Turkish ISPs, who are bound to obey the court orders, move to block the sites named in an order, making it unavailable to all visitors from Turkey without any further explanation.

However, last month WordPress admitted to having censored a Turkish political blog after receiving a complaint from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Per this undated Automattic entry, WordPress also recently started implementing blocks on request of Russian authorities, with the stated aim of “protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.”

Today, when we receive a takedown demand from RSOC [Roskomnadzor], we review it and will often end up suspending the site in question because of a violation of our Terms of Service (for selling drugs or containing pornography, for example). In cases where the site does not violate our terms, we try to take the most limited and transparent actions available: blocking content so that it is unavailable only in Russia, and blocking only the content specified in the takedown demand (rather than the entire site). We take this action with the goal of protecting all of the other 79 million WordPress.com sites.

It’s possible to find out if WordPress has geo-blocked content in Russia by entering certain URLs – such as the one mentioned in the Roskomnadzor complaint – into a Russian proxy.

If WordPress has blocked the URL in question, you’ll see the following message, a nod to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451:

unavailable-for-legal-reasons-wordpress

A list of WordPress blogs currently geo-blocked in Russia is available by clicking here.

See also: “Erdoğan Strikes Again,” my November 27, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of Turkish political blog following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

And: “WordPress Yields to Putin,” my December 3, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of “Putin-Hitler” mock photo on request of Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor.

An “Extremist” Fights Back

Prominent Muslim activist Dr. Salman Butt launches legal challenge against misleading government report labelling him a non-violent “extremist”

Dr. Salman Butt, a prominent Muslim activist, has launched a legal challenge against the UK government’s Prevent strategy, claiming it breached his free speech rights.

Last year, Dr. Butt was one of six so-called “hate speakers” singled out by Downing Street as “expressing views contrary to British values.”

Muslim activist Dr. Salman Butt (source)

The claims were made via Downing Street’s September 17, 2015 press release, titled “PM’s Extremism Taskforce: tackling extremism in universities and colleges top of the agenda.”

pms-extremism-taskforce-tackling-extremism-in-universities-and-colleges-top-of-the-agenda

Downing Street’s September 17, 2015 press release (source)

Citing work by Whitehall’s Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), Downing Street claimed that in 2014 there were “70 events involving speakers who are known to have promoted rhetoric that aimed to undermine core British values of democracy.”

However, e-mails recently obtained via a public records request (click to read) show that much of the data attributed to the EAU in the press release – including information used to “name and shame” universities – was taken from a misleading July 2015 report by Student Rights, an arm of “right-wing think tank” the Henry Jackson Society.

preventing-prevent

July 2015 report by Student Rights director Rupert Sutton (source)

As the e-mails show, Downing Street was still in the process of collecting case studies to support the updated strategy the morning prior to publication, and appears to have ignored a request from an internal fact-checker to amend figures about the number of events featuring “hate speakers” held on university campuses in 2014.

The e-mails also show that, despite having supposedly dropped plans for an statutory ban on so-called “extremist” speakers in March of last year, the government was still toying with the idea of a ban right up until September 16, 2015, just five days before the updated guidance officially came into force.

Via BBC News, Dr. Butt denied holding views contrary to British values, and expressed his intention to shine a light on the inner workings of government policy:

“I’m a father of three, I’m a British Muslim, a writer, an activist. I am not an extremist, either violent or non-violent.

“Being labelled as some kind of extremist does have a stigmatising effect. I have not spoken at any universities since I was named in the [Downing Street] press release.

“My aim isn’t just to clear my name, it is to bring transparency to the hidden processes by which individuals are tarnished with the label of an extremist, to ensure it is brought into the scrutiny of the courts.”

Saimo Chahal QC, partner and human rights lawyer at Bindmans LLP, said that Dr. Butt’s challenge is a test case.

Human rights lawyer Saimo Chahal QC (source)

Via BBC News:

“The Prevent duty guidance issued to higher education institutions is flawed because it conflicts with the right to free speech which is enshrined in the Education Act for higher education institutions,” [Chahal] said.

“The challenge, if successful, could have major implications for the controversial policy as it applies to universities and higher education,” she added.

According to the BBC, Dr. Butt’s lawyers will be challenging part of the strategy that aims to stop people from becoming or supporting terrorists, as well as challenging the government’s definition of “extremism,” which they say is ill-defined.

Additionally, they have been given permission to challenge the way the government’s EAU collected information about Dr. Butt, arguing the process lacks transparency, and that the procedure for identifying people as “extremists” is flawed and in breach of the law.

See also: “The Tyranny of Values,” my October 23 item re: Downing Street’s unattributed use of data from “right-wing think tank” the Henry Jackson Society to “name and shame” universities that host “extremist” speakers.

Don’t Tase Me, Bro

UK’s national police lead for armed policing Simon Chesterman defends use of tasers against children

Simon Chesterman, the UK’s national police lead for armed policing, has defended the use of tasers against children in a tweet today.

Commenting on an article published yesterday by The Justice Gap about a recent increase in police use of tasers against children, Chesterman tweeted: “Police ‘threatened children with Tasers’. Important to understand what were these children doing at the time?”

Via Twitter:

simon-chesterman-tasers-children

It isn’t the first time Chesterman has defended the use of tasers.

In 2013, he claimed that the risk of tasers inducing cardiac arrest was “very low,” and that there was no need for police to “adjust our point of aim” away from the chest area.

His comments came after an independent review by the now-defunct Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which concluded that the use of tasers carry “no substantial risk.”

However, the eminent US cardiologist Dr. Douglas Zipes, who in 2012 published a study exploring the dangers of chest shots, has advised against the use of tasers. As he told the Guardian in 2013: “My admonition would be avoid the chest at all costs if you can.”

There have been at least 17 deaths linked to the use of the stun guns since they were introduced in 2003.

Butter, Meat and Free Speech

It’s official: The BMJ won’t retract “controversial” dietary guidelines article by New York Times best-selling author/journalist Nina Teicholz

Yesterday, the BMJ officially announced that it won’t retract a “controversial” 2015 article by investigative journalist Nina Teicholz, author of NYT best-seller The Big Fat Surprise.

Following a lengthy investigation lasting over a year, the BMJ said that two independent reviewers “found no grounds for retraction,” and that Teicholz’s criticisms of the methods used by the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) “are within the realm of scientific debate.”

051716-teicn-0169_5x7_v3

Author/Journalist Nina Teicholz

As reported on this blog and The Sidebar (my US blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich’s crack investigative journalism blog), Washington-DC based advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – in bed with prominent members of the DGAC – aggressively campaigned to get the article retracted.

Bonnie Liebman

source

Leading the charge was CSPI’s Director of Nutrition Bonnie Liebman, who in her September 23, 2015 opening salvo called the article an “error-laden attack” on the 2015 DGAC report:

The DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority [but] Teicholz would have us believe that only she, not the dozens of experts who systematically reviewed the evidence for these health authorities, has the smarts to accurately interpret this evidence.

One month later, a letter organised by Liebman was sent to the BMJ highlighting what it claimed were a number of factual errors with Teicholz’s article.

The letter, which was signed by over 180 credentialed professionals including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, plus all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC, urged the BMJ to retract the article on the basis that it harmed the journal’s credibility.

However, the credibility of the letter was itself soon called into question.

As reported by the Guardian in April, none of the signatories interviewed for Ian Leslie’s acclaimed article, “The Sugar Conspiracy” – including Dr. Meir Stampfer, an influential Harvard epidemiologist – were able to name any of the “trivial” errors with Teicholz’s article, with one even admitting he had not read it.

Frank Hu MD PhD MPH (source)

But the most explosive revelation came in May, when Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed efforts by another Harvard epidemiologist, DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu, to solicit European signatures to Liebman’s retraction demand which resulted in a chain e-mail exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.

You can read more about that, and other related items, via Peter’s blog herehere and here.

Accompanying yesterday’s announcement, the BMJ has issued four corrections (plus three clarifications) of the 11 purported errors highlighted by the CSPI, but Editor in Chief Fiona Godlee said the journal is standing by Teicholz’s article:

We stand by Teicholz’s article with its important critique of the advisory committee’s processes for reviewing the evidence, and we echo her conclusion: ‘Given the ever increasing toll of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and the failure of existing strategies to make inroads in fighting these diseases, there is an urgent need to provide nutritional advice based on sound science.’

Via the BMJ’s press release, Teicholz thanked the journal for its support:¹

I am very grateful to The BMJ editors for their profound commitment to verifying the facts of my article and for their professionalism and integrity throughout this process. I am also grateful that they are providing a space for rigorous scientific debate, especially on a subject so important to public health. I hope the original intention of that article can now be fulfilled—to help improve nutritional advice, so that it is based on rigorous science. This will help us to better combat nutrition-related diseases that have caused so much human suffering around the world.

In a separate statement, Liebman doubled down on her position, claiming that the BMJ has “stained its reputation”:

The BMJ has stained its reputation by circling the wagons around Nina Teicholz’s discredited and opinionated attack on the science underpinning the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The BMJ corrected or “clarified” 7 of the 11 errors cited by the letter from more than 180 scientists requesting a retraction, and failed to respond to the remaining four. (The clarifications are thinly veiled corrections.) It’s startling that despite this long list of corrections and clarifications—including several that undergirded the article’s attack on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report–the journal nevertheless stands by the article’s conclusions.

I’ll leave it to the experts to debate the scientific merits of Teicholz’s arguments. My opinion, from a free speech perspective, is that the CSPI’s retraction demand was not about merit, but about a powerful lobby group wielding its influence to try to suppress a voice of dissent.

As Ian Leslie remarked in his Guardian long-read“Publishing a rejoinder to an article is one thing; requesting its erasure is another, conventionally reserved for cases involving fraudulent data.”

20 years ago, Teicholz might have gone the way of the beleaguered British scientist John Yudkin, and others who have dared question the conventional wisdom on nutrition. As it stands, Teicholz has survived the ordeal, in no small part thanks to the support of a committed, widespread and ever-growing group of LCHF enthusiasts.

¹Teicholz’s full response is available to read by clicking here.

WordPress Yields to Putin

WordPress censors “Putin-Hitler” mock photo on request of Russian state media watchdog Roskomnadzor

A couple of months ago, Russia’s state media regulator Roskomnadzor sent a complaint to WordPress demanding that it remove a doctored photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin dressed as Hitler, claiming the image is “prohibited for public distribution in the Russian Federation.”

The offending image, via https://belgarathblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/vladimir_putin-als-hitler.jpg:

vladimir_putin-als-hitler

According to the Lumen Database, a website which collects takedown requests of online content, WordPress has taken action against the German blog that hosts the image.

russian-takedown-demand-to-wordpress

Roskomnadzor’s September 27, 2016 complaint, via the Lumen Database

Indeed, when you enter the offending URL into a Russian proxy, you get this message

unavailable-for-legal-reasons-wordpress

…an HTTP error code approved late last year by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), and which has been endorsed by WordPress.

WordPress has developed a good reputation for its principled support of freedom of speech.

In 2008, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg stated that his company “supports free speech and doesn’t shut people down for ‘uncomfortable thoughts and ideas,’ in fact, we’re blocked in several countries because of that.”

However, WordPress recently changed its policy on geo-blocking. Via my blog last week, the blogging service said that it now complies with censorship demands in order to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users within authoritarian countries, who would otherwise face more drastic punishment from their Internet service provider.

A list of WordPress blogs currently geo-blocked in Russia is available by clicking here.


See also: “Erdoğan Strikes Again,” my November 27, 2016 item re: WordPress censorship of Turkish political blog following court order by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.