Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's aliiiiiive!

Yes, everyone, ScienceBlogs is back up and running. That means Respectful Insolence at ScienceBlogs is up and running again, too. Consequently, I'm disabling comments again on this blog and putting it back into mothballs as an archive site. Orac's home will be once again at Respectful Insolence at ScienceBlogs. It was fun resurrecting the old blog for a couple of days, but it's time to go back to where everyone knows where to find me:

or (also .com).

Who knows, if ScienceBlogs ever goes down again or gets fed up with me and gives me the boot, this blog may live again.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

An actual pro-vaccine storyline? On ABC?

I don't watch Private Practice. I didn't like Grey's Anatomy, which, every time I caught part of it, struck me as the cheesiest sort of medical soap opera, a General Hospital transplanted to prime time. Given that Private Practice is a spinoff of Grey's Anatomy, I never saw any reason whatsoever to watch. However, on Thursday night an episode aired that royally pissed off the antivaccine contingent, and that has to be a good thing. The episode, Contamination, featured a storyline in which an unvaccinated child shows up in the emergency room with the measles. The parents are antivaccine and totally buy into the myth that vaccines cause autism. They're even totally into a full-on Jenny McCarthy panoply of "biomedical" quackery--I mean treatments, no, I mean quackery--for their autistic child.

The cranks at Age of Autism have mentioned it, but, from a couple of forwarded e-mails I've gotten, it appears that the real mercury militia has gone absolutely bonkers about this quite reasonable storyline. Indeed, in a certain antivaccination mailing list dedicated to a certain journalist's fear mongering book, the loons are out in force. Charges of big pharma conspiracy are running rampant like:
The CDC can't prove with science that vaccines are safe so they have
their PR office use fear to scare people into believing.
As if the CDC can dictate storylines to ABC. Yeah, that worked real well with Eli Stone, which, of course, the vaccine conspiracy mongers loved.

One of the participants even went to the trouble of transcribing the scenes relating to the storyline, for which I thank her. It's rare to see such an unequivocal defense of vaccines worked into a storyline. I wonder if Jenny McCarthy's activities may be producing a backlash. We can only hope. In any case, I think our antivaccine advocate's work should see a wider audience, so here it is for your edification:

Private Practice
Season 2, Episode 1
Original Air Date: Jan. 8th, 2009
Writer: Fred Einesman
Director: Kate Woods
Unofficial Transcript of Vaccine Storyline
By Christine Heeren
Regular characters: Addison, Pete, Naomi, Cooper, Charlotte, Dell, Sam and Violet (all doctors except Dell)
Additional Cast:
Jillian Armenante as Arlene (the mother)
-has a girl born in 2004

(There was more to this episode, but I'm just writing the info regarding the vaccine storyline)

SCENE ONE: Busy waiting room in doctor's office. Kids throwing a ball around. Three boys and one girl (Betsey). The boys are all brothers, the oldest with autism, Jeffrey. The girl is the daughter of Dell, who works at the practice. The middle boy is Michael, youngest is William.

ARLENE: Oh Dr. Freedman!

COOPER: Arlene, Hi. Oh my god! Is this Michael? Dude, you're a giant. Will, do you remember me? Hi Jeffrey. That's a pretty cool plane. Hey, let's go back. Come on.
(they walk into Cooper's office)

COOPER: So, where have you been? It's been two years.

ARLENE: I moved the boys to Switzerland, for Jeffrey. I found this great experimental program there for autistic children. Nontraditional therapy, megavitamins, diet modification, along with art, music therapy.

COOPER: How's it been going?

ARLENE: Better, I think. His temper's under control, a little more. He's obsessed with airplanes. Sometimes he'll even talk to you.


ARLENE: As long as it's about planes.

COOPER: Planes are good. Talking about planes... even better.

(Cooper hands Jeffrey a toy airplane from his office shelf)

COOPER: How's his health otherwise?

ARLENE: Oh Jeffrey's fine. It's Michael actually. He caught a cold on the plane. Probably just some bug. But, you know. I wanted to be safe.

(Cooper lifts Michael up on the exam table)

COOPER: How'd you like Switzerland Michael?

MICHAEL: They had a cable car and there's this one place where you could take a chocolate tour.

(Cooper is feeling the boy's neck)

More joking around with the kids while Cooper does the exam.

COOPER: 102. Does your throat hurt, Michael?


COOPER: OK. Open up for me, big and wide. Tilt your head back.

ARLENE: (all concerned) Dr. Freedman? What is it? What's wrong? (end of scene)

SCENE TWO: Naomi & Addison are chatting it up in the break room. Cooper comes running in.

COOPER: We have to close the doors.

ADDISON: See, even Cooper realizes Pacific Wellcare is putting us out of business

COOPER: No, we have to close the doors. My patient has the measles and was in reception for half an hour running around. Everyone that was out- all our patients this morning where exposed.

ADDISON: Measles? My pregnant patients and the elderly...

COOPER: All at risk.

ADDISON: We HAVE to close the doors.

COOPER: We have to close the doors.

SCENE THREE: All the doctors in the hallway with about 20 patients.

ADDISON: I'm sorry for the inconvience, but the virus stays airborne for up to 4 hours. We need to make sure everyone who was exposed has been immunized.

PREGNANT WOMAN: Excuse me? Can I get the shot now? I have a lunch at 12:30.

ADDISON: Sorry. It contains a live virus. It's not safe to take when you're pregnant. But, if your blood comes back and your antibodies are low, then we can treat it with immunoglobulin.

WOMAN: And if that doesn't work? Doesn't measles lead to birth defects?

ADDISON: Let's not get ahead of ourselves, okay?

SAM: We need to notify LA County Health. They are going to want to do a complete survey. I know.

Addison gives annoying look

ADDISON: And they are always awful. And if we didn't have enough to do this morning.

SAM: OK. I have a light day. You have to deal with this. I'll speak to the health department. I'm in the mood for a fight.

SCENE FOUR: (back in Cooper's office)

ARLENE: Will's fine.

COOPER: But, he hasn't been vaccinated and he's at risk to get this.

ARLENE: It's the measles. When my parents were growing up everyone got it.

COOPER: And hundreds of people died from it every year. The vaccine changed-

ARLENE: Don't even think of suggesting-

COOPER: There's no proven link between vaccinations and autism.

ARLENE: It's not just me. I have talked to dozens of parents. You vaccinated Jeffrey, and it was like a light went out inside him, and he's living in some parallel world. (They show Jeffrey rocking while playing with cars)

COOPER: Arlene-

ARLENE: You don't live with him. So don't ask me to risk Will too.

Dell walks out of his office with his daughter (about 6 yrs old) and sees Cooper.

DELL: Hey, I can't get a hold of Betsey's Mom. I don't know if she's been immunized.

COOPER: Most kids have been.

DELL: You don't know her mother, okay? She forgot to pick her up. You think she remembered doctor visits? Should I just give her the shot to be sure? I mean she played with that kid for like a half- hour.

COOPER: You have 24 hours to give the vaccine. So wait for the Mom and ask, spare her the needle if you can.

SCENE FIVE (all the doctors together)

ADDISON: Grab a chart. We're checking every patient who was in here this morning for immunization.

SAM: How many of these are we looking at, Coop?

COOPER: How many what?

SAM: These little time bombs- kids coming in without their vaccinations.

COOPER: The vast majority of my practice is pro-vaccine.

NAOMI: Whether or not to vaccinate should not even be open for debate.

COOPER: It isn't. But, I agree with the Academy of American Pediatrics that we shouldn't abandon patients who chose not to vaccinate.

PETE: (holistic type doctor) Cooper's right. You can't kick a kid out just because the parents believe in a conspiracy theory about vaccines.

SAM: The CDC is clear vaccines do not CAUSE autism. They save lives. That's the end of the story.

DELL: Hey, I was just in the pediatric waiting area with Betsey. This is Michael's Mom's and she left it in the lobby.

(They go on how the family was on another floor)

SCENE SIX (Health Dept. Lady arrives)

SAM: OK. So that's it. Everyone's been immunized. Anybody that was here has been contacted. You can refile all of these immunication records.

HEALTH DEPT. LADY: Oh no you can't (to Dell).

SAM: OK. So that’s it. Everyone’s been immunized. Anybody that was here has been contacted. You can refile all of these immunization records.

SONYA: Oh no he can’t (to Dell). Sonya Nichola. County Health Department. I’m gonna need those.

SAM: Sam Bennet. I, uh, I called you (laughs).

SONYA: Are those all the immunization records?

DELL: Yeah, this is everything

SONYA: Okay, I want the vaccination records of all the patients in your practice, and then after I interview all personnel and review their employment certificates, I’ll need to inspect your isolation facilities.

SAM: Well, we don’t have, isolation facilities per se, uh, but- well- wait. We, uh, we provide for rooms.

SONYA: Are not up to current guidelines?

SAM: We just…

SONYA: Or are you aware of the recent changes in those standards?

Dell shakes his head “NO”.

SAM: This isn’t gonna be very much fun, is it? (laughs and smiles)

SONYA: You want to show me around? (seriously)

SAM: Yeah. All right. This way.

SCENE SEVEN Mom brings Michael into hospital. Cooper is there too looking at child in bed.

ARLENE: His fever was 104 by the time I got home. I couldn’t get it down.

COOPER: How you feeling, Michael?

MICHAEL: I’m really cold and my stomach hurts.

ARLENE: He vomited twice

COOPER: His lungs are congested.

Child starts violently coughing.

COOPER: OK. OK. We got you. It’s OK. (to child) We’re gonna get you some fluids and we’ll bring that fever down and you’ll feel better. (to nurse) I need a nasal cannula at 2 liters, chest x-rays and cultures times two.

ARLENE: I don’t understand. Why is he so sick?

COOPER: Arlene, measles is serious. It can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis, all sorts of other complications. (to nurse) Notify peds ICU. We need an isolation room.

SCENE EIGHT Hospital waiting area right outside of Michael’s room. Arlene is sitting with her two other boys. Jeffrey the one with autism is sitting quietly, playing with an airplane.

COOPER: Michael’s resting now. His fever’s down. But he’s still having trouble breathing.

ARLENE: My husband is- is still in Switzerland. You don’t think he needs to fly back?

COOPER: If it was my son, I’d come.

They show child in bed with his face all red and bumpy.

COOPER: Arlene, we need to talk about Will (other child).

ARLENE: I know. I told you no- no vaccinations.

COOPER: I don’t think you can risk putting Will through what Michael’s going through.

ARLENE: I can’t risk putting Will through what Jeffrey’s gone through. I lost one child to autism. I can’t lose another.

COOPER: Arlene, you won’t.

ARLENE: Don’t you think seeing Michael in there like that… I would do anything for my kids. I can’t. Look at him. (Jeffrey playing with airplane) Don’t you remember when he was 2, that smile? He’s light up the room. And then you vaccinated him and that kid vanished. Those vaccines took him away. I don’t care what you know. I know what I know. I know what I lost. I can’t risk it again.

SCENE NINE Back in the break room- all the doctors talk about the situation- like they usually do.

DELL: I can’t believe the health department lady is making us jump through all these hoops.

SAM: She’s horrible.

ADDISON: How’s Michael? (to Cooper)

COOPER: Not good. And Arlene still won’t let me vaccinate Will.

SAM: You should call family services.

VIOLET: You serious?

(she’s a psych)

SAM: Yes, It’s child abuse. She’s knowingly putting her son at risk for getting really sick.

ADDISON: That’s irresponsible.

VIOLET: It’s a parent’s decision.

DELL: Yeah, well, if I find out that Heather didn’t vaccinate Betsey I’ll report her.

(Heather is his ex-girlfriend who he got addicted to drugs)

SONYA: (Health Dept. Worker) Can I see you a moment, Dr Bennett?

SAM: Perfect

(He leaves)

ADDISON: That can’t be good.

COOPER: Sam’s right. I gotta call.

VIOLET: Calling DCFS while her other child is still in the hospital would just be cruel.

COOPER: Cruel? Putting another child in danger is cruel. Exposing a city to measles is cruel.

PETE: Violet’s right. You can’t fault the mother because she chose not to-

COOPER: Of course you’re gonna agree with Violet. You’re sleeping with her.

PETE: I agree with her because she’s right… (they go on about sex)

Then Sam and Sonya talk about protocol. It’s all about setting up a conflict so they can hook up at the end of the show.

SCENE TEN Dell’s office. Dell and his daughter are hanging out. Dell’s ex walks in and talks about a job interview. They go into the hallway to talk alone.

DELL: You couldn’t call? You leave your daughter alone all day and you don’t call?

HEATHER: I forgot my phone.

DELL: Are you using?

HEATHER: No. No. Look. I know you’re mad. But, I knew she was safe with you, OK? I couldn’t leave to make a call. I didn’t want to blow this interview.

DELL: Well, she’s not safe, OK? She was exposed to the measles today and I don’t even know if she’s been vaccinated because I’m not around enough and you…
(they look at the little girl, around 6, playing with her dolls)

DELL: Is she vaccinated?


DELL: You don’t know, do you?

HEATHER: No. (Dell walks back into the room with disgust)

Next scene Pete and Addison are talking about relationships. It’s not about vaccines, but I thought this line was interesting considering the rest of the episode.

PETE: I just think people should be left to decide things for themselves.

SCENE ELEVEN Back to Michael’s ICU room. Charlotte is there. She’s a doctor who once dated Cooper. The mother is stroking Michael’s hair lovingly.

CHARLOTTE: You know what I got here?

COOPER: I’m not in the mood, Charlotte.

CHARLOTTE: Public health notifications, isolation requirements, incident reports, CDC surveys.

COOPER: We all have jobs to do.

CHARLOTTE: I have jobs I’m not able to do because I’m dealing with the mess you made.

COOPER: I have a mom who feels like she lost one son to autism and may be losing another one to measles. And she’s got another one sitting out here exposed. And maybe I’m just not persuasive enough, but he’s vulnerable and she’s not gonna let me do anything about it. So, I’m really sorry if they piled on some paperwork for you, but I don’t need crap from you right now.

Mom comes running out of the room in a panic.

ARLENE: He can’t breath.

Next scene Dell discusses with Heather how he wants full custody to “keep her safe”.

SCENE TWELVE: Michael’s ICU room. Cooper, Charlotte and a nurse are working on Michael. The mother is in the room. They have some breathing thing on Michael’s face. They keep showing the monitor with his heart rate going down.

COOPER: It’s won’t pass. His throat’s too swollen.

CHARLOTTE: Get the fiberoptic scope now. We gotta ventilate him. Heart rate is dropping. Sats are bottoming out.

COOPER: (yells) Where’s the damn scope?

CHARLOTTE: It’s coming Cooper.

COOPER: Open up the surgical tray. I’m gonna cric him. Hold this.

ARLENE: What-What is that? What are you gonna do?
Just wait. Coop. The scope’s coming.

COOPER: His heart’s 40. I’m doing this. Betadine.

CHARLOTTE: Wait. Wait! (guy running into room).
Cooper was about to cut the boy’s throat. They put the thing on him.
Cooper can see down his throat.

CHARLOTTE: Slowly. Easy does it.

COOPER: Almost there. I got it. (he’s breathing now and apb goes up)

CHARLOTTE: Sounds good.

ARLENE: He’s gonna be OK?
Cooper gives the mother a look like “you bitch” and walks out.

COOPER: (to nurse) Set the vent at a F102 of 100, rate of 24. I need a minute.
Cooper leaves the room and walks over to the two other children. He lovingly touches Jeffrey’s head.

COOPER: Hey, I’ll watch’em for a minute. (hospital worker leaves)

COOPER: Hey. Come here. Come here for a second. (puts Will on chair)

COOPER: One second. (starts rolling up Will’s sleeve. Jeffrey is watching)

ARLENE: Get the hell away from my son

WILL: (screams) MOMMY!

ARLENE: You have to stop. (Charlotte grabs mom’s arm and holds her back)

CHARLOTTE: Your son is dying in there.

ARLENE: Get the hell away from me. (to Charlotte)

CHARLOTTE: Mrs. Perkins. Please.

(Will whimpers as Cooper gives him the vaccine)

ARLENE: NO!!!!!!!


Everyone looks at each other.

SCENE THIRTEEN Hospital waiting room again.

ARLENE: Will, are you ok?

Will shakes his head “YES”.

COOPER: The vaccine is safe.

ARLENE: You don’t know!

COOPER: It is.

ARLENE: Look at him and tell me if it is. (speaking of Jeffrey)

CHARLOTTE: Vaccines are the standard of care. Dr. Freedman did something that was medically necessary.

ARLENE: He assaulted my son! And I am going to sue this hospital, so help me, if something happens to him.

COOPER: I did what I felt I had to.

ARLENE: It wasn’t yours to do. It’s wasn’t yours to do.

LOUD SPEAKER: Code blue ICU, Code Blue ICU.
They all go running back into Michael’s room.

SCENE FOURTEEN Michael’s ICU room.
Charlotte and Cooper are working on Michael as Arlene looks on. Michael dies.

CHARLOTTE: Asystole. I can’t find a pulse.

COOPER: Resuming CPR. Around round of epi. (Cooper keeps working on him)

CHARLOTTE: Cooper, we’ve done everything. It’s been over a half hour.

COOPER: Where’s the atropine. Come on! (screams)

CHARLOTTE: It’s time to call it.

COOPER: I’m running the code. I decide when we’re done.

ARLENE: Please… don’t stop.

(Cooper stops)

COOPER: Time of death- 3:37

(they start turning everything off)
Arlene is crying and goes over to Michael.

ARLENE: Michael? He just learned to tie his shoes. He can’t be gone. Not like this. Michael…

She holds him crying hysterically and saying “Oh Michael” over and over.
Emotional piano music playing in background.

SCENE FIFTEEN Cooper and Arlene in waiting room. Charlotte is watching them.

ARLENE: (crying) I thought… It was gonna be… like a cold. I was trying to protect him.

(she looks at 2 other sons- Jeffrey is rocking) Cooper puts his hand on her knee, then back. Arlene gets up, still crying, grabs Will and holds him. Sits next to Jeffrey. Then puts her other arm around Jeffrey and holds both boys at the same time, still crying. Charlotte walks over to Cooper and sits down next to him.

CHARLOTTE: You did everything you could.

I will admit that the part of the story where Cooper forcibly vaccinates the child against her mother's wishes was over the top. However, the rest was about as stridently pro-vaccine as I could imagine. Maybe ABC is finally trying to make up for its sin of Eli Stone early last year.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Respectful Insolence will go dark...

...but only temporarily!

As you may have heard, our benevolent leaders at ScienceBlogs are finally doing a major upgrade of our blog publishing software. That's the good news. I'm hoping the back end is much easier to use and more responsive. The bad news is that the whole ScienceBlogs site is going to locked down. It will still be there. You can still read it and browse every scintillating post, but no one will be able to post, and no one will be able to comment. I'm posting on this old mothballed blog of mine in case anything goes wrong, or, as is entirely possible, the timed posts do not publish on my main blog.

The lockdown period will begin at 1 PM. Unfortunately, it will run at least until Saturday evening. I have a couple of timed posts, but I have no idea if the automatic posting feature will work during the transition.

Personally, I'll take the opportunity to take it easy for a day or two. If my blogging jones must be fulfilled, I still have this old Blogspot blog...

Friday, March 03, 2006


This blog has moved to:

Because this blog is now mothballed and is only being maintained as an archive site for the first incarnation of Respectful Insolence (not to mention because a comment spam problem has developed here), over the next few days I will be going through posts and turning off all commenting.

If you wish to comment, please go to the new site. Comment moderation has been turned on, and any further comments in response to any post here will not be approved.

This site is in hibernation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Technical problems at the new blog resolved

Even though I normally try not to blog from work, I have to take a moment while I'm eating lunch to announce this: Previous technical problems with the new blog that prevented my posts and your comments from showing up on this blog have now been resolved.

Orac is back online.

Everything appears to be working as it should, and you should be able to comment over there again.

Normal blogging will resume tomorrow, and I will cease posting to this Blogspot blog indefinitely. It will continue to serve as an archive site for the first incarnation of Respectful Insolence and a backup place to post in case of disaster over at ScienceBlogs. If I ever experience problems with the new blog again, this is where announcements will appear to inform you.

For a different take on the David Irving verdict...

Go here. The Photoshopped picture and caption are priceless.

Shooting free speech in the foot: David Irving sentenced to three years in jail for denying the Holocaust

[NOTE: My technical problems at the new blog continue. I'm assured the techies are working on fixing them, but, although my posts show up in the feed, they do not show up on my blog. In essence, I cannot post, and comments, although saved, do not show up. Until the techies get this problem fixed, I'm posting here at the old blog.]

Well, that was fast.

The trial took less than a day. David Irving, as expected, pleaded guilty. As expected, he was found guilty of Holocaust denial. What was not expected was the severity of the sentence:
VIENNA, Feb. 20 (AP) — The British historian David Irving on Monday pleaded guilty to denying the Holocaust and was sentenced to three years in prison. He conceded that he was wrong when he said there were no Nazi gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp.

Mr. Irving, handcuffed and wearing a navy blue suit, arrived in court carrying a copy of one of his books, "Hitler's War," which challenges the extent of the Holocaust.

"I made a mistake when I said there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," he told the court before his sentencing, at which he faced up to 10 years in prison.

"In no way did I deny the killings of millions of people by the Nazis," testified Mr. Irving, who has written nearly 30 books.

He also expressed sorrow "for all the innocent people who died during the Second World War."

Mr. Irving's lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, immediately announced that he would appeal the sentence.

"I consider the verdict a little too stringent," he said. "I would say it's a bit of a message trial."

Mr. Irving appeared shocked as the sentence was read. Moments later, an elderly man who identified himself as a family friend called out, "Stay strong, David! Stay strong!" The man was escorted from the courtroom.
I have to say, I was shocked myself when I read of it. Three years in prison for nothing more than offensive speech? Is this what we've come to?

I understand all the arguments that Holocaust denial has a different resonance in Germany and Austria than it does in the U.S. I understand that the history of the Third Reich and the Holocaust leads to a particular sensitivity in these countries that we don't share, that Holocaust denial is feared as a vehicle for the resurgence of Nazi-ism and fascism. I can even understand how, in the early postwar period, such laws may have been essential to protect the their fledgling democracies. But there comes a time to take the training wheels off. It's been over 60 years since the end of World War II, well over two full generations. How much longer do they need these laws? Will they proscribe free speech in this way forever?

The bottom line is that, not only are laws against Holocaust denial an offense against free speech, but they don't work. They suppress nothing. David Irving got more publicity in Austria than he had gotten in six years. Before, he was fading into well-deserved obscurity. Now he's a martyr for the far right. His writings and those of many other Holocaust deniers are easily accessible on the web, yes, even in Austria. Suppressing it only confirms the claims of the Holocaust deniers that the government is "afraid" of their message.

For an example of how properly to deal with Holocaust deniers, one has only to look to Northwestern University in Evanston. There, one of the granddaddies of Holocaust denial in the U.S., Arthur R. Butz, is a tenured Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Northwestern who in 1976 wrote a book called The Hoax of the 20th Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry. Since then, he has used his tenured position to give stature to his denial, all the while being very careful not to give the administration of Northwestern a reason (such as preaching Holocaust denial in his engineering class) to try to get rid of him. Not much had been heard from ol' Butzy recently, until he started defending the President of Iran for his Holocaust denial, going so far, after repeating a bunch of canards about the long-debunked Leuchter Report, to say in an editorial in the student newspaper:
That brings us to President Ahmadinejad of Iran. For many years I ignored revisionism coming from Islamic countries, because I found it inept. With Ahmadinejad, I found something else; his statements were formidable in their perspicacity. My original statement on him has to be read to make the specifics clear. He understands the intellectual terror in the West. However, the best surprise came after I wrote my endorsement. British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a routine pompous suggestion to Ahmadinejad: Visit the camps and see for yourself. Ahmadinejad replied: Good idea, I’ll bring a scientific team. He knows about the forensic issues too.
Given how inept Butz's denial is, one has to wonder how truly poorly argued the Holocaust denial coming out of the Middle East must be for even Butz to turn his nose up at it. But I digress. Deborah Lipstadt responded with a strong article slapping down Butz and pointing out that the editors of the student newspaper had been so open minded that their brains fell out.

Also appropriate is a reaction by the very students of Northwestern called the Never Again campaign:
The Never Again Campaign is an organization started by students at Northwestern University in February of 2006. The campaign aims to increase Holocaust education, promote global tolerance, and stop genocides that are occurring today around the world.

The Never Again Campaign will bring speakers, host workshops, and offer resources to spread awareness about these issues on the Northwestern campus. Similarly, we hope to convince other universities to adopt our goals.

Recently, Northwestern engineering Professor, Arthur Butz, denied the Holocaust and congratulated the President of Iran on becoming the first modern head of state to deny the Holocaust. In response, students and faculty have come together to express their outrage and disappointment that a Northwestern professor made such an offensive and historically inaccurate declaration.
Their goal? To get Northwestern, as a private institution, to stop letting Butz use its public website to spread his lies, because doing so associates the name of the University with his denial, and to take actions to repudiate his Holocaust denial and to marginalize him, given the black eye he's given the institution.

As I said yesterday, freedom of speech is easy to value and honor when the speech isn't offensive. It becomes much more difficult to do when it is something as despicable and hateful as Holocaust denial. Indeed, defending free speech often means defending scum like Irving and Butz. However, it is not necessary to throw Butz, or any other Holocaust denier in jail to combat their lies. The way to combat his lies, or those of David Irving, or any other Holocaust denier is for opposing voices to make their displeasure known and to shine the light of truth on their lies.

Monday, February 20, 2006

David Irving on trial

[NOTE: This is being posted here because my new blog is currently having technical difficulties that prevent my posting on it. Once the technical problems have been fixed (hopefully tomorrow), I will repost this over there. I wondered if this blog would have any further use, and unfortunately I found out sooner than I expected that it would.]

Well, today's the day. After all the waiting, it's finally here.

David Irving is going to stand trial for Holocaust denial in Austria today.

Those of you who have read my old blog a while know what a despicable human being I consider David Irving to be. He's clearly an anti-Semite, most famously having said that "more women died in the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz" and being known for repeating anti-Semitic doggerel. He's spent decades in essence falsifying history, denying that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz, that the the Nazis had a plan to systematically exterminate European Jewry. And, his pretentions otherwise notwithstanding, he is no champion of free speech. Indeed, when the historian Deborah Lipstadt referred to him as a Holocaust denier in a book, he waited until her book was released in Britain, which has the most plaintiff-friendly libel laws in Europe or the U.S., and then sued her there in 2000.

He lost and was humiliated. The final judgment found that Irving was indeed a Holocaust denier.

I do have to admit to feeling a fair amount of schadenfreude when Irving was arrested in Austria last November. Irving knew damned well that there was a warrant for his arrest for denying the Holocaust in a speech he gave in 1989. He even worried about it on his own website and took precautions before he left, such as leaving behind 60 signed blank checks and bringing eight shirts, even though he was only supposed to be in Austria for two days. He knew what he was doing and what risk he was taking.

Still, as an advocate of free speech, I found (and still find) the entire affair very troubling. Yes, Irving's views are odious. Yes, he has spent decades promoting Holocaust denial. Yes, in recent years he has associated with some really scary people on the far right. Yes, in the three speeches he gave in Austria, he told an audience in Leoben that Kristallnacht was carried out by "unknowns" dressed up as members of the SA; that Anne Frank could not have written her diary herself because the Biro wasn't invented until 1949; and that Hitler never gave an order to exterminate the Jews. He cited research by the discredited Fred Leuchter claiming that the Auschwitz gas chambers couldn't have been used to gas Jews because he couldn't find cyanide residues in the bricks. Yes, he asserted that "Auschwitz is a legend, just like the Turin Shroud" and that "the existence of witnesses proves that there was no mass extermination," among numerous other statements clearly denying the Holocaust.

Even so.

Upholding freedom of speech is not difficult in cases of views that are mainstream or that don't offend. Upholding freedom of speech is difficult in case like David Irving. The bottom line, as far as I'm concerned, is that Irving should not be in prison. Imprisoning him achieves nothing other than raising his stature and letting him plausibly don the mantle of free speech martyr. All it does is lead him to make such ludicrious "recantations" that he now believes there were gas chambers at Auschwitz:
His conversion, according to Irving, came in 1992 after his discovery of two documents - a discovery he kept to himself until recently. One was a radio message sent to Adolf Eichmann in 1943, reporting that during the previous 12 months more than a million people had died in Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec concentration camps.
Odd that he never mentioned this before, even though he supposedly discovered it 13 years ago and especially since, as recently as 2005, he was still denying that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz. No one can see his sudden "conversion" as anything other than a transparent attempt to obtain leniency. If he is imprisoned for a harsh sentence (and the penalty for Holocaust denial in Austria can be as long as 20 years), he becomes a martyr. If he is released with time served, he will likely return to Britain and renounce his recantation. By arresting him and vowing to try him, Austria has placed itself in a no-win situation.

Of course, not all see it this way. Indeed, in The New Statesman was published an impassioned defense of jailing Irving and keeping him there, written by Roger Boyes. Too bad it's full of logical fallacies and poor reasoning typical of the arguments for suppressing free speech:
Even so, a courtroom is as close as most Holocaust deniers come to heaven. A captive audience, those chilly metallic blondes from CNN, the right to rant. Judging by his website, Irving is relishing his moment in the spotlight: even a lost court case represents a triumph of publicity for his malign deceptions on Hitler and his crimes. Hitler used his stint in jail to write Mein Kampf; for Irving, too, imprisonment is a kind of state-financed sabbatical.

Advocates of the absolute right to free speech say that Irving's obvious enthusiasm for courtroom confrontation is a powerful argument for letting him go. Take away the courtroom and you take away his theatrical props. Ignore him, and the netherworld of Irving and the unsavoury club of Holocaust deniers withers away, killed by our oppressive tolerance. He may be - no, he is - hopelessly and deliberately wrong but he has the right to proclaim his crazy views, just as we have the right to plug our ears with cotton wool.
Geez, talk about the fallacy of the excluded middle (a.k.a. the false dilemma)! We either have to jail Irving or ignore him? Are there no other options, such as, for example, speaking out against his lies and countering his lies and distortions with facts? And so what if Irving is "relishing the spotlight"? There wouldn't be any spotlight for Irving to relish if Austria hadn't arrested Irving in the first place. There wouldn't be a media circus with 50 television crews and the need for riot police to prevent protests by neo-Nazis.

The rest of the piece appears to consist of an argument that we must respect the "word" (whatever that means) and that the interests of Irving and other Holocaust deniers are are "merging with those of the anti-Semitic ideologists of Arab nationalism and Iranian theocratic rule." Boyes expresses concern that, "if Irving walks free from the Wien-Josefstadt Prison next week he will soon be packing his suitcase for the Holocaust conference in Tehran."

So what if Irving heads for Iran? That's not an argument to put him in jail for his speech, nor is it an argument to revoke the passport of the vile neo-Nazi Horst Mahler to prevent him from traveling to Iran, something Boyes refers to as "wise." The anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial of the Arab nationalist and Muslim fundamentalist regimes of the Middle East would still exist and be just as virulent without David Irving and his fellow deniers. It's not as though Irving would gain respectability by going to Iran's conference to question the authenticity of the Holocaust or that he in his disgrace after the Lipstadt trial could lend respectability to this farce of a conference.

Nonetheless Boyes concludes:
We are not making Irving into a martyr by jailing him. We (or the Austrians on our behalf) are making the world a little bit safer - and defining the limits of tolerance.
I propose a counterexample. I'd ask Boyes a question, given that he points out that the Irving case should reveal the "limits of tolerance." Who gets to decide what the "limits of tolerance" are for free speech? Let's take an example from the good old U.S.A.: the rabid far right winger Ann Coulter. She provides red meat rhetoric for extremists. Indeed, she uses eliminationist rhetoric, as David Neiwert (of Orcinus) has pointed out time and time again. She made an infamous statement after 9/11 in which she said about Muslim countries that we should "invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity," not worrying about how many civilians we kill in the process. She most recently gave a major speech where she referred to Muslims as "ragheads" who need to "face consequences" if they "talk tough" and joked about killing Bill Clinton. Her speech was so foul that even Michelle Malkin (who, as you may recall, is best known for writing a book defending the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II) felt obligated to offer up a rather tepid criticism of Coulter (while dismissing her remarks as Ann just "going for a cheap laugh").

Should Ann Coulter, as vile as much of what she says is, be thrown in jail for "hate speech"?

My guess is that Boyes would probably say "yes."

I say no. Our freedom depends on free speech, and one price for that freedom is tolerating offensive speech from people we don't like, no matter how much our dislike of them, what they say, and what they stand for might tempt us just to throw them in jail.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Locked out of ScienceBlogs

If anyone sees this...

My new ScienceBlogs blog is screwed up. Movable Type won't let me publish or rebuild the blog. It lets me get into the control panel and even lets me see my posts and your comments, but despite their showing up as "published," they do not show up on the blog. Attempts to rebuild the blog time out, as do any attempts to republish the posts and comments in question. Consequently I can't post, and your comments aren't showing up.

I'm starting to miss Blogger.

I'll post another announcement when things are working again.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Orac is dead! Long live Orac

Well, it's finally come. Today is the day to say goodbye.

No, not goodbye to you, my readers, but goodbye to Blogspot and this Blogger blog. In a way, this is a bit bittersweet, but then over the weekend an altie comment spammer unleashed the worst spam attack Respectful Insolence has ever weathered, necessitating my deleting a whole slew of comment spam.

It's time to go.

So, everyone, please set your bookmarks to my new location:

Also, I've registered the domain Presently, it's set to redirect traffic to this blog. Later today, I will reset it to redirect to my new location. There is a link to my new RSS feed on the new blog.

Please update your bookmarks.

To bloggers out there who are kind enough to have me on their blogroll, I'd really appreciate it if you would update your blogroll link to the new URL above.

This blog will remain as an archive site for my old posts and as a place to put the occasional post that doesn't fit in with my new blog.

Orac (from Blogspot) is dead! Long live Orac at ScienceBlogs!