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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Skepticism in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons

Skepticism Examiner has attempted (April 13, 2009) to shed some light on why Amanda Gefter's recent, foolish story on why materialism is right and design is wrong was pulled from New Scientist. The only copy I have been offered has a problem with its security certificate, so I cannot recommend going there, unfortunately.

I still don't understand what the problem with the story is.

I thought the story silly, but considered pulling it a gross shame. As I have made clear in all communications on the subject, despite the fact that Gefter misrepresents me and has persistently done so, I was not the person who complained.

I have no idea what happened, but fear that the most likely answer is - yet another cock-up due to Britain's unreformed libel laws. Today, people troll the planet looking for foolish jurisdictions that do not have clear libel laws.

Let me recommend a sound, traditional English Common Law approach:

A person can sue for defamation - without risk of simply wasting the court's time (and, in Canada, being forced to pay the court costs of the accused person - which is how we deter silly law suits) - if the false or unprovable statements made about him/her resulted in a specific harm (= lost a job opportunity, lost an election, was unfairly accused of throwing a sports match, etc.).

All the law of defamation really means - if rightly applied - is, you had better be sure of your facts before you go public with the accusation. In that case, the accused can claim as defenses:

1. Truth (= It's true.)

2. Fair comment (= I have the right to say that.)

3. Public interest (= I have evidence that this person - who is standing for public office - is not of good character.)

4. Good intent (This matter may be doubtful in your view, but I mean what I said for good. I did not intend harm to anyone. = "I honestly believe that those toadstools cause cancer.")

Having thought the matter over more thoroughly, I now think "honest mistake" should also be allowed as a defense in certain cases:

5. Here's a sample case: The journalist phones the home of Eusebius Actron, whose phone number shows that he lives in Saskatchewan. Journalist asks, "Are you the man who was just released from prison in the robbery and murder in the ABC Bank. But some lawyers say you might be innocent?"

Having acknowledged that his name is indeed Eusebius Actron, the man shouts "Get off my phone! I won't talk to the media! I''m calling my criminal defense lawyer!"

So the journalist reports that Eusebius Actron is now believed to be living in Saskatchewan.

Now suppose the man the journalist contacted wasn't actually the former bank robber, but someone who just happens, for some reason, to have exactly the same name, and also happens to be living somewhere in Saskatchewan?

It seems unreasonable to me that the non-criminal (?) Eusebius Actron could have a serious action for libel in such a case. He refused to acknowledge that he is not the convicted bank robber, which is all the journalist wanted to know in the first place. And his behaviour led the journalist to reasonably assume that he was.

I do not see why a journalist should be responsible for purveying false information that is not contested by the subject and perhaps not even easily checked, if the journalist does not have access to the police computer system.

I admit this is a more difficult area than some of the matters addressed above. But honest mistakes happen in all fields, and we certainly need to discuss levels of responsibility.

Okay, back to our main story: Amanda Gefter has - falsely - labelled me a creationist. But that doesn't really matter because - were it true - it would be of no real consequence. Gefter can define the term ''creationist" any way she wants, I suppose.

By contrast, if someone were to falsely label me a car thief, that would be another matter ... then, I might need to consider an action for defamation. That term is specifically defined, and I have never been convicted for any criminal offence. And false allegations that actually mattered might raise my insurance rates ...

In an apparent attempt to explain what happened, I love the sentence
If O'Leary is to be believed, then that leaves Le Fanu.
Well, I am to be believed.

I have never met Le Fanu, know nothing about him, and have not got to his new book yet, though I hear it is making something of a stir.

You will not find a scrap of evidence that I have ever sought legal redress regarding any foolishness that Amanda Gefter has written about me or about any of my colleagues.

In any event, it would be entirely contrary to principles to which I have dedicated my entire professional life. So you may just as well just believe that, and save yourselves a heap of wasted research.

"New scientists": Why not try to find out what is really happening, instead of telling yourselves dark tales in the dark?

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:


Your bloody free speech zone

Bill Dembski asked me to post something on this at Uncommon Descent a while back, but hassles prevented me from getting to it until now, and I am posting it here too:

From Canadian civil rights lawyer Ezra Levant, author of Shakedown:
"That's your bloody free speech zone"

By Ezra Levant on April 8, 2009 9:40 PM

A reader sent me this letter to the editor that appeared in the Southern Utah University newspaper. Here's the link; allow me to reprint it in its entirety:


In light of SUU officials plan to designate "Free Speech Zones" on campus, I thought I'd offer my assistance. Grab a map. OK, ready?

All right, you see that big area between Canada and Mexico, surrounded by lots of blue ink on the East and West? You see it?

There's your bloody Free Speech Zone.

Jeffrey Wilbur
Senior communication major from Bountiful


Something tells me that Young Jeffrey is the type of guy who, if he were a Canadian, would attract human rights commission busybodies like flies. And he wouldn't bow down to them for a minute, either.

I look forward to the day -- not long from now, I hope -- when such a clarion call would resonate in Canada in the same way. It ought to -- free speech is as much our legacy as it is America's. We just need to remind ourselves that, despite thirty years of being told we're actually a censored people, we remain a free people.

Yes, we do.

From Denyse: Lo, I tell you a great mystery! There is a giant hockey heaven - far bigger than anything you could ever imagine or believe - north of the United States. In Hockey Heaven, many of us have recently started shoving "human rights" nannies hard into the boards. You've no idea how quickly that reduces their numbers.

As we say here: Fine, whatever. See you on the ice tomorrow.

Or, if you need me to put it in a more elegant way: Here we discuss ideas, and maybe reject them as out of bounds, but we don't declare them illegal, unless they involve seriously advocating a crime.

Or at least, we didn't used to. And we are in the process of ridding public life of the people who have started social engineering our society so that all sorts of ideas that do not involve advocating a crime are forbidden ... .

Or, even more elegant still (you people really must have the most elite tray of tea sandwiches, must you? Very well, ... Waiter!, the top tier tray, please. No canned tunafish. All fresh salmon!!):Read more »

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Intellectual freedom in Canada: Updates

On February 11, 2009, I received a reply from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Canada, regarding a letter I had written in protest of the arrogant and possibly illegal conduct of various "human rights" commissions in Canada. The reply merely begged off any responsibility.
So I responded

Thank you very much for your kind reply, Mr. Nicholson. You wrote, “As you may be aware, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal are independent agencies that administer the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), according to procedures specified by law, without interference from the Government. ”

From what I can see, hear, and smell, I respectfully suggest, Mr. Minister, it is time you started interfering.


Denyse O’Leary
PS: It is conceivable that you would find this of interest.
My sense is, he had better listen. And so had legacy media (though they may go under first, and that may be just as well).

In the continuing meltdown of media that - for example - do not take the current Canadian civil rights crisis seriously (John Robson, "Stop the Presses", MercatorNet, April 11, 2009), here's an article of interest:

... the typical elite newspaper deserve exactly the reproach my distinctly unconventional colleague David Warren delivered last May. “In my view... The idea of the news sheet remains essentially sound... People still want something to read that is portable and companionable and requires no technological savvy whatever. But those who can read want something ... intrinsically lively, informative, interesting, and even reliable and trustworthy and aesthetically satisfying.” Instead of which, especially as they came to recruit mostly from journalism schools, newspapers became the preserve of a narrow liberal elite “who think and sound like sociology majors, and express themselves in a jargon stream of pompous, preachy, preening, vaguely leftist and reptilian drivel.”
And - it must be said - such journalists are often people with little interest in promoting civil rights. All too often, what they are attracted to is the idea that crackpots have a right to be heard. Fair enough, to be sure, with certain cautions about not advocating crimes. But they seldom care much about the citizen's right to speak to or about government on issues that the citizen thinks is important - which is the right most citizens value, as opposed to a right to listen to crackpots. (I agree that the right to listen to crackpots exists, but am not sure how many people would go to the wall for it.)

Also: Why newspapers are dying? The Chicago Sun-Times is the latest to go under the water, and I do not mean a Southern Baptist baptism. I mean "Early motions approved in Sun-Times bankruptcy"

In the Washington Post, Jonathan Turley comments on the erosion of free speech in the Western world. He mentions Canada in his article but doesn't focus on our situation, which is just as well. It is not a local problem.

In the Edmonton Sun, however, political science prof Salim Mansur fills in the gap by reviewing Ezra Levant's book Shakedown:

Ezra Levant's book Shakedown released last month might be the most important publication of the year. It documents the state of free speech in Canada.

Canadians, well informed about current news and public affairs, have heard of Levant and his experience with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission (AHRCC).

Levant's troubles began when he was publisher of the now defunct newsmagazine, the Western Standard, publishing in February 2006 the hugely controversial Danish cartoons of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. These cartoons, first published in Denmark in September 2005, unleashed an orgy of Muslim demonstrations and violence across the Arab-Muslim world, and apprehension in Europe.

The fear of inflaming further violence brought the western media to decide against publishing or showing on television these cartoons. Levant saw the cartoons, however, as news and that the news story could not be told without them.
Indeed, most of the cartoons were not particularly "offensive", in the way the term is normally used. Some were on target, some were off, some were merely anodyne. The image of Mohammed leading a donkey was just the usual, boring illustration for a children's book. And the cartoons that were genuinely offensive had been added by agitators, seeking to stir up riots.

In the National Post, George Jonas also offers a critical review of Shakedown:

Paradoxically, Levant's book is all the more convincing and effective because he isn't basically opposed to the institutions whose demise -- if it happens -- he will have contributed to so much. He's against the commissions' excesses, their extra-legal methods, thuggish associates, bureaucratic arrogance, cloak-and-dagger gambits and their encroachments into areas that he feels were never meant to be any of their business. He would certainly reform the "rights" commissars, make them obey the law and bar them from the nation's newsrooms. Levant might even say that the HRCs have outlived their usefulness and should now be retired. But -- and it's a big but -- he seems to have no philosophical dispute with the impulses that gave birth to the "human rights" industry in the first place.

The author of Shakedown has no quarrel with the idea of extending the concept of human rights from those set out in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- conscience, expression, association and the rest -- to such post-liberal notions as a person's "right" to be considered for a promotion or to be served in a restaurant. He doesn't even insist that when a Charter right conflicts with a so-called human "right" the fundamental Charter right should prevail. When he recounts the tale of one HRC's support for a transsexual's "right" to a job as a rape counsellor, he appeals to no principle beyond the reader's own common sense.
Also, from the excellent Franklin Carter of Freedom to Read:

Finally, Adbusters has won a battle in its campaign to get its anti-consumerist
ads onto the Canadian airwaves. Garrett Zehr of The Tyee reports here.
(Myself, I would have thought that in today's economy, anti-consumerism would be a faded dream.)

He also advises that copies of Ezra Levant's Shakedown are so brisk that McClelland & Stewart ordered a reprint before the end of March.

Hey, if I were a "human rights" gauleiter, I would be polishing up my resume right now. Maybe there is a career in a max security prison somewhere in Canada. Ideally, they will all be spying and snitching on each other.

Update: Franklin also notes Martin Levin's comments on the fact that Brit MP George Galloway was denied entry to Canada recently on the grounds of Galloway's advocacy of the Palestinian cause. It may have been unjust, in which case, the Government of Canada owes him an apology.

However: Civil rights are the rights of citizens, and especially their right to speak freely to and about government (whether they are making any sense or not - that may be a matter for wiser heads to determine).

People from anywhere across the globe do not necessarily have the right to fly into Canada and raise any kind of trouble they would like to raise.So, I really must insist that the federal government has the right to refuse entry to a person who genuinely represents a national security issue. (I do not know if this person did or not.)

I think it would be useful to distinguish between the right of Canadians to speak about what concerns them (under siege, of late) vs. the rights of someone who is not a Canadian, who is only visiting.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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Letter to friend: Re United Church of Canada and Darwinism

From a letter to a friend re the United Church of Canada's recent decision to sponsor Darwinian evolution as a cause:
All these sorts of trends empty churches because – this is my interpretation – they are all aimed at accommodating a world in which we should not really expect any sign from God = a sign that is clearly and obviously different from what would happen in nature anyway.

If there is really no sign from God, many institutions are better suited to helping us deal with that fact than churches are.

That’s why churches like the UCC are declining.

Now, having had several signs from God in my own experience, I do not adhere to the UCC, and became a Roman Catholic in 2005.

Also, I think that the church mag should have let the ROM sort out its own problems with corporate sponsors of its exhibit about Darwin. It should have donated the money to a cause more obviously related to the historic interests of Christian churches. (Ending slavery, helping refugees, working against racism, persuading people to engage in philanthropy, promoting reconciliation in families …. ) Darwin's followers get lots of money from taxpayers, who would lose their property if they did not support that stuff.

But then I am not a member or adherent of the UCC. Perhaps soon no one will be.
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