Newsworthy Confusion

by Tina Holmboe 19th of April 2010 (archive)

I don’t normally do this.

Normally I find it a pointless, time–consuming act of futility to write blog posts commenting ’pon either local or international events and news.

Most of the time I stuff world news into the «suspension of disbelief» box, and leave it there. But there are limits.

Those who know me are also aware that I follow a «wide range» philosophy to news. My daily dose consists of nine different papers, from Sweden, Norway and the UK — tabloids and «proper» press alike.

Where do we place the Telegraph? And more importantly, where do we place =!=!LINK0=!=⁉

In short: the academic wife of an academic author has theoretically written critical reviews on the books of other academics on Amazon. Anonymously. For the majority of us this’d be non–news with a slight soap–operaish feeling, but not so for the academics involved.

This lot — of one, luckily — employed law firm Carter Ruck who, it is claimed, might force the issue by way of computer records. In other words: we’ll get to the bottom of who were critical of our books!

And then what? Robert Service, a professor involved in the debacle, is quoted:

«Gorbachev banned anonimki from being used in the USSR as a way of tearing up someone’s reputation. Now the grubby practice has sprouted up here.»

Can we assume that «tearing up someone’s reputation» is all right if done under a full name?

He goes on:

«How to expunge the practice and expose the practitioners of malign electronic denunciation in countries of free expression is, I think, a matter for debate.»

And hence my confusion. Does he really wish to state that in order to have freedom of expression we should require full disclosure of identity? And then we can hire lawyers? Can we safely assume that if the person who wrote these acidic reviews did so under his or her full name the target of the reviews would not hire a group of lawyers?

Can we assume that the writer of the reviews would be safe from legal action if their identity was out there to start with? Or shall we assume that only nice reviews will be safe reviews?

Ladies and gentlemen involved in this mess: a review of a book is not a fact–piece. It is as much fiction as anything. Yes, it does hurt when someone opinions your work to pieces. Happens to me all the time, but that is what freedom of expression truly means: everyone else on this planet has the freedom of not liking what I write; I have the freedom of ignoring their likes and dislikes.

Mr. Norman Lebrecht, an author who it is claimed has won awards for his novels, finish the article with this lovely statement:

«This cuts to the heart of the shady pseudonymous culture of Amazon reviews. This is a real breakthrough, an unprecedented triumph for truth and transparency online.»

Mr. Lebrecht, to quote another professor:

«If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.»

Once an opinion–piece can be written without fear of lawsuits, then – and only then — can we safely write them unanonymously.

Only then. Clearly we’re not there yet.

Post–note: when showing this blog entry to a good friend, he referred me to the following article: Science writer Simon Singh wins libel appeal after 'Orwellian nightmare'.

Clearly Mr. Singh should have considered writing anonymously.

Sadly my confusion doesn’t stop here. The BBC website has handed me this little gem, courtesy of City University: Boys 'prefer cars from early on'

Let me quote a researcher:

«It was very obvious that even the youngest children went straight for gender–typed toys and colours. … Boys went straight for the ball and the black car, and girls went to the teddy bear and the doll.»

And a colleague of said researcher:

«Children of this age are already subject to a great deal of socialisation, but these findings are consistent with the idea of an intrinsic bias in children to show interest in particular kinds of toys.»

It is my hope, although I fear it is in vain, that the conclusion from this study is not that the last 3.5 generations of homo sapiens (assuming 125 years since the first practical car, and a generation per 35 years) has managed to encode a preference for cars into the genes of male offspring?

I’d like to suggest a different interpretation. When observing the experiment as it is described it is quite clear that a systematic flaw is introduced by having a range of toys of which only two depict naturally occurring items — a human and a bear. So yes, perhaps girls do prefer living things and boys prefers anything else.

Does this mean that a preference for other humans is a female quality? Or did we just make yet another study designed to prove that boys like cars, and girls should stay in the kitchen?

I think we did. It’s worth keeping in mind that the «gender–typed colours» in our part of the world include pink which, traditionally, was considered a masculine colour.