Science is Vital 2013

Screen shot 2012-09-14 at 10.43.55Last week was the second Science is Vital AGM!

What’s been happening?

It’s been a strange year for many of us, including the SiV team, but without getting all personal, we hope to be more active in the coming year, trying to address the threatened cuts to the science budget.

Dr Jenny Rohn (chair) began the meeting with a re-cap of the last year.

Some action points from last year could be picked up, including trying to get some local MPs to visit labs. But it has also been a good year; in the 2012 meeting the decision was made to focus on science funding and trying to influence decisions.

There were face-to-face meetings with MPs; media coverage (SiV are now approached regularly for quotes on science funding to go in the news!); a reaction to the spending review in June 2013 in which the cuts were threatened by BIS; and a call for the budget’s ring-fence not to be broken in November.

Also in March, prior to the spending review, SiV made a call for at least 0.8% GDP investment in the science budget, long-term. This was backed by a letter published in the Daily Telegraph which was signed by 53 high profile scientists including 7 Nobel Laureates and some famous types.

The petition for this budget commitment now has over 6400 signatures, including 18 scientific organisations and charities.

Another focus for 2013 was canvassing members’ opinions and gathering human stories of how the budget cuts are affecting us. The legacy of the 2010 budget freeze (a cut in real terms) is really impacting everyone working in science in the UK; more than 800 views of researchers were collected.

Young people were also asked about their views of science as a career, and together all these responses clearly showed that people are feeling the cuts.

SiV produced a Legacy of the 2010 Science Budget Cash Freeze report and delivered it to the Science Minister David Willetts (who was apparently “not too happy” about it, so perhaps the tone was just right!). Overall the meeting, also with Dr Graham Reid (BIS Head of Research Funding), was a “good experience”.

The freeze was therefore maintained, and we avoided cuts, but no increase was promised. The 2013 response to BIS rumours of an imminent break of the ring-fence came next and was met with an open letter to Vince Cable at the end of November.

While the cut is not confirmed, more “items” could be included in the science budget without increasing the amount of funding, leading to an effective 2-3% cut. The suspicion is that the bad news could be buried over the holiday period; what should we do if the ring-fence is breached?

The CaSE election round table on December 9th was attended by several organisations including Universities UK and the Wellcome Trust, and included discussion of how science could be kept on the agenda for all parties in the run-up to the next election (including local groups lobbying MPs), as well as other issues that affect UK science such as immigration.

So the short-term focus for SiV would be maintaining the budget ring-fence, while the long-term goal could be securing investment in the budget.

We can’t react until we know what the threat really is but Science is Vital is a grassroots organisation, so we can get angry about it!

The meeting

Shane McCracken began with the treasurer’s report. This was followed by the sad news that Dr Julie Ghosh, who was membership secretary, had passed away in March 2013. Details can be requested privately from Dr Richard P. Grant (secretary).

Matthew P. Martin was nominated for membership secretary and approved. Exec. committee elections then took place and we moved on to other plans.

Some points raised:

- How can we equip people with the knowledge and confidence to meet their MPs and what are the best methods?

- The University assessment system (Research Excellent Framework or REF) is not well-loved, but it does at least provide case studies from the last decade of the impact of UK science. It’s a useful resource we can “throw back”.

- The REF information complements our stories of problems arising from lack of funds.

- What would our potential reaction to the cuts be?

- For the next general election, what might be the most effective ways to influence manifestos? Perhaps a demonstration would be ineffective.

- London might have a 6 week STEM expo for young people (sorry I don’t have any more info on this in my notes!)

- Can SiV have “seeds” in every major city? Perhaps via Universities?
1) Need to find people who are motivated and willing to participate
2) Give people “ammo” and resources they need; both national and local data
–> An A4 info sheet/presentation (see the Scienceogram)
–> Meeting with MPs: local case studies

- The original 35,000 SiV petition signatures cover most/all major locations? (Some can no longer be contacted due to the itinerant nature of scientists and e-mail addresses no longer being valid).

- I scribbled “SiV nodes!” in my notepad and mentioned it, so we ended up calling these potential contacts nodes for the rest of the evening. Sorry about that (but we didn’t like “reps” and came up with nothing better!)

- The mailing list will be revised to identify people who want to be involved.

- Communication strategies: including Twitter, Facebook – a page on the SiV website to refer back to with clearly set-out plans/goals and tasks.

- “Node” Roles: national involvement. Using to start with, using a system like the one used by Skeptics in the Pub.

- Identifying key MPs involved in writing manifestos?

- Running local Hustings events

- Finding out who participated in sending copies of The Geek Manifesto to MPs?

- Andrew could do a Scienceogram talk at London skeptics in January!

- Can we join forces with other groups around the country who love science?
Café Scientifique, Science Showoff and Bright Club, Voice of Young Science..? Do you have any ideas/want to help out? Let us know in the comments and tweet @scienceisvital!

- Can we have a London Hustings with manifesto writers? Organise with CaSE, find a good hosting venue (Royal Society?)

Do get in touch with the SiV team if you have any ideas, can offer any help, or want to volunteer as a node(!) – we’ll make 2014 a great year for science!

Finally, many happy returns to Prof Stephen Curry who celebrated his birthday on Friday. Look at the fantastic Science Cake!!

StephenCurrybdaycakeMore angles here – it’s even got a copy of On The Origin Of Species!! Truly amazing.

Battling sexism

Recently there have been yet more stories centred around sexism and misogyny in our culture. I’d like to discuss two that have interested me this week.

At least they got the apostrophes right..? Via

At least they got the apostrophes right..? Via

A battle won

Today, thankfully, there has been some Good News! A rarity, it sometimes seems, and something to be celebrated. Congratulations to the Science Museum and everyone who spoke up about Boots separating their children’s toys by gender, and including the sciencey ones only in the boys’ section.

Other retailers have binned this outdated, damaging stereotyping behaviour so, while it’s unfortunate that it’s taken a company like Boots so long, it’s good to see them following suit.

“…It’s clear we have got this signage wrong, and we’re taking immediate steps to remove it from store.” – Boots

Yes, it’s wrong. I’ve said so before and will continue to be angered by needless gender separations in stores for e.g. toys and magazines.

It may well be a bit of a chicken and egg situation. So they say they organised it with the separation because of “customer feedback” – parents want to find toys for their boy/girl easily? They can’t just browse a toys section and pick out something they’d like?


photo by Andrew Holding

To be honest, that sounds like it’s parental stereotyping at work. I’m not going to buy dolls for my boys or cars for my girls, that wouldn’t be right. Well, parents, I implore you – consider your child as a person, irrespective of their genitals/chromosomes, and encourage them in what they enjoy, what they find fascinating, whether you think it’s “gender-appropriate” or not. Be better.

Unfortunately there are other stores – such as Morrisons and Clarks (see image) – who continue to separate toys like this, and it’s frustrating for some parents. Read more in this article by Andrew Holding.

Edit: I have also contacted Wilkinson regarding their toy section that I spotted in Stratford recently. Through this I have discovered this excellent Twitter account, LetToysBeToys! They even have a petition.

A new conflict

You may also have heard that the Bank of England is suggesting that Churchill replace Elizabeth Fry on our £5 notes, which would likely come into effect in a few years, in 2016. This would leave no women on our banknotes. If you really think people are so stupid that you have to point out that the Queen is a woman, you are entirely missing the point. If I must explain, the figures on our notes (apart from the current monarch) are there because of their achievements; their contributions to society and UK progress. Not because they were born into a royal family. So be quiet.

At first glance, this might not seem like the worst thing. The figures on our bank notes change periodically, when we have to redesign the notes to counter fraud. Elizabeth Fry has been on £5 notes since 2002, and we had Florence Nightingale on £10 notes from 1975 to 1994. But they are the only two women, and replacing Fry will erase all acknowledgment of female achievement from our notes for some time – unless one of the others is redesigned with a new female figure at the same time.

Today’s BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour episode included a discussion on the banknotes decision (8 mins long in the link). Plenty of female candidates were pointed out; that most won’t have heard of many of them, despite their amazing work (for example, Beatrice Webb, economist and co-founder of the LSE), is surely reason to increase visibility of forgotten female influences in our history.

Wut about the menz?

I do not accept the argument that history has recorded men as the winners, therefore we should accurately represent that. Here and now we are trying to create a more equal society (well, some of us are) and part of that is doing what we can to correct the mistakes of the past. Acknowledge that sexism and misogyny are alive and well, and used to be even worse – so let’s pull the suppressed achievements of women out of the dark and show them to people living and growing up now. Similar instances of just that include the edit-a-thons in which people have dedicated time to editing pages to give due credit to women, for example in the history of science.

This is important for young women (and men) – to realise that gender is not a barrier to achievement, despite what the history books may show. These little sexist acts build up, and while lacking female role models on banknotes may be a little thing in isolation, it’s one of many that add together to give young people the message that women are underachieving and undeserving of recognition.

I do not agree that striving to have at least one woman on our notes, giving some small recognition to the contributions of approximately half of the population that have been systematically erased, is overcompensating or being unfair to men. Striving for something closer to equality instead of extreme (pro-male) bias, whether that bias be “historically-accurate” or not, is not overcompensating, only pushing for equality. That’s feminism, it’s not asking for no men to be recognised, only to make a positive change that will address an imbalance.

Aside from the gender balance issue, there are other reasons we might object to putting Churchill in particular on our notes (thanks to Liz for pointing that one out).

This will depend on your view of what our currency is for. If you think it’s simply a leaf out of the history books, then this is unlikely to bother you.  The Guardian have picked up on the story and are running a poll. If, however, you would like to object to the removal of all female achievers from our bank notes, you can sign the petition. Also follow @weekwoman and @TheWomensRoomUK on Twitter for more.

Edit: spectacularly on-topic and brilliant is Suzanne Moore’s article today about successful women eschewing feminism as if they don’t need it and never benefited from it. I have had direct experience of this kind of sentiment and am very glad someone has hit the nail on the head with a piece like this.

Another edit: I have also had a rant about the banknotes on this week’s Pod Delusion. Indeed, it is worth acknowledging that Clydesdale bank do in fact have two women on their banknotes; Mary Slessor on the £10 note (bit of a double-edged sword; women’s rights yay! Christianity-spreading boo) and Elsie Inglis on the £50 note – an excellent physician and suffragist.

The silent misogyny

This post brings in a few different stories to make my point, which ultimately is a simple one, yet it still seems to pass many people by. The insistence that women are already equal (more or less) and feminism is stupid is one I am faced with quite frequently. Obviously I disagree – if you know me or my writing you probably know I will make a case for the importance of feminism, or, if you prefer, pushing for gender equality.

I find the definition of words used in such debates to detract from the point somewhat, but in the interests of clarity… skip to the end*, because I don’t think that’s the interesting bit!

No breasts, please, we’re bishops

I’m sure you will have seen the news that the church has decided women can’t be bishops. I’ve had a few conversations about this and as I have a lot of friends who are also entirely non-religious, a lot of the talk has been along the lines of:

Well it’s irrelevant…

I disagree [edit, here’s the BHA on it]. No, I’m not religious. I would much prefer it if women stopped trying to join the clubs that promote misogyny. “Bring them down from the inside!” doesn’t quite work, I don’t think, but hey – I’m all for choice and if women want to work in/for the church, that’s ultimately up to them. Except it isn’t, because the church has now stuck two fingers up at the equality laws we have by preventing women from holding this position of power.

The knock-on of this is that the House of Lords is also to remain a women-free zone. Despite us making up half the country’s population. That’s not representative and it’s not acceptable. That is why it’s relevant – the church, shockingly, still has a huge say in our country’s policies, it affects popular opinion and a brazen vote of no confidence in women is not something we should just wave off as being of no consequence. Maybe it’s not to you, Mr Atheist White Man, and yes it shows up the church for what it is (a backwards bunch of bigots who want to operate outside of the law) but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

From cradle to work desk

Our workplaces are often where we spend a lot of our time. Employment law, including the example linked above, is important in making sure everyone is treated fairly in the workplace and companies as a whole do not discriminate. Science, sadly, is not yet free of sexism. There’s a really interesting piece on today about their resolve to address inequality in their publishing sphere. They acknowledge, as I do below, that sexism can frequently happen “by accident”. The only way to stop this is to look at the evidence for inequality, accept that it exists and then go on to address it. So I hope this is the start of something great over at Nature HQ – it also reminds me of recent attempts to increase the public profile of women in science, for example by mass-editing Wikipedia.

However, inequality in the workplace, whether due to hiring policy (conscious or not) or applications coming in, has its roots deeper, earlier in our lives. A little bit of anecdote in this run-up: when I went camping this summer, there was a family who pitched next to us with about 4 children. This proved unpleasant in terms of trying to sleep, but one of the little girls (about age 5) was very chatty and I warmed to her a bit when she informed us of her hope of becoming an astronaut and maybe going to Mars. I asked her if she’d heard about the cool new robot that had gone to the planet, and asked her to promise to let us know when she became famous. What was sad, though, was her saying she enjoyed doing ballet but wished her brother would go too, only “boys can’t do that” – why not? Go and be an astronaut! Let him do what he enjoys!

I was never forced to do anything like ballet or other ‘girly’ activities equally unappealing to me, and I’m glad. My interest in the natural world was always supported. I played golf for a while (but was put off by the overwhelming anti-female sentiment that pervaded the club and my dad’s apparent disinterest in helping me to improve) and I did some karate. I have also been upset by hearing friends’ parental resentment that son A likes dancing (oh no!), unlike son B who’s a good boy and loves rugby. Why not encourage your kids in whatever they take to, whatever they want to get better at, instead of all this gender roles bullshit?

Importantly, all of this stuff can influence decisions we make as children and young people, which can then filter into our careers later in life. Here in the UK we choose our limited number of subjects quite early on. The Institute of Physics report on how few girls go on to study physics A level is quite disturbing, and no doubt this continuing idea that girls-do-X and boys-do-Y is partly to blame. Please rein it in, parents, teachers, siblings, companies, everyone.

The ugly undercurrent

This leads me to my final comment, on the phenomenon I refer to in the title. Only for many it is not so silent. The first link I added, to this article by Laura Bates who founded the Everyday Sexism Project, highlights the kind of behaviour that often goes unchallenged despite how unacceptable and damaging it really is:

as another woman cycled through central London she reported how, “a van driver blocked my path so he could shout “I’M GOING TO RAPE YOU!”

Who was this man? It would not surprise me if he were a married father of however many, doing his dayjob. I posted this article on Facebook with my thoughts on what this all means: what amazes me, particularly considering this van driver, is that these people have lives and friends – what would said friends, family, employers, say about their behaviour? How would they feel if they saw someone behaving that way towards a woman whom they loved?

It seems there’s a big disconnect still in many people’s lives – a distinction between people-I-know-who-are-female, whom they care about and respect, and women generally. The latter are public property, exist for their amusement/pleasure/derision, and can be treated like less than human beings. That is our institutional misogyny, that is our problem to address.

I do believe that these attitudes are very much worth talking about, worth exposing and criticising, worth combating. I think it affects all of us – if you’re someone who feels this stuff is irrelevant, maybe you have a daughter or a sister. I bet she’s experienced some of this. Maybe this has made her let go of her dreams. Maybe that happened to your mum, too. Are you ok with that? I hope not.

*My definitions

Feminism is about equal treatment based on gender, not preferential treatment of women (just, preferential compared to what we have now, which is inequality, and if you disagree with that then my use of the word obviously will not please you. I don’t care).

Misogyny is a word I would use to describe cultural attitudes, widespread phenomena that affect women negatively and prevent progress, injustices suffered disproportionately by women. I’d hesitate to call someone a misogynist because yes, it literally means the hatred of women, but the meanings of words can change. Although, if someone is quite clearly hateful of women because they are women, then I would be more confident in using it.

Sexism would be something I would say to describe one or many acts of discrimination based on gender, and I would more readily call someone sexist than a misogynist because it seems less emotionally driven; sexism can come from unconscious places but let’s call a spade a spade. Don’t be offended because you’ve been called out on something, if ultimately it is true.

A lot of the attitudes people hold are passively generated, due to where one grows up, the views passed on to you, and how much you choose to examine them. This is the same for any kind of prejudice. Children are a blank slate and largely free from judgmental tendencies, but it depends on their environment as to how they’ll turn out. Parents and peers have great effects on the development of views about the rest of society; the categories you fall into, and those you don’t.

I grew up with a lot of homophobia, sexism and other nasty things – it’s taking me years, a lot of reading, interaction and thought to acknowledge and address this. I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting that – only in doing nothing to rectify it. I’m not done yet.

Science is Vital 2012

Last night I attended the first Science is Vital AGM!

It was a great evening with loads of friendly folks (including more than 10 who weren’t from London!!) throwing out ideas on how we can keep Science is Vital going and achieve our goal of convincing the government that, well, science is vital! Secure more funding, protect and encourage UK science and stimulate our economy. In a nutshell. See here for the SiV key messages.

Something sobering to think about is the fact that almost a third of all people die because of a form of cancer. It is the best-funded disease type, but in fact only £10 per person per year is spent on cancer research (govt funding + charity money). If you’re so likely to suffer from something, would you not prefer a bit more money going to it? But on to proceedings…

Jenny Rohn

Jenny welcomed us to the meeting, exactly 2 years after the very first pub meeting in 2010 that spawned the SiV campaign and rally. There’s still a lot of work to be done, partly because the economy has not recovered as was predicted/hoped. What the campaign showed us was that scientists still (apparently!) command power and respect; we were not ignored. Can we use this to increase the science spend come the next review..?

Colin Blakemore

Colin gave the first address, which recapped the 2010 activities of SiV.

If we consider the predictions made before the last spending review, that science would suffer cuts of up to 40% – that would have destroyed UK science and screwed the economy.

SiV engendered respect for science in the government – it wasn’t a selfish motivation, but concern, and we need to keep this in the campaign.

At the demo on the Saturday before the review announcement (I highly recommend Della’s personal account of her SiV experience), strong arguments were put forward outside the treasury for all to hear, and there was an audience with David Willetts, the then-Minister of State for Universities and Science.

2 days before the review, the prediction was still up to 20-30% cuts. The final announcement of a “freeze” on the science budget was gratefully received under the circumstances. But, with time, the real-terms cuts have still bitten due to inflation etc.

The main argument that won (in a sense) was Adrian Smith’s work to demonstrate that UK science is amazing with respect to output (we produce around 12% of global citations with around 1% of the population; 3rd in the world in terms of citations per researcher and 1st in terms of papers produced per proportion of GDP!), efficiency and impact. Per £1 spent, we are 2x as productive as any competing nation.

So, UK science is fantastic value for money. Why cut the budget?! It works, so it only makes sense to increase investment, to positively feed back into the economy.

We’re now seeing a failure of the government to have any clear plan for science (think also of the immigration block plans, for example, that were also a serious threat to UK science; very short-sighted).

The consequences of emphasising translation, application and production at the expense of “basic science” that underpins all of these things are being realised. Without the research that makes fundamental discoveries, we cannot have the same level of innovation.

Science needs a structure to flourish in and we have nothing else to go on with to build our economy! Finance, tourism, trade… none of these are sustainable.

The only key to the future is making things, designing things, discovering things

The government’s attitude has been uniformly negative and conservative, but we must invest in priorities for the future. Science must be in the middle, if not top, of the list. It has never been more relevant than it is now.

Imran Khan

Imran is director of CaSE (the Campaign for Science and Engineering – you can support them for £2.50/month!) and continued the story, following on from the budget “freeze” announced in the spending review of October 20th 2010.

The government wanted us to know they had “protected” science with the cash freeze. The night before it was all announced, news of the freeze was leaked to the BBC and the Times. In real terms, this still meant a cut to the budget, and what the government did to make themselves look even better was (unsurprisingly) sneaky.
They redefined what “science budget” actually meant. Previously, it was all the funds that went to the Research Councils. Then, it became research allocation (day-to-day stuff like grad salaries etc.) excluding capital – which was cut by 50% or £1.7bn.

We much now challenge this idea of “protection” – we’re not happy with what happened. Public goodwill is in fact protecting the government from due criticism, because of the coverage of the freeze as such, ignoring the negative impact it’s really having.

While capital includes long-term investments like buildings, large equipment, it’s also standard stuff (such as smaller equipment; PCR machines, electron microscopes…) and the cut has been very restrictive on the research base.

Since then? Two key things: people believe science got a good deal in the budget, and the economy is worse than expected now.

The freeze was the ‘best possible scenario’ last time, but the next budget will come at the end of 4 years’ deficit in science because of it. We must campaign for an increase now. Take a look at Germany: they increased their research spending approximately 20% for the last 3 years despite the state of the economy generally, because they realise that future growth needs science and research. Some investments have happened; around £50m to the graphene institute, and similar to Pirbright. But not a lot really.

via @Ananyo and @sciencecampaign

So what are we pitching for now? The next review is likely to be… well, we don’t know. Could be end of 2013, even 2014. It depends on the coalition (!).

CaSE is working on the evidence base: why did the treasury not invest? How much have we lost in terms of private sector investment because the UK is not seen to be science-friendly now? There’s also political engagements: which MPs will be affected due to their constituents’ reliance on science & technology?

CaSE is showing how our politics and funding does not reflect the importance of science here and globally. They’re also pushing for 4G for growth, an education manifesto, and highlighting how public funding has enabled technological developments. Think of Marconi, sponsored by the Post Office to develop wireless communication. Tim Berners-Lee developed the world-wide web in the public-funded sector. Will the government not open their eyes??

There were a few questions for Imran:

Since Adrian Smith is standing down and was a friend of science – what now? Imran points out he was a former Queen Mary University vice-chancellor, so it would be good to have another non-civil service person. That’s the main hope, to keep the rapport going between the two sectors.

Vince Cable’s industrial strategy speech was leaked. In it was the telling statement “we don’t appear to have a strategy…” ! Imran points out that supporting winning sectors and not individual companies may be key; integrating industry support and the research base.

How’s the reshuffle looking for us? Funding (from BIS) unchanged, Osborne and Cameron are still there… but research specifically: the Ministry of Defence spends about £2bn/year on Research & Development. The Department of Health spends about half of that, and we now have Hunt and his shadow Burnham, who both seem to believe in homeopathy… make of that what you will. Then DEFRA spends around £250m/year, and so on. In terms of the Department for Education, they are seeing some changes in the ideas of “freedom” in education and curriculum changes. Primary curricula have become very rigid, though there may be moves away from teaching only facts at the expense of scientific thinking as a worldview..?

Following some campaign business like electing lovely new members and things, we had a bit of a brainstorming session on Where to go, What to do and How to do it?

Some goals are: expand outside of London; increase London support; increase membership and donations; build on the evidence base; raise awareness of the political cost of ignoring science; correct the “science protection” historical view of the freeze; ask for more money!

Points that were discussed included:

  • let’s hook up with some economists?
  • Imperial are hoping to get MPs engaged by inviting them to come and have audiences at the university to showcase what amazing science stuff is going on.
  • the petition (>37,000 signatures) has many non-scientists, which helps to demonstrate that we’re not just fighting for jobs, but for the whole country’s wellbeing – we should keep this going.
  • Can we do a publicity stunt to get some press interest?
  • Engage with the charities and their supporters (e.g. CRUK, Alzheimer’s Society etc.) because the patients are affected by these cuts, ultimately
  • Join up with the Science Museum? Depending on meetings.
  • Definitely go UK-wide, because the cuts are affecting research all over.
  • SiV is doing a good job of adding a human impact angle to the debate; CaSE are doing stats
  • Julian Huppert actually argued for 3% increases for 15 years. LibDem Conference is discussing the motion on Sept 24th at 9am-9:45 so tune into BBC Parliament! (Full policy paper here. Thanks, Prateek!)
  • TELL YOUR MP what you think! Letters are ok, they boost numbers they can use to show that people care about issues. Personalised letters are better than copy-pasted ones. Meeting in person is better than a letter. Do whatever you can, but something is always better than nothing.
  • Should we diversify into other issues? Open Access might be a bit niche and mostly known in the scientific community, it might dilute the SiV message. Science careers, however, are relevant to funding and UK scientific (in)efficiency.
  • why don’t MPs get it yet?

So, please support Science is Vitalbecome a member! Soon you’ll also be able to make a donation without joining up, so do then tell your friends and families! Science, research and development affects our quality of life and the government needs to hear our voices calling for more support.


I’ve written about Jenny’s talks before, both at the Dana Centre and Winchester Science Festival. Here’s a storify page of the evening’s tweets put together by @protohedgehog.

Let me know if you’d like something added here, or leave a comment below. Thanks!

Vita politica

Liberal outrage.
We’re so familiar with it, our circle of humanist-type people who want to Do The Right Thing and see politicians do it, too.

It is, I agree, a pretty noble approach to things, and the reason I do count myself in with the liberal lefty crowd. Freedom is important. Protecting people from harm is important. Justice and happiness and equality. All that shiz.

We’re lucky, those of us who have time and the luxury to sit and think and even do something about these things. I’m lucky I have a computer and internet access to tell you how lucky I am, and you’re lucky because you can read it (well, that might be subjective).

I think it’s important to have wake-up calls. Remember what you’ve been taking for granted. I read a lot of articles that contain a line that goes something like “Now I know I’m a middle-class white (wo)man, but…”. I think, regardless of the admission, people are still forgetting that privilege and what it really means, because – through no fault of their own – they’re lucky enough to have no experience of living without it. Not in all cases, obviously, before you complain.

I like a good debate, a serious chat, pondering the big questions in life, and how I should best go about things day to day. But what I don’t like, sometimes, is the liberal pontificating that goes on and the kind of things that come from people who just have no fucking idea what they’re really talking about.

Now, there’s a bit of an I used to be a Tory! club that exists, and I have to say I’m a card-carrying member. But there are different circumstances that can lead to righties-who’ve-swung-left. Probably the most common in my experience is the people who are born into pretty well-off families and the most sensible course for them, politically, is to be conservative because ultimately that preserves their way of life. Kind of like men who go along with damaging sexist culture, because for them it’s better to keep their power than face the reality of all the people it hurts and take up a banner for change.

There are other situations, though, and mine is one of a pretty humble working/lower-middle class (I think, I don’t really get the class system, I must admit) background – I’m from a council estate and while I’d never profess to have had it really tough like many do, I think I have a better insight into the realities of benefit culture than a lot of people who talk about it do.

I’m not going to recall a whole load of anecdotes because it doesn’t say a lot, but sometimes I think about it and because I am lucky, it now makes me sad instead of just angry.

I remember explaining how tadpoles turned into frogs to a boy who used to go around cutting up animals with pocket knives. He was so interested, but was never encouraged to be, so most of the time just played up instead. My mum confronted his (he was 8), and the reply she got was “oh, I thought I’d taken away all his knives”

I’ve seen people’s personalities change dramatically depending on whether they’re in care, with a good foster-family, or an abusive one. I’ve been the target of their frustration. I’m not going to dwell on it more here and now, however.

Liberals will often point at Daily Fail headlines and coverage of benefit cheats and how the wrong people are being demonised. Of course that’s true, they’re not the right targets at all. But there seems to be a lack of recognition of why this happens. It’s not just because politicians are trying to stay out of the blame spotlight (of course they are) but, again, remember who we’re talking about.

Liberalism often seeks to solve problems by finding the real cause of the problem and addressing it. Mostly people will agree that that will involve giving more to people who have less to redress the balance, close gaps in society and improve people’s sense of self-worth and ability to do the things they want in their lives.

But life isn’t simple, and life isn’t usually fair. A lot of people do not have the luxury of time to sit and think about their life, their feelings, their raison d’être, much less campaign for the changes that are really needed – sometimes it’s very hard to see what should be done. I don’t actually envy politicians; a lot of the problems I’ve seen, I would have no idea where to start in terms of tackling them. But generally things seem to be the wrong way around; blame doesn’t land where it’s due, we’ve got conservatives in (the majority of) power again, and it’s getting worse for the already-worst-off.

Imagine, though. If you’re busy worrying about not having enough money to buy food this week, how you could possibly get away from the person who will likely come home drunk and beat you, or how you could possibly make a better life for your children when you are so utterly powerless – do you really think you’re going to care what was said on PMQs?

When you live day-to-day in close proximity to people who send you regular death threats, who steal things you’ve worked hard to buy, who follow you home to beat you up and validate their place in a group of people they spend their time with, it’s very easy to hate them when they’re making your everyday life a nightmare. If you live in fear of what surrounds you, you will likely hate those surroundings and what is immediately affecting you. Not some abstract idea of economic disparity.

It seems like a good idea to vote tory because you’re promised harsher punishment for the people who aren’t helping. Who needs to be given more? How will that help? Take it away, that’s more fair.

But it’s difficult to realise that all that doesn’t work unless you can get away from it, and that’s the problem really, most people can’t.

Not when your mum is only really only old enough to be your sister and was taking so many drugs at the time she had you, that you never really had a chance anyway. Just have a baby and get a flat, it’s easier, you were never told you could amount to anything, your parents ignored you or just screamed at you that you’re stupid and should shut up.

And for those of us lucky enough to have families that do care, but aren’t well-off, it is extremely annoying when you’re all trying very, very hard but the people around you who are just fucking up all the time, ruining things – get free stuff! Whether it’s a flat, new furniture, satellite TV or any other hand-out. It seems so unfair.

And that is why people get Daily Mail angry about benefit cheats and all manner of things that we as Liberals can see are the wrong targets, because you can try as hard as you fucking want, but a lot of the time, you start in a certain place not of your choosing and you cannot move on from it.

Some of us are lucky enough to manage it, a lot of people are not. And it’s all very well for people who started a step up to look down on everyone who’s angry about the situation they’re in and say “they don’t get it”.

Of course they don’t fucking get it. It’s like people complaining about rioters not being able to articulate a good reason for the firebombs they’re throwing. Your education has slipped through your fingers, your home life is unbearable, you have no prospects. Why do you expect everyone to have a piercing political knowledge just like you? It’s ridiculous.

The goal is to cope. Find someone to blame, something tangible you can point to – because it isn’t your fault. It’s much easier to blame other people you vaguely understand, the people and things you see around you, than some rich bastard politicians who run the ship, whom you will never meet and can never hope will listen or change anything.

So next time you (or I) start talking about how stupid everyone is and how frustrating the situation; remember who’s really to blame, because it isn’t the people who were never given a chance. It’s the people who took all their chances away.

Libel Reform update: 3 years on


A couple of years back I attended a Skeptics in the Pub meeting in Holborn at which Dave Gorman and Prof Brian Cox came to support Simon Singh. He had been served a libel threat by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for criticising claims from chiropractors about curing colic in babies and so on. A dangerous claim to make, and, as Simon put it, a “bogus” one.

Fortunately, Simon won his case. Others haven’t been so lucky, and more threats are being issued.

There are many problems with the UK libel laws – lots of background information can be found here at and I’ve written some posts over the years (really rather a lot of posts actually), if you’re interested in past events.

Essentially libel laws are often used to silence fair, necessary and important criticism. People without the money to fight these hideously expensive cases tend to just give up. Individuals are bullied by large corporations, medical debates are stifled, unethical behaviour is hidden.

The libel reform campaign has been set up and run by the three charities, Sense About Science, English Pen and Index on Censorship. Two years ago there was the Big Libel Gig, to fundraise for victims of libel threats.

Libel Reform in Parliament

So today’s journey to the Houses of Parliament (committee room 11, in fact – compared to 14 two years back!) was to look at the current situation. A draft bill has gone through (and sorry, from the get-go, my legal/political terminology is likely to be incorrect at times – feel free to correct it!) and we’re looking at how it measures up to the promises given by all three parties before the last general election, to see if the proposed changes are what we need.

Me looking bored in orange – just concentrating, honest! (Photo from @mwstory)

In attendance today were Dara O’Briain, Brian Cox, Dave Gorman, Ben Goldacre, Jon Butterworth, Evan Harris, Peter Wilmshurst and many others, we packed out the committee room like last time. A summary from the Guardian here and Mike Harris writes, too.


I’ll go through the speakers in the order they appeared with any comments/links I feel necessary! Here’s an awesome video summary from the day:

Kirsty Hughes - Index on Censorship chief exec.

Kirsty gave a quick introduction and mentioned the passing of the USA’s SPEECH Act, which prevented foreign libel suits from being enforced in the US – a measure to counteract libel tourism, which is a big problem with our own libel system.

Jo Glanville – Index on Censorship editor and incoming English PEN director

Jo mentioned that in the current bill, libel tourism and libel chills in peer review situations have been addressed, but the public interest defence has not, nor has the issue of corporations vs. individuals. Due process for online forums should also be considered (the lack of provision for the internet age is a common problem in our legal system – coincidentally the Twitter Joke Trial was ongoing as well today).

Robert Flello – Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent

Robert asked how anyone can possibly interpret these laws and defend themselves, not being a lawyer himself and having tried to “get to grips with things”, while he has more resources available to him than perhaps the average person. He stressed that the libel threat letters sent to people are intimidating and bullying, and much work is still needed to improve the bill. It shouldn’t always have to involve the courts so the clarity must be there, in addition to sorting out the corporations issue. While government is in recess for the summer, lobbying must continue for all that time in order to add new clauses.

David Davis – Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden

David said we must “extend protection to anyone making well-informed, well-intentioned critical comments that are in the public interest”. Regarding the phenomenon of parliamentary privilege in the commons, he pointed out this kind of protection should also operate in science and medicine, where it’s vital we can have debates without fear of being silenced.

He asked rhetorically whether the parties have understood what is being asked of them, considering the complexity of the issue. The public interest defence aspect is still impenetrable and we don’t just want to rely on ministers being persuaded over the summer – coalitions respond to pressume fromt he back benches, so what is wanted and why must be made clear [I’d say it’s pretty clear already, but hey].

We all need to be able to say when someone is/people are wrong and “behaving like charlatans”!

Simon Singh – funky-haired mathematician, author and TV bloke

It’s all been going for 3 years! Simon recalled the first meeting at SitP and that everyone in attendance agreed it was a disgrace that people could be silenced in this way. As a thought experiment, he asked if we passed the current bill and there was a new case… what then? Actually, nothing has really changed. It would still eat 2.5yrs of your life and cost you a hell of a lot of money.

So, we have to change it, including the public interest defence in particular. Clegg apparently said it should be an “international blueprint” and Lord McNally said “this will be my legacy”. But new cases are still happening, and the chill is still there. We have to make the politicians understand!

Dave Gorman – comedian, author and presenter

Dave has written his own post here. He started by asking us to look at Simon’s case from the BCA’s point of view. Were they lying when they made their claims? If not, then they should have welcomed the debate that ensued. They were given the right of reply to Simon’s Guardian article to explain their claims, they declined. They just wanted to silence their critics.

What about the thousands of cases that don’t get to court? People who can’t afford it and are scared into keeping quiet. What truths are we not hearing??

Dave Gorman speaking

Kamila Shamsie – novelist

Kamila wished to highlight that the arts also suffer libel chilling effects. Novels have been written and people have decided that characters resemble them closely, have sued, and the book disappears. Libel also affects our culture because of self-censorship. Publishers often can’t afford to spend money on laywers as well as new novelists. People are marginalised and shut out, and small publishers can be put out of business entirely.

Ben Goldacre - Doctor, author, massive nerd

Ben was sued by Matthias Rath, a vitamin pill salesman who tried (and sadly succeeded a lot) to convince people that taking his pills would cure them of HIV/AIDS. His case lasted 17 months, cost £535,000 and even though they won, only £365,000 of the costs were recouped, meaning that winning such a libel case still costs £175,000 (thankfully picked up by the Guardian) and a hell of a lot of your time.

Medicine is full of claims that are dangerous, people make mistakes trying to good, and sometimes charlatans step in deliberately misleading people. We must be able to criticise because people’s lives are at risk.

Ben ended with: “Do you want us to stand up and criticise these people, or do you want us to shut up?

Dara Ó Briain – comedian and presenter

He does a lot of talking on stage, taking the piss out of quacks and bad science and the like. Ben and Simon are quite well-versed in the background though, yet have still faced this problem – how is he supposed to feel! The chilling effect is far-reaching.

The Reynolds defence applies specifically to the media and journalists and as such doesn’t work for small groups/organisations or individuals, bloggers, etc. With respect to those who use libel threats to unjustly maintain misleading reputations and claims, “we cannot offer them the privilege of not having their feelings hurt“.

Dara speaking

Brian Cox - pretty physics prof., presenter, pianist (all the Ps! Wait, what?)

Here’s Brian summing up on BBC News. He kept it short yesterday, but emphasised that the scientific process is, unsurprisingly, really important in science! It has to be protected; if the laws aren’t reformed, people can’t work in the way they need in order to do their science.

Brian speaking

Katie O’Donovan - of

The national importance of libel reform had been highlighted so far but Katie wanted to emphasise the public and personal need for freedom of speech protection. Protection for people discussing spurious claims made by people and companies about food, birth and so on – people need to digest these claims without the libel chill hanging over them and its potential threat to their livelihood. What is the value of anonymity online? A huge debate, it has its problems (trolls, bullying etc.), but it’s also vital in allowing people to talk freely, protecting themselves from potential dangers (think victims of violence) and obtain advice – the potential is there in the bill but it needs to be improved.

David Marshall - Which? consumer group

Evan started by pointing out that consumer organisations, such as Which?, sort through the vast number of claims made by companies trying to sell us things.

David highlighted two points of law (that I admit mostly went over my head), the first being the Reynolds defence as a public interest defence – possibly more? The second being that corporations are often using libel as reputation management. It’s a poor way to do business, just by silencing your potential critics!

Stuart Jones - biochemist, new libel victim

Stuart works for the NHS as a biochemist and just last week was threatened with a libel suit by Dr Sarah Myhill after raising concerns about her practice (details from Sense About Science, who are helping, along with some well-known “charitable lawyers”!) He wanted to speak about the feelings caused by receiving such a letter, after trying to do something important and good, realising that someone wishes to bankrupt you. He referred to the “months of legal wrangling” defending your comments, which makes you feel depressed, powerless and importantly puts you off doing the right thing in future. Ultimately, patients suffer. He ended by asking: “Who exactly are Britain’s libel laws currently protecting?

Kate Briscoe -

Legal Beagles is an OFT-approved free consumer legal advice service. They received a defamation libel threat from Schillings, a privacy law firm, regarding their clients Retail Loss Prevention Ltd. RLP carry out “civil recovery demands” following shoplifting allegations; intimidating and often disproportionate demands of recompense from the supposed perpetrators. This indiscriminately includes the mentally ill (e.g. people suffering from dementia who cannot be held fully responsible for their actions) and even parents who return items taken by their children without their knowledge.

There was a discussion about RLP in their forum, and it is hoped that the whole practice of civil recovery should dissolve soon. Schillings requested IPs and contact details be given of all posters, and that they all be banned from the forum (including the owners!!). Given that Legle Beagles have no assets or property and technically nothing to lose, they are admirably taking on this bullying company. After learning that Schillings are threatening other consumer services, including the Citizens’ Advice Bureau(!), Legal Beagles have published the letter in full. Amusing, given that Schillings say on their website, “Resolution: achieved out of the spotlight”!!

Kate ended with one of my favourite points: “You have to be super-rich or penniless to deal with such a threat“.

Lord McNally - Minister of State for Justice

He started by poking fun at Evan, saying he “not only invites you to speak, but tells you what to say as well!”. Ehem. He went on to thank the allies, Pen, INDEX and SAS, and pulled up Dara’s statement that we’re “no further forward”, but pointing out that we were “not in the pub”! And that it’s quite a long way to have come. 18 months ago the private members’ bill was drawn up, following pre-legislation it’s now in the Commons and will come back in Autumn then into the Lords’ around November. It was hoped that it would all be done before Leveson but sadly…

The “balance” on public interest may not be right, so that’s “to play for”, apparently. He reassured us that we are “mid-way through”, with support from all three major parties. He said, “even if you don’t get everything you want, libel is now being reformed before parliament” – I’m not sure how comforting that is! Amendments are often strengthened so it will be talked about again, and we shouldn’t be pessimistic.

The question of the internet is difficult, he is aware of the need ot protect freedom online, particularly considering the replication and privacy issues. [The problem of the government largely being made up of people who do not understand the way the internet works or truly wish to protect it is a debate for another time].

They are attempting, honestly, to improve the law. It isn’t a party political issue and it’s a chance to make a good piece of legislation. That is still his intention.

Peter Wilmshurst - consultant cardiologist

Peter recalled that NMT Medical, an American company that made experimental medical devices, brought three libel/slander claims against him. Over four years and £300,000 later, NMT went into liquidation and the ordeal appeared to come to an end at last. He wouldn’t have coped without getting his lawyer, Mark Lewis, on a conditional fee agreement (CFA). The National Research Ethics Service (NRES) found that Peter was not at fault with his comments about NMT’s devices (potentially dangerous to patients).

He was advised that counter-suing would probably be futile, costing upwards of a million pounds. They can’t recoup the costs from the American company now and, worryingly, between 2007-2011 patients have still received NMT devices. The legal action prevented any future discussion of the matter. As a result, patients have suffered heart erosion, replacement implants, perforations and emergency surgeries, and at least one death.

Lawyers have stated that if the current proposals were in force, it would make no difference to how this case played out.

Tim Appenzeller- chief editor, Nature magazine

Tim highlighted the chilling effect of libel on journalism. Nature not only publishes peer-reviewed research articles, but also opinion pieces and journalism, as well as daily publishing online. For every piece they have to waste time and resources on calculating the benefits and importance of the contents versus the risk if they publish. Too much never makes it to the public demain because of this.

Simon Hughes- LibDem MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Simon agreed that the corporate sector can be very intimidating to individuals, and we need to support them and make sure defence is available. “Don’t go to sleep or disappear over the next few months!” was his advice to the libel reform campaigners.

Finally, we had some comments from Andy Slaughter (Labour MP for Hammersmith) and Tracey Brown (Sense About Science director, who said “the law might be complicated, but the issues are not… what kind of society do we want?

The session was closed by Paul Farrelly (Labour MP for Newcastle-Under-Lyme). We then trekked over to Downing Street where Dara, Brian, Dave and co. delivered the petition box to Number 10.

about to deliver the petition

I had a bit of a chat with people after that, then lunch with friends, and altogether it was a nice day. Encouraging but sometimes sad because people are still dealing with this, injustices are still happening. But we’re getting there – thanks to everyone who’s been involved in the Libel Reform Campaign! Keep it up!

Expression Is Not Free

This weekend I journeyed to the centre in the freezing cold to join the Rally for Free Expression opposite the House of Lords. Here’s my flickr set, plus you can see One Law For All’s videos and photos as well (of course, in the one I’m in, I’m making a weird face). Pod Delusion have some excellent highlights in Episode 123.

It was toe-numbingly chilly, but worth it! The turnout was good and the speakers were exceptional.

What for?

Right, there have been some disturbing occurrences in some London universities lately, which I’ve yet to write about, but this is a good time to collate them and look at the (serious) problem at hand.

University College London

First we have UCL. The Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society (ASHS) advertised for their latest pub-based meet-up, which happened to feature a frame from one of the Jesus and Mo comics – appropriately featuring Jesus and Mohammed having a pint together. Aww.

Following what seems to have been one complaint from an angry person to the UCL students’ Union, the UCLU for some reason decided it was appropriate to tell the ASHS to remove the image so that this person, and others, would not be offended.

This all went on for a while, the whole debacle involving resignation, criticism from many angles, demonstrations of support from other universities, cities and indeed countries. Fortunately it did result in the UCLU taking a step back, though the overarching expectation of censorship-to-protect-religious-sensibilities does seem to remain. It’s been a bit of a PR nightmare for UCL – and it is an important issue, well-summarised by Ministry of Truth – but things could have been worse.

Here’s Susan Zuang of the UCL ASHS speaking a bit about it at the rally:

London School of Economics

For example, as they have become at the LSE, which has effectively brought in its own form of blasphemy law following a tiny number of complaints (given the size of the LSE student body) against their ASH posting the same cartoon in solidarity with the UCL ASHS.

The situation here is far more concerning, yet seems to have escaped the media’s notice; a far more heavy-handed and outright defence of religious privilege by the LSE Student Union. I would urge any current and former students to look into this and make their feelings known.

This action by a university – a supposed forum for learning, discussion, philosophy, ideas and progress, is throwing out accusations of racism:

The LSE Students’ Union would like to reiterate that we strongly condemn and stand against any form of racism and discrimination on campus

A depiction of two historical figures sharing a pint is both racist and discriminatory? Even though subscription to a religion does not make one part of a particular race, nor is one’s participation in a society automatically indicative of discriminating against those who don’t? LSE, we are disappoint.

Edit: here’s an account of the correspondence between their ASH and the SU.

Queen Mary University of London

Closer to home for me, as a QM student myself, and an even more worrying incident.

Here are the QM ASHS representatives talking about the fear and intimidation caused when the planned lecture on Sharia Law and Human Rights was interrupted by a man threatening everyone whilst filming them on his phone:

The police were called and the lecture cancelled. Again, in a university, which should be a rich ground for debate about a huge range of topics. Fortunately, the principal has been pragmatic and reassuring.

Principal Simon Gaskell has spoken publically following reports of a disturbance at a recent meeting of the Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society, and spoke to reassure students that Queen Mary takes your freedom of expression and safety seriously.QMUL ASHS

“The democratic right to freedom of expression and debate is one Queen Mary strongly upholds and promotes. Talks, meetings and debates are held peacefully at Queen Mary on a daily basis and we will continue to host such events.

“We are equally committed to our duty of care to students. A police investigation of Monday night’s incident is currently underway and Queen Mary will conduct its own review. We will do our utmost to ensure this occurrence is not repeated and that our students are able to gather and engage in debate freely without interference of any kind.”

A short time later the principal released a further statement to all students and staff of the university, which I have reproduced below for those who would like to read it. He reiterates many of the points made by those involved in the events summarised above, and by all of us who support the people involved.

Rhys on Facebook

Finally, our friendly neighbourhood teenage skeptic strikes again. He uploaded the Jesus and Mo cartoon as his Facebook profile photo, again simply to show support for the students in London and in disagreement with the Unions’ approach.

His school later saw fit to tell him to take it down, or face some kind of disciplinary action. Tell me when it became acceptable for schools to interfere in students’ lives outside the school gates, when the matter is nothing to do with the school whatsoever and harming no one?

Here’s Rhys at the rally:

Defend Free Expression

So regarding the rally itself – the turnout was pleasingly high despite the challenging temperature.

You can listen to all of the speeches here on the Pod Delusion – with a full list of the speakers. I would particularly recommend Nick Cohen, Jennifer Hardy (as seen above, a bit), Derek Lennard, Sue Cox, Kate Smurthwaite and Joan Smith, but of course all of it if you do have time. I’ve got some more video snippets: Dawkins, Derek Lennard, Maryam Namazie.

Kate relayed a very moving anecdote about one of her students (she has taught English to immigrant classes), an Iranian woman who always seemed very committed to her religion; ensuring she always had her headscarf if any men were present, excusing herself from class to pray at the proper times and in the correct direction.

The subject at the time was adverbs of frequency (woo, grammar!) and Kate used the example:

“I never go to church”

To which the Iranian woman responded,

“But aren’t your parents angry?

“No, because they also never go to church.”

And her sincere reply was both enlightening and sad:

“So… you are free.”

Probably the most moving speaker was again Sue Cox of Survivors’ Voice, whom I have seen previously at both the Protest the Pope rally and March for Secular Europe. Sue is an incredibly brave and admirable woman who speaks out against the abuse she and countless others suffered at the hands of Catholic clergy.

She told of a survivors’ group consisting of deaf and speech-impaired individuals, who had all endured terrible ordeals as children, including one man who recalled being passed around a group of  more than 10 clergymen who treated him as “a piece of meat”.

Sue thanked all those who have supported her and the survivors’ groups, which has in part enabled them to take their protest to the Vatican itself, although it is not permitted to speak ill of the Pope himself or hold any kind of demonstration there. With the march followed by helicopters, that same man was told to put down his Ratzinger, Out! banner because it was offensive.

He put it down, picked up someone else’s placard and kept going.

Not that it needs saying, but you know what is offensive? Powerful religious institutions protecting serial child molesters while showing little to no regard for their victims (until they’re found out, and even then some still manage to give excuses and receive protection – like this from yesterday: a ‘victory’ for the Holy See as abuse victim withdraws lawsuit).

The Bottom Line

A wide range of topics were covered at the rally, from child abuse to libel reform, blaming of rape victims, corrupt politics, the nuances of comedy, and of course the censorship of students by the societies set up to support them.

The message was clear; that freedom of expression is vital to progress. Pick any paradigm shift you can think of – the Suffragettes, Martin Luther King, anything – had those people shied away from offending, we would not be where we are.

We cannot progress further if criticism and debate are stifled. The only speech that needs protecting is that which offends (and we’re not talking hate speech or incitement to violence; those are legislated against for obvious reasons – see the Holocaust or Rwanda genocides, as Nick Cohen rightly pointed out. And people need to stop pretending things fall under this umbrella when they don’t). The things that need changing are those that some people won’t want to have questioned.

Without the freedom and encouragement to ask all kinds of questions, express ideas and new ways of thinking, we cannot better ourselves or help those who cannot help themselves. We can’t oppose abuses of human rights and we can’t improve anything for anyone.

So please, lend your support to those who need it and make sure the message is clear, that we will defend free expression – since, sadly, it still appears to need it.

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