A chilling effect

In the judgment in favour of Simon Singh against the British Chiropractic Association’s bogus defamation action, the judge noted that the use of defamation law on scientific discussions had a “chilling effect“, and a movement has resulted to reform libel law, to which all three major parties seem to be committed.

In the United States, notionally the home of free speech, the trouble caused by creationists and Tea Baggers leads even ordinary schools to avoid teaching evolution. The chilling effect has frozen education in the US. A school that was not trying to teach creationism or IDiocy, but merely to avoid controversy, has refused a teacher permission to teach evolution in science class. The teacher, Mark Tangerone, will retire two years early as a result.

Likewise, the effect of the revisionists in Texas is having a similar chilling effect around the US in the teaching of history and science. Basically, anything that a vocal and troublesome minority want to prevent being taught, can be stopped dead. This can include things like sex education, of course, which is what the target is – if you can control who has sex and under what conditions, you run things in general.

It is, I think, time to review Aristotle’s point about democracy: it can become mob rule in an instant. The way we had previously prevented this, to the extent that we had, was not to increase the influence of the majority by greater elected representation, but to curtail representation by convention and expert opinion. The conventions were that politicians would not try to impose political views on education, or on science (often honoured more in the breach), and the curtailment was, in other democracies than the US, that experts had a special role in setting the standards. Both appear to be under constant and intensive attack. I think, especially in the light of the astroturf funded campaign against Anthropic Global Warming, that this needs to be addressed urgently, in the US and around the world.

5 thoughts on “A chilling effect

  1. The primary conflict in American politics when it comes to representation is the opposition between individualism and representationism. If I can speak for myself, and have myelf heard by any agency, than would it be preferable to do this than to otherwise have someone else speak for me, but whom also speaks for 1,000 others? Where does the give occur when my opinion differs from any percentage of those others? Representationism allows you to proxy your voice with others to some who are better equipped to be heard, while individualism allows my particular views to be expressed.

    It becomes more and more difficult, in fact, to have your particular view represented when your representative is the voice box for a larger majority than you. This is relevant whether you are a tinfoil-hat-wearing kook on the streets of NYC or a rare liberal in the backwoods of Idaho. I am sure other nations have their allegories for the outliers of any group. I am as deserving of a voice to be heard, or so I was taught, but lack the approximate means of being heard over the roaring masses around me. If I mvoe to a different area, I am drowned in a thouand peoiple saying the same thing at that time, but they drown those who speak differently; and this can be as uneven as 1-999 or 501-499 — Majority Rule allows the Majority Voice to be heard … at all times. It’s a million ropes across the country, all tight, and all constrained to different concepts.


  2. This can include things like sex education, of course, which is what the target is

    Not just in the US, either. This was the Ontario politics story of the week (though as the article notes, local Catholic-school officialdom was on-side with this. Blame the RC reactionary wing, and of course the fundy Prods). There really isn’t anything that radical in the new standards — and this is why we call the premier McGwimpy.


  3. Aristotle’s ideas may have worked in a little Greek city-state but not, I think, in huge modern states with populations in the hundreds of millions or even billions.

    Personally, I’m waiting for the Internet to become self-aware and take over the whole shebang. Hopefully, it will then work on creating personal holodecks or Matrix-like VR environments to keep the proles happy and entertained while it runs the planet efficiently without having to account to anyone.


    1. I wasn’t suggesting we accept Aristotle’s positive proposals; merely that his objections to democracy indicate problems we are now seeing.


  4. Quote of the day:

    em>”While evolution is a robust scientific theory, it is a philosophically unsatisfactory explanation for the diversity of life.”

    Oh mercy.


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