BPSDBI seem to have opened up a can of worms in The Curious Incident of the Denier in the Night-time.
For anyone who has not yet waded through all the comments, I tried to calm things down by imposing a temporary ban (on that thread alone) on any comments that were not relevant to Mike’s original post.
(I should point out that I did so entirely without Mike’s knowledge or consent. It is going to be interesting to read what he makes of all this on his return).
My intention was to stop the circular reasoning and name-calling that was becoming more and more persistent.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
In practice, I may have made a rod for my own back. It is surprisingly hard to act as sole judge on the validity of comments, especially those from people for whom I have a lot of respect. To make matters worse, this isn’t even my blog – I’m just minding the shop for a while.
But it has got me thinking about the nature of censorship.
Possibly the most repeated quotation on the nature of free speech is
I disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
This is frequently (and wrongly) attributed to Voltaire.
According to this article (amongst other sources) it was actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G. Tallentyre in 1906). It seems that she was using this as an example of the sort of thing that Voltaire was likely to say.
It still makes a nice quote, though, even when it is wrongly attributed. But does it always make sense?
I listened to a talk on light pollution last night. It was mostly pretty interesting, but at one point the speaker made the rather astonishing claim that street lights are associated with melanoma. I had to challenge that, and after a brief discussion about how much ultraviolet light is emitted from street lamps and his admission that he couldn’t remember his source, we dropped the subject by mutual consent.
Instead, some people can keep going round in circles spouting the same nonsense again and again as long as the blog owner permits it (or until they get bored and move on somewhere else).
And if the blog owner does lose patience and pulls the plug on them, they can jump up and down crying “Infamy! Infamy!“.
How much room should you give people in the name of free speech?
I don’t really know the answer, I’m on a steep learning curve here.
But maybe Tamino has it right when he says
It’s one thing to claim the right to say what you want. It’s quite another to insist that you have the right to spout your deceitful stupidity in my house.
Voltaire’s portrait from The Times Online
All the others are from Wikipedia
Comments that are not relevant to the post that they appear under or the evolving discussion will simply be deleted, as will links to Denier spam known to be scientific gibberish